Michigan State Spartans 26-8, 12-6
Through January 21, the Spartans lost only one game, falling to the North Carolina Tar Heels. They had separate winning streaks of seven and 11, but after that point they did not win consecutive games the rest of the way until the Big 10 tournament. That would have significantly decreased expectations going into their 28th NCAA Tournament, but they’re right back up after a run to the Big 10 conference tournament championship that included wins against Wisconsin and Michigan. You can never count out a Tom Izzo coached team in March, especially because their struggles were never due to a lack of talent. Branden Dawson, Keith Appling, Gary Harris and Adreian Payne could all be playing in the NBA next year; the latter two are likely first-round picks. It was the lack of chemistry, which took a toll on their team defense and offensive efficiency that caused them. The chemistry issues undoubtedly stemmed partly from the injury woes they have endured, but they’re now as close to full strength as they have been all season. The sense of urgency that has come with playing lose-or-go-home basketball, along with being healthier, has got this team playing back up to their potential. All of their losses came to teams inside of the RPI top 70, with the worst being to Georgetown and Illinois. They score 76 points on average while allowing just 65. They’re one of the better three-point shooting teams in the country, making 8.3 a game on 39.5 percent shooting. The Spartans have survived past the first weekend of the tournament in five of the last six seasons and now look capable of extending that. Two weeks ago that wasn’t the case, but that’s how quickly things can change at this time of year.
Delaware Fightin’ Blue Hens 25-9, 14-2
There was 10 seconds left in the Fightin’ Blue Hens’ season. Their Colonial regular season championship was about to only net them an invitation to the NIT, but Carl Baptiste capped off a career night against William & Mary with the go-ahead layup and now Delaware is dancing for the fifth time in school history. Their bid ends a 15-year tournament drought. They boast one of the top scoring offenses in the tournament, averaging nearly 80 points a night. Devon Saddler, the school’s all-time leading scorer, leads the way with 19.7 points a game, but Davon Usher is right behind him at 19.4 and Jarvis Threatt (18.1) is also a potent scoring threat. The entire starting five averages double figures, but there’s not much depth behind them, which could be their undoing along with their lackluster defense and rebounding issues. They came close to picking up a quality win against Villanova and hung around against Ohio State, but ultimately came up short. The Fightin’ Blue Hens cannot afford any type of foul trouble if they are going to win a tournament game for the first time ever. They also need the game to be played at a high pace as they thrive in transition.
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