Breaking down the good, bad of Kansas State’s matchup with Michigan State in Sweet 16


Little was expected of Kansas State the last time it reached the Sweet 16.

In fact, the Wildcats received so little attention heading into the regional semifinals back in 2018 that one K-State player suggested they might as well rename that round of the NCAA Tournament as the Sweet 15 because it felt like no one thought they belonged.

That made things even sweeter for K-State when it beat Kentucky as a No. 9 seed and reached the Elite Eight.

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Things are different this time around. No. 3 seed K-State will wear white uniforms in all of its games inside Madison Square Garden this week. It is the highest remaining seed in the East Region along with No. 4 Tennessee, No. 7 Michigan State and No. 9 Florida Atlantic.

The favorites to win the East Region, No. 1 Purdue and No. 2 Marquette, have already been eliminated.

After starting off March Madness with wins over Montana State and Kentucky, it won’t come as a major surprise if the Wildcats survive and advance their way past that group of teams and they reach their first Final Four since 1964.

“We shocked the world,” K-State guard Desi Sills said following a 75-69 win over Kentucky. “But we aren’t done yet. We came into this tournament expecting to make a deep run and that’s exactly what we intend to do once we get to New York.”


First up is a 5:30 p.m. game against Michigan State, which has won 21 games this season.

Are the Spartans a good matchup for the Wildcats? Or will they pose many problems for Jerome Tang’s team?

Here’s a breakdown of the game, and the remainder of the East Region:

What Michigan State does best

On paper, K-State fans should be grateful that the Spartans defeated the Golden Eagles on Sunday. Marquette could have been a matchup nightmare for the Wildcats, because they force more turnovers than just about anyone else in the country.

Michigan State is on the other end of the spectrum when it comes to that statistic. The Spartans only force turnovers on 15.1% of their opponent’s possessions. That number ranks 339th nationally.


Still, this won’t be a cupcake game for K-State. Michigan State (-1) is a small betting favorite, mostly because Tom Izzo teams are hard to beat once they get rolling in March.

The Spartans do three things best:

1. Michigan State makes three-pointers at an elite level. As a team, the Spartans are shooting 38.7% from beyond the arc this season. Three of their players, Joey Hauser (46.2%) and Tyson Walker (40.7%) and Jaden Aikins (40.5%) average better than 40%. Oddly, the Spartans don’t like to fire at will from distance, as they only attempt a three on 32.8% of their possessions.

2. Tom Izzo has a balanced defense. The Spartans are allowing teams to make 31.9% of their shots from three-point range and 48.2% from two-point range. There is no big weakness to exploit.


3. The Spartans know how to score out of half-court sets. They play at a slow pace, but you wouldn’t know it based on some of their scores. Michigan State makes most of its possessions count by limiting turnovers and taking good shots.

Where Michigan State struggles

Here are three things the Wildcats could take advantage of against the Spartans.

1. Michigan State doesn’t create turnovers. As mentioned above, the Spartans are nothing like TCU, West Virginia and some of the other teams that gave K-State trouble this season. They rank 339th nationally in forced turnovers. That is good news for the Wildcats, as limiting turnovers seems to be their primary goal.


2. The Spartans rarely get to the free-throw line. They make most of their shots (75.7%) when they do get to the foul line, but they often struggle to draw fouls and rank 318th in free-throw rate.

3. Iowa pulled off an incredible comeback against Michigan State. It is worth remembering that the Hawkeyes rallied from a 13-point deficit in the final two minutes to beat the Spartans in a game earlier this season. Even though that ending was a total fluke, there’s no reason for the Wildcats to think they can’t rally if they fall behind.

Player to watch

For the third straight game, K-State will face off against a intimidating big man in the NCAA Tournament.


Joey Hauser, a 6-foot-9 senior forward, averages 14.3 points and 7.1 rebounds this season for the Spartans. He presents a difficult matchup because he is capable of scoring at the rim (67%) and from three-point range (46.2%).

Unlike Kentucky forward Oscar Tshiebwe, he is a versatile scorer who will make players like Keyontae Johnson, Nae’Qwan Tomlin and David N’Guessan work on both the inside and the perimeter.

He is also an 88% shooter from the free-throw line. So fouling him is not a good a strategy.

Stat to know

Izzo knows how to win in March. The Michigan State coach has guided his team to one national championship and eight appearances in the Final Four since 1995.


He seems to be at his best when his team is the lower seed in games. Izzo actually owns more wins (16) in that scenario than any other coach. He passed forrmer Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim for that record on Sunday when Michigan State upset Marquette.

This is the fifth time that Izzo has taken a team seeded No. 5 or lower to the Sweet 16.

Jerome Tang was able to flex his coaching muscles against John Calipari at Greensboro Coliseum, but he will face a more difficult chess match against Izzo.

Beast of the East

Don’t sleep on Tennessee or Florida Atlantic. They are both capable of winning this region.

The Volunteers rank sixth nationally in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings database, which is a good 15 spots higher than K-State. They are also one of the hardest teams to score against in all of college basketball. Teams are only shooting 26.4% from three-point range against them.


Tennessee is missing Zakai Zeigler with an injury, but that didn’t stop it from dismantling Duke 65-52 in the Round of 32.

Some will probably write off Florida Atlantic as a Cinderella story, but they are a top 25 team in Ken Pom and they have won a whopping 33 games this season.

Either team will pose challenges in the Elite Eight.

The oddsmakers give Tennessee by far the best odds of advancing to the Final Four, at nearly even money (+115) per BetMGM. Michigan State (+333) and K-State are next in line (+340) at a little higher than 3-to-1 odds. Florida Atlantic (+450) is the longest shot of the group at nearly 5-to-1.


Bottom Line

Jerome Tang likes to say that the hardest game of the NCAA Tournament always comes in the opening round when both teams are fully rested and have multiple days to prepare for each other.

I’m not so sure that logic applies this season. Michigan State poses a much bigger challenge to K-State than Montana State. At worst, it poses the same kind of challenge as Kentucky.

The main difference this time around is Izzo. He is at his best in March Madness and this is the 15th time he has coached the Spartans in the Sweet 16. Tang has never been here before as a head coach.

Of course, Tang has already made it clear that he doesn’t think much of another team having more than tradition than K-State. It’s time to see if the Wildcats have got more dudes than the Spartans.