DATE: March 18, 2005 - Worcester, Mass. - DCU Center (14,800)
TIME: 9:40 p.m. EST - CBS TV - Gus Johnson (Play by Play), Len Elmore (color)
GAME NOTES: Winners of 19 of its last 23 games, Michigan State opens the NCAA Tournament as the No. 5 seed in the Austin Region. The Spartans have a first round meeting with No. 12 seed Old Dominion. The Monarchs earned a bid by winning the Colonial Athletic Association tournament. Appearing in their eighth consecutive NCAA Tournament, the Spartans own the longest current streak in the Big Ten. The winner of the MSU/ODU contest will face the Syracuse/Vermont winner on Sunday afternoon.
Michigan State and Old Dominion have never met in men's basketball. The Spartans are 2-1 all-time against current members of the Colonial Athletic Association, going 2-0 against George Mason, including a 66-60 victory this year, and 0-1 against Virginia Commonwealth.
OLD DOMINION NOTES:
Old Dominion finished 28-5 overall and 15-3 in the Colonial Athletic Association, good for first place in the conference. The Monarchs received an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, winning the CAA's postseason tournament with an overtime victory over Virginia Commonwealth.
Head Coach: Blaine Taylor (Montana, '81) is 212-113 in his 11th season as a collegiate head coach, including 70-48 in four seasons at Old Dominion. Prior to coaching the Monarchs, Taylor was an assistant coach at Stanford from 1998-2000.
Before that, he was the head coach at Montana for seven years (1991-1998) and the assistant coach at his alma mater from 1987-1991. He was recruited by former MSU and Montana coach Jud Heathcote to play at Montana.
NCAA Tourney History: Old Dominion is making its eighth appearance in the NCAA Tournament and its first since 1997. The Monarchs are 2-7 in tournament action. Most recently, No. 14 ODU lost to No. 3 New Mexico, 55-51, in the first round of the 1997 tournament. ODU's roster features just one senior (guard Kiah Thomas) and three juniors (guard Isaiah Hunter, center Janko Mrksic and forward Alex Loughton) among mostly sophomores and some freshmen. The Monarchs recorded a school-record 28 wins this season, which also marks the second best in conference history while winning 10 of their last 12 games.
Center: MSU's Paul Davis (6'11" 255) versus Old Dominion's Alex Loughton (6'9" 240)
Loughton was the Colonial Player of the Year and also the conference tournament Most Valuable Player. He is averaging 13.9 points and 8.1 rebounds this season, and scored 28 points and grabbed 11 boards in the Monarch's conference title game versus Virginia Commonwealth.
Loughton also shot .511 from the field (182-356) and .768 (86-112) from the free throw line in leading ODU to their first CAA championship since 1997.
If the Spartans are to play deep into March, Paul Davis must be more aggressive offensively in the low post. In the Spartans last 10 games; he has attempted only 26 free throws. That number must increase dramatically if Michigan State's low post offense is to pose any kind of threat during the tournament.
Davis won't find a pushover in Loughton. While needing to display aggression offensively, he will have to be smart defensively or he could fall prey to foul trouble. That is due to the likelihood that the NCAA tourney officials are going to call a much tighter game than the Spartans are used to in the rugged Big Ten. With the injury to Delco Rowley the Spartans are thinner up front, so expect Michigan State to play some zone defense to protect Davis and the other Spartan big men from foul trouble.
Sophomore point guard Drew Williamson has 152 assists to just 35 turnovers this season. He averages 4.7 assists-per-game and has grabbed 58 steals. He was an All-CAA defensive team selection and will provide a tough test for Neitzel and Hill.
If there is an Achilles' heel for the Spartans, it has been the sometimes streaky play of their point guards, especially during crunch time. If Williamson can create problems defensively for the Spartans' backcourt Friday night, it could mean big trouble for Michigan State.
Shooting Guard: MSU's Maurice Ager (6'4" 200) versus Old Dominion's Isaiah Hunter (6'3" 170)
Isaiah Hunter, a junior, is averaging 13.4 points and 3.2 rebounds for the Monarchs. He takes a lot of shots (leading the team with 366 attempts) and has hit .391 for the season.
