Big Ten Season Wrap-Up: Michigan State

Posted by jnowak on March 29th, 2012

Besides the fact that Michigan State bowed out of the NCAA Tournament in the Sweet Sixteen as a #1 seed, it was an incredible year for Tom Izzo‘s group for no other reason than the fact that the Spartans were  a #1 seed at all. Michigan State began the year unranked and lost its first two games but worked its way to a share of the Big Ten regular season title, the Big Ten Tournament title, and the program’s fourth #1 seed in the Izzo era. And as far as that era is concerned, this year’s group may be one of its best in terms of chemistry, defensive tenacity, and the other qualities that have come to define Michigan State basketball. Here’s a look back at the year that was:

Draymond Green helped Michigan State to a fantastic season nobody saw coming. (AP)

  • In a nutshell: It sounds like a broken record by now, but this team really recaptured what has made Michigan State basketball so great over the years — defense, rebounding, toughness, and chemistry — after it had been lacking, particularly with last year’s group. Draymond Green emerged as one of the best players in college basketball, not to mention the most valuable, with his incredible arsenal of capabilities. Role players like Austin Thornton and Brandon Wood as well as freshmen Travis Trice and Branden Dawson produced. Izzo was not shy in saying how much he loved this team and he had good reason to.
  • Overachievement: Without Delvon Roe, who “retired” before the season after battling chronic knee injuries, it wasn’t clear how the Spartans’ frontcourt would fare. Green is a talented forward who can produce from the left block pretty much at will, but the inside presence of Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne together was really what took the Spartans to the next level. Nix has slowly been progressing over the last two years, but Payne really took a giant leap from his freshman season. Nix jumped from 8.2 minutes per game and 2.7 PPG last year to 18.9 and 8.1, respectively, this season. Payne jumped from nine minutes to 17.9 and 2.5 PPG to seven a night. What made them particularly dangerous, though, was their contrast in styles. Nix is a more traditionally-styled, big-bodied center while Payne is a long, athletic big man. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten Morning Five: 03.29.12 Edition

Posted by jnowak on March 29th, 2012

  1. Could this nightmare of a coaching search finally be coming to an end for Illinois? According to the Chicago Tribune‘s Shannon Ryan, the hire of Ohio’s John Groce as the next Fighting Illini coach is “imminent.” Donors and alumni at Ohio have been scrambling over the last few days to find ways to offer Groce a pay bump to stay in Athens, but it seems that it’s only a matter of his contract at Illinois that is keeping Groce from officially donning a new school’s colors.
  2. So what does this whole circus say about Illinois, the state of its basketball program, and the coaching job itself? The Tribune‘s David Haugh doesn’t sugarcoat it when he writes that it just goes to show that Illinois is not the prestigious program perhaps it thought it was. It wasn’t so much the number of mid-major (and even power conference) coaches who turned the job down, but the way in which Groce was able to negotiate the terms of his pending contract. It’s humbling for Illinois fans but surely the next coach will be looking to restore that luster.
  3. Minnesota was left out of the NCAA Tournament, but Tubby Smith’s club is making the most of its postseason. The Golden Gophers have worked their way into the NIT championship game tonight in New York, where they’ll take on Stanford. Coincidentally, that’s the same program that Minnesota freshman point guard Andre Hollins nearly played for. Thursday, Hollins — who had 20 points and five assists in Tuesday’s 68-67 overtime win over Washington — will have the chance to show Stanford what it missed out on.
  4. With all the attention paid toward All-American Jared Sullinger, X-factor Deshaun Thomas, and feisty point guard Aaron Craft, senior William Buford has practically fallen by the wayside. The Ohio State veteran has big-time capabilities that we’ve seen before. The problem is, we’ve also seen him go unnoticed. If those former qualities emerge in New Orleans, it could mean big things for Ohio State.
  5. Speaking of Sullinger, Ohio State’s big man has done what he came back to do, taking the Buckeyes to a Final Four with a reasonable shot at a national title. And, as Michael Rosenberg writes, in doing that, he’s silenced some of his critics. But most importantly, the extra year in college has allowed him to mature and prepare himself for a professional basketball life ahead.
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ACC Morning Five: 03.29.12 Edition

