Here are three initial observations from Michigan State’s dominant 70-48 win over the Memphis Tigers to advance to the Sweet Sixteen:
1. Athletic as they may be, the Tigers had no answer for the inside play (and size) of Michigan State.
Featuring a starting five without a player measuring 6-foot-8 or taller, Memphis could not keep the Spartans off the boards or prevent easy baskets inside. As a result, coach Tom Izzo’s Spartans dictated the pace and found points easier and easier to come by as the game wore on and the Tigers’ defense wore down.
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Despite forcing an impressive 18 turnovers against Michigan State, a team which turned the ball over just 13.5 times per game during the season, Memphis allowed 70 points (practically a point per possession). Overall, the Tigers were out-rebounded 41-25.
Big men Adreian Payne (6-foot-10) and Derrick Nix (6-foot-9, 270 pounds) proved to be a lot to handle on the interior, combining for 27 points, 18 rebounds, five steals and five blocks. Those two Spartans will undoubtedly play a big role throughout the rest of MSU’s run.
2. Nobody ever said following John Calipari at Memphis would be easy, but Josh Pastner is not exactly underperforming.
Now, it’s rather obvious to say that Calipari and Pastner took over two different Memphis programs; however, all things considered, Pastner looks to be building something of substance in western Tennessee. He has not reached the Elite Eight and Sweet Sixteen level Calipari had the program at before he left for bluer pastures in Lexington, but the Tigers’ were not exactly a model of mid-major success in the early going under Coach Cal.
In his first five seasons, Calipari led Memphis to the NIT on three separate occasions. The Tigers made just two NCAA tournament appearances during that time — with one tourney win to show for it.
Pastner, in his first four seasons, has led the program to one NCAA tournament win (this season versus St. Mary’s) and three appearances.
He has a long way to go, but he looks to be on a similar path so far.
3. The Mountain West may have finished as the top RPI conference, but the Big Ten is asserting itself as the top dog during the NCAA tournament.
Michigan and Michigan State have advanced.
Indiana and Ohio State will be favored to advance Sunday afternoon. No. 11-seed Minnesota has a legitimate chance against a Florida team that has appeared beatable in past few outings.
If the Big Ten can account for a quarter (or more) of the Sweet Sixteen participants, the, “Who is the best conference in 2012-13” debate becomes practically moot. Congrats, Jim Delany.