Defensively, Maurice Ager, Kelvin Torbert and the other Spartan guards must keep Hunter from getting hot; otherwise things will likely to open up for Loughton if Hunter breaks the defense down from the outside.
Ager only scored 5 points in the Big Ten Tournament loss to Iowa; so it will be important that the Spartans' second-leading scorer (13.3 ppg) get back on track Friday.
Dahi (10.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and Vasylius (9.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg) could cause problems if the Spartans get into foul trouble up front. Both players shoot over 50 percent from the field, while Vasylius is the Monarchs best player at getting to the foul line (100-of-156), shooting a respectable percentage once he gets there (.641). Dahi is the Monarchs' leading shot blocker (49 blocks) and was a third-team All-CAA selection this season.
KEYS TO VICTORY:
Old Dominion: Slow the Tempo, Attack the Basket and Pressure the Ball.
While the Monarchs are deep with nine players averaging at least 11 minutes-per-game, expect them to slow the game down to maximize their possession time and minimize the Spartans scoring chances. The slow-ball approach will also keep Loughton fresh and make Michigan State work for the full 35 seconds on defense.
If the Monarchs can play slow-ball but remain aggressive but taking the ball to the hoop as the shot-clock winds down, it could result in extra trips to the foul line as well as possibly put the Spartans two best post defenders, Paul Davis and Alan Anderson, on the bench with foul trouble.
Defensively, don't be surprised to see the Monarchs try and press Michigan State to put extra pressure on Neitzel and Hill and create turnovers and easy transition buckets. In the halfcourt, watch for the Monarchs to play a number of zone defenses to keep Paul Davis bottled up in the low post and force Michigan State to hit shots from the perimeter.
Michigan State: Stop Loughton, Avoid Turnovers, Rebound and Run the Break.
Michigan State has done a good job all season in stopping the opponent's top scorer. The Monarchs' shoot poorly from the perimeter (.336 from three-point land), so expect Michigan State to play some zone defense to shadow Loughton and hopefully keep themselves out of foul trouble.
Old Dominion has collected an impressive 320 steals (9.7 spg) in 33 games this season. If Drew Williamson can wreak havoc on Drew Neitzel and Chris Hill defensively, the Spartans could be in for a nightmare evening.
If Neitzel and Hill can handle the pressure and protect the basketball, it should mean good things for the Spartans' fast-break. Michigan State has been a running team this season, and if they can get out in transition against the underdog Monarchs, they could overpower Old Dominion quickly.
Prediction: Being that this is the first basketball meeting ever between these two schools, there is little to go on in this matchup. George Mason is the only common opponent between MSU and Old Dominion this season. Michigan State defeated George Mason, 66-60, on Dec. 5 in the BB&T Classic in Washington D.C. Old Dominion met George Mason twice in the regular season, as they are both members of the Colonial Athletic Conference. The Monarchs posted a 71-58 victory over the Patriots at home on Jan. 15, but lost, 82-76, at GMU on Feb. 16.
Historically, the 5-versus-12 matchup in the NCAA tournament has been one of the most volatile for the higher seed. I think this matchup is no exception. The Monarchs are a young team with a lot of talent. Monarch Head Coach Blaine Taylor has experience in the Dance as an assistant at Stanford and should have his squad primed and ready. The lack of experience could work to the Monarchs' advantage much like it did for a young Spartan squad in 2003, when freshmen Paul Davis and Erazem Lorbeck led the way during their Elite-Eight run. On the other hand, the lack of experience could work against Old Dominion if they get wide-eyed and tentative on the big stage. No one will know for sure how the Monarchs will react until the game is underway.
Another factor favoring Old Dominion could be the pro-Syracuse crowd in Worcester, Massachusetts. The Orangemen play in the game just prior to the Spartan v. Monarch matchup Friday and will most certainly be rooting for the underdogs to pull the upset; making things easier for their team Sunday in the second round matchup.
I have a bad feeling that about this game. Over the past two seasons, it seems that the Spartans are at their worst when the pressure is highest. That aforementioned 320 steals number by the Monarchs really jumps out at me too.
Final: Old Dominion 63, Michigan State 61