Delaware Not Backing Down From Highly-Touted Michigan State in NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Opener
Well, the Blue Hens aren’t listening.
After going through open practices and media obligations on Wednesday at the Spokane Arena, the No. 13 seed Blue Hens are ready and as loose as ever. They can’t wait to hit the court for real on Thursday at 1:40 p.m. (ET) to take on the Big 10 champion and two-time national champion Spartans. The game will be televised live on TNT Television.
“We prepare ourselves to play anyone,” said Delaware senior guard Davon Usher, a first team All-Colonial Athletic Association selection who averages 19.4 points per game. “We knew coming in that we were going to face a good team. Everyone in the tournament is good. Michigan State is the Big 10 champion. But we don’t really worry about the name on the other team’s jersey, we just play against the team. Those guys lace up their sneakers just like we do and we’re going to put in all that we got to have a winning outcome.”
To be sure, upsets are what makes the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament and March Madness one of the world’s most popular sporting events. Thirteen seeds have won their share of first round NCAA games over the years and the Blue Hens see no reason why they can’t be the next team to shock the world. But it’s going to take quite an effort for the Hens to knock off the Spartans.
“There aren’t many chinks in their armor,” said Delaware head coach Monté Ross (at left), who has led the Blue Hens (25-9) to their fifth NCAA Tournament appearance but first since 1999. “Michigan State has gotten healthy at the right time of year. When they are healthy, the resemble much more the team that was the No. 1 or No. 2 in the country earlier this year. They just keep getting better and better.”
The Spartans (26-8), who finished second in the Big Ten regular season standings with a 12-6 conference mark, held the top spot in both the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches Polls for three weeks in the early portion of the season, and is ranked No. 22 in this week’s polls.
Gary Harris leads the Spartans by averaging 17.1 points per game, while Adreian Payne has added 15.8 points and 7.4 rebounds per contest. Keith Appling chips in with 12.3 points per game to go with a team-high 144 assists, while Branden Dawson is the fourth Spartan averaging double figures with 10.4 points while grabbing a team-best 8.3 boards per game.
The Blue Hens (25-9), riding a five-game win streak, are paced by senior guard Devon Saddler, the third leading active scorer in Division I who leads the Blue Hens with 19.7 points per game. Usher, a first team All-CAA selection along with Saddler, is averaging 19.4 points per contest, while CAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player Jarvis Threatt is contributing 18.1 points to go with 139 assists.
Carl Baptiste is averaging 11.3 points and a team-high 8.0 rebounds per game for the Blue Hens, while junior Kyle Anderson is the fifth Blue Hen averaging double figures at 11.0 points per contest. Delaware has won five consecutive games, including the pulsating 75-74 last second win over William & Mary in the CAA Tournament final in Baltimore back on March 10.
Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo, who led the Spartans to the 2000 national championship and five other Final Four appearances, has no problems with his team being picked to win it all by many around the country.
“I’m trying to get ahold of the President now to see if he has any pull with the officials since he picked us so high,” joked Izzo. “I like it. I think that's part of our growing process and we have to learn how to handle that. I hope we can live up to it. We're going to embrace it and just see if we can do our job without getting too full of ourselves because we are a four seed.”
“We are well aware that Delaware is a pretty good team,” said Michigan State’s Appling. “We know that they're not in this tournament for no reason. They have three players that average over 18 points, so they have every right to be confident. But, at the same time, we're playing some of our best basketball right now, so we're a pretty confident team, as well. So, it should be a pretty good matchup.”
Which is exactly what the Blue Hens are thinking. And believing.
“We’re not scared of anybody,” said Baptiste, whose team hung tough in close losses to NCAA Tournament participants Villanova and Ohio State as well as Notre Dame earlier this season. “We are ready to play. We’ve had a lot of success this season and we’re looking at this as just another challenge. We’re excited to get on the floor with them.”
Also playing in the Spokane second round games on Thursday will be No. 5 seed Cincinnati (27-6) taking on No. 12 Harvard (26-4) at 2:10 p.m. ET, No. 5 Oklahoma (23-9) facing No. 12 North Dakota State (25-6) at 7:27 p.m., and No. 4 San Diego State (29-4) facing No. 13 New Mexico State (29-7) at 9:57 p.m.