Will Tucker is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Round of 32 NCAA Tournament game between #3 Michigan State and #6 Memphis from Auburn Hills. You can also find him on Twitter @blrdswag.
Three Key Takeaways:
- Michigan State’s brute force in the interior was too much for Memphis to handle. As athletic as the Tigers are, they don’t have enough size to defend the post against 6’9: Derrick Nix and 6’10: Adreian Payne, who weigh a cumulative 510 pounds. The Spartans’ imposing duo combined for 27 points and 18 rebounds, while Payne recorded five blocks. Tarik Black and Shaq Goodwin are the only players in Josh Pastner’s trusted rotation who measure at least 6’8″ and 240 pounds, and the two combined for 4 points and 6 rebounds. Despite his size, Goodwin went scoreless and played with the tentativeness of a freshman in his first huge college game, and Black played much of the second half with 4 fouls. Pastner afterward called MSU “probably the best in the country at offensive rebounding,” but it was on the defensive end that the Spartans established their +20 rebound margin, courtesy of Memphis shooting 30% from the field.
- Free throw shooting finally caught up with the Tigers. Inability to cash in at the charity stripe nearly derailed Memphis against Saint Mary’s on Thursday, when they shot 9-18. Down 12 with 5:13 remaining, Tarik Black went to the line after a Flagrant 1 was assessed to Derrick Nix. Moments after Geron Johnson had drilled a three, with an opportunity to turn the momentum and stage a final push, Black unceremoniously missed both free throws. Michigan State would go on a 12-2 run to close the game, despite losing Keith Appling to a shoulder injury. The Tigers finished at 66% on the season after shooting 5-10 from the line today.
- The Spartans’ backcourt depth is suspect. While their starting five is undeniably one of the best in the country, today’s game illustrated the dearth of talented depth behind Gary Harris and Keith Appling. Harris had a huge first half, heading to the break with 16 points and 4 threes, but only played 8 minutes after halftime once saddled with four fouls. Keith Appling didn’t show up on the box score, ending with 2 points and 2 assists, but he managed the game well until aggravating his right shoulder and leaving the game with 8:35 remaining. At that point Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine were left to orchestrate things, and while they combined for 9 points and 7 assists as MSU pulled away, there was a substantial drop-off in explosiveness in the Spartans’ backcourt. It wasn’t an issue in this game, but it could portend problems in a closer contest against potential regional opponents Duke or Louisville.
Star of the Game. Adreian Payne left his mark on every portion of the court with 14 points, 10 rebounds and 5 blocks. The junior seems to be shedding his mercurial reputation, and turned in an MVP performance after apologizing to his teammates for a disappointing showing in Thursday’s Valparaiso win. Gary Harris also deserves to be acknowledged for his career-high 23 points in only 25 minutes on 6-9 shooting. Tom Izzo noted after the game that the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Year seemed to thrive on the big stage in front of a sellout crowd of 21,723.