Rushed Reactions: Michigan State 65, Michigan 60

Posted by Walker Carey on March 17th, 2019

Much like 2019’s third installments of the Duke/North Carolina and Kentucky/Tennessee trilogies, this season’s third chapter of the Michigan/Michigan State rivalry was an epic that went down to the wire. The Spartans fought back from an 13-point second half deficit and used a ridiculous Cassius Winston drive and lay-in with 29 seconds remaining to ensure they finished the season 3-0 against their biggest rival. The following are three key takeaways from Sunday afternoon’s Big Ten Tournament championship game.

Michigan State Beat Michigan for the Third Straight Time This Season (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Cassius Winston willed Michigan State to victory. Some special points guards have come through the Michigan State program during Tom Izzo‘s 24 seasons in East Lansing, and it is becoming increasingly cleare that this season’s Big Ten Player of the Year should be considered among that group. Winston was incredible throughout the second half of today’s championship game, as he led the Spartans back from a 13-point deficit by tallying 11 points and seven assists in the game’s second stanza. Michigan State could have packed it in and preserved its energy for the NCAA Tournament when it faced the significant uphill climb, but a player like Winston does not have “pack it in” in his DNA. Michigan State has not advanced past the NCAA Tournament’s first weekend since 2015, but with Winston at the controls and his teammates fully receptive to his leadership, it will be truly surprising if the Spartans do not advance to this year’s Sweet Sixteen and perhaps beyond.
  2. This season has been one of Tom Izzo’s best coaching jobs. It is not unusual for the Spartans to enter the NCAA Tournament as both the Big Ten regular season and tournament champion, as Michigan State is one of the country’s strongest programs year in and year out. That said, Michigan State had every reason to take a step back this season. For starters, the Spartans lost two lottery picks from last year’s team, so their roster was simply not as talented as it was a season ago. Then once the season commenced, the injury bug hit the team with an unrelenting fury. Scoring guard Joshua Langford was lost for the season in late December with an ankle injury. Forward Nick Ward suffered a hand injury in February. Winston himself battled through knee and toe ailments throughout the final portion of conference play. Role player Kyle Ahrens was hampered by a bad back during Big Ten play before suffering what appeared to be a serious ankle injury in the win over Michigan. Despite the locker room sometimes resembling a MASH unit, Izzo adjusted with what he had available and led his team, once again, to the top of the Big Ten.
  3. Michigan’s inability to close out Michigan State this season will keep John Beilein awake at night. Michigan is headed to the NCAA Tournament with a 28-6 overall record, which, by every measure represents an excellent resume in one of the country’s toughest conferences. Even with that sterling mark, the Wolverines must be driving themselves crazy over the fact they blew three leads against Michigan State this season that led to three losses. On February 24 in Ann Arbor, Michigan led 51-45 with 15:57 to play and ended up losing 77-70. On March 9 in East Lansing, Michigan State pulled out a 75-63 victory after it trailed by 12 in the first half. In Sunday’s title game, the Wolverines led by 13 with 17:12 to play before the Spartans rallied to once again earn a victory. One has to believe that John Beilien and his group making deep run in the NCAA Tournament will be the only thing that will eliminate the bad taste left in their mouths by those defeats.

Player of the Game. Matt McQuaid, Michigan State. The senior sharpshooter saved his best Big Ten Tournament performance for his final Big Ten Tournament game. McQuaid finished with a career-high 27 points on 8-of-15 shooting (7-of-13 from behind the three-point line) and it seemed like each time Michigan State needed a big basket during its comeback, the senior from Texas stepped up and buried one from the perimeter. McQuaid’s defense on Michigan guard Jordan Poole was also noteworthy, as Poole was limited to just 3-of-11 shooting and had to work hard for every one of his attempts. Role players stepping up in March is crucial to a team’s success and McQuaid certainly filled that role in the victory today.

What’s Next. Michigan State earned the #2 seed in the East Region and will be playing #15 Bradley in Des Moines on Thursday. Michigan also earned a #2 seed in the Des Moines pod, where the Wolverines will do battle with #15 Montana.