Posted by mpatton on March 29th, 2012

  1. Tar Heel Blog: Good news and bad news for North Carolina fans. The good news is James Michael McAdoo‘s father said “our intentions and his intention is to be at Carolina next year.” The not-as-good news is that his postseason performance has him showing up in DraftExpress’ top 20 prospects, so he’ll be sitting down with his family to discuss his options. I think if he comes back, McAdoo is an all-ACC talent and will go in the top 10 of next year’s draft. But that’s a lot of money to leave on the table. Oh, and this post has a picture of Harrison Barnes in a hyperbaric chamber!
  2. Hampton Roads Daily Press: Nothing like the coaching carousel and early entries to get reporters on anti-Twitter soapboxes (though, seriously people should probably vet their Twitter sources a little more). I’m purely speculating, but my guess is SMU has reached out indirectly to Seth Greenberg to gauge his interest. How else could he be tied to the coaching search? However, I agree with David Teel in principle that Greenberg isn’t far along in the process if anywhere at all. If the Mustangs are serious about the $2 million salary, we’ll find out soon enough if Greenberg was contacted: Just see if he renegotiates his deal.
  3. Tallahassee Democrat: Speaking of coaching pay… Leonard Hamilton doesn’t get paid as much as other coaches with his same success. Hamilton earned $1.5 million dollars this year, which fell behind Mike Krzyzewski, Mark Turgeon, Roy Williams and Tony Bennett in a conference full of new coaches (Turgeon’s salary wasn’t listed in the study, but he makes just under $2 million a year). It’s time for Florida State to ante up. If the Seminoles are serious about competing on a consistent basis, they need to put the money on the table. And that’s not just Hamilton’s pay; that’s assistants’ pay and facilities upgrades too.
  4. Raleigh News & Observer: For once the McDonald’s All-America game wasn’t about Duke or North Carolina. It was about NC State, who has three alumni joining Mark Gottfried’s squad next year. Rodney Purvis played the best game, but Tyler Lewis and TJ Warren got points on the board too (positive buzz also surrounded Duke commit Rasheed Sulaimon). Meanwhile potential ACC recruit Amile Jefferson didn’t have a great week according to scouts. But take all-star game performances with a grain of salt.
  5. DraftExpress: Well it’s time for this year’s annual Triangle Smackdown, featuring a much more prominent NC State presence than in years past. Enjoy.

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Morning Five: 03.29.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 29th, 2012

  1. After speaking with its former coach Bruce Weber, Southern Illinois has decided to go in a different direction and announced Barry Hinson as its new basketball coach. Hinson, who previously coached at Missouri State, had been at Kansas for the past few seasons first as an assistant then as Director of Basketball Operations. Henson signed a five-year contract that starts at $250,000 and increases to $350,000 by the fifth year. We doubt that it will ever come out, but it would not surprise us if money–the difference in salary between Weber would have commanded and what Hinson is getting–factored into the decision by Southern Illinois.
  2. Mount Saint Mary’s introduced Jamion Christian as its new head coach earlier this week. Christian, who graduated from the school in 2004, has previously served as an assistant at four different schools and most recently at VCU. So while Shaka Smart may be staying put, at least someone from his staff is getting paid for the amazing success of that program over the past two seasons. We expect more programs to try to raid Shaka’s staff so it will be interesting to see if he can maintain his current level of success as he loses more of his coaching staff.
  3. It appears that Tulsa may be on the verge of announcing Danny Manning as its next head coach, but the school has issued a statement claiming that nothing is final although we suspect that they are just working out the minor details of the contract based on what we have been hearing. Mississippi State does not appear to have been as successful in its coaching search so far as they were rebuffed by Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew. Drew withdrew his name from consideration yesterday and stated that he plans to stay at Valparaiso where he took over a year ago. His decision means that he will at least be the coach at Valparaiso for a longer period than his brother Scott, who left the program after one season to become the coach at Baylor.
  4. You will not see another one of these for at least another six months so you should check out what is likely the last Luke Winn power rankings of the year. Now that we are down to four teams Luke ditches the top sixteen rankings because frankly the other twelve teams do not matter any more. Our two favorite figures from this week’s rankings are the one showing that Tyshawn Taylor may not be quite as reckless as we all have made him out to be and a surprising figure about the defenses of Kentucky and Louisville. Like always, it is one of the more informative and educational reads you will have all week.
  5. In an under the radar conference expansion/realignment story, the West Coast Conference announced yesterday that it would be adding Pacific starting with the 2013-14 season. This addition probably does not move the needle much, but college basketball fans will remember Pacific for one of two things: (1) back-to-back first round wins in the NCAA Tournament in 2004 and 2005 when it was actually the first round and (2) being the college of Michael Olowokandi, the #1 pick in the 1998 NBA Draft. We doubt that the WCC will use Olowokandi’s image to promote the conference the way that some other conferences have used the images of players from their new member schools.
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Big East Evening Five: 03.28.12 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on March 28th, 2012

