|Senior Derrick Nix came up huge for the Spartans in a dominating win|
The struggling Michigan State Spartans looked to make a statement coming into this game against Valparaiso, and a statement was certainly made. The Spartans went into half with a dominating 35-18 lead looking to pile on in the second half. The second half did not go as planned for the Spartans as they were out scored by the Crusaders 36-30, but still held on for a commanding 11 point win. For the Spartans to go far in this tournament, they need solid contributions from players such as Keith Appling, Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne.
Payne has been coming up big for the Spartans down the stretch especially when the other stars, like Appling and Nix, have been struggling to find their stroke. But it was Payne who came up small in this game as he scored only 7 points with 4 boards. He also did not shoot the ball very much as he attempted only 5 shots from the field. Derrick Nix meanwhile had arguably the best game of his Spartan career as he scored 23 points on 10-17 shooting along with a career high 15 boards. Keith Appling also contributed 15 points with 6 assists. For the Spartans, this must be a good sign to see him score double digits as he is seeming to be breaking out of his current scoring funk. Big Ten Freshman of the Year Gary Harris had a decent game with 10 points, 2 steals and 4 boards in 32 minutes. One thing that Tom Izzo will want to fix is the turnover issue as the Spartans had 17 of them, something they need to fix if they want to go far in this tournament.
The Spartans have arguably one of the toughest roads to the Final Four. They are the number 3 seed in the Midwest region which features the No. 1 overall seed in Louisville, a formidable No. 2 seed in the Duke Blue Devils, and tough hard-nosed 4, 5, and 6 seeds in Saint Louis, Oklahoma State and Memphis. Michigan State will have to face the winner of No. 6 Memphis and No. 11 Saint Mary's on Saturday. Memphis (30-4) are one of, if not the toughest No. 6 seeds in the entire tournament and Saint Mary's (28-6) are no slouch either. After that game, providing an upset which isn't uncommon in March, Michigan State will have to face the No. 2 seed in Duke, then the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament Louisville. The road for the Spartans is a tough one, but a doable one. If the Spartans play like they are capable of, I wouldn't be surprised to see them represent the Midwest region in the Final Four.