NO. 7 MICHIGAN STATE VS. NO. 3 OKLAHOMA
■ SITE: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y.
■ TV: 7:07 p.m., TBS (7)
■ LINE: Michigan State -2; total 134½
■ STORYLINE: As a No. 7 seed, Michigan State wasn’t expected to do much damage in the NCAA Tournament but has emerged as the team to beat in the East. En route to tonight’s game against Oklahoma, coach Tom Izzo couldn’t be more pleased with at least two aspects of his team’s game.
“Our defensive effort in the NCAA Tournament has been unbelievable,” Izzo said. “The other thing that’s been unbelievable is our turnovers” as Michigan State has committed only 15 during its first two games, including six in Sunday’s 60-54 ousting of second-seeded Virginia.
Oklahoma has won 12 of its last 15 games and provides Michigan State with challenges on the perimeter and in the paint. But the Spartans, who reached the Sweet 16 for the seventh time in eight years, are a 2-point favorite despite the Sooners’ higher seeding.
“What I’ve seen is they’ve played really good basketball in the last month, six weeks,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said of the Spartans. “Why are they better than before? I certainly don’t have that answer, nor am I concerned about that. I’m concerned about how good they’re playing right now.”
■ ABOUT MICHIGAN STATE (25-11): The Spartans, who have won 10 of their last 13 games with two of the losses coming against No. 1 West seed Wisconsin, held Georgia and Virginia to 31.6 percent shooting from the field and 19.4 percent from 3-point range. Branden Dawson, a 6-foot-6-inch senior swingman, is averaging 14.5 points and 7.5 rebounds during the tournament while senior guard and leading scorer Travis Trice (15 points per game) scored 23 against Virginia and 15 against Georgia. Michigan State, which has led for more than 76 minutes in its two NCAA games, must improve from the free-throw line as it has converted only 31 of 52 in the tournament.
■ ABOUT OKLAHOMA (24-10): Kruger, the former UNLV coach, has utilized the same starting lineup in every game this season with junior guard Buddy Hield — the Big 12 Player of the Year — leading the way with 17.3 points per game after scoring 15 in each of Oklahoma’s two NCAA contests. The Sooners also possess a pair of threats down low in senior forward TaShawn Thomas (11.4 points, 6.5 rebounds) and junior forward Ryan Spangler (9.9, 8.2), who grabbed 23 boards over the last two games. Oklahoma, playing in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2009, has 423 assists against 412 turnovers in 34 games — compared to 607 and 410 in 36 games for Michigan State.
1. Kruger is the only coach in Division I history to win an NCAA Tournament game with five schools — Oklahoma, UNLV, Illinois, Florida and Kansas State — and the second to take four (Oklahoma, UNLV, Florida and Kansas State) to the Sweet 16, joining Eddie Sutton.
2. This is Michigan State’s 18th consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament and 13th trip to the Sweet 16 during that span, trailing only Duke (14).
3. The Sooners average 71.9 points and 38.1 rebounds per game while the Spartans average 71.9 and 37.7.
■ PREDICTION: Michigan State 68, Oklahoma 65