THREE FACTORS FOR KANSAS STATE
1. SHARE THE BALL: Although probably not exactly correlative, Kansas State is perfect on the season when they have an assist rate that is 63 percent or better. In fact, they are 21-0 when they hit that number. It’s just a sign that the offense is operating as intended when they share the ball at that clip. It also means they’re making shots, honestly. K-State didn’t hit that mark against Kentucky, but mostly because they couldn’t knock anything down for the longest time.
2. THREE-POINT SHOOTING: Speaking of shooting, that will play a large role in the contest. After all, Michigan State is a jump-shooting team. They don’t necessarily care about playing through the paint or getting to the rim. However, the Kansas State defense is best at guarding the perimeter. If they can continue that and connect on a few threes of their own, I like their chances.
3. REBOUNDING: The Spartans aren’t a team that has been superb on the offensive glass this season. That is unlike a team coached by Tom Izzo. He typically has teams that crash the boards with the utmost aggression. It wouldn’t shock me if that is something he tries to instill in his team for this particular contest, though, since he probably is aware that K-State can take away some of their shot-making ability. Second and third chance opportunities may be necessary for Michigan State.
WHAT THE WILDCATS NEED TO LEARN
1. FOCUS: Distractions could loom for Kansas State, specifically the New Yorkers, if they allow the opportunity to return home in front of family and friends to become a powerful component that takes away from preparation. With that being said, head coach Jerome Tang and the players have insisted that it isn’t the case.
2. MENTAL RECOVERY: Another challenge is coming down from the high that was the win over Kentucky in the Round of 32. K-State went into the Greensboro Coliseum in front of a raucous crowd in favor of the blue Wildcats and were victorious. The emotions and the celebration afterwards was very significant. Recovering mentally and coming back down to a regular state is required in order to turn the page enough to lock in on Michigan State.
3. PHYSICALITY: Kentucky was very physical. The Wildcats having a few days off to recover that one was probably a good thing. Being able to sleep in their own beds for two nights was also likely a positive. However, they are in for another bruising battle. Izzo’s Spartans want to punch teams in the mouth and much the game up, too. They will probably hope to do that even more considering that Kansas State is likely the more talented team.
KANSAS STATE STARS
KEYONTAE JOHNSON: After a game where he sputtered a bit on the offensive end aside from drilling the dagger versus Kentucky late in the game, I anticipate the K-State star to rebound and shoot very efficiently from the floor against Michigan State. The Wildcats will need it due to the Spartans’ physicality and Keyontae Johnson being one of the more physically imposing players that they have on their roster. His ability to finish through contact should be a blessing on Thursday.
MARKQUIS NOWELL: Take a gander at how Kansas State has fared this year when Markquis Nowell doesn’t perform too well. While they can survive a less than stellar game from Johnson, they need their point guard to be the best player on the floor in order to reach their peak.
K-State travels to New York City to face Michigan State in the Sweet 16. The Wildcats haven’t faced the Spartans since December of 1996, which was their second season under Tom Izzo as the head coach in East Lansing.
The Spartans won at home, 75-43. In Izzo’s first season, he beat Tom Asbury’s only NCAA tournament team at Kansas State by a final score of 67-54 in Manhattan.
Izzo has had a successful career at Michigan State. He won the 2000 National Title, has 10 Big Ten titles and has led the Spartans to eight Final Fours. The last one came in 2019. Izzo has 687 wins in his time in East Lansing and has won over 70 percent of his games
In fact, he has taken Michigan State to the NCAA tournament in every season except his first two and the one that was wiped out by the pandemic.
This year’s Spartans’ team is currently 21-12, advancing as a 7-seed with wins over 10-seeded USC and the 2-seed Marquette. They finished fourth in the Big Ten, and during the regular season, had wins over NCAA Tournament teams Kentucky, Indiana, Penn State, Maryland, Iowa and Northwestern.
Michigan State ranks No. 302 in the country in pace at 64.9 possessions per game, No. 274 in offensive possession length and No. 318 in defensive possession length. They finished the season ranked No. 33 in the NET with a 5-9 record in quad one games and were 8-2 in quad two.
Their worst loss was when they dropped a quad three game to Notre Dame.
The Spartan offense ranks No. 38 in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency and features the No. 6 three-point percentage of anyone in the country. Michigan State is only No. 268 in two-point percentage, though, and 32.8 percent of their shots are from deep. That ranks No. 301 for three-point rate.
They are solid at taking care of the basketball, ranking No. 61 in turnover rate. The Spartans are below average on the offensive glass (No. 222 offensive rebounding rate) and are poor at getting to the free throw line (No. 320 free throw rate).
It is one of the top five three-point shooting teams Izzo has had at Michigan State and the Spartans are 12-2 when they make 40 percent or better from beyond the arc. They are also 15-6 when their turnover rate is under 18 percent.
Izzo’s teams are usually known for a high assist rate and hitting the offensive glass, but it is his second worst assist rate team and and offensive rebounding rate team since 2005. It’s also the worst two-point percentage team for Izzo since 1997.
The Michigan State offense ranks No. 359 in percentage of shots that are at the rim and No. 3 in rate of two-point jumpers. Combine that with the three-pointers, and we can conclude that it is a team tat focuses on jump shooting overwhelming more than getting to the rim.
They are ranked as the No. 31 defense in KenPom and they are solid in multiple areas.