  1. We missed yesterday, so you are getting a double dose of Big East news this morning because we feel bad. We start with the scouting report on Louisville, based on the opinions of opposing coaches, and put together by the good folks at CBS Sports. The information isn’t exactly new if you have been following the Cardinals all season. Take care of the ball against their press, try to slow down their transition attack, keep Peyton Siva out of the lane, and you will have an excellent chance of winning the game. The good news for Kentucky is, that their defense is so good, Louisville should only be able to score in transition and off of turnovers. So assuming that Marquis Teague can handle the press, and assuming Kentucky’s athletes get back and set up defensively, they should be able to handle the Cardinals with relative ease.
  2. You didn’t think we were going to make it a whole week without a borderline insane story about the fervent passion of Louisville and Kentucky fans did you? In fact, we didn’t even make it through half the week before news broke that two fans got into a fight while awaiting treatment at a dialysis center. You really can’t make this stuff up. If you want to look on the bright side, this is part of what makes college sports so awesome. It may be a wild generalization, but fans of professional sports teams don’t care half as much about their teams as these folks in the Bluegrass State. And the passion for Alabama and Auburn football is on an entirely different level. I am setting the over/under on the breaking of more crazy stories like this at two, which won’t count fallout from the outcome of the game, which is sure to bring out only the best in both team’s fan bases.
  3. In predictable and also understandable fashion, the media has jumped all over the “hated rivals” storyline. Luckily, there is only one columnist angry enough to really put perspective on the whole rivalry, and that is noted flame-fanner Gregg Doyel. His column isn’t long, and it doesn’t make any profound points, but it does succinctly sum up just how insane this game will be.
  4.  The list of Big East players headed to the NBA Draft continued to swell yesterday as Georgetown forward Hollis Thompson announced he would forgo his senior season and hire an agent. Thompson tested the waters last season before withdrawing his name and from the looks of John Thompson III‘s comments, this decision is hardly surprising. The real question is whether Thompson will end up drafted. I understand the move, because his stock isn’t likely to rise dramatically even if he has an excellent senior season, but right now he looks like he will need to get lucky to stick with a team. He does have the skill set and size to be an NBA small forward, but he hardly dominated collegiate competition, so how can he be expected to make an impact at the next level?
  5. Our pal Jeff Goodman over at CBS Sports has released his initial transfer list and there are some interesting names worth noting. First, the list is what alerted me to the news that Notre Dame guard Alex Dragicevich is transferring out of South Bend, a blow to Mike Brey’s program which was going to rely more heavily on his outside shooting next season. The list also reminded me of one of the more interesting Final Four storylines and that is that Louisville forward Jared Swopshire already announced he won’t be back next season, but for now he is playing meaningful minutes on a team eyeing a national championship. Thanks to playing time and the scholarship numbers game, Swopshire will be looking for a new home. But for now, we are sure he is relishing the position he is in.
  6. Speaking of Goodman and transfers out of the Big East, soon after the list was published, Goodman tweeted that Providence sophomore Gerard Coleman was a likely candidate to transfer out of the program. Assuming Vincent Council stays in school and both highly touted freshman guards arrive on campus in time for next season, the Friars’ backcourt was looking awfully crowded. But if Coleman does indeed transfer, coach Ed Cooley loses quite the luxury. Coleman’s play tailed off in the second half of the season, but he is a quality scorer and is physical enough to give Cooley a legitimately dangerous three-guard lineup. On the other hand, his departure will open up more playing time for Ricardo Ledo and Kris Dunn, which can really only be a good thing, assuming the duo is as good as advertised.
  7. As an unabashedly biased Villanova fan, I have spent a good deal of words explaining that Wildcats’ guard Maalik Wayns would be silly to enter the NBA Draft this season, so it’s only logical that Wayns made it final recently, announcing plans to hire an agent and forgo his senior season on the Main Line. Look, players enter the draft for a litany of reasons, so saying he made a stupid decision without knowing his true reasons is rather presumptuous of me. That said, Wayns is looking like a second-round pick at best, and a great senior season probably could have given his draft stock a much-needed shot in the arm. Despite his penchant for taking terrible shots and making questionable decisions, Wayns would have been a huge help to ‘Nova’s rebuilding efforts next season, but now they will need to look elsewhere for that leadership.
  8. Not everyone in West Virginia is spitting on the Big East on their way out the door. Charleston Gazette columnist Mitch Vingle penned a letter to Big East basketball that reads like a breakup letter from a guy who is already regretting the split. He uses some personal reflections mixed with classic personalities from the conference to show plenty of awesome things about the conference and its rich basketball history. The sad thing is, the Big East will miss West Virginia too. Yes, of course they will miss their football tradition and revenue, but the Mountaineers are a quality basketball program, and no amount of SMU and Central Florida will change that. The Mountaineers made their choice, choosing money over tradition, and now so many of us will be left to cling to memories that may never happen again.
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Thad Matta: Great Recruiter… and Coach

