By Jeff Ghiringhelli
The hobbled Michigan State Spartans were happier than anybody to see Northern Iowa pull of their historic upset of Kansas this past weekend. A Sweet Sixteen matchup with number one overall seed Kansas was staring them in the face, but then the Jayhawks were sent packing. All of the injuries that have hit the Spartans recently would have made a game against Kansas a nightmare scenario.
Instead, enter the Northern Iowa Panthers, who are no slouch themselves. They are a sound, defensive minded team that prides itself on not allowing the opposition open looks at the basket. They are rated 14th best in defensive efficiency according to kenpom.com, and they spent a lot of the year ranked in the top 25. They always play within their game plan, and never get flustered as evidenced by their performance against Kansas.
The hero of their major upset was senior guard Ali Farokhmanesh. With 30 seconds left in the game, the press break run by the Panthers left Farokhmanesh wide open on the perimeter. Instead of pulling back and getting fouled, he pulled the trigger from long distance and delivered a dagger three pointer. An offensive foul on the Jayhawks at the other end sealed the victory. Farokhmanesh is an above-average three point shooter at 38 percent on the year, and displayed that he is fearless on the big stage.
Speaking of big, the Panthers’ leading scorer is 7 foot, 280 pound Jordan Eglseder. He averages 12 points, 7 rebounds, and nearly a block per game. He could pose some matchup problems for MSU, as he will have a distinct height advantage over anyone coach Tom Izzo puts on the block. The Spartans may have to rely on some quick post maneuvers to get around the big man.
Michigan State has other injury concerns besides Lucas being out. Junior Chris Allen has been battling a foot injury that he suffered in the first round against New Mexico State, and was limited to just four minutes against Maryland. He is expected to play tomorrow, and MSU could really use his long-range abilities. Also, sophomore Delvon Roe has been bothered by his surgically-repaired knees. These injury concerns make it imperative that players like Raymar Morgan, Durrell Summers, and Draymond Green all step their games up.
One thing to really watch out for in this game is Michigan State’s abilities on the offensive glass. In two tournament games thus far, Northern Iowa has allowed 26 offensive rebounds. The Spartans are ranked number one in the nation in rebounding margin at +9 per game. If MSU can get a lot of second chance points, they will greatly increase their odds of advancing to the Elite Eight.
Also, turnovers have plagued Michigan State all season with or without Lucas. Earlier this season, when Lucas was out with a sprained ankle, MSU committed 18 turnovers in a loss to Illinois. They also committed 18 in the win against Maryland. Part of backup Korie Lucious’ job is to protect the basketball, and if he does well, the Spartans will have a great chance to advance tomorrow.
This game will be a grind it out, Big Ten style game that will not light up the scoreboard. Lucious’ confidence is through the roof after making the shot against Maryland, and he should carry that momentum into tomorrow’s game and perform admirably. Expect a game in the 60’s, with Michigan State advancing to the Elite Eight 66-60.Follow paulmbanks