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Monday, March 22, 2010

For Merchant, the merchandise is moving well.

Michigan State head women's basketball coach Suzy Merchant faces a tough University of Kentucky hoops squad Monday night at 7:30 in Freedom Hall in the second round of the Women's NCAA Tournament.

Know your foe. During tournament time, it can be a difficult task given the short turnaround time between first and second round games. For Suzy Merchant, it was a trip to the courtside media table after her post game interviews following Michigan State's 72-62 first round win over Bowling Green. Not for face time or congratulatory greetings from fans...along with members of her staff, the popular Spartan coach was scouting the two teams vying to play the Spartans.

What she saw was a UK team that used excellent guard play to pull away from Liberty in the second half and advance to the next round for a match up against Michigan State.

The similarities between Liberty and Michigan State are remarkably similiar. Both teams have imposing front lines. 6'9" MSU center Allyssa DeHaan will tower over UK center Victoria Dunlap. Both MSU and Liberty place a priority in outscoring opponents in the paint and winning the rebounding battle. MSU has a balanced scoring attack and six players scored eight or more points against Bowling Green Saturday.

How will Michigan State succeed where Liberty failed...stopping UK freshman point guard Adia Mathies? Part of the answer may actually come from how well the Spartans can advance the ball against UK's devastating press. UK and Mathies used the defensive pressure to create turnovers and easy baskets for Mathies and her teammates. MSU will need to find a way to circumvent the intensity and advance the ball into the front court to set up the front line. The Kentucky press is susceptable to over the top passing to create mismatches and breakaway situations. It was something Liberty had limited success with but the athletic MSU guards and superior front line height should fare better.

The guards will be the key for MSU in foiling the UK full court pressure attack. Earlier in the season, in a game I got to see in person against Louisville, the Wildcats had a superior tactical advantage in quickness and experience against Louisville's weak backcourt and had a field day in netting points off turnovers. MSU guards Brittany and Jasmine Thomas (no relation) only had four turnovers, created five steals and scored eleven points each in 63 total minutes against Bowling Green. They're a bit more athletic and quicker that the Liberty guards Kentucky faced and the matchup should be a fun and interesting component of the game.

Another factor for Merchant and her team to deal with will be the pro-UK crowd in the Hall. At times, Liberty appeared slightly rattled by the noise level and fervor the UK fan base created from the Freedom Hall seats. The Spartans had a decent turnout for their game against Bowling Green but it is expected that the Big Blue Nation will take advantage of the short drive west to Louisville and pack the stands tonight. Wildcat fans are among the best in the nation at following their teams on the road and women's basketball is no exception. Their numbers should far exceed the Spartan fans in attendance tonight.

We'll have full postgame coverage of tonight's matchup here at CARDINAL COUPLE shortly after the action. Good seats remain for the game.

Written by Paul

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