When Memphis’ junior forward Robert Dozier was asked if the Tigers had seen a team as physical as Michigan State this season, he mentioned playing teams like Mississippi State, Southern Miss, and Connecticut.
But does Dozier really think that a Conference USA team like Southern Miss is as physical as Michigan State?
Perhaps the Spartans will be the toughest defensive team that Memphis has faced all season, which will make for interesting matchups on Friday night between each team’s bigs.
To compare the conferences, the Big Ten is as physical and rugged a conference as there is, with pesky teams like Penn State, Iowa, and Minnesota grinding some upset victories this season. The conference showed this season that no game would be easy, as MSU dropped tough games at Penn State and Iowa.
Conference USA on the other hand was torn apart by the Tigers’ run and gun offense, and even then, UAB, Houston, and UTEP all came close at knocking off the Tigers. But yet Memphis escaped with an unbeaten 16-0 conference record and cruised to a C-USA Tournament title and a third straight 30-win season under John Calipari.
But now the fun and games are over and it’s time for war, as three Spartan bigs, standing 6-foot-10 or taller, will battle with any Tiger who dares drive to the basket.
Of the 16 teams still alive in the NCAA tournament, Michigan State’s defense has to be one of the best still left. Starting with one of the best defensive players in the country, Travis Walton, down to the school-record holder for blocks, Drew Naymick, the Spartans have battled through a tough regular season schedule and have shut down their first two opponents.
After dismantling Temple with rebounding and tight defense on leading scorer Dionte Christmas, MSU topped that by shutting down a hot Pittsburgh team, which was picked by some to challenge for the Final Four.
Now comes the toughest test yet: shutting down a rare Memphis offense that is only used by two other Division I teams in the country.
Over the years, Michigan State has been known for having physical teams and this year was no different. But MSU’s physical play led to some foul trouble throughout the year, as Big Ten officials cracked down on contact inside.
But no team is happy to see the Big Ten season over than the Spartans, who have a breath of fresh air playing in the NCAA tournament where they can be physical without always being called for fouls.
Although Memphis brings in weapons like Chris Douglass-Roberts, Derrick Rose and Joey Dorsey, they have not seen a team bump and grind them like a Michigan State, which is why if the game should come down to defense, MSU has an overwhelming advantage.
While the Tigers have Dorsey inside, Rose and Roberts as well as other players off the bench like to shoot the three. If that’s the case on Friday night, Michigan State should have a field day on the offensive glass, as the saying goes “You live by the three, you die by the three”.
Duke stuck to shooting three-pointers against West Virginia and ended up losing the game because they wouldn’t take it inside.
This time of year, it’s always good to have three-pointers, but a strong inside game is what will be crucial in close games late.
Drew Naymick, Goran Suton and Idong Ibok will all be fighting inside for rebounds and contesting every Memphis shot. Marquise Gray twisted his knee in practice earlier this week but Tom Izzo hopes he can play on Friday.
Overall, if Michigan State can shut down Memphis and keep them at a low shooting percentage like they did against Pitt and Temple, the Spartans will be able to slowly grind their way to another big victory in March, sending them to the Elite Eight.
Prediction: MSU 68, Memphis 60