Really, there is only one relevant question for Michigan State and its opening NCAA Tournament game.
Is Bucknell like Middle Tennessee?
The Blue Raiders, as a No. 15 seed, ended the Spartans’ hopes at a national title with a 90-81 first-round upset in 2016.
No. 3 seed Michigan State again enters the tournament as one of the favorites to win it all, just like two years ago. The journey starts against No. 14 seed Bucknell on Friday.
Land of 10 breaks down the Bison’s chances of replicating Middle Tennessee’s path and ruining the Spartans’ tournament.
Pace of play
The Blue Raiders wanted to get down the floor and score. They averaged 72.5 points per game, which was in the middle of the pack nationally. Bucknell is even better offensively at 81.1 points per game, which ranks 35th nationally.
Middle Tennessee turned its matchup with Michigan State into an offensive contest. Bucknell is equipped to do the same thing.
Middle Tennessee was prolific from deep all season, and it was central to its upset win. The Blue Raiders hit 39.0 percent of its 3-point shots and had four players hit at least 38.0 percent of their 3s.
Middle Tennessee put on a shooting clinic, converting 55.9 percent of its shots. Yet, it did its best work from deep. The Blue Raiders hit 11 3s and shot 57.9 percent from the 3-point line.
Bucknell isn’t as prolific of a 3-point shooting team. The Bison shot 34.3 percent beyond the arc (No. 211 nationally), but has four players capable of getting hot from deep. Forward Zach Thomas and guards Stephen Brown, Avi Toomer and Jimmy Sotos each shot at least 36.8 percent from the 3-point line.
Stars show up when it matters
Middle Tennessee’s two best players led the Blue Raiders to the upset win. Guard Giddy Potts and forward Reggie Upshaw combined for 40 points. Four Blue Raiders scored at least 15 points.
Bucknell isn’t as balanced offensively, but brings in Thomas, probably a better scoring option than any of the Blue Raiders. He leads the team with 20.3 points per game and hits 37.3 percent of 3-point shots. Thomas is more than capable of putting together the kind of offensive night that doomed Michigan State in 2016.
Advanced stats show Bucknell as the better overall team, but isn’t as good defensively as Middle Tennessee.
|Team||Overall||Adjusted O||Adjusted D|
Both Middle Tennessee and Bucknell want to run and aren’t afraid to shoot from deep. Each shot more than 700 3-pointers during its season.
But the Blue Raiders were better at it, and that is a big difference. Bucknell is capable of replicating Middle Tennessee’s path to victory, but it’s unlikely.
No, Bucknell isn’t the second coming of Middle Tennessee. That’s the best news Michigan State fans will hear about the first-round matchup.