Michigan State vs. LSU: Who has the edge, plus Matt Charboneau's prediction
The Detroit News’ Matt Charboneau breaks down Friday’s Michigan State-LSU NCAA Tournament regional semifinal game at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. (7:09 p.m., CBS/WJR 760, WWJ 950).
Sophomore point guard Tremont Waters was the hero in LSU’s second-round victory over Maryland, getting to the basket and scoring in the final seconds to help the Tigers advance. He’s arguably the most important player to the Tigers this season and leads the way with 15.1 points and 5.9 assists a game. His quickness helps free up the likes of junior Skylar Mays, who is averaging 13.6 points while shooting 31.2 percent from 3-point range and isn’t afraid to take big shots. Junior college transfer Marlon Taylor rounds out the backcourt for the Tigers but won’t light up the scoreboard.
Cassius Winston continues to be the catalyst to everything Michigan State does and his matchup with Waters might be on of the most intriguing one-on-one battles of the entire tournament. Waters is the type of defender that can give Winston problems, but like he did against Michigan’s Zavier Simpson, Winston has more than enough ability to create space and find either shots for himself or his teammates. It’s happened in crunch time all season and did so last week against Minnesota, which helped Winston earn more national honors this week. Winston continues to be joined by senior running mate Matt McQuaid. He’ll likely end up guarding Mays and/or Javonte Smart, when the LSU freshman is on the court. Freshman Aaron Henry rounds things out for Michigan State and is coming off a solid opening weekend when he proved he can be an effective defender while also getting to the rim and grabbing rebounds.
Edge: Michigan State
The Tigers’ athleticism stands out near the basket as 6-foot-11 Kavell Bigby-Williams blocks two shots a game while 6-10 Naz Reid averages 13.7 points and 7.1 rebounds with the ability step out and hit a 3-pointer, making 35.1 percent this season. Bigby-Williams has recorded 10 double-doubles this season and will be a tough matchup for the smaller Spartans frontcourt. Reid is more physical and will challenge both Xavier Tillman and Kenny Goins.
Both are a bit undersized – Tillman at 6-8 and Goins 6-7 – but Tillman has shown the ability to guard multiple positions while Goins will be a matchup problem for LSU on the other end as he started to find his stroke against Minnesota, hitting 2-of-4 from 3-point range. It ended a string of 12 straight 3-point misses that spanned more three games, but it never knocked down the confidence of the fifth-year senior, who is averaging 8.9 rebounds a game. Tillman has become more of an offensive threat, as well, scoring 16 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in the first-round win over Bradley, and following that with 14 points and six rebounds against Minnesota. He’s recorded five double-doubles this season, including two since moving into the starting lineup late in the season.
Both teams have a player coming off the bench with extensive starting experience – guard Javonte Smart for LSU and center Nick Ward for Michigan State. Smart has started 17 games this season and is averaging 30 minutes whether he comes off the bench or not. He’s also an offensive sparkplug who is averaging 11.4 points a game. In a win earlier this season over Tennessee, Smart started in place of Waters and scored a career-high 29, including the winning free throws in overtime. Freshmen forwards Emmitt Williams and Darius Days are both athletic players who will defend and hit the glass. Days has also been effective from the perimeter, shooting 37.9 percent from 3-point range.
Ward continues to slowly work back into the rotation for the Spartans, playing 20 minutes in the win over Minnesota, scoring nine points and grabbing seven rebounds. He could provide solid low-post defense against LSU’s bigs while freshman wing Gabe Brown could slowly see his minutes increase as Michigan State plays without Kyle Ahrens and Joshua Langford. Freshmen Foster Loyer and Thomas Kithier will also provide a break for Winston and the three big men.
Michigan State hasn’t played many teams as athletic as LSU and the Waters-Winston matchup will be one to watch. But while the Tigers have been brushing off the critics who wonder how a team with an interim coach could make it this far, the Spartans have also been proving they have what it takes, regardless of who’s on the floor. If the Spartans can keep the Tigers off the glass and run with them a bit, this will likely just be the next step. Michigan State 80, LSU 71