Despite an upset-filled early start to this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament, the two top seeds in the Eastern region powered through and reached the Sweet 16. Both #1 seeded Virginia Cavaliers and #4 seeded Michigan State Spartans were expected to get this far and given the talent and veteran presence of these teams it will surely be a closely fought matchup (9:55pm ET, Friday, TBS).
Virginia’s Road to the Sweet 16
In a conference that sent six teams including former championship winners, North Carolina (2009), Duke (2010) and Syracuse (2003) to the March Madness tournament, Virginia was by far the surprise out of the ACC.
From the start of the season, Syracuse occupied the ACC’s top spot and for quite a few weeks held the #1 overall standing as well. But when the two teams met for the first and only time in 2013-14, Virginia was the higher seed and emerged the victor as well. In fact, it wasn’t even close as the Cavaliers downed their rivals by 19 points.
At this time in early March, Virginia was emerging as a real threat and Syracuse was struggling heavily. By the time the ACC Championship tournament began, Virginia with a 30-6 record was the overall #3 seed, Duke was #8, Syracuse dropped to #14 and North Carolina rounded out the seeds at #19.
The Cavaliers defeated Florida State, Pittsburgh and finally Duke to finish the season as the ACC Championships, something no one outside of the university may have expected.
As a result of winning one of college basketball’s toughest conferences, Virginia was awarded a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The team has since made quick work of their opponents besting #16 Coastal Carolina by 11 points and #8 Memphis by 18. Their Sweet 16 matchup against Michigan State however, won’t be an easy task and very well could be the team’s toughest test all season.
Michigan State’s Road to the Sweet 16
Led by a veteran coach and a veteran team, Michigan State’s Big Ten Championship didn’t come as much of a surprise.
When the season began, the Spartans were ranked as the second best team in the country and it didn’t take long for the team to get their first test of the year. Michigan State was matched up against the top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats in just the second week of the season and they emerged victorious. They briefly occupied the top seed after this win.
Michigan State started the year by winning 18 of their first 19 games before the struggles began. Marked by uncharacteristic losses against unranked Georgetown, Illinois and Nebraska, Michigan State’s ranking dropped. At the start of the Big Ten Championship, the Spartans were actually only the second highest seed at #11 overall (Michigan was #8).
Luckily for Michigan State, the team and slumping Gay Harris, got hot at the right time. Harris notched double digits in each of the team’s three tournament games and recorded only two turnovers as well. As a result, Michigan State easily won the ACC, defeating Northwestern, #12 Wisconsin and #8 Michigan all by no fewer than eight points.
In the NCAA tournament, Michigan State has continued to make it look easy. They easily defeated #13 Delaware by 15 points and outlasted a late run by #12 Harvard to win that game by seven points as well. As far as seed go, Michigan State lucked out not having to face a single-digit seed until the Sweet 16. Against Virginia, the Spartans will no doubt have their toughest task of the 2013-14 March Madness.
Michigan State vs Virginia Head-to-Head
Of all of the Sweet 16 matchups, this one is probably going to be the most highly contested and the most intriguing to watch. Both teams have had successes this season and both have played well as of late. Both also haven’t really been tested yet in this tournament. However, all of that is about to change.
Michigan State made their way through the season without having their five starters together until late. For the past few weeks though and non-coincidentally, Michigan State’s five-game winning streak, the team has put their best lineup on the court.
Included in this lineup are Adreian Payne (pictured above), who leads the team in scoring with 26.5 points in the two tournament games, Branden Dawson (18 PPG), Harris (14 PPG) and Travis Trice (12 PPG). Offensively the team averages 76.5 points a game and shoots 47.7 percent from the floor. Defensively, Michigan State allows just 65.9 points and limits their opponents to 40 percent shooting.
Michigan State also has a secret weapon in veteran and experienced head coach Tom Izzo. Izzo has led the team to four Big Ten Championships and a tournament appearance in 17 of his 19 years as coach, including an appearance each year since 1998. Izzo has helped Michigan State to reach twelve Sweet 16s, seven Elite Eights, six Final Fours, two Championship games and one NCAA Division I Championship. Under Izzo, Michigan State has been one of the most successful programs in the country.
Virginia on the other hand is new to this level of success. Head coach Tony Bennett has been with the team since 2009 but this year was just Virginia’s second NCAA tournament appearance and just their first trip to the Sweet 16.
Throughout the tournament, Virginia has averaged 66.4 points while shooting 45.7% from the floor. They have allowed just 55.5 points to their opponents while holding them to 38.6% shooting. Virginia has been a defensive team but they have faced offensive studs and have emerged on top. They will look to put the same abilities on display Friday against Michigan State.
Michigan State Spartans vs Virginia Cavaliers Betting Picks
- The total points set for this game is 127 which is about 16 points fewer than the 142.9 combined points averaged by both teams. Virginia is a defensive team though and should keep the score under this margin. Take the under 127 at odds of -110 with either BetOnline or Bovada online sportsbooks.
- As for the spread, Michigan State is favored by 1.5pts or 2pts (depending on the sportsbook) which makes the higher seeded Virginia Cavaliers the underdog. But there is a reason for that and it is really hard to bet against a Tom Izzo team in this situation under the big lights of Madison Square Garden. Therefore take the Spartans -1.5pts at -110 odds with BetOnline Sportsbook to best the spread in a game that should be an instant classic. It is the same odds but a -2pts handicap with Bovada.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.