Behind a pair of stifling defensive efforts, the Memphis Tigers and Michigan State Spartans both advanced to the third round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament, and the two will meet on Saturday in Midwest Regional action at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
The winner moves on to the Sweet 16 next week against an opponent to be determined.
Memphis has quietly put together another stellar season, the team logging an impressive 31-4 overall record, which included a perfect run through Conference USA (16-0). The Tigers, who are the sixth seed in the region, improved to 33-24 all-time in the NCAA Tournament on Thursday, as they slipped by 11th-seeded Saint Mary's-CA in the second round, 54-52, earning their first victory in the Big Dance since 2009. Memphis came into this event as one of only two teams to have won 30 games this season, the other being top-ranked Gonzaga.
Memphis, which has only lost to NCAA Tournament qualifiers VCU, Minnesota and Louisville, as well as Xavier this season, has won seven straight games, and a staggering 25 of its last 26 overall.
Michigan State was one of the top teams in the Big Ten Conference once again in 2012-13, coach Tom Izzo's club winning 13 of its 18 league bouts to contend with the likes of Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin for conference supremacy. The Spartans, who currently sit at 26-8 overall, earned a No. 3 seed in this event, and they took care of 14th-seeded Valparaiso in the second round on Thursday, 65-54.
MSU is 55-25 all-time in the NCAA Tournament, and the team, which has two national championships to its credit -- the most recent coming in 2000 -- is making its 16th consecutive appearance in the dance, which is the longest streak among Big Ten schools, and the third-longest nationally behind only Kansas (24) and Duke (18).
It's important to note, MSU is 10-2 all-time at the Palace at Auburn Hills.
This game is a rematch of the 2008 Sweet 16 matchup in which the Derrick Rose- led Tigers knocked off the Spartans, 92-74 in Houston, en route to the national championship game. Memphis won the only other meeting as well, taking a 73-57 decision way back in 1967.
Memphis got 14 points from Joe Jackson, and 12 each from Adonis Thomas and Tarik Black, all of which were needed as the Tigers barely got by Saint Mary's on Thursday. Coach Josh Pastner's club shot just 40.8 percent from the field, went 5-of-15 from beyond the arc, and converted only 9-of-18 free throw attempts. Fortunately, they played exceptional defense in limiting the Gaels to 32.8 percent field goal efficiency, and SMC star Matthew Dellavedova to 10 points on just 3-of-13 shooting. Memphis forward D.J. Stephens was a man possessed with a career-high eight blocks, and he tacked on nine points for good measure. Jackson paces four double-digit scorers for Memphis with his 13.7 ppg, and he also serves as one of the top playmakers around by handing out nearly five assists per outing. The Tigers light up the scoreboard for 75.2 ppg, while at the same time holding their opponents to 64.8 ppg.
Michigan State was certainly on point in its first game of the tournament, holding Valparaiso to 35.2 percent field goal efficiency, which included a dismal 23.1 percent effort in the opening half, all while dominating the glass to the tune of a 49-23 rebounding margin. Derrick Nix logged a monster double- double with 23 points and 15 boards, while Keith Appling added 15 points and six rebounds, and Gary Harris chipped in 10 points and handed out four assists for the Spartans, who made good on 44.8 percent of their total shots, which included a 6-of-15 showing from beyond the arc. About the only negative for coach Izzo's club was the unsightly 17 turnovers they committed, off which Valpo scored 21 points. Appling (13.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.5 apg) heads a list of three double-digit scorers for MSU, which nets 68.1 ppg while permitting a mere 59.1 ppg. The Spartans also own a significant margin in rebounding (+7.3), with all three starting forwards pulling down at least 6.0 rpg.