Under head coach Tom Izzo, the third-seeded Michigan State Spartans will look to become 18-3 in the second game of the NCAA tournament opening weekend with a victory over the sixth-seeded Memphis Tigers today at 2:45 p.m.
Michigan State (26-8) opened the tournament with a dominating victory over the Valparaiso Crusaders, and senior Derrick Nix had the best game of his four-year career. Nix scored a game-high 23 points and added a career-high 15 rebounds in the victory and became the 2nd player in MSU history to have 20 points and 15 rebounds in a NCAA Tournament game (Johnny Green was first).
For the Spartans to mimic their first-game success, they must attack the Tigers (31-4) with same inside-out game plan that got them to the round of 32. The Tigers basically start four guards and one power forward, conceding the size matchup to MSU. Two of those four guards that MSU will have to contain are Joe Jackson and guard-forward Adonis Thomas. In the Tigers opening-round victory over St. Mary’s, Thomas and Jackson combined for 26 of Memphis’ 54 points, and Jackson had 7 of the team’s 12 assists. MSU guard Keith Appling and forward Branden Dawson will have their hands full with this explosive tandem of the Tigers, however, Appling is very familiar with the play of Jackson due to the fact they played on the USA under-19 team together two years ago.
If this matchup was viewed on paper without the seeds and the names of the schools, just stats, I wouldn’t be surprised if Memphis was picked 100 times out of 100. Statistically, the Tigers are one of the better offensive teams in the nation as they rank 21st in points per game, fourth in assists per game and 16th in field goal percentage. On the other hand, the Spartans rank 152nd in ppg, 132nd in apg and 50th in field goal percentage. However, this is the kind of game where you throw all of the stats out of the window and just view each teams resume.
While Memphis has had a successful season statistically, this team has nowhere near the experience of the Spartans. Yes, the Tigers did go undefeated (16-0) in conference play during the regular season, but that was in a very weak Conference USA in which Memphis is the only team to represent the conference in the NCAA tournament. Their only big win this season (looking back) are Harvard, Tennessee and St. Mary’s. Michigan State has defeated Wisconsin (twice), Kansas, Ohio State, Illinois (twice), Michigan and Minnesota.
This game will come down to the play of Michigan State’s Adreian Payne. I’m not sure Memphis has encountered such a big, athletic specimen of Payne’s stature, and I think with his ability to rise above everyone in the paint and knock down jumpers that the Tigers will have a very hard time defending him.