Arguably the most intriguing match-up on Sunday is the coaching duel set to take place between Tom Izzo and Rick Majerus. Top-seed Michigan State, who controlled the paint in their win over LIU Brooklyn, looks to earn another trip to the Sweet 16 as they take on 9-seed Saint Louis.
Marejus’ squad proved to be too much for Memphis on Friday night, ruining the projections of many that the Tigers could knock off the Spartans. In order for the Billikens to knock off Michigan State their undersized front court will have to hold their own against a group that was outstanding on Friday night.
Draymond Green posted a triple-double to lead the way but just as important were forwards Derrick Nix and Adriean Payne. They combined to score 34 points and grab 15 rebounds, helping the Spartans win the battle on the boards by a wide margin (43-20).
SLU can’t afford to let that happen if they’re to go win two games in the same tournament for the first time in school history. As a team Michigan State grabs nearly 12 offensive rebounds per game, and a number below that average would be difficult for Vanderbilt to respond to (Sandas Mountains).
SLU has done a good job of keeping opponents off the offensive glass this season, with opponents grabbing just 9.2 offensive rebounds per game. Brian Conklin, Dwayne Evans and Cody Ellis have been the best rebounders for SLU, and they’re going to need to be the best rebounders on the floor regardless of team if SLU is to win.
Also of importance will be how well guards Keith Appling and Travis Trice take care of the basketball. SLU forces an average of 14.8 turnovers per game, a number that ranked among the best in the Atlantic 10 this season.
The turnovers are why SLU has given up an average of just 57.4 points per game, and while Michigan State should surpass that total turnovers would mean more chances for Mitchell and the rest of the SLU guards.
“I’m going to have to play a very solid game, control my team,” said Appling of his role. “When we need a basket, go to the inside to Draymond or any other one of our big guys like Adreian Payne or Derrick Nix so we get something easy and get our team going.”
The winner advances to Phoenix for next week’s West Regional, and with both teams being prepared as well as they are by the coaches there won’t be many secrets on the floor.
“We’ve already done one [pulled off an upset], so why not a second one,” said Conklin. “They’re a great team, but we know we have a great team in that locker room, too.
“We’re going to muck up the game like we did yesterday and play dirty basketball, but it’s going to be fun and we’re excited.”
The key for Michigan State is to keep Mitchell under wraps, while SLU will look to do the same with Green. But Nix and Payne could prove to be the added factors who not only get the Spartans to Phoenix but ultimately get them to New Orleans.