Michigan State vs. Duke: Can Adreian Payne & Derrick Nix Handle Mason Plumlee?

Adam BiggersSenior Analyst IIMarch 26, 2013

Adreian Payne is a load to handle. We'll see how Duke's Mason Plumlee fares Friday.
Adreian Payne is a load to handle. We'll see how Duke's Mason Plumlee fares Friday.Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Adreian Payne isn't exactly a soft, cuddly sportsman—well, wait, yes he is.

The Michigan State Spartans junior is actually a gentle giant (just ask Lacey) and was awarded a sportsmanship honor this season from the Big Ten. 


Bad example. 

Let's move onto Derrick Nix; he's not such a nice guy, either. 

Well, that's up for debate, too. 

Nix, the Spartans senior center, has actually completed a 180-degree turn, going from a Detroit bad boy to a team-first leader for Tom Izzo's club. 

So much for the intimidation factor—but don't relay that bit of info on Nix and Payne to Duke Blue Devils senior sensation Mason Plumlee, who faces the Spartans' muscle at 9:40 p.m. Friday during a Sweet 16 duel in Indianapolis (Duke is the No. 2 seed; Michigan State is the No. 3 seed).

Although they're civil outside of the gym, Nix and Payne are monsters on the court. The pair is Michigan State's best combatants against Plumlee, a towering, 6'10", 235-pounder who averages 17 points per game. 

With a trip to the Elite 8 on the line, Plumlee will have his hands full of plenty of Nix-Payne aggravation. The Spartans' bigs have seen one of the country's best centers, Indiana's Cody Zeller, twice this year. Zeller's team won both duels with the Spartans, but he didn't get his way as easily against Michigan State as he did against other Big Ten competition.

And Nix and Payne were to blame.

The Hoosiers' 7-footer was held to just nine points during a 75-70 win over Michigan State on Jan. 27. In the sequel on Feb. 19, Zeller scored 17 points and pulled down five boards, but he was draped by Nix, a 6'9", 270-pound pest with an affinity for the rough stuff.

Plumlee isn't Zeller—not many guys are comparable. Zeller is at a different level than most bigs in college basketball. 

Although Plumlee is a Wooden worthy player and one of the elite in the ACC, he likely won't dominate when sandwiched between Payne and Nix.

That much is certain. 

Plumlee's weaknesses are easy to identify; he'll have a difficult time pushing around Michigan State's duo of bigs, and he's more of a finesse player than a powerful, imposing center. That's not to say that he's not a capable athlete, because he is. He's just not well-equipped enough to handle the fury that he'll face Friday. 

During Duke's 66-50, Round of 32 win over Creighton, Plumlee struggled to assert his game against Doug McDermott and Gregory Echenique, a 6'9", 240-pound senior center who wouldn't fare well against either of Izzo's bullies in the paint. 

Plumlee's turnover rate in college is at an all-time high (2.9 per game); his poor free-throw shooting is another one of weaknesses. The senior's inconsistency at the line has cost Duke in the long run, so putting him at the stripe will be beneficial for Payne and Nix—they're capable of exploiting his shortcomings.

Payne has developed into one of the scene's most dynamic threats; his ability to spread the floor should have Plumlee on his heels and second-guessing his defensive positioning.

Will Plumlee dare to step out to the perimeter and man-up on Payne? 

Probably not. He's too valuable of a rebounder to stray afar from the basket. The Blue Devils need him to stay put to battle Nix.

Nix doesn't have the arsenal that Payne has, but he has the bulk—and approximately 40-pound weight advantage over his Duke opponent—to swat Plumlee around the lane with relative ease. Nix has four years of Big Ten football—basketball, rather—on his resume. He's not afraid to get physical, and that's not the style that Duke's known for. The Blue Devils are a jump-shooting, high-tempo team that wears down its opposition with speed, not brute force. 

Payne may be wiry at 6'10" and 240 pounds, but his athleticism trumps Plumlee's admirable skill set. Payne can dunk, block, run, shoot and repeat for a solid 25 minutes per game. That's hard to keep up with for anyone, even Plumlee. 

The intrigue of Duke versus Michigan State is a story in itself. The 1-on-1 battles will certainly decide the outcome and overall complexion of the sweetest of the other Sweet 16 duels in 2013. However, a 2-on-1 battle will decide the outcome for the Spartans, and that's Payne and Nix versus Plumlee. 

Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan State Spartans basketball writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81