Valparaiso’s frontcourt didn’t seem too impressed with Michigan St. power forward/center Derrick Nix before yesterday’s second round game. Not that there was much reason for them to, anyway. Nix was no All-American this season, to be kind. However, after Nix scored 23 points and pulled down 15 rebounds in a MSU 65-54 win, the opinion of the Crusaders no longer matters.
Nix, the lone senior on the Spartans, opened the 2013 NCAA tournament by imposing his will on the offensive end in the paint and on the defensive end on the glass. No one in the Crusaders frontcourt could do much to stop Nix, who shot 10-17 from the floor and should have finished with a rebound total closer to 20. Point guard Keith Appling scored 15 points and committed zero turnovers, and freshman shooting guard Gary Harris chipped in 10, hitting two 3’s.
Awaiting MSU in the round of 32 are the sixth-seeded Memphis Tigers, this year’s Conference USA regular season and tournament champions. Since losing at home to Minnesota on November 23, the Tigers are 25-2, including yesterday’s close 54-52 win over the eleventh-seeded St. Mary’s Gaels. 6’5″ guard D.J. Stephens blocked 8 shots and threw down a number of flashy dunks, big man Tarik Black was huge off the bench, and point guard Joe Jackson finished with a line of 14 points, 6 rebounds and 7 assists as the Tigers held off a St. Mary’s team that held on until the final shot attempt of the game, a 3-point miss by the Gaels.
Although this year’s MSU squad is more aptly skilled to run than teams in the recent past, Izzo probably doesn’t want his guys to have a game predicated on athleticism on their hands. Memphis head coach John Pastner loves an up-and-down game, and Jackson will certainly try to start the break whenever possible. Branden Dawson, the Spartans’ most versatile player, will probably find himself guarding Jackson at the top of the key occasionally. I doubt Nix will duplicate his 23-15 peformance, but he will have to produce once again, along with frontcourt mate Adreian Payne. Memphis is a very good rebounding team, but they also didn’t play roughly 20 games against physical Big 10 competition, so Sparty should once again have an advantage on the boards. Point guards Appling and Jackson should be fun to watch, provided both play like talented, and not scatterbrained individuals.
The last time these two schools met was in the 2008 Sweet 16, when Memphis won, 92-74. Memphis wants to prove that their seed was too low, and Michigan St. wants to build on playing 35 minutes (the last 5 were craptastic) of great basketball in their win over Valpo. I picked Memphis to lose this third-round matchup with MSU and that was before I saw them struggle against St. Mary’s. Izzo and Sparty versus Pastner and Memphis: Izzo and Co. win. Go Green. Go White.