Jesse Johnson, Spartan Nation

#9 Michigan State vs. #1 Kansas NCAA 2nd Round Scouting Report & Prediction!

#9 Michigan State vs. #1 Kansas NCAA 2nd Round Scouting Report & Prediction!

#9 Michigan State vs. #1 Kansas NCAA 2nd Round Scouting Report & Prediction!

BOK Center

Tulsa, OK

Sometime after 5:15 PM ET today #9 Michigan State (20-14) versus #1 Kansas (29-4) will tip off.  It is going to be a great basketball game in the ultimate win or go home time of year.

There is no doubt that the Kansas Jayhawks might be the most talented team that the Spartans have played all year and certainly they deserve the #1 seed they have.  But that doesn’t mean the Spartans are the little sisters of the poor either.

Kansas head coach Bill Self is a master recruiter.  He and Roy Williams of UNC might be two of the best in the business, but neither can coach and develop players like Tom Izzo.  They win with overwhelming talent, but rarely out-coach people. 

While Izzo rarely has had the advantage of having the most talented teams, he has often had the best teams.  Michigan State no doubt is facing a more talented team, but they have the better coach and they are not a bad team at all.

This game is very simple.  Kansas wants to run.  Michigan State wants to run.  Kansas isn’t a monster team size wise and neither is Michigan State.  Spartan fans have wanted to see more of Cassius Winston, but his defense has been a liability and kept junior captain Tum Tum Nairn in the starting lineup.

If you are looking for a scouting report this one is simple.  Cassius Winston is a very talented player and he has to step his defense up.  It has gotten better and not it is time to take the next step.  Michigan State must have both Winston and Nair on the court at one time.  Kansas is a guard dominated team and the Spartans must play their two point guards.

Tum Tum Nairn has played against many of the nation’s best guards this year.  Kansas may have the best guard combo in the nation and his primary duty will be Frank Mason.  He described his game, “He's a lot like those guys. I want to say he shoots it better than most of those guys. He's shooting like 50 percent from three. He's really aggressive in transition. So I just gotta stay solid on him and make him take tough shots. With a player like him, you can't really stop him. All you can do is contain him and keep him take tough shots. I'm going to have a lot of help from my teammates in guarding him.”

Izzo understands that Mason is the key to this game as well.  “I called some coaches last night that played against Frank Mason that the common denominator of advice was remember, now; you're not going to stop him. Don't try to game plan to stop him because it's not going to happen. You know, you hope to somewhat contain him and make sure he doesn't let everybody else get better because of what he can do in his penetration and shooting. And just Byron Nelson, a great story in that kid, where he came from and where he started out, where he almost went to school and where he is now.”

Izzo added about the Kansas star,”If I wasn't playing against him; I'd be his biggest fan. When I'm done playing against him, I'll still be his biggest fan. But yeah, we're not going to guard him with one guy. I'm thinking of going untraditional, playing a box and one, putting a box on Frank and the one on the other four guys. He's got that big of an impact on the game.”

But Mason isn’t the only Kansas star; he’s just the straw that mixes the Jayhawk drink.  “And they've got other good players. Josh Jackson, kid we recruited hard has just gotten better and better and better. I know how good he is. But Mason is the straw that stirs the drink. He's the guy that seems like every big shot he's involved in. What he's shooting, what he's doing is phenomenal. I mean, if he isn't -- you know, we're prejudiced that we've got Swanigan in our league who's a Player of the Year candidate, but I could see either one of those two guys getting it and I think it would be a good choice.”

This brings us to the Spartans quagmire.  They need both Winston and Nairn on the court at the same time and they need Winston to not be who he isn’t, but certainly what he can be on defense.  The Spartans one –two punch can be deadly if he can make that next step.

I asked Mason about facing Tum Tum Nairn, “I think they play really fast when Tum Tum is in. He gets the ball up the court really fast. He changes pace really good. And when Cassius is in, he's a great passer. And he's not as fast as Tum Tum, but he still has great vision, and they're both really good point guards.”

So when the Spartans move Winston over to guard him does that change the way he approaches the game?  “My style won't change. Our style as a team won't change. We just play the way Coach wants us to play, execute our plays and just really guard on the defensive end.”  He added about Winston, “It doesn't really matter what year a player is. I just try to have the same mindset every game, stay aggressive, stay in attack mode and drive the ball downhill. So we'll get back and look at tape and we're going to try to figure out a few of their weaknesses on the defensive end and try to take advantage of that.”

Kansas Coach Bill Self doesn’t see the weakness in Winston.  He said, “(I) see a guy that can really see the floor. I think he's one of the best passers in college basketball. He's got more assists than Frank and he's playing 13 less minutes a game than Frank. So to me I see those positives. And granted, you know, when you scout, you look at certain things that may be an advantage for you, them over us or us over them.”

But while Self respects Winston, he still knows this is Tum Tum’s team.  “But the reality of the way that Tom's teams guard, you know, the makeup is you guard your man but they're always in strong help and always forcing you to play around the perimeter. So they do a real good job of keeping the ball out of the paint.”

He said his key to beating MSU sounds simple, but the Spartans can’t let it be easy.  “I would say creating easy shots for my teammates, getting them involved early, playing great defense and making them feel me every possession because it starts with the point guard and just say getting out in transition, running and trying to get easy baskets before their defense setup, showing great leadership skills and just being coachable and leading our younger guys.”

It is humorous being around the Jayhawk media this week.  I didn’t hear it, but one of my colleagues on the Michigan State beat told me that he heard Jayhawk media earlier in the week that didn’t even know they would potentially play Michigan State in the second game of the weekend.

That elitism was funny when Spartan super star Miles Bridges was asked about picking MSU and why Izzo’s teams have flourished under Izzo in March.  “I think we play better as the underdog. It just gives us more fuel to our fire. We play with more intensity, more energy, and we're not satisfied with anything. So that's why I think we play better.”

But while Kansas has the #1 seed and the pressure, don’t mistake that as the Spartans not understanding the enormity of the opportunity.  Freshman Miles Bridges said of the moment, “I mean, it's still a lot of pressure on us because it's win or go home. Both of the teams we have to have a sense of urgency because I'm pretty sure they don't want to go home either. So we're not free at all. It's a lot of pressure on us.

Tum Tum went further, “This tournament is all or nothing, man. You just gotta go out there and play this game like it's your last game because it could be. So for us we're not focusing on the seeds. We're just focusing on doing whatever we can to get a win.

Bridges described this team better than anyone else and it should concern Kansas.  “We had trouble finishing games. That just shows how mature we are now. Our freshmen aren't freshmen anymore. We just really grew up because back then I don't think we could have finished that game out but yesterday we did.”

Kansas may be the most talented team that the Spartans will play this year.  What is good for the Spartans is that they also matchup well with them.  The advantage of having the superior coach and the fact that I think Cassius Winston is ready to make the next step defensively makes me call for the upset.  I say make it Michigan State 88 and Kansas 83.

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