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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, March 22, 2013 at 7:00 PM

The Michigan State Spartans were much more impressive Thursday than their 65-54 victory over Valparaiso would have suggested. There was basically an extended garbage time after the Spartans jumped to a 32-12 lead in the first half, and a 49-22 slaughter early in the second. When the game was being decided, Michigan State was clearly reminding everyone that they deserved to be on the short list of potential champions.

Saturday the Spartans must avoid a potential flat spot against Memphis. It will be easy for Sparty to take the game too lightly because:

*Winning was so easy Thursday

*Memphis looked awful in its win Thursday over tired St. Mary’s

*Is easy to get complacent in front of a home state crowd

As you’ll see as we run through our standard set if indicator stats…Michigan State will be playing a team that only lost FOUR times all season…and ran the table undefeated in its league in regular season and conference tournament action.



Memphis: 31-4 (16-0 in Conference CUSA)

Michigan St.: 26-8 (13-5 in the Big 10)

Michigan State has a history of playing better than its regular season record in the Big Dance. Coach Izzo always schedules tough early to get his team battle-tested. It’s okay to lose in November and December to class opponents if it’s part of a learning process. It’s okay to lose wars in Big 10 play when those opponents are also in the national championship discussion. Memphis did run the table in CUSA, a very poor league that took an even further step backward this year. That makes this a dicey handicap. YOU need to focus on whether or not Memphis is good enough to play spoiler. We know those records are misleading. Has the Vegas line overreacted to how misleading they are?



Memphis: #28 with Sagarin, #39 with Pomeroy

Michigan St.: #8 with Sagarin, #10 with Pomeroy

We always focus on the publicly available numbers from Jeff Sagarin of USA Today and college basketball guru Ken Pomeroy. We keep our own in-house numbers proprietary because they play such a large role in our selection process. We can tell you that we believe both computers have Memphis too high (particularly Sagarin). Maybe they’re top 50, maybe only top 60. But, as we’ve seen often in this event and the regular season…it’s fully possible for a hot spoiler to nail a flat power! The legal betting markets aren’t treating Memphis as respectfully as those computers. Remember that Memphis was a 1-point underdog to St. Mary’s on Thursday.



Memphis: #123 with Sagarin, #138 with Pomeroy

Michigan St.: #1 with Sagarin, #1 with Pomeroy

This is what we mean about scheduling tough. Michigan State played the hardest schedule in the country! This has worked for the program over the years. They’re 30-minute demolition of Valparaiso suggested it’s in the process of working again. Memphis is nowhere near being as battle tested. Though, they at least had to deal with late-game pressure in the CUSA final against Southern Miss and the final minutes vs. St. Mary’s. What’s worth remembering is that the pressure is now OFF Memphis. They were SUPPOSED to win the CUSA tournament. They were supposed to win as a #6 seed over #11 St. Mary’s no matter what the pointspread said. Nothing to lose now.



Memphis: 1-3

Michigan St.: 9-8

Memphis was 0-3 before surviving St. Mary’s…and they had to really sweat that one because of poor free throws shooting and inconsistent play. Michigan State learned its early lessons, and had some tough neutral court and road losses vs. Big 10 teams. State is more impressive than 9-8 would suggest according to recent form. They’ve played like a 12-5 team recently vs. quality because they always start slow and end strong with this coaching approach.



Memphis: #67

Michigan St.: #25

Moving to the chess match…Memphis played much worse than that #67 offensive ranking (adjusted for pace and strength of schedule) would have suggested Thursday. They lost the ball 16 times in a slow game. They only hit a third of their treys and half of their free throws. Obviously, they need to kick that up a few notches to be competitive Saturday. Michigan State doesn’t get credit for being an offensive team because the media always paints them as a grinder. When you adjust for context, they’re a top-notch if not great offense.



Memphis: #27

Michigan St.: #8

Michigan State has a championship caliber defense…which could hold Memphis below 50 points if the Tigers don’t make some adjustments and find some confidence shooting. Memphis did grade out well on this side of the ball according to Kenpom. We’ll have to say again that we don’t have them this high in our own defensive metrics. But…they are good enough on defense to disrupt a flat Michigan State team in a way that could cover the spread…and possibly even win a coin flip thriller. The key is arranging ahead of time for Sparty to be flat!



Memphis: #29

Michigan St.: #244

Memphis loves to run. St. Mary’s slowed them way down Thursday, and it sure had its intended effect. If St. Mary’s could have shot better than 3 of 15 on treys, Memphis wouldn’t even be here today. Michigan State will force a slow tempo on the Tigers, taking them way out of their comfort zone. Charles Barkley was under the illusion that Michigan State plays faster than St. Mary’s. That’s not the case…both are similar in pace factor. Plus, Michigan State slows you down and HURTS you!



A lot of volatility here…as Michigan State is capable of winning by at least 20…or of coming out overconfident and finding its hands full. The math and the matchups favor the Spartans fairly dramatically. The intangibles are debatable because Sparty is playing in front of a friendly crowd on one hand, but the pressure is off Memphis on the other. Upsets like this happen every year. Michigan State better not have spent too much time reading press clippings about coasting to the Sweet 16 without leaving their home state.

JIM HURLEY knows he has eight Saturday games to pick from, so he doesn’t have to force anything on the Dance card. Maybe we’ll have a BEST BET here. Maybe it will come instead in Gonzaga/Wichita State, Butler/Marquette or in Louisville’s first real test of the tournament. You can purchase the final word before the first Saturday tipoff right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453.

Back with you tomorrow to preview the most exciting Sunday matchup as the Round of 32 comes to an end. Seems like things have just started and we’ll already know the Sweet 16 Sunday Night! We’ll run some NIT Previews midweek now that we know who cares and who doesn’t in an even that still features some very entertaining teams. Big Dance previews return Thursday with the Sweet 16.

Stay on top of handicapping developments throughout the tournaments here in the NOTEBOOK. And, keep turning MARCH MADNESS into MONEY MADNESS with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!

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