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Previewing MSU vs. Memphis

This looks bad out of context.
This looks bad out of context.

(3) MSU vs. (6) Memphis
Game time
: 2:45 p.m. ET.
Location: The Palace of Auburn Hills, Auburn Hills, Mich.
Online streaming: March Madness On Demand
Radio: Spartan Sports Network
TOC Bracket Challenge:
TOC Pick 16 Standings: Here

I only have one memory of MSU's matchup against Memphis in the 2008 Sweet 16. It was a monster dunk from Joey Dorsey.

I went back and looked at the box score yesterday. Dorsey had six points, Derrick Rose had 27 and Chris Douglas-Robert had 25 as the Tigers destroyed MSU. The 92-74 score doesn't match what's left in my memory. I was a freshman and I drank a lot that night in my dorm. Maybe there's a correlation.

When I think of Memphis, I think of a highly-athletic team that can fly, but can be prone to mistakes. That 2008 team reached the national championship game, before late missed free throws allowed Kansas to tie the game and win in overtime. It set an NCAA record with 38 wins, all of which were later vacated.

Memphis' last two games have followed the same pattern as that loss to Kansas. Against Southern Miss in the C-USA championship game, the Tigers led by six with 31 seconds left. USM made a layup and fouled with 16 seconds left. Memphis missed the front end of a one-and-one. USM made a layup and fouled with five seconds left. Memphis missed the front end of a one-and-one, and the Golden Eagles scored on a floater at the buzzer to send the game into overtime. This time, the Tigers would win in OT.

On Thursday, Memphis led Saint Mary's by four with 24 seconds left and was at the free throw line. Memphis split the free throws. SMC made a tip-in and fouled with 13 seconds left. Memphis split the free throws. SMC banked-in a three-pointer with two seconds left, and Memphis turned the ball over on the inbound. But a buzzer-beating shot by Matthew Dellavedova was too strong, and the Tigers won.

Memphis shot 44 percent on 2s, turned the ball over 24 percent of the time, went 9-for-18 from the free-throw line and had 12 blocks. Watching the game, there was no reason it should have been close. But it was.


MSU and Memphis will face off in the second game of the day at The Palace on Saturday. The Memphis recipe will be the same.

Memphis is pretty much the opposite of Valpo in terms of size. The Tigers have four regular contributors at 6-foot-7 or taller with a usage rate >20 percent. Derrick Nix isn't going to have 23 and 15 again.

The Tigers are No. 77 in adjusted offense with an eFG% of 53.0 (No. 29). They shoot 51.6 percent on 2s (No. 36) and 37.8 percent on 3s (No. 29). Not a great offensive team, but not bad. Those shooting percentage numbers are both higher than MSU. Of course, it helps when the KenPom-ranked defensive schedule was No. 186 (MSU's was No. 3). Memphis is 25-1 over its last 26, with the lone loss coming to Xavier on the road.

Memphis is 1-3 against KP top-50 teams, the win being Saint Mary's. They're 7-1 against teams 50-100.

The Tigers are No. 30 in tempo, so they're going to want to run.

Memphis' leading scorer is speedy 6-foot-1 guard Joe Jackson (13.7 points, 3.2 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 2.7 turnovers). This matchup is worrisome, based on Keith Appling's inability to keep some quick guards like Yogi Ferrell in front of him. Jackson also shot 46 percent (38-for-82) from 3, so MSU can't exactly sag off him like Aaron Craft. Add in some aggravated tendonitis in Appling's left knee, and this could be a problem.

Elsewhere, 6-foot-7, 240-pound Adonis Thomas averages 11.9 points and 4.5 rebounds. He has taken 88 three-pointer attempts, but made just 29 percent. He'll likely be matched up with Adreian Payne. Guard Chris Crawford averages 10.5 points and loves to shoot from deep (71-for-173, 41 percent). He'll probably be guarded by Gary Harris.

Inside, 6-foot-9, 262-pound forward Tarik Black will probably be matched up with Nix a bit. Black averages 8.1 points and 4.9 rebounds in 20.4 minutes. He shoots 45 percent from the free-throw line. Perhaps the most-notable player behind Jackson will be 6-foot-5 D.J. Stephens. He may be a little short, but he can hop. He averages 7.7 points,6.7 rebounds and 2.6 blocks. He had eight blocks against SMC. If Jackson-Appling is the top matchup to watch, Stephens-Branden Dawson probably No. 2. Dawson won't be able to out-athlete Stephens. Dawson's offense has been limited in recent weeks, but his defense has been solid. That will need to continue.

I mentioned Memphis is mistake-prone. The Tigers have a turnover rate of 20.9 percent, which is No. 231 in the nation. MSU is close at 20.7 percent. While MSU doesn't force many turnovers on defense (19.5 percent, No. 203), it actually is high in steals (12.5 percent, No. 26). Memphis is decent at getting to the free-throw line (37.9 percent, No. 113), but shoots just 66.2 percent there (No. 274).

MSU typically enjoys playing a high-tempo game, but that might not be the best strategy in this one. Make Memphis play in the halfcourt and force them into mistakes.


Defensively, Memphis is pretty good: No. 23 in adjusted defense. Opponents have an eFG% of 45.3 (No. 46), shooting 43.3 percent on 2s (No. 38) and 33.2 percent on 3s (No. 133). I mentioned the block numbers, the Tigers are No. 5 with a 16.3 block percentage. That doesn't bode well for a guy like Nix, who doesn't have the best hops. He usually lays the ball in, rather than dunking. If Black isn't in the game, Nix will have about a 30-pound advantage, so he'll have to use his power to move guys out of the way. But I'm not expecting a big game from Nix in this one.

While MSU turns the ball over and doesn't force turnovers, Memphis does force turnovers (22.0, No. 66). But again, this was against the No. 100 offensive schedule (MSU's was No. 1), so some of these numbers are inflated by an easy schedule.

Still, a schedule doesn't increase athleticism and length, and Memphis has it. But even with that, the Tigers aren't that great of a rebounding team: No. 44 in grabbing offensive rebounds (36.1 percent) and opponents grab 30.9 percent (No. 128). Rebounding can be the great equalizer in this game.

This is going to be a slugfest, and MSU needs to make it sluggier by slowing the game down against a Tiger team that wants to run. Appling is 7-for-12 from 3 in the past two games, and MSU will need to hit some outside shots and keep the turnovers down. It's not going to be able to beat up Memphis inside.

I was surprised to see that six Memphis players played at least 26 minutes against SMC, with four over 30 minutes and just seven playing in the game, so you wonder about legs for this one. It's surprising because eight players play more than 17 minutes per game on the season, although Antonio Barton is coming off a broken foot in February.


KenPom projects a 68-63 win for MSU, giving the Spartans a 71 percent chance. Tom Izzo always tells his players to win the first game of a weekend, and he'll win the second. You probably know MSU is 17-3 on the second game of a weekend under Izzo, with all three losses coming to No. 1 seeds. That will be put to the test Saturday. We'll see what the coaches come up with, because this is going to be a battle.