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 28th, 2012

Tom Izzo’s teams rebound the ball and play tough defense. Bo Ryan trains his players to adhere to a disciplined offensive system for every minute of the game. Matt Painter seems to be cut from the same wood as his former coach and Big Ten icon, Gene Keady. He instills confidence and toughness into his team, regardless of the talent level. Tom Crean is a dynamic recruiter and has the advantage of being at one of the blue-blood programs. Every established coach in the Big Ten has a specific brand of basketball associated with them. What about Thad Matta? What separates him from the rest?

Thad Matta deserves credit for player development and management.

For years, Matta was known as just a dynamic recruiter – a coach who can consistently bring in a top 25 class of freshman, most of whom would not stick around for more than a year or two in college. Nobody was surprised to see Greg Oden leave for the NBA but few expected Mike Conley and Daequan Cook to join him after just one season in Columbus. Matta recruited the likes of B.J. Mullens and Kosta Koufos, both centers who took their talents to the NBA but didn’t really pan out at the next level. Even though Matta led the 2006 class to the 2007 Final Four, the run was largely just credited to the talent on the team, not necessarily his coaching prowess. But after a second Final Four in six seasons, that image needs to change. Thad Matta is more than just a recruiter; he has shaped himself into a dynamic coach as well. Let’s examine his career at Ohio State to understand why he should be considered a complete coach in college – one who can recruit and is excellent at molding his team into a cohesive unit based on the talent available.

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Final Four Numbers Game – Who Has the Historical and Statistical Edge?

Posted by EJacoby on March 28th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.

