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March 21, 2009Sunday afternoon, the two teams I've seen play more than any others in America will face off in Minneapolis.
In the interest of full disclosure, I need to point out that I have covered USC this season, and I also need to admit that I root for the Michigan State Spartans.
I attended school at MSU for some of the happiest years of my young life, but I couldn't be more frightened for Sparty come Sunday.
USC is red hot, a tough matchup and playing extremely confidently.
This may not bode well for Michigan State.
Scenario One: Just like they did against Boston College, the 10th-seeded Trojans lock up Michigan State point guard Kalin Lucas.
Lucas, like Tyrese Rice, isn't big. He's just 6-feet tall and will be smothered by Dwight Lewis and Marcus Simmons. He doesn't typically turn the ball over (with a 2.1 assist-to-turnover ratio), but USC's size can disrupt him. He's a good, not great shooter, who can create off the dribble.
If USC takes Lucas out of the game, the Trojans' chance to pull off the upset grows substantially.
Still, Michigan State's supporting players are much more capable than Boston College. Shutting down Lucas might not be enough.
Scenario Two: It's a disaster scenario for USC. Taj Gibson picks up early fouls, making things much easier for one of the best rebounding teams in the country. Michigan State already beats opponents by nearly 10 boards per game, and if Gibson is forced to sit, the Trojans are in trouble.
Another tangent here is that Michigan State has much better depth than USC. The Spartans can sustain foul trouble at nearly every position, including point guard. One of Michigan State's biggest strengths is the Trojans' most glaring weakness.
Scenario Three: Gibson plays great, and MSU can't find ways to stop DeMar DeRozan in transition. Gibson is so skilled offensively that it doesn't matter that Michigan State can run a number of different big bodies at him.
Couple that with DeRozan's continued good play, and USC can put pressure on Michigan State to score points each time down the floor. The Spartans have been prone to extended stretches of offensive ineptitude, which could lead to the Trojan upset.
Scenario Four: All things are equal. USC and Michigan State play well.
If this happens and the two teams look like they normally do, I think Michigan State probably wins. Here's why:
Michigan State's strengths ? depth, balanced scoring, ability to play at multiple tempos, coaching, good versatility, strength, rebounding and some good perimeter shooters.
USC's strengths ? balanced scoring, great size in the backcourt, shot blockers, good perimeter defense, good finishers in DeRozan and Gibson and toughness.
Now, I think Michigan State's had the better season and has more good players.
Bit if USC keeps its starters on the floor, plays well and makes shots, my fears just might be realized.