Michigan State is a very tough match-up for UConn. The Spartans don't necessarily have the size inside to match-up with the Huskies, but they definitely have the strength, as evidenced by the fact that they are the best rebounding team in the country (coming into the tournament, no one outrebounded their opponents by more than MSU).
But the Spartans are not a team based around their inside play. In fact, they are a perimeter oriented team that relies on the fast break to score. This is exactly the kind of team that UConn struggles with (think Pitt). The key for the Spartans is going to be Goran Suton. Suton is one of the more underrated big men in the country. He is not the greatest athlete in the world, but he is a smart player that really understands positioning and rebounding.
His most important skill as a player, especially in this game, is going to be his ability to knock down a perimeter jumper. Hasheem Thabeet is not going to be able to camp out in the lane and defend the rim, as the Huskies like to have him do, because Suton is a 42% shooter from deep.
Also expect to see a ton of ball screens from MSU. While Thabeet has improved drastically on his ability to move his feet and defend on the perimeter, he is still a very average, at best, defender on the perimeter. Pick-and-rolls or pick-and-pops, using the guy that Thabeet is defending, should be very effective against the Huskies.
On the offensive end, UConn is going to need to find a way to score outside of AJ Price. Travis Walton is one of the best on-ball defenders in the country. The rest of the guys that play in the Husky backcourt are small (Craig Austrie, Kemba Walker), which means that Kalin Lucas will be able to guard them. UConn does not have a player other than Price that can create his own shot. When Price is struggling offensively, the Huskies get stagnant on that end of the floor. When their offense gets stagnant, they rely on their size and offensive rebounding ability to get points. As I mentioned earlier, the Spartans are the best rebounding team in the country. UConn is not easily going to be able to crash the offensive glass in this one.
The Huskies do, however, need to at least try and exploit their size advantage. While Thabeet is no where near a polished player on the offensive end, he has shown an effective baby hook in this tournament. When he is playing confident basketball and is strong with the ball on the block, he does have the ability to score down there. And draw fouls. That is the key. I expect Suton to log the majority of the minutes on Thabeet watch. As I mentioned, Suton is going to be the key for the Spartans on the offensive end. If the Huskies can get him into foul trouble, it would be a huge lift for them.
The x-factor match-up in this one is going to be between Stanley Robinson and Durrell Summers/Raymar Morgan. Morgan has the talent to be an all-american, but due to health issues this season, he has been a shell of his former self. Summers is one of the few guys in the country that can say they are close to the athlete that Sticks is.
As good as guys like Price and Thabeet have been for the Huskies in the dance, Sticks might be playing the best ball of anyone on the team. After sitting out the first semester, he has really picked his game up after Jerome Dyson went down with the knee injury. His length and athleticism make him such a difficult match-up on both ends of the floor. But Summers and Morgan are athletic/talented enough to counter Sticks. It will be interesting to see who gets the best of that match-up.
This game is going to be won by the team that can control the pace. The Spartans love to run the floor and get quick, easy baskets. Even in their half court sets, they are not exactly a patient team. Their offense is not a continuity offense. What I mean is that they run a called play. If that play doesn't result in a shot, they pull it out and run another called play. For example, one thing you are going to see a lot of Saturday is one big posting on the block with the ball in Lucas's hands, while a shooter (Chris Allen or Walton) runs off of a double screen on the other side of the floor. If the post up isn't there and the shooter isn't open off of the curl, then Lucas will pull the ball out and call another play.
UConn likes to play at a much slower pace. They are a team that wants to get into a slug fest, because they are bigger and stronger than most of the teams that they face. Simply put, without Jerome Dyson, they just do not have the offensive firepower to go up and down with a team like the Spartans. More importantly, an uptempo game severely limits the impact that a guy like Thabeet can have on the defensive end.
UConn wants to keep this game in the 60's, while MSU wants it to go into the 70's or 80's.