March 16, 2012

Matched skills of Nix, Payne tough on MSU foes

EAST LANSING - Outstanding guard play is a common denominator in nearly every deep NCAA Tournament run. But at some point even elite talent in the backcourt talent might not be enough to survive and advance.

In a West Region featuring some of the nation's top four-guard outfits, Michigan State might not face a gauntlet of elite big men as they did in the 2009 NCAA Tournament when the Spartans played against a total of eight power forwards and centers selected in first round of the NBA Draft. But Michigan State's frontcourt will be a significant hurdle to any team looking to upend the No. 1 seeded Spartans.

All-American Draymond Green has been a match-up nightmare all-season long at the power forward spot. But the emergence of tag team centers Adriean Payne and Derrick Nix has given Michigan State an added dimension entering the NCAA Tournament.

"Both of those guys bring something a little bit different to the table," said Michigan State assistant coach Dwayne Stephens. "Nix is a big bruiser. He can put his body on you. He is not very athletic but he has a knack for scoring around the basket. AP, who is very athletic, can run up and down the court and make some athletic plays and block shots and do things. I think they bring something different."

Nix and Payne combined to average 14.8 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.47 steals, 1.43 assists, and 1.0 blocked shots per game in the 34 games leading up to the NCAA Tournament. But Michigan State's two centers may have played their collective best during the Michigan State's three-game run to a Big Ten Tournament Championship.

The Spartan centers averaged 9.3 points per game apiece during Big Ten Tournament and were a significant factor in Michigan State's ability to outscore their three opponents 100-58 in the paint during the conference tournament.

Nix believes that success can carry over.

"I am really looking forward NCAA Tournament because I really believe that we can we can make a run to the Final Four," Nix said. "Everybody is looking forward to it. Draymond and Austin (Thornton) keep us motivated and let us know that we have to stay locked in because we really can make a run in the tournament."

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