Michigan State hopes to capitalize off a close-to-home crowd as they take on a Memphis squad that needed everything they had to stave off a furious rally from Saint Mary's.
For Michigan State, their first game was a romp, getting up 20 on Valpo and -- although it got down to 11 by the end of the game -- holding on, alley-ooping their way over an outmatched Horizon League team behind 23 points and 15 rebounds from Derrick Nix. Not so much for Memphis: Saint Mary's was a big upset pick, and although they trailed by 10 at the half, they rallied back, with Matthew Dellavedova's potential game-winning chuck at the buzzer unable to connect.
It's tough to gauge how good of a squad Memphis is. They only lost four regular season games -- the Spartans lost five in conference play alone -- but much of that is due to a subpar C-USA schedule where they went undefeated. They didn't lose any bad games all year, but didn't really have any quality wins. Southern Miss was the closest in the conference, and they took Memphis to double overtime in the conference tournament finals. They had an 18-game winning streak snapped by a middling A-10 squad in Xavier in the middle of conference play, and Saint Mary's seemed a step slow playing less than 48 hours after their First Four game. They certainly haven't taken on anybody of Michigan State's caliber, and not at full strength.
Both teams bank on hyperspeed athleticism to keep themselves going. For Michigan State, the freak is Adreian Payne, a 6'10 forward with the ability to take bigs off the dribble and the shooting touch -- 44 percent from deep -- to keep them honest, not to mention he's the team's best rebounder and blocks a decent amount of shots. Their main scorers come at the guard spots in speedsters Keith Appling and Gary Harris, who has shown an impressive offensive array his freshman year. For Memphis, it's D.J. Stephens, a 6'5 guard who jumps really, really high, blocking over 10 percent of shots while he's on the floor, reeling in 6.7 boards per game and dunking ad nauseam; although like MSU, their best scorer is point guard Joe Jackson.
Both teams are more adept defensively than on offense. But for Memphis, that strength comes inside, while Michigan State is better at guarding the perimeter. That will allow Harris and Appling to try to break things down from the dribble and find each other for midrange and three-point looks, while Jackson won't have as easy a job getting past Harris and Appling.
Here's a look at Saturday's game:
No. 3 Michigan State (26-8, 13-5 Big Ten, Kenpom ranking 11) vs. No. 6 Memphis (31-4, 16-0 C-USA, Kenpom ranking 37)
Location: Palace of Auburn Hills, Auburn Hills, Michigan
Time: 2:45 p.m. ET