The Spartans rank No. 50 in defensive rebounding, No. 69 in defending the three-point line and No. 85 in two-point percentage defense. They are No. 98 in free throw rate allowed. The one poor area is forcing turnovers. Michigan State ranks No. 341 in forced turnover rate and No. 330 in steals rate.
The Michigan State roster mostly consists of Izzo’s guys. By that, I mean it features eight original recruits and only two transfers in the top 10 of their rotation. The bulk of the top seven in the rotation are third or fourth year Division I players, with the remaining bench including three freshmen and a sophomore.
Eight of the top 10 were top 75 recruits from at least one recruiting service. Three were ranked in the top 50.
The best player for Michigan State is a second team All-Big Ten guard in Tyson Walker, and he is another New York native playing in his home city. The Northeastern transfer has flourished as a Spartan, averaging 14.5 points per game while making 41.7 percent from distance on 4.1 attempts per game.
He also makes 48.5 percent of his two-point shots and combines that with 2.8 assists and 1.2 steals per contest on his way to a 1.11 offensive rating. Walker has 28 games where he has scored in double figures this season. Additionally, he has scored 20 or more seven different times and twice put up 30 or more.
Walker led Michigan State in scoring with 23 in the upset win over Marquette.
Forward Joey Hauser is the other transfer on the roster but in his third year in East Lansing. He played against K-State while at Marquette in 2019 is averaging 14.3 points and 7 rebounds per game this season.
Hauser is the Spartans’ biggest three-point threat, making 46.5 percent on 4.8 attempts per game. His 1.21 offensive rating leads the team and Hauser has 29 games where he has scored in double figures this season. He’s also scored 20 or more eight times and has recorded seven double-doubles.
Junior point guard AJ Hoggard is the third double-digit scorer at 12.5 points per game along with six assists per contest. He is a 31.4 percent three-point shooter and is 43.6 percent from two-point range as well.
He is also the biggest threat for Michigan State from the free throw line with 4.5 attempts per game and makes them at a 79.9 percent clip. Hoggard has five 20-point games, scored in double figures 23 different times, and finished with at least eight assists in 12 games. His offensive rating is 1.05.
Sophomore guard Jaden Akins completes the Spartans’ trio of starting guards. Akins averages 9.7 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game. He shoots it 42.5 percent from downtown on 3.8 attempts per contest with a 1.00 offensive rating. Akins has 12 games in double figures and one 20-point game.
Junior forward Mady Sissoko starts in the post and scores 5.0 points with 6.0 rebounds per contest. He does not shoot threes but does make 59.8 percent of his two-point buckets with a 1.05 offensive rating. Sissoko has scored in double figures five times this season.
Senior forward Malik Hall is the biggest threat off the bench with nine points and 4.1 rebounds per game. He makes 37.2 percent from beyond the arc, 46.3 percent of his twos and has an offensive rating of 1.05, too.
Hall missed 11 games in December and January, but still has scored in double figures on 10 different occasions and has one game where he has scored 20 points or more.
The remainder of the Michigan State bench is a trio of freshmen and a sophomore.
Freshman forward Jaxon Kohler averages 3.1 points and 3.0 rebounds per game and has a pair of contests where he scored in double figures this season. Sophomore guard Pierre Brooks averages 3.6 points, but has not played the last two games. He did have three games in double figures but all occurred in November.
Freshman guard Tre Holloman and freshman big Carson Cooper have had limited roles this season. Neither has scored more than six points in any game this season.
The stat profiles of both teams points to it being a very even matchup, mostly because Michigan State’s biggest strengths are areas where Kansas State is strong. Likewise, the Wildcats’ biggest weaknesses are areas the Spartans are also weak.
Michigan State is very good at making threes and is solid at taking care of the ball, but those are the best parts of the K-State defense. The Spartans aren’t a great offensive rebounding team, nor do they get to the free throw line often, which are more areas where the Kansas State defense isn’t great.
Maybe most importantly, Michigan State rarely forces turnovers at a high rate, which is probably the Wildcats’ biggest flaw on offense.
Like many games in March, it will come down to playmaking. While Michigan State has a solid trio in Walker, Hoggard and Hauser, K0State has the pair of All-Americans and likely the best two players on the floor.
The Wildcats need Johnson and Nowell to both play well, will need to shoot better from the perimeter, and most of all, they need to handle the energy and excitement of the moment. especially the four New Yorkers.
I believe they do all three and the superior playmaking ability of Kansas State propels them into the Elite Eight.
Kansas State 73 – Michigan State 66
Michael Beasley and Jerome Tang/Kansas State Athletics
Who am I to pick against K-State with Michael Beasley in the house at Madison Square Garden in New York City?
At the end of the day, Kansas State would have a difficult time drawing up a better matchup when it comes to an opponent’s statistical profile, in my opinion. That’s why I feel so good about them coming out of it and advancing to the Elite Eight.
When they don’t turn it over, K-State scores it in bunches. Michigan State doesn’t really emphasize that area from a defensive standpoint. If the Wildcats pour into the scouting report and use their length, they can take the Spartans’ three-point shot-making ability away as well.
If Kansas State really is locked in, not tight and isn’t overwhelmed by the physicality of Izzo’s club, they should come out ahead on Thursday evening.
Kansas State 75 – Michigan State 68