In an NCAA Tournament defined to this point by massive upsets, it’s only fitting that Kansas State and Michigan State should kickstart this weekend’s Sweet 16 after winning outright as short underdogs in the second round.
Fittingly, the third-seeded Wildcats are the ones catching points against the seventh-seeded Spartans, who have already slayed No. 2 seed Marquette en route to Thursday’s matchup.
Can Tom Izzo and Co. pull off a big win in a favorite role, or will Kansas State keep proving the doubters wrong?
Here’s how we’re betting Thursday’s contest, which tips off at 6:30 p.m. Eastern on TBS.
Michigan State vs. Kansas State odds
- Michigan State -1.5 (-115), moneyline -130
- Kansas State +1.5 (-105), moneyline +110
- O/U 137.5 (-110)
Michigan State vs. Kansas State prediction and analysis
I’ve been fairly dismissive of Kansas State in the lead-up to this tournament, and even I think this line is a bit disrespectful to the East Region’s highest remaining seed – especially with what we’ve seen from the Wildcats over the last two games.
In its last 10 games before the NCAA Tournament, Kansas State was turning it over on a whopping 21.3 percent of its possessions – the worst mark by any tournament team in that stretch outside of No. 16 seed Howard – and averaging 15.2 turnovers per game, which helped perpetuate this team’s 5-5 record down the stretch.
Incredibly, this team has committed just 22 turnovers combined in two tournament games, including just eight giveaways in Sunday’s win over Kentucky.
That was tied for the third-fewest in any game this season for K-State, which is a perfect 13-0 when turning it over 12 or fewer times this season.
Those extra possessions are a boon for this Wildcats offense, which features two dynamic shot-creators in leading scorer Keyontae Johnson (17.5 PPG) and tournament star Markquis Nowell (17.1 PPG).
The latter broke out in a big way with 27 points against Kentucky, but his stellar 41.4% assist rate on the year – which ranks second nationally – is a key reason why the ‘Cats boast the seventh-highest team assist rate (63.7%) in the country.
All of that should be of major concern to Michigan State, which forces turnovers on just 15.1% of opponent possessions – the fourth-worst mark by any team in the original 68-team field.
The Spartans also rank fourth-worth among all tournament teams in free-throw rate (26.9%), which is the best way to attack this otherwise elite Kansas State defense.
Really, it’s a small miracle that Michigan State even made it this far after shooting a combined 7-of-30 from deep in two tournament wins – a shocking result given that this team’s only clear strength relative to the field was its stellar 3-point shooting percentage (38.7%).
Instead, the Spartans have outmuscled their first two opponents inside and won the turnover battle in both contests.
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That was a deciding factor against Marquette (16 turnovers), which usually dominates teams in that department.
It’s fair to ask: how much credit belongs to Michigan State, and how much blame rests on the injured right thumb of Marquette star guard Tyler Kolek, whose six turnovers were tied for his most in a game all year?
On paper, this is a bad matchup for Michigan State, which gutted its way to the Sweet 16 but should still be the underdog at this stage and in any game thereafter.
Instead, oddsmakers are daring bettors to pay the “Izzo tax” with a team that, on paper, is clearly the inferior side on Thursday.
Michigan State vs. Kansas State pick
- Kansas State +1.5 (-105 BetMGM)