Something wasn’t right for Michigan State in the opening minutes of its Round of 64 matchup with Valparaiso Thursday. The Spartans looked out of sync, confused by Valparaiso’s double teams on the defensive end, and prone to turnovers. But one Branden Dawson alley-oop slam changed all of that.
Dawson’s dunk off an assist from Denzel Valentine was the official end of Michigan State’s slow start, as the Spartans finished the half on a 27-10 and maintained momentum in the second half for a 65-54 win at The Palace of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hill, Mich.
Michigan State made it a point to work the ball into the interior to big man Derrick Nix, who finished with a double-double of 23 points and 15 rebounds. His ability to draw attention in the paint opened up shooter on the perimeter, including guard Keith Appling, who had 15 points.
The Spartans now move on to play the winner of Saint Mary’s and Memphis. That game tips off at 2:45 p.m. ET on Saturday.
If Memphis advances, Michigan State will want to do the same sorts of things it did Thursday to be successful and advance to the Sweet 16. By working the ball into the paint to Nix and Adreian Payne, Harris, Appling and the rest get open shots from deep or lanes to drive to the basket. Hitting shots and not turning the ball over would keep Memphis from getting out in transition, where they thrive.
If Saint Mary’s upsets Memphis and moves on, the focus will be Matthew Dellavedova. He had 22 points, six rebounds, and four assists in the Gaels’ First Four win over Middle Tennessee. If he is neutralized, the engine of the rest of the Saint Mary’s offensive attack is slowed as well.
The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 10.3 points per game, while shooting 42 percent from three, as a freshman. He, along with Malcolm Hill and Michael Thorne Jr., is one of three returning players who averaged double figures last season.
This could prove to be a make-or-break year for John Groce, who enters his fifth season at the helm. He guided the Illini to an NCAA Tournament in his first season, but hasn’t been back since.
The key for the Illini is health. Abrams gives them experience and leadership, but it won’t be a surprise if there’s some rust in his game after spending the past two seasons on the sideline. Having a healthy Coleman-Lands will help stabilize the backcourt, while Hill, an all-conference caliber forward, and Thorne anchor the frontcourt.
Like Alkins, Jones was a sought-after scorer. The 6-foot-4 two-guard was rated No. 69 overall in the Class of 2016 by Rivals. He picked Indiana over offers from Cal, Cincinnati, Georgetown and more than a dozen other high-major programs.
Jeter, the 6-foot-10, played in a reserve role as a freshman, averaging 1.9 points and 1.9 rebounds per game last season. He will be part of a loaded frontline that includes heralded freshmen Harry Giles and Marques Bolden, as well as redshirt senior Amile Jefferson, who returns to the lineup following a foot injury.
The greatest player in Auburn program history will honored with a statue outside of the team’s home arena.
The university announced that Charles Barkley, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, will be the fourth athlete to be given a statue, joining Heisman Trophy winners Bo Jackson, Pat Sullivan and Cam Newton.
“It just means a great deal to me,” Barkley said in a statement. “Being a kid from Alabama, going to Auburn. I think everybody knows what Auburn means to me. It’s going to be pretty cool.”
Barkley, currently working as an analyst for TNT, was the SEC Player of the Year in 1984, as well as a second team All-American. He averaged 14.1 points and 9.6 rebounds per game in 84 appearances for the Tigers.