Kansas State forward Keyontae Johnson vies for the ball with Kentucky forward Oscar Tshiebwe during the second half of a second-round college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday, March 19, 2023, in Greensboro, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Kansas State and Michigan State to Throw Down in Sweet 16

The wait is over as March Madness returns to action Thursday night with the Sweet 16. After a very exciting first two rounds, the final 16 teams battle for spots in the Elite 8, and it kicks off with four games on Thursday. The No. 7 Michigan State Spartans hope to upset the Big 12 runner-up No. 3 Kansas State Wildcats at Madison Square Garden for a spot in the East Regional Final.

First Two Rounds

No. 3 Kansas State opened the tournament against No. 14 Montana and had now issues dealing with the Bobcats. The Wildcats cruised to an opening round victory, 77-65.

The second round was not as easy of a task for Kansas State, as they met John Calipari and Kentucky, which is always a scary opponent in March. The Wildcats held a three point lead at the half, but trailed with just under three minutes to play. Back-to-back three pointers from Ismael Massoud and Keyontae Johnson secured the lead late, and Kansas State never looked back. The Wildcats knocked off Kentucky, 75-69.

Michigan State had a tougher road to the Sweet 16, coming in as the No. 7 seed in the east region. The Spartans opened with a matchup against the USC Trojans, but handled the Pac 12 foes easily, winning 72-62. However, the Spartans advanced to take on No. 2 Marquette, the champions of the Big East.

The Spartans led going into the locker room, but Marquette came out hot to start the half, scoring the first eight points of the half. Michigan State battled back to take a lead, but the Golden Eagles brought the game within one with just over three minutes to play. It looked like Marquette might be able to take the lead, but the Spartans stood strong, and proceeded to score 10 straight points to secure the Round of 32 victory, 69-60.

Kansas State and Michigan State X-Factors

Both Kansas State and Michigan State are well-rounded groups, but a few x-factors will decide Thursday night’s matchup.

For the Wildcats, it’s been the former Florida Gator and now Naismith semifinalist, Keyontae Johnson, who has led the way. Johnson has averaged 17.5 points per game through 34 games, all of which he has started. It’s been a Cinderella Story for Johnson, who has returned to the national stage after collapsing on the court and being entered into a coma back in 2020. He is joined by Markquis Nowell who has also been averaging just above 17 this year. He scored 27 in the Round of 32 win against Kentucky.

As for the Spartans, they do not quite have the 17+ point scorers like Kansas State does, but they have a well-rounded attack led by Tyson Walker, Joey Hauser and A.J. Hoggard. the trio combined for 50 of Michigan State’s 69 points against Marquette.

Expect the stars to shine on Thursday, as March Madness heads to “The Mecca.”

Road Ahead

The East Region has been one of the most exciting all tournament long, starting with No. 16 FDU’s upset over No. 1 Purdue. The college basketball world was in shock as a No. 16 advanced to the Round of 32 for just the second time ever. But for Michigan State and Kansas State, Purdue’s loss created a very big opportunity to make it out of the region and into the Final Four.

Despite Purdue’s loss, it is no easy road to the Final Four in the East Region. Lurking on the other side of the region is No. 9 FAU and No. 4 Tennessee, both of which are gritty teams. If either Kansas State or Michigan State is able to make it out of NYC, it will be their fifth and 11th Final Four trips respectively.

Kansas State has made just one Elite 8 in the past decade, while Michigan State has made it three times in the last ten years, advancing to the Final Four twice.

About Matt Quartararo

Matt is a fourth-year journalism major specializing in sports media and is also completing a sports management certificate. Starting in the Fall 2023 semester, Matt has served as a sports coordinator with WRUF. He also participates in sports broadcasting, providing play-by-play for a variety of Gators sports.

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