Michigan State's 5 Keys to Beating Memphis in Round of 32 in NCAA Tournament
The Michigan State Spartans are a win away from reaching their 11th Sweet 16 under coach Tom Izzo, but they'll have to handle the Memphis Tigers at 2:45 p.m. Saturday at the Palace of Auburn Hills before moving on to the fourth round of the 2013 NCAA tournament.
The No. 4 seeded Spartans were on the verge of blowing the doors off the No. 13 seeded Valparaiso Crusaders Thursday, but lackluster perimeter defense in the second half led to a 65-54 victory behind center Derrick Nix's outstanding showmanship (23 points,15 rebounds).
The No. 6 seeded Tigers had trouble slipping by No. 11 St. Mary's in the second round, notching a 54-52 win based on a 14-point day from Joe Jackson and a 12-point offering from Adonis Thomas.
How will Michigan State respond after letting the Crusaders hang around? Will the Tigers avenge a two-point win and shock the Spartans—a perennial power—in March Madness and head to the Sweet 16?
There are obvious key points to address, but we'll stick to five in this slideshow.
Stop Joe Jackson and Adonis Thomas, Limit Other Guards
Guard play is key in March, and the Memphis Tigers have a trio that will surely be a challenge for the Spartans come Saturday.
Joe Jackson averages about 14 points per night, and that's just what he gave the Gaels in the round of 64 Thursday. His energy and superb floor vision are two of his best attributes. Michigan State cannot let the crafty guard explode with droves of offense like he has in his past handful of games.
Jackson poured 22 points on Southern Miss during Memphis' 91-79 double-overtime Conference USA championship game win, so he's an obvious threat to Michigan State.
However, Chris Crawford scored a game-high 23 points that day, giving the Tigers yet another guard for the Spartans to notice Saturday.
Adonis Thomas plays more like a forward, but he's an inside-outside weapon that Memphis will certainly call upon to dethrone one of the country's top programs at The Palace. Thomas has scored at least 11 points in each of his past four outings.
Memphis has the personnel to match up well versus the Spartans. Saturday's round of 32 duel should be about even when it comes to 1-on-1 battles—at least it should be when looking at stats alone.
Command the Glass
One of the main reasons why Michigan State jumped out to a 20-point lead Thursday over Valpo was because it dominated the rebounding wars.
The Spartans outclassed the Crusaders on the glass via a 44-20 margin, keeping the game well in hand despite a late surge from the Horizon League hopefuls.
Derrick Nix was an absolute sensation with 15 rebounds. He'll be key against the Tigers, who have Tarik Black and Shaq Goodwin to counteract the Spartans big man.
Black is 6'9", 262 pounds, while Goodwin comes in at 6'9", 244 pounds. They may not have the sheer volume as Nix, a 6'9", 270-pound battering ram, but they are physical enough to make his life difficult.
The Tigers were outdone on the boards, 35-34, in their opening victory over St. Mary's. If they are pounded the way the Crusaders were, it could be a long afternoon trying to keep up with the Spartans.
Derrick Nix Needs to Be Monster Nix
During his postgame interview with CBS, Derrick Nix said that he wasn't ready to go home yet.
Thanks to his monstrous afternoon against Valpo, the Spartans—and Nix—live to fight another day.
Nix may not be good for 23 and 15 every game, but if he can support Michigan State's offensive efforts with his physical prowess, there shouldn't be many problems handling Memphis.
Nix is absolutely a man on a mission. As a senior, he knows that his last game in a Spartans uniform could be his next game in a Spartans uniform.
Expecting anything less from the Detroit standout would be ludicrous, and he'll likely come out with the same level of intensity that led to arguably his greatest game with Michigan State (Thursday's win over Valpo).
Adreian Payne, Come Out to Play
Adreian Payne didn't have to set the tone Thursday because of Derrick Nix.
However, if Nix is off by just a fraction Saturday, Payne will have to take over and assert himself on the glass.
Payne, a junior, has displayed an incredible skill set this season. He's learned to use his mid-range shot to his advantage, and his ability to grab rebounds with his 747-like wingspan has been a key to the Spartans' success.
He doesn't always get the attention of other elite bigs in college basketball, but Payne has emerged as one of the game's top centers. He's a legitimate threat from just about anywhere on the floor.
Memphis just doesn't have a true answer for Payne. That's an advantage for Michigan State, obviously.
Keith Appling, Nothing More Has to Be Said
By now, you're tired of seeing Keith Appling as a top-five factor in Michigan State's success, but if he wasn't of great importance to the Spartans, he wouldn't appear on every five keys list, right?
Appling really impressed in the opening round with 15 points and six rebounds. Perhaps the most telling statistic was Appling's turnover total—zero.
Appling took care of the ball, knocked down long-distance shots and dictated the tempo for the Spartans. That's what great players do, and if Michigan State wants to advance, it'll need Appling to show the country why he's held in such high regard by Spartans fans.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan State Spartans basketball writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81