Felton is averaging 12.3 points, 6.0 rebounds and 9.0 assists during this year's tournament; with both his rebounding and assists numbers are both up from his overall season averages (12.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg and 6.9 apg).
Felton scored 17 points and also had seven assists and five rebounds against Wisconsin in the Syracuse Regional Final last Sunday despite spraining his left ankle in the second half. Felton entered the game shooting just 2 for 6 at the free throw line in three previous NCAA Tournament games in 2005 but drained all six of his free throw attempts in the final 51.3 seconds to ice the victory.
What can Michigan State do to slow down Felton? Here are a few possibilities:
1. Defend, Defend, Defend:
It sounds basic, but when you're talking about Felton, it's not. While I fully expect both Drew Neitzel and Chris Hill to have an opportunity to guard Felton early in the game; but also expect to see both Shannon Brown and Kelvin Torbert spending the majority of their minutes on the floor facing up on the Tar Heels' top-notch point man. Brown and Torbert have been instrumental defensively on the perimeter during the Spartans' tournament run, shutting down Vermont's T.J. Sorrentine, Duke's J.J. Reddick and Daniel Ewing and Kentucky's Rajon Rondo over the course of the last three games.
After Sorrentine scored 16 points, primarily against Hill, Neitzel and Mo Ager, in the first half of the Vermont game back on March 20, Brown and Torbert took over and held him to just 10 points in the final 20 minutes.
Against Duke, all of the guards played well and held Reddick and Ewing to combined 31 points, but just a combined 11-for-30 shooting (.366).
Last Sunday, both Neitzel and Hill struggled with the quickness of Rondo, but it was Brown and Torbert, with their size and quicker feet, that effectively shut him down during the late stages of regulation and the two overtime sessions; as Rondo finished with 7 points, 5 rebounds, and just 3 assists for the game.
Their assignment will be no different, and no less important, against Felton come Saturday night.
2. Run the Break:
To make the plan against Felton truly effective, he must be forced to work on both ends of the floor. There is no secret that Michigan State will run their fast break at every opportunity. Drew Neitzel and Chris Hill must protect the ball and pick their spots to score. If the Spartan point guards can break Felton's on the ball pressure, make crisp passes and hit their shots, it will go a long way toward neutralizing the Felton's impact on the final outcome.
Late game fatigue for Michigan State's opposing guards was a big factor in their last three wins and should be again if they can implement the same effective formula of offensive and defensive pressure against the Tar Heels Saturday.
3. Make their Shots:
Now is not the time for Michigan State to go cold or be tentative from outside. Their guards and wing players must create their own shots and hit their open looks when presented with them. The Tar Heels are too good on the glass and in the open court for the Spartans to present them with any one-and-done possessions on their offensive end. If by chance Chris Hill could become dialed in from long range Saturday, North Carolina could find themselves in hot water.
4. Rebound the Ball:
The Tar Heels have put up some monster rebounding numbers this season. Michigan State, while no slouches on the glass themselves, will face a major challenge against Sean May and the rest of the Carolina Windex crew. Paul Davis and Alan Anderson had done the job all season in this regard, but it will be imperative that Matt Trannon, Drew Naymick, and a returning Delco Rowley perform this task in the biggest game of the season.
If the Spartans cannot rebound against North Carolina, they will loose. The Tar Heels are too good on the break and in the paint to give them any second chance possessions or easy fast break opportunities. If they can hold their own on the glass and hold Felton to his average point and assist totals, Michigan State will be well on their way to victory.