Three Keys to Victory for Mississippi State Basketball Against Michigan State

Mississippi State basketball faces Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament on Thursday. Here are three keys to victory.

Mar 20, 2024; Charlotte, NC, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs guard Dashawn Davis (10) during
Mar 20, 2024; Charlotte, NC, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs guard Dashawn Davis (10) during / Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Mississippi State basketball takes on Michigan State in the First Round of the 2024 NCAA Tournament Thursday in Charlotte for the West Region's 8/9 matchup. Chris Jans' Mississippi State squad is in their second-straight NCAA Tournament after a 21-13 season. Michigan State, meanwhile, is in their 27th-straight tournament under the legendary Tom Izzo after a 19-14 campaign.

Though the postseason experience edge greatly favors the Spartans, Chris Jans, who has plenty of tournament experience himself, has a veteran team ready to compete in the Big Dance.

How can the Bulldogs pull off a First Round win over Michigan State? Here are three keys to victory...

Tolu Smith needs a vintage performance for Mississippi State basketball

If there is one glaring weakness for Michigan State, it's at center. The Spartans have not gotten anything from their bigs this season, particularly on the offensive end. But even on defense, their issues down low have led to opposing centers having big days, both in scoring and rebounding.

Mississippi State, at its core, wants to run its offense through Tolu Smith. They're easily at their best when he's feasting down low. But Smith hasn't been his normal self in recent weeks, struggling to get open and missing on the clean looks he has gotten.

Michigan State is a team that's clearly susceptible in the post, meaning this could be a game where he provides a vintage performance. And if ever there were a time for it to happen, it's now. This is Tolu Smith's last run as a Bulldog. Mississippi State needs his best on Thursday.

Mississippi State basketball has to contain Michigan State's shooters

The lack of production at center has prevented Michigan State's offense from ever fully taking off. But they've got a group of scorers more than capable of creating problems for defenses in the tournament. Guard Tyson Walker is an 18 PPG scorer who can be deadly from three. AJ Hoggard and Jaden Akins are other double-digit scorers in the backcourt.

Forward Malik Hall is also a bucket-getter State could have their hands full with. Success in the NCAA Tournament often comes down to having the better shot-makers, and Michigan State has a great group. Mississippi State's defense had an impressive showing in the SEC Tournament. Guys like Cam Matthews, DJ Jeffries, and Deshawn Davis have to continue showing out for State to get a win in Charlotte.

Mississippi State basketball has to protect the ball against Michigan State

One of Mississippi State's biggest flaws has been turnovers. The Bulldogs turn it over 12.9 times per game. That ranks 293rd nationally. Now, they do a good job of turning their opponents over to somewhat balance things out, but their own mistakes have cost them on several occasions.

Michigan State has the edge in this area. The Spartans take care of the ball with just 9.8 turnovers per game (31st) while forcing turnovers at a similar clip to Mississippi State. For as good as State's defense has been this year, when they've allowed their opponents to get into transition, they haven't been as successful.

That could be worrisome against a Spartan offense with so many effective scorers. The Bulldogs cannot afford to grant Michigan State easy buckets because of turnovers.