Key to Victory: Spartan Bench

As the game approaches, a lot is being made of the production of Memphis's bench, and deservedly so. The Tigers have ten players averaging more then nine minutes per game. It may be the Spartan bench, however, that plays the biggest role in deciding who moves on to the Elite Eight.

Friday's Sweet Sixteen matchup between Michigan State and Memphis pits a pair of the nation's elite teams who found success in very different ways.

The Tigers play at a feverish pace with little stress on half court sets and one-on-one defense. And while the Spartans have the ability to get out on the break, the Green and White's calling card during the Tom Izzo era has been rebounding, hard-nosed defense, and precise execution in the half court.

"Memphis is different than maybe 95 percent of the teams in the country, including their own conference," Izzo said. "They run, we run, a lot of people run, but they run with a lot of different people handling the ball and such size."

As the game approaches, a lot is being made of the production of Memphis's bench, and deservedly so. The Tigers have ten players averaging more then nine minutes per game. It may be the Spartan bench, however, that plays the biggest role in deciding who moves on to the Elite Eight.

Entering Friday, the Michigan State bench is averaging 16.5 points per game in the NCAA tournament and has been sparked by freshman sharp-shooter Chris Allen, who had twelve points in a first round win over Temple.

"The bench helps win games, those guys who are starting can't play the whole game," Allen says. "We (the bench) need to come in, play our role, do our part, and help win the game."

The offensive production by Allen was a welcome sight for the Spartans. He has had an up and down freshman season that was interrupted by a foot injury at the end of the non-conference schedule that caused him to miss four games and limited him in a handful of others.

Over the last ten games, Allen is averaging 6.1 points and 14.5 minutes per game and has shown the kind of range that garnished comparisons to Spartan great Shawn Respert earlier this season from Izzo.

Allen might provide an offensive spark off the bench for Michigan State, but the Spartans will need contributions from everyone off the proverbial pine to advance. The includes big men Marquise Gray and Idong Ibok who will be expected to come in and neutralize one of the nation's top rebounders, Joey Dorsey.

"Dorsey is a strong guy and gifted athlete," Spartan center Drew Naymick said. "We're going to have to get a body on him and be aware of where he is on the court at all times."

Also, look for the Spartans to rely heavily on junior guard Travis Walton to come off the bench and keep Memphis freshmen sensation Derrick Rose from getting the Tigers out on the break and distributing the leather to talented wing players like Detroit native Chris Douglas-Roberts and Robert Dozier.

It is clear that Michigan State needs its stars like Drew Neitzel, Kalin Lucas, and Raymar Morgan to play well in order to beat top seeded Memphis. But the key to victory may well be the Spartan bench.

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