Which version of Michigan State will Notre Dame see in second round NCAA game?
Michigan State won’t be able to bring the Breslin Center to Purcell Pavilion, but if the Spartans can somehow harness and tote along the way they’ve played at their own arena, they will be bringing a club far superior to the one that is implied by their 11 losses this season.
“We haven’t been the best on the road,” senior center Jenna Allen understated Sunday as No. 9 seed MSU continued preparations for Monday night’s second-round NCAA Tournament game at top-seeded Notre Dame, “but it’s postseason now, so that’s in the past.
“That’s something we challenged ourselves through the season to be better at, but … we’re not even looking at that.”
It’s difficult not to look at the gaping difference between the Spartans at home and the Spartans elsewhere.
At the Breslin, MSU (21-11) went 15-1 this season. Not only that, but those victories included wins over then-No. 3 Oregon and current No. 8 Iowa — both those teams are No. 2 seeds in the NCAA Tourney. The victory over Iowa came by 14 points, while a win over current No. 9 Maryland was registered by 17.
Conversely, Michigan State is 3-8 in true road games (to go with 3-2 at neutral sites), and those blemishes include a half-dozen against teams that were either .500 or below in league play, overall or both.
Now comes the task of solving an Irish program that’s 98-3 at home over the last six years, with all three losses coming against top-three Connecticut clubs.
“We’ve played well. We just had some times the ball wasn’t going in the basket, and they tended to be more on the road than at home,” Spartan coach Suzy Merchant said Sunday, adding with a smile that her team did win the road game that’s mattered most until now, the one against rival Michigan.
MSU junior guard Shay Colley said her team has been practicing with background noises piped in as part of an effort to change its luck, “and I think it has paid off.”
Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw is bracing for the best version of the Spartans.
“They’re incredibly talented,” McGraw said Sunday. “I think they have really no weaknesses in terms of they have the size, they have the guards, they have the perimeter shooting, they have inside play, they really work hard defensively, they can score in transition, they can score in half-court offense. When they’re on and they’re shooting well, they’re a really tough team to beat.”
Colley, who scored the game-winning basket with seven seconds left in MSU’s chilling 88-87 first-round victory Saturday over Central Michigan, leads a balanced Spartan attack at 14.5 points per game to go with 5.3 rebounds.
Allen’s adding 12.6 points and 6.6 boards, while freshman guard Nia Clouden is at 12.2 points.
Junior guard Taryn McCutcheon, averaging 9.9, drew high praise Sunday from both McGraw and Merchant as a defensive ace. She’s also 79-of-202 on 3-pointers for 39 percent.
Sophomore forward Sidney Cooks, averaging 9.2 points, came off the bench to deliver a team-high 21 during Saturday’s win at Purcell.
“The neutral-site games have been fine,” Merchant said, while acknowledging that Monday’s won’t be one of those. “We scored 88 points (against CMU), and obviously, that’s the name of the game against Notre Dame.
“You have to be able to score with them. They’re so high-powered offensively. You’ve got to be able to stay with them somehow, some way. I don’t know if you can stop them, but you’ve got to stay with them, and that’s not an easy thing to do.”
Jenna and Jackie
Monday’s game reunites two former Indiana high school superstars plenty familiar with each other in Allen and Notre Dame junior guard Jackie Young.
The only loss that Young’s Princeton team suffered during its Class 3A state-title-winning season in 2014-15 was a 60-29 spanking at the hands of Allen’s Bedford North Lawrence club.
The two players also shared courts when Allen was an Indiana All-Star and Young a member of the Junior All-Stars that following summer.
They shared still another one last season when the host Irish hammered the Spartans 90-59. Allen helped capture back-to-back 4A state titles in 2013 and 2014 with BNL, the latter of those coming while playing for Damon Bailey — the same man whose Indiana high school career scoring record was broken a year later by Young.
With the 6-foot Young being a guard and the 6-3 Allen a center, the two aren’t likely to be paired much on Monday, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be awareness.
“She’s a great player,” Allen said of Young, an All-Atlantic Coast Conference pick, “someone’s who’s really, really talented across the board offensively and defensively because of her athleticism and the way she can play.”
“She’s a great post player, has a huge presence down there,” Young offered back of Allen, an All-Big Ten selection. “When she gets the ball, it’s hard to defend her, but she can really shoot the 3 also. She’s a very versatile post player.”
Allen, who was not recruited by Notre Dame, initially committed to Indiana, but switched to Michigan State when Curt Miller resigned as Hoosier coach in 2014.
“It’s just nice to be back in the home state,” Allen said, adding that she has “a lot of family” in Northwest Indiana that attended Saturday’s win. “It’s nice to be able to play in front of them.”
McGraw said that Irish senior guard Marina Mabrey “felt good” after practicing Sunday afternoon and looks like a go for Monday’s game.
Mabrey suffered a hyperextension to her right knee last Monday and did not return to practice until Friday.
She played 23 minutes in ND’s 92-50 first-round win Saturday over Bethune-Cookman. Mabrey did not score while taking just three shots, but dished a game-high seven assists to go with three steals.
Freshman backup Abby Prohaska, who also played despite an ankle sprain two days earlier, sat out practice Sunday.
Her playing status Monday will “be a game-time decision,” according to McGraw.
WHO: Michigan State (21-11) vs. Notre Dame (31-3) in NCAA Tournament second round.
WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (9,149), Notre Dame.
WHEN: Monday, 7 p.m.
TICKETS: Available, $13 to $19.
RADIO: Pulse (103.1 / 96.9 / 92.1 FM).
NOTING: Notre Dame and Michigan State already matched up just before the season in East Lansing for a closed-to-the-public scrimmage that the Irish won. The NCAA allows for teams to sub such scrimmages in place of allotted exhibitions against non-Division I opponents. … The Spartans are visiting Purcell Pavilion for the second straight season. The Irish won a regular-season meeting 90-59 in December 2017. … With that victory, ND coach Muffet McGraw improved to 7-0 against MSU coach Suzy Merchant.
The first of those seven wins came while the 12th-year Spartan boss was still at Eastern Michigan. … Michigan State’s last win in its periodical series with the Irish, which Notre Dame leads 10-8, came in overtime in December 2004 at Purcell. … The teams have never met in postseason.
QUOTING: “We’re just going to go into the game confident and play our hearts out.” — Jenna Allen, Michigan State senior, on facing No. 1 seed Notre Dame