Marquette Golden Eagles (24-9) vs. Michigan State Spartans (22-11)
When: Thursday, 7:10 p.m.
Where: Winston-Salem, NC
MARQUETTE GOLDEN EAGLES
1. Commies and Question Marks Everywhere. Not only did little Joey McCarthy get his law degree at Marquette, the great Matthew Lesko attended Marquette undergrad. The question is, did he find a government grant to cover his bong water recycling program?
2. HarBoughs of Holly. Coach Tom Crean is married to the former Joani Harbaugh, sister of Jim. For the last few years, Tom's father-in-law Jack has served as associate athletic director of the Golden Eagles. Harbaugh the elder has had great success as a football coach, yet Marquette has no football team. Dots. Connected.
3. Slump Buster Needed. Last year, Marquette was led by senior Steve Novak and freshman point guard Dominic James. With Novak now getting tushy slivers in the NBA, most thought the Big East Rookie of the Year James would take over the team. Instead, he has found the depths of a sophomore slump. Fellow sophomore guards Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews have stepped up and begun to shine, as has power forward Ousmane Barro. With the impending pressure of the NCAA tourney, however, James must shake off this slump or the Eagles will be extinct. — Brian Saperstein
MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS
1. Drew Me Baby One More Time. Use both hands, please If you can overlook the disturbing visual similarities between Drew Neitzel and Britney Spears (she just wanted to look like him). There's a lot to appreciate about the Spartans leader. When he was 12, Drew won the national 2-ball championshipm where his ambidexterity was used to its full advantage. So while you're accustomed to him flaring off a screen and fading away at a 45 degree angle with his left, he's equally capable at pulling up in the lane with his right. Should Neitzel's gritty David Eckstein/Scotty Skiles-like underdoggedness not do it for you, I think we can all admire someone who's talented with both hands.
2. Not your mother's turnover. Neitzel may be adept with both hands, but the Spartans' ball control as a whole leaves a lot to be desired. Michigan State hands the ball over to opponents at such a staggering rate, even Rex Grossman is impressed. The Spartans commit a turnover on 24 percent of their possessions (24!!!), which ranks 306th in the country ... right in between powerhouse programs Alabama A&M and McNeese St. To make the aforementioned stat even more puzzling, consider that Izzo's crew ranks fourth in assist/per FG. It's all good or all bad. The best FG percentage defense (43.5) in the Izzo era is the reason you're even being subjected to the blabber.
3. I-Dunk, I-Block. In the pantheon of greatest player nicknames in history, the moniker attached to Spartans reserve sophomore center Idong Ibok is merely a blip on the radar at this point. But keep your eye out: A 7-foot 5-inch wingspan causes havoc on defense and makes the most of its 11 minutes per game. Ibok will finish as the Spartans all-time leader in blocked shots and will play a vital role in any potential Sweet 16 run. — Jason Kent