Pitt-Michigan State Preview

The defense never rests for the Pitt men's basketball team, and the Panthers stated their case firmly and quite succinctly in a victory against Oral Roberts in the NCAA Tournament Thursday at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo.

And don't expect the Pittsburgh (27-9) intensity level to drop against Michigan State (26-8) in an NCAA second-round matchup Saturday night.

"We've really been able to pick it up defensively and with our rebounding,'' Pitt junior point guard Levance Fields said. "Due to injuries, we just couldn't do what we normally do at practice. A lot of times we just came in, it was film and shooting, not able to do a lot of contact stuff.

"So that's probably the reason why we weren't able to do the job rebounding in a lot of games. You know, now that we've got everybody back, we've been out-rebounding teams and getting back to how we used to play on defense. (And we get) more help on our rotation. Because of practice, we're getting to do it more. And now, we're more used to it in a game.''

The Spartans also had an easy time in their NCAA first-round game, a 72-61 win against Temple Thursday, so Pitt certainly won't take them lightly.

"We just know, from watching them the whole year, that Michigan State is a great team,'' senior guard Keith Benjamin said. "Every team has their ups and downs, but they're playing great basketball right now. They have some great players and great coach.

"So, we're just looking to match up with them, (whatever) the matchups are. We're just going to ... get our scouting reports down, see where our advantages are, see what we can do to stop them and come back and be ready to play basketball on Saturday.''

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon did not know much about Michigan State before the NCAA Tournament, leaving the initial scouting duties to his assistants, but he has seen the Spartans play a couple times this season.

"Obviously, I have great respect for their program,'' Dixon said, "(and) their coach, Coach (Tom) Izzo, he's a friend. We know how good they are. You know, it obviously will be a game (that) I'm sure a lot of people will be interested in watching on Saturday.''

Michigan State utilized a sharp passing attack and recorded 28 assists to get a balanced scoring attack against Temple, as 6-foot-7 sophomore forward Raymar Morgan (15 points), 6-3 freshman guard Chris Allen (12) and 6-10 fifth-year senior center Drew Naymick (10) each scored in double figures.

Freshmen Kalin Lucas (6-0) and Durrell Summers (6-5) added eight points each, but 6-foot senior guard Drew Neitzel -- who entered the game averaging more than 14 points per game along with MSU scoring leader Morgan -- tallied just five points against the Owls on 2-for-11 shooting (1-for-8 on 3-pointers).

The Spartans start Morgan and 6-10 redshirt junior Goran Suton at the forward spots, while Lucas and Neitzel are the opening guards. And Naymick is the center. Allen, 6-2 junior guard Travis Walton and Summers are key contributors off the bench for MSU coach Tom Izzo. If needed, 6-11 redshirt junior Idong Ibok and 7-foot redshirt freshman Tom Herzog can add depth in the post.

"It's important for our present and our future,'' Izzo said when asked about his talented freshmen. "There were nine or 10 guys that were responsible for (the win against Temple), and the freshmen were in that group.''

Michigan State also played solid defense and held Temple to just 38.2-percent shooting from the field. The Spartans also frustrated Owls star Dionte Christmas, who was 1-for-12 overall, 0-for-8 from 3-point range and scored just three points. The 6-5 junior guard led Temple in scoring with 20.2 points per game going into the NCAA Tournament.

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