Share this story

Rushed Reactions: Big Ten Semifinal Saturday

Posted by Walker Carey on March 16th, 2019

While Minnesota‘s upset victory over Purdue on Friday night prevented the Big Ten’s top four seeds from all advancing to the conference tournament semifinals, Michigan State, Michigan and Wisconsin making it through to Saturday encapsulated how much of the conference season was dominated by the league’s top teams. The league will still likely send at least six teams to the NCAA Tournament — depending on your feelings about bubble teams Ohio State and Indiana — but this weekend’s action further illustrated that the class of the league possesses the necessary firepower necessary to make a significant run in the main bracket. Tomorrow’s Michigan State vs. Michigan final will crown a Big Ten Tournament champion, but it will also give the national audience a glimpse at two of the few Big Ten teams that can make some noise when NCAA Tournament play commences. Here are some of the key takeaways from Saturday afternoon’s action in Chicago.

Michigan State Advances to the Big Ten Tournament Final Where It Will Face Rival Michigan (USA Today Images)
  1. Cassius Winston is Michigan State’s star, but the Spartans need their role players to continue their strong play. The Big Ten Player of the Year turned in another star effort on Saturday afternoon, finishing the semifinal game with 21 points and six assists. While Winston’s heroics are mostly expected at this point, it has been the emergence of Michigan State’s role players that has been an important component in the team winning nine of its last 10. That was on full display in today’s win over Wisconsin. Veteran forwards Kenny Goins and Xavier Tillman were outstanding against the Badgers, combining for 30 points and 19 rebounds while providing the Spartans with stout defense in the post. Freshman swingman Aaron Henry also turned in a noteworthy performance, as he continued to make strides in his all-around game by collecting 11 rebounds. For the Spartans to get to Minneapolis, they are going to need the team’s complementary players to continue to turn in impressive efforts — Winston is a terrific player, but he cannot take Michigan State to the Final Four on his own. The role players Tom Izzo has developed seem capable of making sure Winston has the necessary help to put together a deep run.
  2. Wisconsin’s plodding offense could be its downfall. Throughout most of Wisconsin’s 20+ years of sustained success, the Badgers have been synonymous with a low-tempo offensive attack that limits possessions and aims to take as many high percentage shots as possible. That strategy has served Wisconsin very well in the past, but Saturday’s loss to Michigan State showed this Badgers team may have to make a few tweaks if they want to advance in the NCAA Tournament. The Spartans ran out to a 15-4 lead to begin the game and Wisconsin’s lack of offensive prowess made that early deficit nearly impossible to overcome. The Badgers finished the game shooting just 35.3 percent from the field and a ghastly 10.5 percent from the three-point line. Starters D’Mitrik Trice, Brad Davison, and Nate Reuvers combined to shoot just 5-of-26 from the field and their inability to get anything going resulted in Michigan State putting more of an emphasis on containing standout forward Ethan Happ in the post. Greg Gard will need to scheme a plan to get his offense back in rhythm or there will likely be a repeat of the Michigan State loss awaiting the Badgers in the NCAA Tournament.
  3. Postseason Michigan is back and looks to be dangerous as ever. John Beliein‘s program went a combined 15-2 in the 2017 and 2018 postseason — the Wolverines are the two-time defending Big Ten Tournament champions, and they went to the Sweet Sixteen and National Championship game in successive seasons. If this week’s results are any indication, Michigan seems bound for another successful postseason run. After a convincing win over Iowa in Friday’s quarterfinal, the Wolverines destroyed Minnesota in Saturday’s semifinal. Like in most of its victories this season, Michigan was led Saturday by junior floor general Zavier Simpson, who contributed 15 points and nine assists to the dominant effort. Sophomore forward Isaiah Livers came off the bench and poured in a career-high 21 points on an 8-of-10 shooting performance. The Wolverines entered the game second in the country in defensive efficiency and their suffocating effort on that end of the floor set the tone in the first half which allowed Michigan to go into halftime with an insurmountable 38-19 lead.
  4. Tomorrow’s Michigan State vs. Michigan championship game should be a dandy. Sunday’s title game will be the third time the Spartans and Wolverines will meet on the hardwood this season. Michigan State won the first two match-ups against its intrastate rival by using strong second half charges to emerge victorious. Tom Izzo and John Beliein are two of college basketball’s most talented tacticians and respected leaders. Cassius Winston and Zavier Simpson are two of the country’s most valuable point guards. If you are a college basketball fan, you will be well served to catch Sunday afternoon’s battle for the Big Ten Tournament title.

