Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, March 27, 2015

It?s seemingly right there for Michigan State to seize-a trip to the Final Four, which would be a seventh under Tom Izzo.

The Spartans are hot, winning six of their last seven games. And the lone loss was in overtime to Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. The Spartans also are fortunate, playing in an East Region in Syracuse, N.Y., that saw No. 1 Villanova and No. 2 Virginia get knocked out the first week of the NCAA tourney.

Yes, Michigan State may have been under-seeded as a No. 7 as it pushes for its first national title since 2000. No matter, here are the Spartans taking on No. 3 Oklahoma in the Sweet 16 tonight at 10:07 p.m. ET. Win that, and MSU will battle the winner of the No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 8 N.C. State tilt on Sunday for a spot in the Final Four-a place the Spartans haven?t been since 2010.

Here are three keys to Michigan State beating the Sooners, who are led by former Illinois coach Lon Kruger.

1. Dialed-in Dawson. Without a doubt, Michigan State is much more difficult to topple if Brandon Dawson is motivated and playing like the beast he can be at both ends of the court. The senior has been playing his eyeballs out of late, scoring 14, 17, 16, 14 and 15 points in the last five games. And he continues to be a rebounding machine, pacing the club with a 9.1 average. This comes on the heels of Dawson getting in Tom Izzo?s doghouse and also getting his bell rung as February was melting into March. Since then, Dawson has been a force. He needs to keep it up.

2. Turn Travis Trice loose. The senior guard has been on fire, motivated to make his last few weeks in a Michigan State uniform memorable. Trice is averaging 19 points and 4.5 assists in the Big Dance, excelling since a role switch that has him coming off the bench. A hot hand by Trice could minimize the impact of star Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield, the Big 12 Player of the Year. Trice will need to provide some offense vs. a tough OU defense that limits foes to 38.6 percent shooting.

3. Let Lourawls ?Tum Tum? Nairn set the pace. How much of an impact has the true freshman point man had? A big one. Before the 5-10 Nairn was put into the starting lineup, Michigan State had a 15-8 record and was in peril of missing the Big Dance for the first time since 1996-97. Since then, MSU has gone 10-3. Nairn?s ebullient personality has been infectious. The guy is just a leader. And he needs to continue flourishing as a ball handler and defender, setting up others like Dawson and Denzel Valentine as scorers. You go, Tum Tum!


About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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