HOUSTON (AP) _ OK, so they can't shoot free throws.
It's one of the many flaws the "experts" identified while picking apart Memphis, predicting the Tigers would be the first top-seeded team to exit this year's NCAA tournament.
Thing is, teams leading by 30 at halftime don't really need to make free throws.
The Tigers were, indeed, up by 30 at halftime Friday night in their 92-74 dismantling of Michigan State to advance to the South Regional final.
Next up, a game Sunday against Texas with a trip to the Final Four on the line.
"I can't imagine we are not going to be picked to lose," Memphis coach John Calipari said. "We've been picked to lose since we started this tournament."
Hasn't happened yet, in large part because of freshman Derrick Rose, who had a 27-point, five-assist night that showed he's ready for the NBA. He exited early in the second half with a cut on his forehead that required medical attention, but returned to the floor with 8½ minutes left and started dominating again.
Meanwhile, Michigan State senior Drew Neitzel's career is over, and this was no way to end it. He was held to six points, his first of two buckets coming on a 3-pointer that clanged around the rim and fell, mercifully, with 1:47 left.
The game had long been over by then. The score at halftime was 50-20.
"That first half of basketball was one of the best I've been involved in as a coach," Calipari said.
Goran Suton led the fifth-seeded Spartans with 23 points and nine rebounds. Chris Allen had 20.
The Tigers (36-1) were already rolling, ahead by 15, when they went on a 15-0 run to close the first half. It was borderline ridiculous. It included a jam by Antonio Anderson, a double-pump stuff by Rose, a breakaway windmill dunk by Joey Dorsey and an appearance from the big fella, Pierre Niles, a 310-pound forward who had played all of 93 minutes this season.
"It just got out of hand so quickly," Spartans coach Tom Izzo said.
By the time the halftime buzzer sounded, the Spartans (27-9) were walking off in shock and the crowd full of Texas fans was murmuring about the task ahead.
How to stop the Tigers?
This is the third straight year Calipari's team has made it this far. The two previous trips ended in the regional finals.
This team could be different. Rose is a special player, a Chicago kid sold on Memphis by the player he replaced in the starting lineup, sophomore point guard Willie Kemp.
Chris Douglas-Roberts is a dominating force. He finished with 23 points and probably played this one with a chip on his shoulder; he's a product of Detroit who was roundly ignored by Izzo and Michigan State in the recruiting process.
But everyone on this Memphis roster is playing to prove something. Calipari is making sure of it. Their existence in Conference USA, their average 3-point shooting, their bad free-throw shooting — all of it was fodder for the so-called experts who singled out Memphis as the top seed to likely go first.
Calipari is playing the us-against-the-world card so well that you almost couldn't help but believe him the day before the game when he said, with conviction, "We play how we play, and Michigan State plays how they play, and most people think Michigan State is going to win."
But make no mistake, the Spartans weren't another Texas-Arlington or some other hyphenated piece of first-round fodder. In fact, there were many who believed they could make it back to the Final Four after the impressive performance they had in beating Pitt last week in the second round.
Izzo's team looked to be rounding into shape at the perfect time. Neitzel was shooting well. Freshman Kalin Lucas was starting to play like a sophomore. Suton was toughening up. In fact, all of Michigan State was tough.
Signs of the MSU's disintegration were evident, early, however, when Suton settled for a 3-point shot — his 12th of the year — that actually went in, but still screamed of a team that couldn't get the ball in the right hands in the right places.
Airballs flew. Some shots clanged awkwardly off the backboard. Neitzel let his frustration show, slamming the ball to the floor, even though he'd been fouled while a Memphis defender was trying to deny him a pass.
Neitzel finished 2-for-8 from the floor with seven assists. It was one of many ugly numbers for the Spartans.
"You hate to see a guy not have one of his best games in his last game," Izzo said. "It's kind of funny. Over his career, he's probably won 100 games, been to a Final Four, started as a freshman. That's a whole boat-full for most people, but we're looking at it right now as, that's not great."
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.