Despite drawing a No. 4 seed in the East region, Michigan State was considered by many the NCAA tournament favorite while top-seeded Virginia had the misfortune of winding up in the same part of the bracket.
The Spartans, who face the Cavaliers in Sweet 16 action Friday in New York City, are 6-1 since getting all of their players back in a season filled with key injuries. The Big Ten tournament champions have carried over their recent success to the Big Dance, defeating Delaware and Harvard.
Michigan State has historically not enjoyed its visits to Madison Square Garden, falling to 2-10 at the venue all-time after losing to Georgetown on Feb. 1. While the Spartans attempt to overcome those demons, Virginia will try to make the Elite Eight for the first time since 1994-95. The Cavaliers claimed both the ACC regular-season and tournament titles for the first time in school history and rebounded from a shaky second-round victory over No. 16 seed Coastal Carolina with a dominant win over eighth-seeded Memphis.
ABOUT MICHIGAN STATE (28-8): One game after Adreian Payne torched Delaware for a career-high 41 points in the second round, fellow forward Branden Dawson posted a personal-best 26 points in Michigan State’s victory over Harvard. “(Payne’s) ability to shoot (the 3-pointer) and what he's added to his game is impressive. He's quite a threat,” Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett told the school’s official website. While Payne did a lot of damage outside the lane (18 points, including a career high-tying four 3-pointers) against Delaware, Dawson had nearly as many points inside the paint (22) as the Crimson (28) in the round of 32 win.
ABOUT VIRGINIA (30-6): The Cavaliers’ “pack-line” defense held Memphis 17 points below its season average in last Sunday’s 78-60 win, maintaining their status as the best scoring defense in Division I (55.5 points).
“They're probably the best defensive team I've ever played against in college. They help each other out every possession; you will never get an easy layup on them,” Memphis senior guard Joe Jackson told reporters afterward.
Virginia limited the Tigers to 3-of-17 shooting and 18 points outside the paint, more than 20 points below their season average.
1. The winner will meet No. 3 seed Iowa State or seventh-seeded Connecticut in Sunday's regional final.
2. With a victory Friday, Virginia will set a school record for wins in a single season.
3. Since Dawson returned to the lineup March 6, he is shooting 68.3 percent from the field while helping Michigan State convert at a 50.7-percent clip over that same span.