DATE: Sunday March 20, 2005 - Worcester, Mass. - DCU Center (14,800)
TIME: 2:40 p.m. EST - CBS TV - Gus Johnson (Play by Play), Len Elmore (color)
GAME NOTES: Michigan State and Vermont have never met in basketball. Both teams are coming off impressive, hard-fought victories Friday night. The Spartans defeated Old Dominion 89-81, while Vermont upset 4th seeded Syracuse 60-57 in overtime.
Vermont is led by America East Player of the Year Taylor Coppenrath, who ranks second in the nation in scoring at 25.7 points per game. Point guard T.J. Sorrentine was a first-team all-conference honoree and ranks 18th all-time in NCAA history with 343 3-pointers. They are the two big guns that the Spartans will have to stop if they are to advance to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2003.
VERMONT NOTES: America East Champion Vermont finished the season 24-6 (16-2 America East) and earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, making its third-straight tournament appearance.
Center: MSU's Paul Davis (6'11" 255) versus Taylor Coppenrath (6'9" 250)
Coppenrath hit for 16 points, 4 boards and 3 steals versus Syracuse Friday; while Davis scored 14 points and 6 rebounds versus Old Dominion. Expect Michigan State to rotate Davis, Drew Naymick, Matt Trannon, and maybe Alan Anderson on to Coppenrath defensively at different time to try and give him different looks and keep him from getting into a comfort zone on the offensive end. While Davis must again be aggressive offensively to make Coppenrath work both ends of the floor.
CATAMOUNTS TO WATCH: Guard T.J Sorrentine (5'11" 185) and Forward Germain Mopa Njila (6'4" 215)
Sorrentine hit for 17 points, grabbed 4 rebounds and dished out 3 assists against Syracuse Friday night. He averaged 18.6 ppg and 4.4 apg during the regular season.
Mopa Njila scored a career-high 20 points, along with 9 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals for the Catamounts in their opening round upset of Syracuse. His regular season averages were 5.5 ppg, 6.9 rpg, and 2.1 apg.
Both players played 43 minutes Friday night and will log major minutes again Sunday. It will be important for the Spartans to keep intense defensive pressure on both of these players by rotating fresh bodies in and out of the game to wear them down.
KEYS TO VICTORY:
Vermont: Slow the Tempo and Pressure the Spartan Guards.
Just as they did against the Orange, Vermont will attempt to grind out every possession to keep their starters fresh and to hopefully keep within striking distance late in the game. By doing so, they hope to frustrate the Spartans into taking bad shots and rushing their offensive sets.
If the Catamounts can force the Spartan guards into bad turnovers and poor decisions, they could make each trip doen the floor that much more intense.
Michigan State: Stop Coppenrath and Sorrentine, Avoid Turnovers, Control the Glass and Run at Every Opportunity.
If the Spartans can control the boards, they can establish their running game and fatigue the Catamounts quickly. In the half court, they need to be aggressive and attack the basket to get to the foul line and hopefully put Coppenrath and the other starters on the bench with foul trouble.
It is very important that Michigan State works to avoid falling into a lull due to Vermont's grinding style. Expect the deeper Spartans to press Vermont to increase their own intensity and to make Sorrentine work that much harder on both ends of the floor. If they can force Vermont turnovers and get easy transition buckets on the other end. The game could be over sooner rather than later.
PREDICTION: Vermont essentially played just five players Friday night in their overtime win over Syracuse, as their bench played a combined 8 minutes. Expect the Catamounts to try the same formula versus Michigan State Sunday. The Spartans are a much deeper team, and they must use their depth, talent and defensive intensity to overwhelm the Catamount starting five. There will simply be no excuses if they fail to do so.
With that in mind, the Spartans' close victory and clutch free throws down the stretch versus Old Dominion Friday night are sure to give Michigan State a renewed confidence going into this game. If they can consistently maintain the defensive intensity they displayed at times in their last two games versus Old Dominion and Iowa, they should overwhelm the undermanned Catamounts. I expect them to do just that Sunday.
FINAL: Michigan State 90, Vermont 65