What an action-packed four days of college basketball we just witnessed! We will have a few days off before the Sweet 16 Thursday evening at Madison Square Garden, where the Michigan State Spartans face the Kansas State Wildcats. With this in mind, we take a look at the Thursday matchup! This matchup on paper is amazing. It features two electric offenses led by two star-studded guards Tyson Walker for the Spartans and Markquis Nowell for the Wildcats. The two guards had incredible performances to get their teams to the second week.
Photo Cred: Yahoo Sports
With Michigan State up 56-55 with three minutes left, Walker scored eight of ten points to seal the win for the Spartans. Nowell played every second of the game versus Kentucky and dropped 27 points with nine assists. Although they are the engines for their respective teams, Walker and Nowell are not without help. A.J Hoggard compliments Walker in the Spartan’s backcourt providing a more physical presence. Joey Hauser rounds out the “Big 3” for the Spartans. Hauser shot 46% from behind the arc during the regular season, which was the best out of any Big Ten player.
The Spartans struggled from deep in their win against Marquette, but they were the 3rd best three-point shooting team during the regular season, don’t expect a repeat of Sunday. The fact that they won despite only hitting two threes is encouraging but also something they cannot repeat if they want to advance to the elite eight.
Photo Cred: USA Today
Despite being the catalyst of the Wildcat’s offense, Nowell is not the team’s leading scorer. Keyontae Johnson, a senior transfer from Florida, is the Wildcat’s leading scorer and rebounder. Johnson is undoubtedly the best story of this tournament. In 2020 it looked like his basketball career was over when he collapsed mid-game. Johnson was in a coma for three days. After recovering, he faced an option. Either collect a $5 million insurance policy from the NCAA or enter the transfer portal and continue his career. Johnson bet on himself and transferred to Kansas State where he has been vital in the team reaching the Sweet 16, highlighted by hitting a clutch three against Kentucky.
Photo Cred: Wichita State Eagle
The Wildcats struggle on the defensive glass, allowing Kentucky to grab 19 offensive rebounds on Sunday. The good news for Kansas State is the Spartans are not nearly the elite offensive rebounding team Kentucky is. The Spartans create extra possessions, but if Jerome Tang’s bunch can limit the second-chance points, it could be their game to lose.
Tom Izzo has been one of the best coaches for a while and displayed this in his game plan that completely neutralized Marquette’s All-American guard Tyler Kolek. Izzo will likely have a defensive game plan that seeks to make life difficult for Markquis Nowell. If Nowell struggles, it could be a long night for the Wildcats, but the senior guard is plenty used to pressure situations.
Photo Cred: Fox News
Where the biggest mismatch lies, however, and what will probably be the difference is the defense of Joey Hauser. Hauser is a fantastic offensive player and a great rebounder, but it would be an understatement to say Hause struggles guarding the perimeter. First-year coach Jerome Tang should be able to cause switches that force Hauser onto Nowell and Johnson. The game could swing either way. I think the firepower of Nowell and Johnson will lead Kansas State to its first elite eight since 2018. Kansas State 81, Michigan State 76.