All week long we have read and will continue to read about the specific breakdowns of each upcoming Final Four matchup. Check out our own Zach Hayes’ previews here and here for the on-court analysis. One of the other important factors to keep in mind on an enormous stage like the Final Four, though, is the experience and preparedness of the players and coaches from each team. Coaches will tell the media that they prepare for the National Semifinals just like it’s any other game, but we all know that the circus and spotlight surrounding the postseason finales, in any sport, can be trying on the competitors. That’s why we put so much emphasis on “big-game players,” the “clutch” factor, and coaches who can win the “big one.” Here’s a look at how each team shakes out historically on the biggest stage and whether or not that will play a factor:

Rick Pitino is the Most Experienced Coach at this Year's Final Four, Including a 1996 National Title (Getty Images)


  • Rick Pitino is the most experienced and successful head coach in New Orleans, as Pitino is making his sixth trip to the Final Four with three different schools. He has compiled a 3-4 record in the Final Four up to this point, which includes a National Championship with Kentucky in 1996 and a return to the National Title game the following season (Kentucky 1997), that time with a loss. His 1987 Providence1993 Kentucky and a 2005 Louisville teams all lost in the National Semifinals.
  • Bill Self has caught flak for several early NCAA Tournament upsets, but he got the full job done during his one visit to the Final Four in the past, when the 2008 Kansas Jayhawks won the National Title, giving Self a 2-0 record at the Final Four.
  • Thad Matta brought his 2007 Ohio State team to the National Finals before a loss to Florida, making his record 1-1 all time at the Final Four. He’s looking to best Bill Self in each coach’s second trip to the National Semis.
  • This is John Calipari’s fourth trip to the Final Four, with three different schools, where he is a combined 1-3 in the past. Kentucky detractors need to find something to nitpick about the overwhelming favorites, and Cal’s inability to win it all is a key criticism. His 1996 Massachusetts team and last year’s Kentucky (2011) team both lost in the National Semifinals, while the 2008 Memphis team beat UCLA before falling to Kansas in the National Championship.


  • Kentucky is making its 15th appearance in the Final Four, seeking its 8th National Championship and first since 1998.
  • Kansas is making its 14th appearance to the Final Four seeking its 4th National Championship. The Jayhawks have the most recent title, coming in 2008.
  • Louisville makes its 9th all-time appearance in the Final Four in search of its 3rd National Championship. The first two came during the Denny Crum era in 1980 and 1986.
  • Ohio State is making its 11th appearance in the Final Four but is seeking just its 2nd National Title. Its only National Championship banner is from 1960 under Fred Taylor.

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Past Imperfect: Kentucky-Louisville & the Dream Game

Posted by JWeill on March 28th, 2012

Past Imperfect is a series focusing on the history of the game. Every two weeks, RTC contributor Joshua Lars Weill (@AgonicaBoss|Email) highlights some piece of historical arcana that may (or may not) be relevant to today’s college basketball landscape. This week: the original Dream Game between Louisville and Kentucky.

It was bound to happen someday. Despite Kentucky’s clear antipathy toward playing in-state archrival Louisville, there was going to come a time when it was simply unavoidable. That time finally came, was forced to come actually, on March 26, 1983, in Knoxville, Tennessee, in the Mideast Regional final, with a trip to the Final Four on the line.

No knowing observer was unaware of the possibility of a Bluegrass clash when the brackets were unveiled. Just a year prior, a similar tournament setup had been quashed when Kentucky was upset by Middle Tennessee State. This time around, the Wildcats got through, finishing off Bobby Knight’s Indiana squad, while Louisville was the one in trouble. After trailing significantly, the Cardinals edged Arkansas – coached by fairly-soon-to-be Kentucky coach Eddie Sutton — on a last-second tip-in. With both teams locked in to face each other, the pregame hype and buildup began.

Both teams, and their fans, were amped up for the 1983 Midwest Regional Final.

Media outlets immediately began to call the matchup “The Dream Game” or even, more simply, “The Game.” The players did their best to try and avoid providing any potential bulletin board material, but to limited effect. Wildcats backup forward Bret Bearup acknowledged the “thing that must not be said:” “Anybody on either side who says he hasn’t been thinking about this matchup since the tournament started is just saying what he’s supposed to say so he won’t get in trouble. I say what I’m not supposed to. I’ve been dreaming about this game. This is great stuff. ‘Course now I’m in big trouble.”

