Road to the Regional
Panthers: Defeated UNLV, 69-66, and Kansas, 69-67
Spartans: Defeated New Mexico State, 70-67, and Maryland, 85-83
The storylines here are pretty obvious. How will Northern Iowa respond to the spotlight that has suddenly enveloped them since Saturday's stunning win over Kansas? And, how will Michigan State play without Kalin Lucas, out with a torn Achilles tendon? The Panthers are known for being a smart, steady team with a consistent temperament. Will this change after a week in the national limelight?
UNI isn't a hot shooting team, as they didn't break 45 percent in either of their first two games. But they are timely in their makes (Ali Farokhmanesh, anyone?) and deadly from the foul line. Our Michigan State blog, The Only Colors, says the Panthers resemble one of the Spartans' most familiar foes.
This is a deep, balanced, veteran team. But their offensive numbers don't exactly leap off the page. That's partly a function of the fact UNI plays the game of basketball at a glacially slow pace--59 possessions per game. That's good for 3rd slowest in the country. Even Wisconsin plays with (slightly) more hop in their step than these guys do.
Like Wisconsin, the Panthers' clear offensive strength is taking care of the ball. They've turned it over on just 18.0% of possessions this season.
For the Spartans, Korie Lucious is a question mark, even with his game winner against Maryland on Sunday. He struggled in the one game he started in place of Lucas, February 6th at Illinois (4 points, 3 assists, 6 turnovers), and the team has been inconsistent lately period. The win against the Aggies was due to their ability to get to the free throw line more often than their opponent, a mistake Northern Iowa isn't likely to make. The victory against the Terps could have been a loss had Maryland converted on more of the Spartans' 18 turnovers. With a lack of backcourt depth and the ballhandling that inevitably result, the Spartans could give the Panthers extra chances to score or run down the clock.
My pick: Northern Iowa
Read more at our Michigan State blog, The Only Colors.