What We Learned From Spokane: Michigan State Spartans and San Diego State Aztecs

Tuesday March 25th, 2014

Adreian Payne Adreian Payne had the best individual performance in the NCAA tournament in 10 years with his 41 points against Delaware. (Stephen Dunn/Getty)

The SI.com writers who covered the first weekend of the NCAA tournament offer their takeaways on each of the teams from their sites that advanced to the Sweet 16:

Other sites: Buffalo (UConn and Dayton) | Milwaukee (Michigan and Wisconsin) | Raleigh (Virginia and Tennessee) | Orlando (Florida and Louisville | San Antonio (Iowa State and Baylor) San Diego (Arizona and UCLA) | St. Louis (Kentucky and Stanford)

San Diego State Aztecs

By George Dohrmann

Seed: No. 4 in the West

Results: Beat No. 12 New Mexico State 73-69; beat No. 7 seed North Dakota State 63-44

The Aztecs defense may be better than advertised. It would be easy to dismiss the Aztecs stifling of North Dakota State in the Round of 32 as a big program exposing the little one. But the Bison were no fluke, not on offense. They led the nation with a field-goal percentage above 50 and scored with ease in their upset of Oklahoma last Thursday. But San Diego State – ranked second nationally in scoring defense – held North Dakota State to season lows in points (44) and shooting percentage (31.9). Most impressive, perhaps, was the fact that the Aztecs held the Bison without a basket for the final six minutes of each half. When San Diego State really needed to get stops, it got them.

Yes, San Diego State struggles to score and relies too much on brilliant point guard Xavier Thames (53 points, 10 assists in two tournament games), but the fact that Steve Fisher has his team – in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year – playing defense on that level gives them a chance against top-seeded Arizona on Thursday in Anaheim. The Wildcats defeated the Aztecs 69-60 in November in San Diego, but San Diego State was in that game until the final minutes and Arizona has since lost Brandon Ashley. They won’t be favored, but the Aztecs' impressive work on the defensive end gives them a chance.

Michigan State Spartans

By Lindsay Schnell

Seed: No. 4 in the East

Results: Beat No. 13 Delaware 93-78; beat No. 12 Harvard 80-73

When the Spartans get on the same page, they're going to be dangerous.

With so many injured players for so much of the season, MSU is just starting to get everyone into the right groove. In the round of 64 and 32, senior forward Adriean Payne went for a career-high 41 against Delaware, then Branden Dawson went for a career-high 26 against Harvard. Can you imagine what it’ll be like if those guys do that on the same night? And this is without stellar play from Keith Appling, who sat for long stretches against Harvard after getting in foul trouble. MSU can do serious damage in the open court, but the Spartans don’t necessarily need Appling running the show, because so many players can handle the ball. This also makes it tough to press them. The Spartans are bigger and better than almost every team they’ll match up against, but their focus lapsed at times in Spokane. That doesn’t hurt you much against Harvard — but it’s a different story against Virginia. Still, Michigan State was remarkably efficient on the offensive end: The Spartans scored 93 points on 56 shots against Delaware, then 80 points on 57 shots, shooting better than 49 percent in both games. Couple that with MSU’s typical lockdown defense, and the Spartans should be booking tickets to Dallas soon.

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