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Oklahoma zeroes in on Dawson’s physical game

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing – — While Michigan State will be making the adjustment from playing a grinding, physical game against Virginia last weekend to a quicker, running pace with Oklahoma this week, the Sooners are focusing more on banging with the Spartans.

That means they’ll be putting plenty of focus on containing Branden Dawson in the East Regional semifinals Friday.

Dawson had 18 points and 10 rebounds in Michigan State’s victory over Oklahoma last season, and the Sooners believe he epitomizes the Spartans physical style.

“That’s how they beat a lot of people,” forward Ryan Spangler told The Oklahoman. “They get people to try to fight back with them and it ends after a couple minutes. Everything they do is physical — blocking out running, playing defense. They just try to wear you down. We just have to go in there and be physical back.”

At 6-foot-8 and 235 pounds, Spangler and forward TaShawn Thomas (6-8, 242) can bang with Dawson and the other Michigan State big men. And in Oklahoma’s victories over Albany and Dayton last weekend, they combined for 42 points and 37 rebounds.

Oklahoma outrebounded Albany by six and Dayton by 12. Michigan State, on the other hand, was outrebounded in both its games — 42-35 to Georgia and 39-32 to Virginia.

“Probably the biggest negative of all for me is we’re only like a plus-one or two in the last 13 games rebounding the ball,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “We’ve been outrebounded in the NCAA Tournament, including killed on the offensive glass by teams. That has to be fixed.”

Michigan State allowed 18 offensive rebounds to Virginia.

“Coach talked to me about it,” Dawson said. “We just have to get back to cutting out. Doing a great job with that and when we get our hands on the ball, securing the rebound.”

Added guard Denzel Valentine: “The good thing about us is that we’ve been a great rebounding team all year, besides these last couple games, so it’s just minor adjustments, focusing on it and paying attention to detail.”

Izzo rated tops

The numbers appear to prove what many Michigan State fans have believed — Izzo is the best NCAA Tournament coach in the nation.

The website FiveThirtyEight.com crunched the numbers for all 523 coaches since the Tournament expanded in 1985, and Izzo comes out on top, well ahead of Louisville’s Rick Pitino.

The site compared the number of expected wins based on seeding to the number of actual games won. A No. 1 seed, for example, is expected to win 3.1 games while a No. 4 seed wins 1.6 games. It concluded Izzo has won 14.6 more games than would be expected. Pitino is second at 11.5.

Familiar foes

Michigan State and Oklahoma had two common opponents — Kansas and Wisconsin.

■Michigan State was 0-1 against Kansas (61-56, Orlando Classic), while Oklahoma was 1-1 (home win, road loss).

■Michigan State was 0-2 against Wisconsin (road loss, overtime loss in Chicago), while Oklahoma also lost to Wisconsin (Battle 4 Atlantis, Bahamas).

3 Oklahoma vs. 7 Michigan State

Tip-off: 10:07 p.m. Friday, Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y.

TV/radio: TBS/WJR

Records: Oklahoma 24-10, Michigan State 25-11

Outlook: It’s the seventh Sweet 16 appearance for the Spartans in eight years.