Preview: No. 7 Michigan St. vs. No. 2 Virginia

This game matches up two great coaches in Tom Izzo and Tony Bennett.  The ACC regular season champ, Virginia, was able to win its first game in the tournament after losing 2 of the last 3 games beforehand.  The final score of its victory over Belmont may have been by 12, but the lead was only 2 with less than five minutes to play.  Virginia can’t let up runs to Michigan St. like it did to Belmont or the Cavaliers will be heading back to Charlottesville.

Michigan St. has come on strong lately and made it to the Big Ten championship, only to lose to Wisconsin in overtime.  The Spartans have played in seven overtime games over the span of the season.  Tom Izzo has his team coming together at the right time as they look to be this year’s 7 seed to cut down the nets at the end of it all.  The Spartans were able to beat the Georgia Bulldogs 70-63 in second round action on Friday.

The game tips at 12:10 ET on CBS.

Key to the Game

Virginia is statistically the best defensive team in the nation.  The Cavaliers are only letting up 51 points per game.  Virginia even held Georgia Tech to 28 points in an entire game back in January.  On the other side, the Spartans have the fourth most assists as a team per game in the nation this year.  They will need to move the ball efficiently to find open shots and put the pressure on Virginia.  If Sparty can’t find the bucket, then Virginia will be smiling at the buzzer.  Virginia is second in the nation in opponent field goal percentage with its counterparts only sinking 36.6 percent of shots.  Michigan St. is making 47 percent of its total shots.  Michigan State’s offense against the Virginia defense may very well tell the tale.

X-Factor

This will just be Justin Anderson’s fourth game back from a fractured finger on his shooting hand.  He was able to find the bottom of the bucket for the first time in the last game against Belmont since his return.  Look for him to continue to heat up and become the Anderson that led Virginia for most of the season. If the junior guard can find his shot early, then look for Virginia to let him touch the ball on every possession.  He is shooting 47 percent from the field and an outstanding 47 percent from deep.

Virginia has only lost one game on the year when Anderson is in the starting lineup.  Anderson’s production may also depend on if Malcolm Brogdon shows up like he did in the first half or the second half of the Belmont game.

Prediction

If you did not start watching college basketball until the conference tournament, you would think that the Spartans were the ones that were in the top 5 in the nation all year.  Even though Virginia may not be playing up to the level Tony Bennett is wanting, I see Virginia holding on in this one. Defense wins championships. Virginia wins, 60-52.

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