Michigan State and LSU couldn’t enter this Friday’s Sweet 16 tilt with a larger disparity of coaching experience. The Spartans have been led by Tom Izzo since 1995. The diminutive and fiery Izzo has a national title and 7 Final Fours and 15 Big Ten Tournament championships (tournament and regular-season).
Meanwhile, Tony Benford is entering his 5th game leading the Tigers after replacing the indefinitely suspended Will Wade on an interim basis. LSU athletic director Joe Alleva states that Wade is not cooperating with an investigation that links him to the FBI college basketball corruption trial.
While Benford is just 3-1, he has LSU in its first Sweet 16 since 2006. Skylar Mays and the Tigers’ frontcourt shut down Yale NBA hopeful Miye Oni to just 5 points in a first-round win. On Saturday, Tremont Waters saved the day with a game-winning layup in the final seconds over Maryland.
After recovering from a halftime deficit to beat No. 15 seed Bradley, the No. 2 seeded Spartans cruised to a 20-point victory over No. 10 Minnesota on Saturday. This capped off a 7-game winning streak, which includes a pair of wins over in-state rival Michigan.
The winner gets an Elite 8 date with either Duke or Virginia Tech. The top-seeded Blue Devils survived and advanced in a thrilling 77-76 win over No. 9 UCF on Sunday, while the 4th-seeded Hokies are in their first Sweet 16 in 52 years after edging No. 12 Liberty.
Michigan State vs. LSU Preview
*Note: Betting info and updated lines courtesy of OddsShark
- Michigan State Spartans (-6) vs. LSU Tigers on March 29 (7:09 p.m. EST, CBS)
- Over/Under: 149
Michigan State lost swing Kyle Ahrens (foot) for the year against Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament final. He’s an emotional leader, but scores only 4.5 points a game. Former 5-star guard Josh Langford is also out for the year, but has been since December with an ankle injury.
LSU still won the SEC championship even without guard Daryl Edwards since late January.
Michigan State recently returned center Nick Ward after a broken hand held him out since late February. Even with him available since the Big Ten Tournament, his limited minutes have allowed Xavier Tillman to thrive with a combined 30 points during the first weekend of the tournament. Tillman recorded a double-double in the first round versus Bradley.
Ward may actually be a more useful piece to bang inside with LSU’s frontcourt duo of Naz Reid and Kavell Bigby-Williams. Reid, in particular, is a potential NBA first-round pick that’s scored 13.7 points and 7.1 rebounds a game.
Michigan State vs. LSU Prediction & Pick
These two offenses are amongst the best in the country per Ken Pomeroy. The Spartans are No. 4 in efficiency, while the Tigers rank No. 13. However, they get there in different ways. Michigan State relies on excellent shooting from Cassius Winston, Matt McQuaid and Kenny Goins to fuel the nation’s No. 15 effective field goal percentage.
Winston is one of the most underrated players in the country. In 3 games against Michigan’s excellent defense (particularly point guard Zavier Simpson), he racked up 64 points. He shoots over 40 percent from deep and has the second-best assist rate in the country. McQuaid adds solid defense and 43 percent from 3.
LSU makes up for mediocre shooting by crashing the offensive glass, grabbing 36.8 percent of its missed shots (No. 8 nationally). While the Spartans typically clean up the glass, a focus on outside shooting and transition offense has hampered that a bit this season to make this an advantage for Reid and LSU.
Waters is the best answer to Winston. His fearless shot selection can lead to acrobatic finishes a la Maryland or just a 31.2 percent 3-point percentage. He’s a risk-taker on steals, which could play into Winston’s hands. The Spartan guard draws an average of 5.3 fouls per 40 minutes.
I wouldn’t bet on Michigan State getting pushed around down low, so this game should come down to guard play. While LSU’s defense proved its worth against Yale and Oni, Winston has consistently performed againt the best.
He’ll make the difference as Tom Izzo returns to the Elite 8 for the first time since 2015.
Prediction: Michigan State Spartans 75, LSU Tigers 67
Pick: Michigan State -6