3 Things to focus on for Kansas-Michigan State on Sunday

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Michigan State vs Miami
Mar 17, 2017; Tulsa, OK, USA; Michigan State Spartans guard Miles Bridges (22) shoots over Miami Hurricanes defense during the second half in the first round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament at BOK Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

It definitely was not pretty seeing Michigan State down 10-0 early against Miami and eventually being down as many as 12. But whatever head coach Tom Izzo said or did after that worked, because the Spartans dominated the rest of the game, en route to a 20-point win over the Hurricanes to advance.

Now comes a date late Sunday afternoon with top-seed Kansas. The Jayhawks have been one of the better programs over the last decade or so now, and this year is no different, just missing out on that overall No. 1 seed.

So what is this MSU-Kansas showdown going to look like? Here’s three things to watch for on Sunday:

1. JACKSON v. BRIDGES: For fans of Michigan State, you were probably hoping that the first time these two are on the floor together at the collegiate level was in early November. Foes of MSU would probably think otherwise. Regardless, college hoops fans are getting their wish.

This is undoubtedly the game within the game on Sunday. Two Flint-stones duking it out and hoping to carry their team into the Sweet 16. It’s pretty scary how identical their numbers are:

PPG 16.7 16.4
RPG 8.3 7.2
APG 2.1 3.0
3PT% 39.1 38.5
MPG 31.9 30.5

Stats courtesy of ESPN

Ultimately the difference between the two is their value to the team. Bridges is asked to do more than Jackson, as he leads the Spartans in scoring, rebounding and minutes played. While Jackson is a supreme talent, he does have the benefit of an experienced, All-American-type of backcourt in Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham.

These two play the same position too, so even more emphasis to watch them go at it.

2. GUARD PLAY: We already documented a little on the level of excellence from Mason and Graham for Kansas. Combined with Jackson, the trio are responsible for close to 61 percent of the Jayhawks’ scoring output this season. Mason leads the bunch with over 20 a game.

Containing all three of them will be virtually impossible. But limiting at least one of them could be crucial. This might be where someone like Lourawls ‘Tum Tum’ Nairn Jr. for Michigan State could have an impact. Of the two point guards Tom Izzo plays, Nairn is more of the defensive-minded one, and definitely more experienced. He might be able to give someone like Mason fits on both ends of the floor.

But Izzo will be turning to freshman Cassius Winston quite often once again. Winston ended up playing 22 of the 40 minutes split between him and Nairn. Expect something similar, perhaps more in favor of Nairn if it means locking up on defense and making stops.

Fellow freshman Joshua Langford could be a huge X-factor for Michigan State. Langford on Friday against Miami netted 13 points, it’s now twice in three games he’s reached double-figures. If Nairn is utilized more than Winston, and because Nairn is not a scoring threat, it could mean added duty for Langford.

3. THE IZZO-SELF FACTOR: For those strictly looking for factors that strictly pertain to the box scores and stats of players, I apologize in advance because this is where the mental/psychological aspect of the piece comes in.

For those of you who indulged in our list of 10 things you should know heading into the tournament, you may know that one of the items listed talked about what could happen if Michigan State got by Miami in the first round. Check. So what does that mean?

It means that based on track record, Michigan State has a very good chance to win on Sunday against Kansas. The Spartans under Tom Izzo have won 21 of 25 NCAA Tournament games on a two-day turnaround, meaning games that are in the Round of 32 or the Elite 8.

What makes this even more intriguing is Kansas’ side of this story. They are historically poor in the second round as a top-2 seed. Six times in their 28 straight years of dancing have they been bounced from the dance in the second round, as a 1- or 2-seed.


DON DRYSDALE Kansas, 81-74
PAUL ROCHON Kansas, 82-67
A.J. REILLY Kansas, 85-73