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March 21, 2012
PHOENIX - Rick Pitino is worried about Draymond Green and his supporting cast, along with Michigan State's potential domination of the backboards. Tom Izzo is fretting about Louisville point guard Peyton Siva and the Cardinals' full-court pressure defense.
That is some of the drama surrounding the tantalizing Sweet Sixteen matchup between fourth-seeded UofL (28-9) and top-seeded Michigan State (29-7) in the West Regional at 7:47 p.m. EDT in the U.S. Airways Center.
Taking a look at each factor:
The re-energized Siva, a lightning-quick junior, has led Louisville to six straight wins, including the Big East Tournament championship, with his penetration, passing and ballhandling. He was named the Most Outstanding Player in the league tourney and has averaged 13.0 points, 5.7 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 2.3 steals in the six postseason games.
"Siva is out of control, in control," Izzo said. "He's a unique guard. he can spin dribble, he can do all the things that sometimes you tell your guys not to do in traffic and he does it very well. How do you keep him out of the paint? Change the NCAA rules and let us play with six guys; that would be a big help. That's going to be a big part of our game plan, but it's easier said than done."
The main assignment in the Spartans' man-to-man defense will go to 6-1 sophomore Keith Appling, who Izzo says "can give (Siva) some problems." "But it will be done by committee, not by one man," he added.
That's how UofL has been scoring lately. Its balanced attack has produced five different leading scorers in the last five games -- Russ Smith (17 vs. New Mexico); Siva (17 vs. Davidson); Chris Smith (15 vs. Cincinnati); Gorgui Dieng (16 vs. Notre Dame); and Kyle Kuric (20 vs. Marquette).
Izzo also hopes to keep UofL's press from becoming a positive force for the Cards, who use it not necessarily to create turnovers but to wear down opponents. After the third-round win ove Saint Louis, Izzo joked he was going to use some football players to prepare for the pressure, but he didn't.
"I really did think about doing it, but I didn't feel we could go hard after what we've been through in the travel and everything," he said. "What I've always done against pressing teams (in practice) is I put seven guys on the floor, but they're not as athletic as Louisville's guys. They create chaos, and they're very, very good at it."
Louisville's biggest challenge, meanwhile, will be somehow containing MSU's Mr. Everything, 6-7 senior forward Green, in its 2-3 matchup zone. The Big Ten's Most Valuable Player, Green is averaging 16.3 points, 10.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists and is shooting 40 percent (51-127) from three-point range. He can play every position.
"That's just it, I'm not sure what his position is," Pitino said. "If they need somebody to run a pick-and-roll, if they need a post-up, if they need a guy to take a bounce, he does that. He's about the most complete player in college basketball in terms of all phases of the game."
"It's not like we play man-to-man," Kuric said. "In a zone, it's going to be hard to keep him from getting his touches. What we have to do is limit what he does with those touches."
Freshman forward Chane Behanan said it will be primarily his job to battle Green's rebounding effectiveness and contain him offensively.
"They're looking for me to limit his touches, limit him on the offensive glass, defensive glass," Behanan said. "They gave me that job as a freshman, so I have to have the mindset of a veteran. Just get the job done and move on to the Elite Eight."
Elsewhere, the Cards will be at a disadvantage on the boards against the bulkier Spartans, who are one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the nation. And Green's front-line teammates -- the center tandem of 6-9 Derrick Nix and 6-10 Adreian -- have elevated their play lately. In MSU's five postseason games, the duo has combined to average 20.8 points and 9.8 rebounds while shooting 62.5 percent.
"We'll have to match their physicality and try to throw the first blow," UofL senior guard Chris Smith said. "We've had a lot of physical games on the road and playing in the Big East has toughened us up because pound for pound it is the most physical conference there is."
Both coaches say they want a fast-paced game, unlike many UofL has played in the Big East and the Spartans' bruising 65-61 win over Saint Louis.
"Michigan State is as good a running team as there is in college basketball," Pitino said. "And we got our guys to this point by pressing and running, and we're not going to change because the other team may be a little better on the backboard and try to take possessions away. We're going to let them go."
Said Izzo: "I don't want to walk the ball up. That's not the way we play our best ball. But I don't want to get into a track meet that makes us play at that level for 40 minutes either. Finding a happy medium is important."
After the third-round victory over Saint Louis, Izzo joked he would be bringing in some football players to prepare for the pressure Louisville would bring.
"I really did think about doing it, but I don't feel we can go hard after what we've been through in the travel and everything," said Izzo, who put the Spartans through a short practice Monday before their flight to Phoenix. "But I really would have tried to call over and get a couple guys maybe to come over and press us and things like that.
"What we normally do is go with six or seven guys. With this year's team we might have to go seven or eight guys. We might have to pick it up a little bit."
IZZO TOOK PITINO'S ADVICE
The game matches two of the most high-profile coaches in the business. Pitino has one national championship, five Final Four appearances and 627 career victories. Izzo has a national title, six trips to the Final Four and 412 wins.
Pitino also has is two stints in the NBA, leading the New York Knicks from 1987-89 and the Boston Celtics from 1997-2001. So when Izzo was being courted by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010 he asked for Pitino's advice and then stayed at Michigan State.
"I did talk to Rick a couple times during some of those decisions," said Izzo, who remembers Pitino saying he would be "crazy or something" to take the job.
"I do respect what he's done," Izzo said. "He's been to different levels, he's taken different teams. You know what he did at Providence (Final Four), what he did at Kentucky (1996 national champions). He's been an assistant, a pro coach. He's kind of gone the whole carrousel of coaching. His teams are always competitive and they play hard, they play really hard."