PREVIEW: Michigan State faces tough Syracuse defense in Round of 32

Michigan State (largely) took care of business on Friday in Detroit when they fended off (14) Bucknell 82-78.

RECAP: The 3-seed Spartans really flexed their muscles in the second half, taking a four-point halftime lead and expanding it to as many as 18 well into the late stages of the second half. Bucknell made the final score much closer than the overall game turned out to be, thanks to 24 of their 38 second-half points in the final four minutes of play.

Sparty got off to a nice start offensively thanks to sophomore guard Joshua Langford, who netted 15 points in the first half before finishing with 22 points, his first game of 20+ points since December 29. It also comes after averaging just 6.7 PPG over his previous seven times out.

Nonetheless, MSU survives and lives to see another day.

UP NEXT: Standing in between Michigan State and their first showing in the Sweet 16 since 2015 is Syracuse (22-13) out of the ACC. The Orange, who were ultimately the 68th and last team picked into the tournament field on Selection Sunday, finished 10th in what many will content as the nation's toughest conference top to bottom this season.

Anyone who's watched a Jim Boeheim-led Syracuse team over the years knows that they like to stifle the opposition with their zone defense. The Orange often rank near the top in scoring defense most years and that was no exception, posting the second-fewest PPG allowed in the ACC. They have a ton of length and athleticism to combat just about any team in the country.

KEY TO GAME: It starts and ends with the Syracuse 2-3 zone. Penetrating that and creating (and hopefully subsequently hitting) shots from outside would soften that defense. For Michigan State, it helps to have an all-around player like Miles Bridges that can both attack at the rim and step outside as well. It'll also help the Spartans to get out and run again so that the Orange don't have time to set up on defense.

Defensively for MSU, managing the Syracuse back court of Frank Howard and Tyus Battle will be a major point of emphasis. This tandem accounts for just over half of their team's scoring output this season.

PLAYER TO WATCH: The aforementioned Miles Bridges had the type of game that seemingly everyone — fans and pundits — have been waiting to see. Bridges took over late in the game, scoring 15 of his game-high 29 points in the final 10 minutes and change against Bucknell. He was also responsible for three of the team's five made three-pointers, during what was a relatively cool night from deep for MSU.

Bridges will need to damn near replicate that “killer instinct” performance from here on out.

  • TIP-OFF: Sunday, March 18 @ 2:40 p.m. ET on CBS
  • LINE: MSU -8
  • MONEY:
  • O/U: 129.5