Michigan State’s offense to get a test vs. Mississippi State
STARKVILLE – Michigan State and Mississippi State have vastly different definitions of basketball beauty.
The Spartans are the crowd pleasers, winning games by getting the ball up the court in a hurry and scoring more than 75 points per game.
The Bulldogs prefer to slow it down, grinding out victories with size, strength, rebounding and defensive excellence.
It should make for an interesting contrast when fourth-seeded Michigan State (25-8) meets No. 5 Mississippi State (27-7) in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday. The winner will advance to the Sweet 16, where an almost certain showdown against No. 1 overall seed UConn awaits.
The Spartans are well aware of Mississippi State’s reputation, but guard Tori Jankoska said her team wasn’t particularly concerned about dictating pace of play.
“We have the ability to morph into what we need,” Jankoska said. “We can be a high-scoring offense or we can battle it out with teams like Rutgers that are low scoring.”
Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant also made the Rutgers comparison when describing Mississippi State. The Scarlet Knights were the Big Ten’s best defensive team this season.
The difference is Rutgers was a middle-of-the-road Big Ten team in terms of wins and losses. Mississippi State – which gives up just 54.3 points per game – was among the Southeastern Conference’s elite.
“It looks like we’re going to play Rutgers on steroids,” Merchant said.
Mississippi State certainly relishes its defensive reputation, but is also confident it can score plenty of points if needed. The Bulldogs are led by guard Victoria Vivians, who scores 17 points per game and had 19 against Chattanooga in the team’s opening round win.
Michigan State will counter with star forward Aerial Powers, who averages 22 points per game and scored 27 against Belmont in the Spartans’ opening round win.
“When you see a girl like Vivians, you want to do well against her, no doubt about it,” Powers said. “But it’s not all about me and Vivians. It’s about the Spartans and Mississippi State going at it.”
The Spartans are a little more balanced than the Bulldogs. They have three other players – Jankoska, Branndais Agee and Jasmine Hines – who score more than 10 points per game.
Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer said concentrating too much on Powers is problematic because so many of the Spartans are capable of having a big game. The 6-foot-3 Hines scored 24 against Belmont.
“I’m concerned about pace of play and transition defense,” Schaefer said. “They are explosive in so many different ways.”
By David Brandt, AP Sports Writer