LSU basketball: 3 keys to beating Michigan State and advancing to the Elite Eight
The seeds held up.
No. 2 Michigan State and No. 3 LSU did what they were supposed to do in the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament last week.
So now they’re going head to head in the Sweet 16 on Friday night in Washington, D.C., for a berth in the Elite Eight on Sunday.
The Spartans are 30-6 and the Tigers are 28-6, so everything points to a tight game.
The Tigers seem to have put the Will Wade controversy behind them, enabling them to focus on basketball and play loose and free as they did in winning the SEC regular season despite Wade’s 11th-hour suspension for suspected NCAA violations.
Here are three keys to LSU beating Michigan State and advancing to the Elite Eight:
1. Crash the boards
Both teams like to run, but the Tigers were better at it late in the year than the Spartans were.
You can’t run at peak efficiency if you don’t rebound. LSU has the big men – Naz Reid and Kavell Bigby-Williams both had double-doubles in a first-round win against Yale and the Tigers are 10-0 in games in which Bigby-Williams has had a double-double – to handle the Spartans, who are a strong rebounding group themselves.
Whichever team does the better job on the defensive glass figures to have the more effective fast break. And whichever team does better on the offensive glass figures to have the more efficient half-court offense.
The Tigers attack the offensive boards aggressively, which is great when the ball goes in the basket or they rebound heir miss. But it’s problematic when neither happens, especially against a team that rebounds and runs as well as MSU can.
Reid and Bigby-Williams don’t necessarily have to both have a double-double, but they need to stay out of foul trouble and help the Tigers out-rebound the Spartans.
2. Use your depth
The Spartans have lost some depth due to injury, and Big Ten Player of the Year Cassius Winston has averaged 35-plus minutes in the first two NCAA games despite playing with a sore knee and big toe.
MSU played six games in 15 days from its regular-season finale through a Big Ten Tournament championship and the first two games of the NCAA Tournament, while LSU played just one game in the SEC Tournament.
The bottom line is the Tigers have had a less grueling schedule of late and they have better depth, so interim coach Tony Benford can go to his bench early and often, push the pace for 40 minutes and rotate players in short bursts.
If this comes down the wire as it seems likely to do, LSU could have the fresher legs, though not having played since last Saturday could revive MSU.
3. Take the ball away
LSU is long and athletic, thanks mainly to Reid and Bigby-Williams.
It starts three guards in Tremont Waters, Skylar Mays and Marlon Taylor. Two of its top bench players are guards – Javonte Smart and Darius Days.
The Tigers can pressure teams into ball-handling mistakes and get some easy baskets. They force an average of 15-plus turnovers per game and MSU ranks 182nd in the country by averaging 13.0 turnovers per game.
Though the Spartans generally have taken better care of the basketball down the stretch, they had their third 20-plus turnover game of the season in their last game. Though they handled Minnesota by 20 points, they turned the ball over 22 times, leading to 26 Gopher points.
LSU has the depth at guard to press relentlessly and they have the athletic bigs to forge suffocating traps.
So, Tigers, substitute early and often, pressure the ball and crash the boards relentlessly and you just might in playing for a spot in the Final Four.