Michigan State vs. Miami packs much of what makes the NCAA Tournament exciting into a single, First Round contest. Two of the nation's most historically excellent conferences are represented in the ACC and Big Ten, with two of the game's premier head coaches – Michigan State's Tom Izzo and Miami's Jim Larranaga – leading their teams into competition.
Both teams have faced highs and lows throughout the 2016-17 campaign, each knocking off some high-profile opponents but struggling against seemingly lesser competition. Either could give likely Second Round opponent Kansas a test, but both are vulnerable to a First Round bow-out.
With questions on offense, strong defenses and great head coaches on the sidelines, Michigan State and Miami are two of the more evenly matched opening-round opponents.
Midwest Region: No. 9 Michigan State Spartans (19-14) vs. No. 8 Miami Hurricanes (21-11)
Time: 9:20 p.m. ET (Friday)
Where: BOK Center (Tulsa, Okla.)
Line: Miami -2
Keys for Michigan State
This has been an uncharacteristically inconsistent season for Michigan State basketball. Credit that to Izzo playing an atypically young lineup; key contributors Miles Bridges, Nick Ward and Cassius Winston are all freshmen.
Michigan State's inconsistency is perhaps most evident in its offensive output. Amid a 2-3 finish in their final five, the Spartans hung 84 points on Wisconsin's stout defense one night, but managed just 58 less than two weeks later in a Big Ten Tournament loss to Minnesota. Turnovers play a huge part in Michigan State's tendency to sometimes go stagnant on the offensive end. The Spartans cough up possession on more than 20 percent of the time to rank No. 310 in the nation.
Miami hasn't been particularly adept at creating turnovers, but the Hurricane defense does rank among the top 20 nationally in adjusted efficiency. In marquee wins over North Carolina, Duke and Virginia, the Hurricanes allowed just 62, 50 and 48 points. Clean looks will be in limited supply for Michigan State; the Spartans need not compound the challenge by also giving away possessions.
Keys for Miami
Miami's defense has been top-notch much of the season, but has worn down in losses when the offense cannot capitalize. In a 66-57 defeat against Florida State to cap the regular season, for example, the Hurricanes never allowed more than 20 points in any 10-minute stretch – but also could not muster more than 17 in any of those stretches. They shot an abysmal 38.5 percent from the floor, and the result was squandering a defensive effort that held an 80-point per game opponent almost 14 below its average.
Davon Reed hits from outside with consistency, connecting at a hair under 40 percent. Otherwise, Miami lacks clear, consistent offensive punch. The Hurricanes' most effective course of action against Michigan State will be creating transition opportunities off changes of possession. Ja'Quan Newton leading the break instead of having to create his own shot benefits the Miami offense. So, too, does getting Bruce Brown going. Miami flourishes when Brown is scoring.
Izzo-coached teams often have a knack for overachieving this time of year – last season's exit as a No. 2 seed vs. No. 15 Middle Tennessee notwithstanding. Michigan State last faced a scenario akin to this March in 2015, when a No. 7 seed rallied to reach the Final Four.
While that gives the 2017 Spartans some hope, reality is that Michigan State looks like it's a year from contention. Assuming the trio of WInston, Ward and Bridges all return to East Lansing, Michigan State could be a preseason top-five team. As for this season, the Spartans' lack of experience will resonate against a Miami team that builds off upperclassmen Newton and Reed.