Quotable.

  • “Kenny (Goins) has probably been the guy that has changed our team throughout the last two and a half months. He is one of our best defenders. He is our best rebounder. He is maybe our best-conditioned guy, and he has really figured out how to shoot the ball and does it with high percentage.” – Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, commenting on the emergence of senior forward Kenny Goins.
  • “They obviously came out and they were knocking down almost every shot. They were hitting every three, getting to the rim, and things like that. I think we just have to start faster with a different mindset, especially on the defensive end.” – Wisconsin guard D’Mitrik Trice, acknowledging how Michigan State’s quick start ultimately sealed his team’s fate.
  • “I am going to throw it in the green river.” – Minnesota coach Richard Pitino, describing what he is going to do with the game tape from his team’s blowout loss.
Share this story

2018-19 RTC16: Week Sixteen

Posted by Walker Carey on March 11th, 2019

The final week of the regular season rarely disappoints, and last week was no exception as a number of conference champions were determined and several teams distinguished themselves as serious contenders for an NCAA Tournament title. #1 Virginia and #3 North Carolina each clinched a share of the regular season ACC crown with home victories on Saturday. The Cavaliers continued their dominance over Louisville with a 73-68 win, while the Tar Heels completed their season sweep of rival #5 Duke with a comfortable 79-70 victory. For the first time since 2004, a team other than Kansas was crowned as the Big 12 champion, so it only makes sense that two teams conspired to snatch the title from the Jayhawks. #6 Texas Tech grabbed its share of the league crown with an 80-73 road win at Iowa State, while #14 Kansas State joined the Red Raiders in the champion’s circle with a resounding 68-53 besting of Oklahoma. The Big Ten also crowned co-regular season champions, as #6 Michigan State clinched its share by earning a season sweep of intrastate rival #10 Michigan, following #12 Purdue winning its claim on the crown at Northwestern. Those regular season champions should be seen as the main contenders to take home conference tournament titles this week, but Championship Week is known for its surprising results, so it would be premature to already declare which teams will be cutting down the nets. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

  • Gonzaga and Virginia finish the regular season at #1. The Bulldogs and Cavaliers both finished sterling regular seasons, with each club finishing with just two losses. Gonzaga enters WCC Tournament play tonight as the clear favorite. The Bulldogs did not lose a conference game all season and it would take a sizable upset in Las Vegas to knock them down. Furthermore, Mark Few‘s club may be poised to get stronger as injured forward Killian Tillie recently joined his teammates for extended practice time and appear likely to return for the postseason. Virginia will begin its defense of its 2018 ACC Tournament title on Thursday, using a 16-0 league record against non-Duke opponents to seal the top seed. With the title game being the only chance of a third meeting with the Blue Devils, it would not be a stretch to expect Virginia to advance to the main event in Charlotte on Saturday night.
  • #9 LSU won the outright SEC title despite a tumultuous week. The Tigers clinched the outright SEC regular season title on Saturday night with a 21-point victory over Vanderbilt. The mood around the program should have been celebratory, but with a story breaking on Thursday that head coach Will Wade had been caught in an FBI wiretap discussing an offer to then-recruit Javonte Smart, and LSU’s subsequent suspension of Wade on Friday, the Tigers have a lot of uncertainty hanging over their heads. If it is determined that Wade participated in nefarious conduct, LSU will almost certainly have to vacate the SEC title and any other accomplishments from this season. Even with all these distractions, the Tigers looked like a focused team on Saturday. Interim coach Tony Benford possesses the tall task of making sure that focus carries over into the postseason.
  • #11 Houston deserves more credit for its 29-2 regular season. It makes sense that a team from the American has not received the same level of national attention as teams from the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, etc., but the season turned in by Kelvin Sampson‘s Cougars must be acknowledged. Houston just finished a regular season featuring 29 regular season victories with its only two losses coming by a combined nine points. The Cougars rank among the top 20 in the country in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and senior guard Corey Davis, Jr. has emerged as one the country’s most dynamic scorers. Houston has not advanced to the Sweet Sixteen since 1984, but this season looks like the program’s best chance to end that drought.

