Winston-Salem, N.C. - Lawrence Joel Coliseum
8:20 p.m., CBS (Dick Enberg, Jay Bilas)
"I don't want to just be a defensive team - basketball is a two-way game. Saying that, if you can only be good at one, your chances of moving on are better if it's the defensive end." -- MSU Head Coach Tom Izzo
"They've got a whole team full of Tylers on their team when it comes to rebounding that basketball." -- Roy Williams
Season to Date: Despite its youth, Michigan State recorded a number of impressive wins, as well as just missing a few big upsets. The Spartans beat Texas, BYU, Illinois, Indiana and then-No. 1 Wisconsin during the regular season. They also lost by two points in the Wisconsin rematch in Madison and lost by two at Ohio State -- and their only two non-conference losses came to ACC foes Maryland and Boston College.
NCAA First Round: With an efficient offense and a stifling defense, the Spartans beat undermanned No. 8-seeded Marquette, 61-49, in their first round matchup. Marquette shot 21.1 percent in the first half and 31.9 percent for the game. Raymar Morgan had a team-high 14 points and 9 boards for MSU, who as a team had 17 assists on 22 field goals and shot 53.7% from the field.
Defense First: MSU finished the season ranked as the best defensive club in the Big Ten: first in field-goal percentage defense (38.1%) and scoring defense (56.5 pts) and third in three-point field-goal percentage defense (32.0%). Only twice this season have the Spartans allowed an opponent to score 70 or more points (Indiana put up 73 points on them in early January and Wisconsin scored 70 in the regular season final) and 23 of MSU's 34 opponents were held under 40 percent shooting. Point guard Travis Walton was named to the Big Ten All-Defensive Team.
Player to Watch: After averaging just 5.9 points last season at the point, Drew Neitzel moved to shooting guard and emerged as MSU's go-to scorer this season. He is averaging 17.9 points per game and has had a number of highlight performances, including a 24-point second half against Ohio State. With Travis Walton capably running the point (2.19 a:t), Neitzel spends much of the game running off screens in the halfcourt set and led the Big Ten in made threes per game (3.2) while shooting 41.5% from beyond the arc. His presence alongside Walton also gives the Spartans two floor leaders, and Neitzel is averaging 4.3 assists and sporting a 1.87 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Post by Committee: While not having a standout big man, Michigan State has used an effective four-man low post rotation that helped make the Spartans the Big Ten's top rebounding team with a +7.8 margin on the boards, including more than 11 offensive rebounds per game (the MSU sports information department offered the interesting statistic that "MSU has grabbed the rebound on 39.7 percent of its missed shots") and have set a school record with 162 blocks. That four-man rotation, however, has been reduced to three as a result of reserve Idong Ibok's injury against Marquette. That leaves the 6-10, 245-pound duo of Drew Naymick and Goran Suton (the most capable offensively of the three) and 6-8, 235-pound starting power forward Marquise Gray. Ibok didn't put up big statistics, but he'll be mostly missed in the foul department -- those four post players are routinely in foul trouble and have fouled out of a game a combined 10 times.
No Seniority: This is a young Spartans team, as they don't have a single senior on their roster and only two players in their seven-man rotation are juniors.
Series History: Saturday's game will be the fourth time that North Carolina and Michigan State have met in the NCAA Tournament, with the Tar Heels having won all three matchups -- 74-70 in three overtimes in the 1957 Final Four, 73-58 in the 1998 Sweet 16 and 87-71 in the 2005 Final Four. UNC leads the all-time series with MSU, 6-3.
Projected Starters: 5 Travis Walton (6-2, 195, So.) – 11.1 ppg, 5.5 apg 11 Drew Neitzel (6-0, 180, Jr.) – 17.9 ppg, 4.3 apg 2 Raymar Morgan (6-7, 220, Fr.) - 11.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg 41 Marquise Gray (6-8, 235, So.) - 6.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg 34 Drew Naymick (6-10, 245, Jr.) – 3.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg Key Reserves: 14 Goran Suton (6-10, 245, So.) – 9.4 ppg, 6.7 rpg 23 Maurice Joseph (6-4, 190, So.) – 6.0 ppg
Neitzel ....... Morgan
Suton ....... Gray
Walton ....... Naymick
(Photos courtesy of Getty Images)