Memphis, with guard Joe Jackson, is the likely third-round opponent for the Spartans. The Tigers have won 24 of their past 25 games. (Al Behrman / Associated Press)
Michigan and Michigan State will quickly discover the perils of missing out on a higher seed in this year's NCAA Tournament.
Virginia Commonwealth and Memphis — the likely third-round opponents for the Wolverines and Spartans, respectively — are two of the best mid-majors in the field and are good enough to potentially send the local teams home early.
Had Michigan or Michigan State managed to make a deeper run in the Big Ten tournament and play better at the end of the regular season, both would've earned a top-two seed and delayed matchups with such tough competition until later in the tournament.
The Palace will provide a bit of home-court advantage for both teams in their first two games, but their third-round opponents could neutralize the crowd with their unique styles.
Memphis enters the Tournament as one of the nation's hottest teams. They went 16-0 in Conference USA and have won 24 of their past 25 games, with a 64-62 loss at Xavier the only setback.
However, the Tigers needed double overtime to beat Southern Mississippi in the Conference USA Tournament title game Saturday, and coach Josh Pastner said the crunch-time experience should help them keep their hot streak alive.
"We've just got to keep going," he said.
Memphis has four players averaging double figures, but its depth extends past its starting lineup with seven players averaging more than 7 points.
The Tigers try to run teams out of the gym by keeping all of their players fresh. Only one player, junior guard Joe Jackson, averages more than 30 minutes per game.
"We play above the rim. We've got great speed and quickness," Pastner said. "We're not a complicated team."
For now, Pastner said he's focused on the Tigers' opening matchup against St. Mary's or Middle Tennessee State. But he has plenty of respect for the Spartans, who will likely be waiting in the next round.
"Tom Izzo should already be in the Hall of Fame," he said. "I don't know what they're waiting for."
Michigan State has enough depth to match Memphis' energy, but the game will be a much different pace than those against Big Ten grinders the Spartans have players the past three months.
VCU has played the spoiler role before, advancing to the Final Four in 2011 as a No. 11 seed, so the Wolverines should take them plenty seriously. The fifth-seeded Rams are hardly underdogs any more and will have to avoid an upset in the second round against No. 12 seed Akron.
Coach Shaka Smart has the Rams in position to make another Tournament run thanks to their "havoc" defense that helped them force 19.8 turnovers per game this season. They employ a full-court press early and often, and Rams players are constantly swinging their arms.
While it's a much different style of defense than Wisconsin's, it could give Michigan many of the same troubles. The Badgers beat Michigan twice this season, including a victory in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament last week, and the Rams' defensive style can be even more frustrating for opponents.
The Rams were the 11th-highest scoring team in the nation, and four players average double-digit scoring. Junior forward Juvonte Reddic has the size (6-foot-9, 235 pounds) and athleticism to create a matchup problem for the Wolverines.
And although it may not receive its due, the Atlantic 10 is one of the toughest conferences in the nation and five of its teams made it to the Big Dance. Besides tough games in its conference, VCU had a non-conference victory over Memphis and close losses to Duke and Missouri.
The Rams are as battle-tested as any team the Wolverines might face in the South bracket.