If you're in St. Louis today, and it's not because you're attending the annual convention of the Association of Pipefitting Manufacturers -- Midwest Region (APMMWR), I'm just going to assume you're here for the mighty battle for the Final Four slated for this afternoon. Today's Show-Me throwdown pits the underperforming and hobbled Michigan State Spartans against the overperforming and confident Tennessee Volunteers in what could be one of the most even matches we've seen yet in a tournament full of wacky, unpredictable upsets and blowouts. Let's go to the talking points, so you can sound really smart today when you're watching it with that brother-in-law or co-worker you hate. Your welcome, America.
Who wants the ball more? Both Michigan State and Tennessee have turned in nice total rebounding numbers throughout the tourney -- in the last round alone, the Vols pulled down 36 (mostly Chism's and Williams') and the Spartans netted 31 (evenly spread out among the starters). Should be active in the paint today, and whoever's scrapping underneath the basket more is going to give themselves a nice edge.
Lucious is a major target. Sophomore guard Korie Lucious has had to grow up quickly in this tournament since Spartan all-star Kalin Lucas has gone out for the season, and Izzo has to be surprised in the way this kid has stepped up to run the show. Confident and determined, Lucious has thus far been an effective replacement for the injured Lucas, though he's still young and not infallible. If Tennessee can find a way to get to him today, either physically or mentally, they could expose a weakness in the Spartans' armor.
Izzo will have a plan. The veteran tournament coach is a master of a two-day turnaround to figure out a gameplan; that's why the Spartans are the defending tourney runners-up. This is Pearl's and Tennessee's first experience this far in the tournament, so this is uncharted territory for them. You can bet the Michigan State staff will come into this thing with a solid idea of how to beat the Vols. The question is, how quickly can Pearl figure out a plan of his own?
Threes could be a decider. Tennessee has some great guns and speed in Scotty Hopson and JP Prince, but it's worth noting that Michigan State guard Durrell Summers is looking at 59 points in the past three games and is shooting 50% from behind the three-point line in the tournament. If both teams are rebounding and going toe-to-toe evenly in the paint, whoever can sink the longball will be looking pretty.
Don't let Bruce Pearl hug you. He is very sweaty and you might slip and hurt yourself. Kalin Lucas is already out; let's hope Raymar Morgan doesn't fall for the patented Pearl "hug-trap" before the game today.
Should be a solid matchup today, folks. It's the last Big Ten team standing versus the last SEC team standing. Winner evolves its species.