NCAA tourney preview: No. 9 Michigan State vs. No. 8 Miami

NCAA tourney preview: No. 9 Michigan State vs. No. 8 Miami

This has been a trying season for Tom Izzo and the Spartans. Youth and injury have been major obstacles to this team being able to gain consistent traction. Still, whenever you have Izzo on your sideline, you have to like your team’s chances for success in March. Few are better under the bright lights, as Izzo has been one-and-down just five times in 19 previous NCAA trips. But one of those times was last year, when No.2 MSU was stunned by No. 15 Middle Tennessee. Back then, expectations were high for the Spartans. That’s that not the case this year.

Miles Bridges has been a sensation since getting over an early-season injury. But this team misses Eron Harris, who suffered a season-ending injury to a knee on Feb. 18. Alvin Ellis III has taken his spot in the lineup for a program that has had nine different starting lineups while navigating a brutal non-conference schedule. Depth up front is slim, so Nick Ward needs to stay out of foul trouble.

When it’s all said and done, making it to the Sweet 16 may be difficult for Michigan State as No. 1 Kansas figures to await should it get by Miami in the first round.

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No. 9 Michigan State vs. No. 8 Miami (Friday, Tulsa, Okla., Midwest)

Tom Izzo’s NCAA record: 46-18, 7 Final Fours, 1 championship (2000)

Last NCAA appearance: 2016, lost to Middle Tennessee in first round

Key player: Miles Bridges. He earned Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors, averaging 16.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists. No doubt, he lived up to his preseason hype as the league’s top newcomer. In fact, he leads one of the Big Ten’s most touted freshman classes at MSU, which also includes big Nick Ward in the pivot, wing Joshua Langford and guard Cassius Winston. But no one can match the athletic ability and explosiveness of Bridges, who may be in his final days as a college player.

Key number: 66.4, Michigan State’s free-throw percentage. This could be a big issue in a close game down the stretch.

Know Miami: The Hurricanes are fueled by good guard play. Bruce Brown has struggled with consistency as a freshman. But when he’s clicking, he can be special. Senior Davon Reed is capable of carrying Miami if he heats up as a shooter. Another player to watch in the backcourt is Ja’Quan Newton. Plus, Miami is well coached by Jim Larranaga, who led George Mason to the Final Four in 2006.

Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer

About Tom Dienhart: BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, and send him questions to his weekly mailbag.

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