Spartans ready to leave Big Ten foes behind

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) - After a bruising couple of months in the Big Ten, Michigan State's Adreian Payne is ready to leave all those rivals behind.

"We're excited," the 6-foot-10 junior said. "We finally get to play somebody else, get to see some new faces and, hopefully, beat up on some other teams."

The third-seeded Spartans face 14th-seeded Valparaiso in the NCAA tournament Thursday. Michigan State opens the tournament in Auburn Hills, Mich., which is about 75 miles from the school's East Lansing campus.

The Spartans are in the Midwest Regional. Rival Michigan is in the South — and the Wolverines will open in Auburn Hills too.

"We're very excited where we're placed," Payne said. "We're going to be down the street, basically. We'll have a lot of fans coming."

Valparaiso (26-7) isn't too far away either. The Indiana school won the Horizon League tournament under coach Bryce Drew, whose memorable shot back in 1998 gave Valpo a win in that year's tournament.

Drew took the microphone and was about to start speaking at a selection show viewing Sunday night, when a commercial came on that showed his famous shot.

"It was perfect timing," said Valpo forward Ryan Broekhoff, who is from Australia. "That was a huge part of NCAA tournament history, and I guess you can draw from that that anything can happen in these games."

Michigan State (25-8) hopes to avoid becoming another of Valparaiso's upset victims. That Spartans lost to Ohio State in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament after finishing a game behind Indiana in a pulsating race for the regular-season Big Ten title.

Coach Tom Izzo said over the weekend that guard Gary Harris "popped" his shoulder. Harris, Michigan State's second-leading scorer, had only five points against the Buckeyes on Saturday.

"I wouldn't say there's any setbacks," Harris said. "I still feel pretty good right now, and I'll just continue to get better."

Valpo lost 50-48 at Nebraska back in November, but the Cornhuskers were near the bottom of the Big Ten this season, so facing Michigan State will be a step up in class. The Crusaders have won only two NCAA tournament games — both during that 1998 run to the round of 16.

"Valpo, I know a little bit about. I've seen them. I know the coach," Izzo said. "But I won't even comment until I watch some film and study some stats on them."

Broekhoff averages 15.9 points per game, and the 6-foot-7 senior is at 43 percent from 3-point range on the season. That may be the best way for him to score against the Spartans — rather than try to bang inside against Payne and 6-foot-9, 270-pound Derrick Nix.

It was Broekhoff's desperation 3-pointer as time expired that enabled Valpo to avoid elimination against Green Bay in the Horizon semifinals.

The Spartans were a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament last year after sharing the Big Ten regular-season title. They lost to Louisville in the round of 16.

The teams are in the same region again this year, only this time it's Louisville that's the No. 1 seed. If there's going to be a rematch, it wouldn't be until the regional final.

"I think we're very focused right now. We see where we're at. We see who we've got to play, and we know what we've got to do to get better," Payne said. "We're just worried about us right now. That's the main thing. We're just worried about Michigan State."

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