But while Louisville entered the game ranked No. 2 to Kentucky’s No. 12, at least one major participant felt that it was the mighty Kentucky program that had more to lose.

“The pressure is on Kentucky,” Louisville coach Denny Crum said in advance of the game, before needling the Big Blue Nation a little bit. “Our record is better the last 10 years. They have a chance to carve into our success.”

By tip-off, all the pregame discussions now past, everyone was ready. Tickets were at a premium and 12,489 showed up at the University of Tennessee’s Stokely Athletics Center for the game. Always eager to join a spectacle, Kentucky governor John Y. Brown wore a unique half-red, half-blue blazer to the affair.

Once the game finally got underway, it was Kentucky that broke quickly from the gate. Led by deft outside shooting by Jim Master and Derrick Hord, who each hit three early shots, the Wildcats raced to an early advantage, reaching a 23-10 lead just 10 minutes into the game. Louisville was playing tight, missing 16 of its first 20 shots.Crum’s roster was stacked, though, and the Cardinals’ talent began to show itself at last. Brothers Rodney and Scooter McCray found space underneath the basket and between them scored 12 of Louisville’s next 16 points. When Charles Jones hit a lay-up just before halftime, the UK lead was down to just seven, 37-30.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.28.12 Edition

Posted by WCarey on March 28th, 2012

The NCAA Tournament is here and there’s more news, commentary and analysis than any of us can possibly keep up with. To make things a little easier, we’ll bring you a list of daily links gathered about teams in each of the four regions all the way through the Final Four.


  • Heading into his second Final Four in four seasons, Kansas head coach Bill Self is the lowest paid of the four coaches who will be in New Orleans this weekend. Of the group, only Self and Louisville head coach Rick Pitino have won titles.
  • While Kansas reserve forward Kevin Young’s contributions might not show up in the box score, but Bill Self and Young’s teammates acknowledge the energy Young brings to the court.
  • Barry Hinson has served as Kansas’ director of basketball operations for the past four seasons and on Wednesday afternoon, the former Missouri State head coach will be introduced as the new head coach at Southern Illinois.
  •  The unorthodox triangle and two defense helped lead KU to its second Final Four in four seasons. In basketball, defense can win championships and Bill Self is well aware of this notion.


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The Final Game: How a Star and a Walk-On Finished Their Careers in Kansas City

Posted by dnspewak on March 28th, 2012

Danny Spewak is a Big 12 Microsite writer. He wrote this piece after covering the first two days of the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City.  You can follow him on Twitter @dspewak.

One senior exits the court at the Sprint Center with 53 seconds remaining, walking gingerly toward his coach as an entire arena stands to applaud his four years of contributions. He will be remembered in college for playing more minutes than any player in program history — 4,322 to be exact. He is a former high school legend who set a state record for most points in a single season, once totaling 61 points in a single contest. He is a star and always will be. A name nobody around his parts will or could ever forget.

A night earlier, another senior enters the court at the Sprint Center with 21.2 seconds remaining on the clock, jogging toward his teammates as a few supporters in the stands politely applaud his four years of contributions. He will be remembered in college for hardly ever playing any minutes — 111 to be exact. He is a former high school point guard who won a 2008 state title without even scoring five points per game for his team, a man who has never been a star and never will be. A name most people around his parts will immediately forget.

T.J. Franklin and Keiton Page played their last games in Kansas City, Mo. (Photos by Oklahoma Sooners and

From a statistical standpoint, Keiton Page and T.J. Franklin could not possibly be any different. At the same time, they could not possibly be more alike. They are two seniors beloved by their teammates and coaches. They are two seniors considered within their respective programs as unquestioned leaders, guys who always say and do the right thing. They are two seniors who represent the best of college athletics.

This is not a story just about a household name and a walk-on. It is a story about two seniors who saw their careers end in the span of 24 hours in Kansas City, Missouri. A story about what it’s like to pour your entire life into one sport and see it all evaporate in the matter of two hours. A story about how Page and Franklin are entirely different and yet entirely the same. Read the rest of this entry »

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