Originally posted on Fox Sports Detroit  |  Last updated 3/16/12
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- It must be spring. The Blackbirds are chirping. The Long Island University Blackbirds, that is. Syracuse was in danger Thursday against North Carolina-Asheville of becoming the first No. 1 seed to lose to a 16 seed in the NCAA tournament before rallying late to survive and advance. Michigan State will take the floor at Nationwide Arena sometime after 9 p.m. ET on Friday, hoping not to make history either. The Spartans are the top seed in the West Region and open against a team, Long Island, that some think doesnt look like a 16 seed. One thing is certain -- the Blackbirds dont sound like a 16. Theres a little swagger there. We run and gun, said forward Julian Boyd, LIUs leading scorer. We run fast. Thats what we do. I dont think we are your typical 16 seed. I think were a better team than you see as a typical 16 seed. And then he delivered a statement that likely caught the attention of the favored Spartans. I feel its a much better matchup than if we got a 15 (seed) and played a (No. 2 seed) Missouri or something like that, Boyd said. I feel like this is something that we will be able to pull off. The Blackbirds (25-8), who have won 20 of their last 22 after a 5-6 start, rank third in the nation in scoring with 81.9 points per game. Point guard Jason Brickman is No. 5 in assists at 7.3 a game, 242 for the season -- 108 more than Michigan State point guard Keith Appling. Boyd, a 6-foot-7, 230-pound junior, might be considered a poor mans Draymond Green. Boyd averages 17.4 points and 9.5 rebounds. Jamal Olasewere, another 6-7 junior forward, adds 16.8 points and 7.5 rebounds. Here's a real oddity: Long Island has made 188 more free throws than its opponents have attempted. Its all relative, of course, because LIU plays in the Northeast Conference, ranked by the Sagarin power ratings as the 28th-best conference in the country. Michigan State shared the regular-season title and won the conference tournament in the Big Ten, considered the No. 1 conference. Long Island lost at Penn State, one of the Big Tens worst teams, by nine points earlier in the season. Still, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo has been saying this week, just as he has been for years, that one of these times a No. 16 seed is going to knock off a No. 1. Thats always scary, Izzo said. Theres different pressures for different reasons. I dont think theres any question its going to happen. When, I dont know, but its going to happen. Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985 (its now a 68-team field), No. 1 seeds have a 110-0 record against No. 16 seeds. Izzo relies on Green to help monitor his teams potential "fat-and-sassy" levels in these situations. This is where youve really got to have a grounded team, Izzo said. Someone starts talking about the next game, you better squelch that quick. I try to preempt that by doing some preventative management. Long Island coach Jim Ferry believes Izzo might have gotten some help with Syracuses close call. Thats not very good for the Blackbirds, Ferry said. If Michigan State was looking away a little bit that might have woken them up. Board work Izzo didnt have much to complain about after winning the Big Ten tournament, but he was taken aback by his teams rebounding. The Spartans rank No. 4 in the nation in rebounding margin (plus 8.0), but they were out-boarded by Ohio State, 43-30, in the championship game. Our rebounding was very discouraging, especially for me, said Izzo, who has turned Michigan State into Rebounding U. over the last 17 years. Weve got to be able to rebound to finish the defense. Izzo wants to his guards to get involved, especially chasing down long rebounds, to help offset the loss of swingman Branden Dawson (knee surgery). The tag-team duo at center of Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix also has to do more. Payne, a 6-10, 240-pound sophomore, is averaging 4.1 rebounds. Nix, a 6-9, 270-pound junior, averages 3.7. Theyre not rebounding with the ferociousness that we need, Izzo said. They are not right now very good range rebounders. "Draymond is a range rebounder. (Former Spartan) Jason Richardson was a country rebounder. If it went to Uruguay, he went over there and got it. If it went to Chile, he went there and got it. It didnt matter. These guys (Payne and Nix) are kind of straight position rebounders. Theyve got to get into being able to range rebound, go get the ball instead of just letting the ball come to you. Similar games The comparisons between Boyd and Green, who averages 16.1 points and 10.4 rebounds, are inevitable. Boyd called that definitely an honor to be considered with the Spartans three-time captain. It's going to be a good measuring stick for him. Hes an All-American player, Big Ten Player of the Year, an NBA prospect, Boyd said. I feel that theres things that he does that is kind of like me in the same sense. It will be a great matchup. Green, who is also 6-7, 230 pounds, described Boyd as a player who is very athletic, runs the floor very well, very crafty with the ball, can also shoot. One thing I really noticed about him was how he gets out on their break, Green added. Sometimes he leaks out. So I think on the offensive boards, we may be able to do some damage.
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