No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 7 Connecticut
1:20 p.m. Sunday, Madison Square Garden, New York, KTVT/11
Records: Michigan State 29-8, 12-6 Big Ten; Connecticut 29-8, 12-6 AAC
Head to head
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Michigan State: Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson have the size and athleticism to give almost any opponent fits. Dawson, a 6-foot-6 junior, has really stepped up in the postseason, leading the Spartans with 24 points and 10 rebounds in the regional semifinal win against Virginia. MSU is 24-3 when he plays, 20-2 when he starts and 15-0 when he scores more than 10 points.
Connecticut: DeAndre Daniels had a career-defining game in the semifinal win over Iowa State, scoring a career-high 27 points with 10 rebounds and two blocks. Niels Giffey and Phillip Nolan combined for just five points and eight rebounds.
Edge: Michigan State. Payne and Dawson, if on their games, could exploit UConn’s deficiencies under the basket, not only offensively, but on defense, too, forcing the Huskies to make jumpers.
Michigan State: Gary Harris, Keith Appling and Denzel Valentine didn’t have great offensive nights against Virginia, combining to make 4 of 12 shots for 11 points, eight assists and four turnovers. But Virginia’s plodding style and stuffy defense gets credit for that. Against, UConn, which also plays great defense, Harris and Appling should come closer to averaging their combined 28 points a game.
Connecticut: All-America point guard Shabazz Napier is averaging 22.7 points, six rebounds and 4.7 assists in the tournament and probably can’t be stopped. Napier can’t beat MSU alone, however, so Ryan Boatright will have to keep the hot hand after scoring 16 points against Iowa State.
Edge: Connecticut. Napier’s skills gives the slight edge to the Huskies, but the Spartans are deeper at the position and could trump Napier’s quality with quantity.
Michigan State: Junior guard Travis Trice has been a steady presence for the Spartans, especially lately. He scored 19 points in the tournament opener. Forward Matt Costello has started 20 games but has come off the bench since late February and can provide a scoring lift, along with Kenny Kaminski.
Connecticut: Terrance Samuel and Amid Brimah provided punch for the Huskies against Iowa State while combing to make 5 of 7 shots and grab five rebounds. Brimah also had two blocks, which will help slow down MSU’s guards.
Edge: Michigan State. Spartans get the slight edge because of Trice’s proven ability off the bench.
Michigan State: Tom Izzo has the experience and the skins on the wall in a résumé matchup with most coaches, including the seven others in this Elite Eight, his eighth overall.
Connecticut: Kevin Ollie, in his second season at his alma mater, is an up-and-coming coaching star. He’s not too far removed from his NBA career and shows a great affection and understanding toward his players. This is his first NCAA Tournament as a coach.
Edge: Michigan State. Ollie might be headed in that direction, but Izzo has firmly established himself as one of the great coaches in the country.
Michigan State is finally healthy after missing various starters throughout the season, and it’s showing. The Spartans are streaking at the right time and are a scary team with an aura of destiny and no obvious weaknesses. — Stefan Stevenson