Spartans continue to peak in NCAA Tournament

At the beginning of the basketball season the Spartans were unranked in the Top 25. Was that motivation for MSU? Maybe. Did the Spartans see that as a lack of respect? Possibly. Whatever it was, they won a Big Ten Conference regular season championship. Oh, and a Big Ten Conference tournament championship. Lastly, a #5 national rank. Never-mind, I forgot about a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. It doesn't look like they’re stopping there either.

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Losing Branden Dawson to a knee injury was a big blow to the Spartans. And not being with the Spartans for their game against Louisville on Thursday may hurt his familiarity with the tournament for next year. Fortunately, it seems as if having Austin Thornton and Brandon Wood’s experience in the starting lineup may have been a blessing in disguise…

Obviously, National Player of the Year candidate, Draymond Green, has been exceptional for the Spartans. His versatility is what makes him virtually unstoppable. But Green couldn’t do it without his surprising supporting cast. Not to downplay the roles of Keith Appling and Brandon Wood, but we kind of expected them to be playing their best basketball right now. The surprises are Adreian Payne, Derrick Nix and Austin Thornton. They have been on fire for the Spartans in their last couple of games, and they look as confident as they’ve ever been.

Austin Thornton, who has battled excessive migraines the entire season, is shooting around 50% from outside the arc. He’s also probably MSU’s best free-throw shooter, and is now considered a big threat to opposing defenses. The Spartan faithful now loves him getting open shots from the outside. His on-the-court leadership is noticeable because of his new-found senior mentality, and his defense has improved greatly.

Derrick Nix has exploded as of late. You can expect him to catch the ball on the block with his soft hands and swiftly make an up and under to the basket. Or, he’ll make a move to the middle and put up a baby-hook with his left hand. Either way, I don’t see anyone having an easy time guarding a big man like him that can play who is also 6’9” and 280 pounds.

Finally, Adreian Payne has been throwing down some thunderous dunks. You can anticipate one or two a game from him, and my personal favorite was the one (see it below) against Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship game. He doesn’t look lost on defense anymore and is starting use his athleticism to his advantage.

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It’s not far-fetched to say the Spartans have a legitimate chance at a national championship run. Anything can happen during March Madness, and watching the tournament take its course is the best time of the year in sports.

Michigan State takes on 4th-seeded Louisville in a Sweet Sixteen matchup on Thursday at 7:47 p.m. in Phoenix, Arizona.

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