Harvard took down Cincinnati in their first game on Thursday, and it went down not unlike the way we predicted it might. Cincinnati spent their whole season using their stout defense to mask an offense that would be generously described as either "limited" or "Sean Kilpatrick and Justin Jackson better go off," whichever sounds better at the water cooler.
Well, Kilpatrick got his -- which is no surprise given his talent level -- but Jackson needed the entire game to become the second Bearcat in double figure scoring, and no amount of mean-mugging makes a 5-for-15 shooting night OK. Cincy faced a Harvard team that knows how to D up as well (they shot only 37 percent), and can also score much better. If Harvard hadn't been miserable from the free throw line (17-for-28) the game would have been over much sooner.
Meanwhile, Michigan State dominated Delaware. And by Michigan State, I mean "holy crap Adreian Payne was a monster." He ended the night with 41 points and eight rebounds while making all 17 of his free throws and 67 percent of his field goals - he even shot 80 percent from three.
I don't care who you are, if you let one player crack 40 points, you're very likely the losing team. Delaware was hardly a pushover, but it's difficult to win games where almost half of your points come on free throws (30-for-39). Sparty's skill, and size, and probably also their coaching eventually took over.
I don't know if Michigan State is quite good enough to shoot over 50 percent for the game against every team they play, especially a Harvard squad who will up the strategy and defense another level, but I sure hope not (and not because I have Harvard winning this game in my bracket, either).
Why Harvard Will Win
Plain and simple, they are a better team than the Blue Hens, and that squad was able to hang in this game well into the second half. They have a similarly balanced scoring attack, and they have a wealth more tournament experience to boot. They can shoot the three and (hopefully) their free throws just as well, but they should be able to avoid those long field-goal-less droughts that Delaware got stuck in. Tommy Amaker also, at the very least, has multiple big bodies he can throw at Payne with Kyle Casey, Steve Mondou-Missi and others.
Why Michigan State Will Win
Because ADREIAN PAYNE. Seriously, though. Harvard has a lot of tournament experience, especially for a mid-major squad, but that is dwarfed by what Tom Izzo and his Spartans squad have under their belts. It is unlikely that Payne will drop another monster game like that one, but he doesn't need to for Michigan State to win. It could be a big night from Keith Appling, or Travis Trice, or... you get the point. They have multiple weapons, all of which are capable of doing what Payne did on a given night.
Who Will Win
I'm going to go out on a limb and pick Harvard, despite all the numbers looking like that is the wrong way to go. Perhaps another less than perfect night will allow the chess game strategy and defense of the Crimson to win out.