Tournament of the Week. ACC Tournament – March 12-16 in Charlotte. The most anticipated conference tournament has to be the one that features three top-five teams in #1 Virginia, #3 North Carolina, and #5 Duke. While the Cavaliers and Tar Heels are the top two seeds, the story of the tournament will be the expected return of freshman phenom Zion Williamson for third-seeded Duke. If Williamson returns healthy from his knee injury, the Blue Devils project to have a semifinal date with North Carolina on Friday before a potential title game match-up with Virginia. If you are looking for a sleeper here, look no further than #4 seed Florida State. The Seminoles have played excellent basketball for the last six weeks, losing only once since January 20.

Keep Tabs On. It is a good idea to keep tabs on any and all action that takes place this week. Championship Week is the best appetizer for the smorgasbord that is the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

Conference Call: ACC (4), Big 12 (3), Big Ten (3), SEC (2), WCC (1), Mountain West (1), AAC (1), MAC (1).

Share this story

2018-19 RTC16: Week Fifteen

Posted by Walker Carey on March 4th, 2019

The final week of the regular season always presents a great deal of intrigue when it comes to crowning regular season conference champions. This year, races in the ACC, Big East, Big 12, Big Ten and SEC are all still up in the air, and the action this week will determine which teams will finish atop each league. The ACC has #2 Virginia, #3 Duke, and #4 North Carolina fighting for the top spot. Marquette and Villanova are battling it out in the Big East. The Big 12 race consists of #7 Texas Tech and Kansas State trying to hold off #14 Kansas, as the Jayhawks look to take home a share of their 15th consecutive league title. The Big Ten will see #11 Purdue trying to survive road games at Minnesota and Northwestern to fend off #8 Michigan and #9 Michigan State. The fight for the SEC crown has #6 Kentucky looking to catch both #5 Tennessee and #9 LSU. It is going to be an incredibly intriguing week of college basketball because there is action each night that will play an important role in establishing which teams will become the top dog of their conference. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

2018-19 RTC16: Week Fourteen

Posted by Walker Carey on February 25th, 2019

It is never a good thing to have your season flash before your eyes because of a key injury, but it is especially troubling when the scare occurs during the stretch run. #3 Duke was presented with that possibility last Wednesday night when freshman phenom Zion Williamson exited the court less than a minute into its home rivalry showdown with #5 North Carolina. Suddenly, it did not matter all that much that the Tar Heels went on to dominate the Blue Devils throughout an 88-72 victory. What really mattered was Williamson’s prognosis — because while Duke has plenty of talent, it would be an incredibly tall task for it to reach Minneapolis without the services of the nation’s top player. Luckily for the Blue Devils, the high-flying freshman only suffered a sprained knee and he is expected back in action soon, even though he did not play in Saturday’s 75-65 win at Syracuse and has been ruled out of this Tuesday’s game at Virginia Tech. Duke showed over the weekend that, even without Williamson, it still has the necessary firepower available to beat a likely NCAA Tournament team on the road, so it would be unwise to write off the team’s chances in Blacksburg. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

2018-19 RTC16: Week Twelve

Posted by Walker Carey on February 11th, 2019

Throughout a majority of the conference season, it has felt like #12 Marquette and #13 Villanova were the only two Big East teams with a legitimate shot at the regular season title. As the league race hits its home stretch, that feeling has borne itself out. Even though the Golden Eagles had been tripped up by St. John’s earlier last week — their second loss to Chris Mullin’s squad this season — Marquette rode a 38-point performance from star guard Markus Howard to a thrilling 66-65 victory to cut Villanova’s lead to just one game in the Big East standings. The Wildcats will have an opportunity to avenge the defeat when they welcome Marquette to Philadelphia for the rematch on February 27. Wide-open conference races are always enjoyable, but this season’s Big East race has shown two-team races can be just as fine. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

