Third-seeded Michigan State looked dominant in an easy victory over Valparaiso in its NCAA Tournament opener Thursday.
Things will get a little tougher Saturday when the Spartans take on No. 6 seed Memphis at Auburn Hills, Mich. The Tigers edged Saint Mary’s in their opener and will be able to match Michigan State athletically. Memphis has won seven straight games and showed Thursday it can win at a slower pace.
The Tigers like to get out in the open floor and run up the score, but a 54-52 victory over Saint Mary’s required more patience from the likes of point guard Joe Jackson and swingman Adonis Thomas. Michigan State has the type of Big Ten pedigree that can force teams to play at its pace and the NCAA Tournament pedigree with coach Tom Izzo that will always make it a contender.
The Spartans have advanced to the Sweet 16 in four of the previous five seasons.
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ABOUT MEMPHIS (31-4): Tigers coach Josh Pastner picked up his first NCAA Tournament win at the school Thursday and will be looking for its first win of the season over a ranked opponent Saturday. Memphis fell at home to top-seeded Louisville on Dec. 15 in its only other chance.
The Tigers also lost to their only Big Ten challenger - 84-75 to Minnesota in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in November. But Memphis built up plenty of confidence by ripping through Conference USA and had scored more than 80 points in four straight games before slowing things down against the Gaels. Jackson led the way with 14 points Thursday and does the bulk of the ball handling for a team that ranked fifth in the country in assists.
ABOUT MICHIGAN STATE (26-8): The Spartans blasted Valparaiso on Thursday, with only a 10-0 burst in the final two minutes pulling the Crusaders within the 65-54 final margin. Michigan State has more size on the interior than the Tigers and showed that off against Valparaiso with 23 points and 15 rebounds from senior forward Derrick Nix.
“It’s my last go-around,“ Nix told reporters, “and I’m not ready to be done yet.”
Adreian Payne, Nix and Branden Dawson along the front helped the Spartans control the glass Thursday and open things up for freshman Gary Harris and junior leader Keith Appling on the outside. The Spartans do not have any players left over from the 2008 squad, which fell in the Sweet 16 to Memphis in the only other NCAA Tournament meeting between the schools.
1. Izzo is 38-14 in the NCAA Tournament.
2. Memphis senior swingman D.J. Stephens blocked eight shots Thursday and has swatted away 19 in the last three games.
3. Michigan State outrebounded Valparaiso 49-23 on Thursday and is 23-7 when controlling the glass.