Michigan State’s Tom Izzo has a reputation for putting tough, gritty teams on the floor, and as a result, his teams have a history of executing at a high level and rebounding at incredible rates. In their match-up against Memphis on Saturday, each of these traits manifested themselves in a big way to lead the Spartans to a 70-48 win.
It was a very impressive defensive performance for “Sparty”, holding Memphis to just 30% shooting from the field, and dominating the glass to the tune of a 41-25 advantage. After going into halftime with a 3-point lead following a late 1st-half 12-4 run by Memphis, Michigan State tightened things up defensively, holding the Tigers to only 8 points in the first 11 minutes of the second half on 3-for-15 from the field.
The front-court duo of Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix controlled the paint throughout the day for Michigan State, and they combined for 18 rebounds on the game, while shooting an impressive 12-for-23 from the field. Payne was the best player on the court in the second half, flying around with crazy athleticism, snaring seemingly every rebound, and reinforcing the thought that he was the most important/versatile player.
On the Memphis side, they simply couldn’t generate any positive offense. One of the criticisms of the Josh Pastner era in Memphis is their lack of an offensive identity, and that certainly showed against the disciplined Spartans. With the exception of the aforementioned 12-4 run to end the first half (that was mostly keyed by a switch to a “Triangle-and-2″ defense instead of better offense), the Tigers looked lost throughout, shooting less than 40% in both halves, and finishing just 5-22 from the 3-point line.
There was one “negative” takeaway for Michigan State, which stemmed from a 2nd-half “towel fight” (yes, that’s what happened) between Derrick Nix and Keith Appling in a timeout huddle. It seemed to be a simple case of tempers overflowing and it didn’t affect their play on the court, but you never want to see full-blown tension come to a head on national television.
The bigger concern for MSU; Appling left the game later in the half with an apparent shoulder injury and never returned. Something to keep an eye on there.
With Gary Harris (who was tremendous in the first half, hitting 4 threes before hitting foul trouble), Payne, and Nix, the Spartans have an incredibly solid trio of go-to players, and when you team that with high-level coaching from Izzo, Michigan State is a formidable opponent for anyone. They will await the winner of Creighton/Duke in the Sweet 16, and it would almost be picture-perfect to see Coach K and Izzo on opposite sides of the court. Stay tuned.