LSU Tigers vs. Michigan State Spartans Pick
LSU Tigers (28-6 SU, 19-14-1 ATS) vs. Michigan State Spartans (30-6 SU, 25-11 ATS)
When: Friday, March 29, 2019 – 7:10 PM ET
Where: Capital One Arena, Washington
By: Dan Jamison, College Basketball Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: LSU +6/MIST -6 (Bovada)
Total: O/U 148
Last Time Out: LSU escaped Maryland 69-67; Michigan State routed Minnesota 70-50.
Scouting the Tigers:
Remember what Bill Simmons has fondly said: always beware of the “nobody believes in us” team. LSU has taken that status and ran with it so far, winning two games by a combined six points against Yale and Maryland to overcome losing its coach and reaching the Sweet 16. It’s the 30-year anniversary of the last time an interim coach won the national title (Michigan’s Steve Fisher), and the Tigers appear to have rallied around coach Tony Benford and their chance to silence their critics.
If this LSU team is going to do what Michigan accomplished in 1989, it’ll need to do a better job of finding the wooden stake and preventing a comeback. The Tigers have held large first-half leads in each of their first two games, only to have to play tight down the stretch when they gave the lead back. They were fortunate to escape from Yale and had to execute a game-winning possession against Maryland, statements that should not be true about a team that had halftime leads of 16 and nine points, respectively.
Scouting the Spartans:
When you shoot 57 percent, play good defense and grab everything on the boards, you’re not going to lose many basketball games. Michigan State certainly didn’t, as it bludgeoned Minnesota on the backboards and holding the Gophers to just 30.5 percent shooting. But when the Spartans haven’t shot it well, they’ve been vulnerable. They had to play a nervous game against Bradley, in large part because they shot 5-for-19 from deep.
But Michigan State has a wild card on its way to Washington: Nick Ward. The Spartans’ forward has played just 30 minutes in this tournament as he brings himself back up to speed, and with another week under his belt, he might look more like the player who was such a nightmarish matchup for Big Ten defenses. If he’s at full strength, LSU has a tough challenge to deal with.
Experience. How will these teams react to a moment that is new to both of them? LSU hasn’t been this deep in the tournament since 2006, when Glen “Big Baby” Davis and Tyrus Thomas terrorized Duke in the paint on the way to the Final Four. But while Michigan State has the pedigree and reputation thanks to coach Tom Izzo, the reality is that the Spartans’ players don’t have any experience at this level of the tournament either.
The Spartans made the Final Four in 2015, but their past three years have seen a first-round loss to Middle Tennessee State, a second-round loss to Kansas and a second-round loss to Syracuse. Senior guard Matt McQuaid came to East Lansing the year after the Final Four run, and Cassius Winston arrived a year later, meaning the only one with genuine Sweet 16 experience is Izzo. That’s an advantage, but there’s only so much Izzo’s wealth of experience can do to calm potential nerves. Whichever team handles the moment better at the beginning will have a great chance to take control of the game.
LSU will Cover if:
The Tigers can force the Spartans to keep coughing up the basketball. This Michigan State squad does not take care of the basketball, and Tom Izzo knows it. Lost in the Spartans’ rout of Minnesota was the fact that Michigan State coughed the ball up 22 times in the win, and the only reason that the Spartans won so easily is because Michigan State shot great and didn’t allow the Gophers to get easy baskets after making mistakes. However, LSU knows what to do when it gets a gift. The Bayou Bengals rank ninth in the nation in steals per game, and forcing turnovers is a big part of what LSU does well. If the Tigers can get in the passing lanes and force mistakes, it is their game to lose.
Michigan State will Cover if:
The Spartans can step up on the boards again. Michigan State has two major advantages on most nights: it defends well and it rebounds well. The problem is that the Spartans won’t be able to hammer the Tigers on the boards the way they did Minnesota. LSU is just as fierce on the boards as Michigan State, and the Tigers have gone up against the likes of Kentucky, whom almost nobody outrebounds, and held their own. When Michigan State has fallen this year, it’s usually been because the Spartans shot themselves in the foot with turnovers (Illinois) or gotten outworked on the boards (Indiana). The turnovers are going to be tough to solve, but Michigan State can and must make sure that it plays LSU to a draw on the boards at worst.
Dan’s Pick to Cover the Spread:
This is a tough game to pick, because I think Michigan State is the better team. But the things the Tigers do well are things that play to the Spartans’ weaknesses, and that has me thinking that LSU is going to be the way to go. As good as the Spartans are, a team that doesn’t take care of the basketball isn’t going to beat this LSU team. I can’t say I trust Michigan State to take care of the basketball, so I’m going to take the points and the Bayou Bengals.
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