2018-19 RTC 16: Week Eleven

Posted by Walker Carey on February 4th, 2019

The calendar has turned to February and several conference races have
heated up, the most intriguing of which might be the Big Ten, where a pair of surprising weekend results have changed the league standings. The action began Friday evening at Iowa when #5 Michigan was unable to overcome early foul trouble to big men Jon Teske and Isaiah Livers en route to a 74-59 defeat. While the Wolverines are still in very good shape at 20-2 overall and 9-2 in conference play, it should be noted that they have shown some vulnerability on the road with two straight losses. #9 Michigan State appeared likely to grab sole possession of first place in the league with a home win over spiraling Indiana on Saturday night, but the Hoosiers rode a strong three-point shooting night to an overtime upset victory. The result is even more befuddling when you consider that Archie Miller’s team was without star senior forward Juwan Morgan for the entire second half after leaving the game with a shoulder injury. Losses are bound to happen in conference play, but you have to think Michigan State is shaking its head about its brutal 8-of-22 performance from the free throw line. Those two upsets set the stage for #15 Purdue to join the Wolverines and Spartans atop the league standings if they were able to notch a home victory over Minnesota on Sunday afternoon. For a portion of the game, it appeared as if the Boilermakers were also going to fall victim to an upset. They trailed by as many as 13 points in the second half before putting together a 19-2 run to grab control to cruise to a 73-63 win and a share of the Big Ten lead. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

2018-19 RTC16: Week Ten

Posted by Walker Carey on January 28th, 2019

We have reached the point in the college basketball season where the legitimate Final Four contenders have started to separate from the pack. A team that somewhat unexpectedly fits that mold is #7 Kentucky. The Wildcats infamously started their season by getting blown out against Duke in the Champions Classic, but a December loss to an average Seton Hall team followed by an SEC-opening loss at Alabama was cause for concern. Luckily for Big Blue Nation, things have turned on a dime. Since that setback to the Crimson Tide, Kentucky has rifled off six straight victories — the most recent of which came in Saturday’s 71-63 comeback win over #11 Kansas. In the victory, Kentucky showcased the many elements that has led to its vast improvement. Senior forward Reid Travis and sophomore forward P.J. Washington took advantage of Kansas’ lack of interior size with a pair of double-doubles. Freshman guard Ashton Hagans continued his steady play on the offensive end too, contributing 12 points and eight assists while playing stifling defense. While it is certainly possible Kentucky could revert back to its inconsistent early season form, it has shown nothing during its current hot streak to suggest that will become a reality. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

2018-19 RTC16: Week Nine

Posted by Walker Carey on January 21st, 2019

Last week began with many observers wondering when college basketball’s last two undefeated teams — #2 Virginia and #6 Michigan — would fall from the ranks of the unbeaten. Wonder no more, as both the Cavaliers and Wolverines went into hostile road environments on Saturday and failed to leave with a victory. Michigan suffered through an uncharacteristically sloppy performance in a 64-54 loss at Wisconsin, as the Wolverines entered the game averaging just 9.5 turnovers per contest but suffered 16 miscues en route to defeat. Michigan’s offensive woes were fueled by star freshman Ignas Brazdeikis being held scoreless in 23 minutes of action, and senior swingman Charles Matthews producing only five points on a head-scratching five field goal attempts. Virginia’s trip to #3 Duke on Saturday evening appeared less daunting as the week wore on. The Blue Devils had been stunned at home by unranked Syracuse on Monday — and to make matters worse, freshman point guard Tre Jones was lost to a shoulder injury for an unspecified period of time. Duke, however, did just enough to eke out a 72-70 win over the Cavaliers, as Virginia had no answer for a pair of freshmen phenoms in R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson who combined to score 57 points. The sky is not falling for either Michigan or Virginia, of course, but Saturday showed that they have weaknesses too. It will be intriguing to see how each team responds as conference play continues in full force. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

2018-19 RTC16: Week Eight

Posted by Walker Carey on January 14th, 2019

The early portion of conference play often comes with observations about how new coaches are working out in their programs. Those quick-hit observations can often be misguided because of a small sample size, but there are times where such declarations can clearly be taken as a sign of positive things to come. For example, take a look at what Kermit Davis is doing in his first season at #13 Ole Miss. The Rebels went just 12-20 last season and were picked to finish dead last in the SEC preseason media poll, but a 13-2 start featuring a resounding 82-67 home win over #11 Auburn on Wednesday and a comeback victory over archrival Mississippi State on Saturday have gotten everyone’s attention. It will be interesting to see how Davis’ squad handles the role of the hunted now that it has earned a national ranking. That said, the Rebels have not experienced defeat since the week of Thanksgiving and figure to be home favorites this week in games against LSU and Arkansas. The regular season is far from over, but Davis has already shown in his first year that he is ready to make Ole Miss a contender in a very competitive SEC race. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story