(5) Michigan State Spartans (27-8), +4.5, o/u 137 vs. (1) Memphis Tigers (35-1), -4.5, o/u 137, Reliant Stadium, Houston Texas, 9:55 p.m. Eastern, Friday
by Oracle of Predictem.com
You know Tom Izzo is at the helm when a team heads into the tournament reeling with a 6-6 record over their last 12, only to beat their first two opponents in the NCAA Tournament, including the Big East Tournament Champions, and find themselves in the Sweet 16.
Izzo’s history has preceded him, as his Spartans, who looked down right awful over the last stretch of the regular season, beat the likes of the Pitt Panthers in the second round in rather convincing fashion, 65-54. Izzo and his squad busted plenty of brackets with that win, as the Panthers were a dark horse in the tournament for many people.
Meanwhile Memphis is going about their business, making it interesting in their three-point win over Mississippi State in Round 2.
The Tigers showed why most experts don’t think they can win the whole tournament, let alone go much deeper, as they hit just 15-of-32 free throws (46.9%) and 6-of-13 down the stretch during pivotal moments, keeping the Bulldogs in the game.
If Memphis does the same thing against a team like the Spartans, look for a different outcome.
Head coach John Calipari still doesn’t think his teams’ free throw problems are their biggest weakness, but he’s kidding himself.
The Tigers continue to get balanced scoring, having four players in double figures against MSU, led by Chris Douglas-Roberts and freshmen phenom Derrick Rose (17 points each). Rose, however, hit just 4-of-9 from the free-throw line.
Big man Joey Dorsey (13 points and 12 rebounds vs. MSU) is the engineer of the train, as he causes match up problems for most teams with his size (6-foot-9, 265 pounds) and athleticism. But it’s hard for Calipari to keep him in late in tight games, shooting a dreadful 37.9% from the charity stripe this season.
Michigan State does have some taller post players with Goran Suton and Drew Naymeck to try to contain the Tigers’ inside game.
Memphis might have one of the more underrated defenses in the game, albeit they played in the Conference USA most of the year.
The Tigers hold opponents to 38.6% shooting (9th in the country), and just 30.3% from beyond the arc (7th). This should be a concern for Drew Neitzel, who is the floor general for the Spartans.
Neitzel has broken out a slump as of late, including a 21-point performance against Pitt. He did struggle in the first round of the tourney, though, by shooting just 2-of-11.
Memphis will head into this showdown favored -4.5 at most online sportsbooks. The over/under opened at 137, but has slowly dropped to 135.5.
Memphis has struggled recently covering in tournament games, going 2-5 ATS in their last seven. They’re also just 2-8 ATS when heading into the game as a favorite, although that may be because they’re usually favored by double digits against the C-USA opponents.
The Spartans know how to play on even ground, going 8-2-1 in their last 11 at a neutral court. They’ve also covered the spread in their last four games.
Both teams have very good defenses. A big trend for bettors is a 22-5-1 under record for Michigan State when heading into a game as the dog. They’ll look to slow the pace down and guards Kai Lucas and Neitzel will have to break the up-tempo pressure Memphis will deliver.
The under is also 4-0 for Memphis in their last four tourney games as a favorite of .5 to 6.5 points.
Now is the time for Memphis to prove all the naysayers wrong. On the other hand, Michigan State has Izzo on their sidelines always a plus.
Oracle’s Pick: It’s split down the middle as far as public betting goes. The game will come down to free throws. Uh-oh if you are Memphis. Take MSU plus the points and rely on the coaching brilliance of Tom Izzo to show you the money!