LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The differences likely to define Monday's second-round game between No. 4 seed Kentucky and No. 5 seed Michigan State are about as subtle as the differences in accents between Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell's drawl and Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant's Midwestern vowels.
DUKE VS. LSU: SIMILAR STRENGTHS
Duke holds its opponents to an average of 54.5 points per game, while LSU keeps its foes to 51.7. So, will we see a lot of offense on Monday when these teams meet in the second round?
"LSU is a tremendous defensive team, and so are we," Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said. "So I'm not sure what that means for the matchup."
Uhh we're gonna take a guess it means a final score in the 50s or less. Duke held Hampton to 37 points in the first round Saturday -- the 13th team this season the Blue Devils have limited to 50 or fewer points -- while LSU kept Hartford to 39.
"I think everyone was engaged and contributed," said Duke senior Keturah Jackson, who made all six of her shots from the field and was one of three Blue Devils with 13 points. "We were all in tune."
This will be the fourth meeting in the NCAA tournament for Duke and LSU but the first since McCalllie and fellow coach Van Chancellor joined their respective teams.
The programs first met in 2000, with LSU taking a 79-66 Sweet 16 victory. In 2005, LSU advanced to the Final Four after a 59-49 regional final victory. And in 2006, they met at the Final Four in Boston, with Duke winning 64-45 in the semifinals. -- Mechelle Voepel
In other words, you don't need to be John Wooden to spot the battleground.
Michigan State is big, most notably in the form of 6-foot-9 Allyssa DeHaan, but more tellingly in the big frames the Spartans deploy across the court. Seemingly the whole roster is about 6-1 and solid. The Spartans are a good, if perhaps not great, rebounding team. And more than that, they excel when fans start to notice the shot clock and opponents start to notice the toll cutting through the middle or bodying up on defense is taking.
Kentucky can't claim similar size. Liberty entered the NCAA tournament as the nation's leader in rebounding margin, but it was still striking to see the Flames come away from their first-round game against the Wildcats with a 38-26 edge on the boards. It's not a perfect measure, but if Lykendra Johnson, Aisha Jefferson, Lauren Aitch and even DeHaan start piling up rebounds, it could be an indication of bigger problems for Kentucky.
"I was disappointed in the rebounding," Mitchell said after his team advanced behind 32 points from freshman A'dia Mathies. "It is something that you're trying to get prepared for going into the game. That was an area of strength for them. It's been at times for us an Achilles' heel of sorts, and then we've had some performances when we were able to rebound."
But if the Spartans are to make use of the glass, particularly on the offensive end, they first have to get the ball to the basket. Kentucky makes up for what second chances its opponents get and it doesn't by denying teams first chances on a lot of possessions. Mitchell's team ranked 14th nationally in steals and forces better than 20 turnovers per game. The Spartans take reasonably good care of the basketball, but Monday will be a whole new challenge for everyone, particularly Brittney Thomas, who leads her team in both assists and minutes per game.
Bowling Green isn't Kentucky defensively, but Thomas and Michigan State's guards were stellar in that regard in the first round. How they contend with Amber Smith and the forefront of the Wildcats' pressure will be telling.