Rushed Reactions: #11 Syracuse 55, #3 Michigan State 53

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 18th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) is in Detroit this weekend. 

Three Key Takeaways.

Syracuse was all smiles after pulling off the upset. (Paul Sancya | The Associated Press)

  1. Syracuse mucked this game up to perfection. In order for Syracuse to win this game, it was going to have to slow down the pace, force Michigan State to run its half-court sets, and hope the Spartans missed shots from behind the arc. And that’s exactly what happened. The Big Ten champs were completely flummoxed by Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone, unable to exploit gaps inside and unconfident from the perimeter. Were it not for a few difficult made threes immediately before and after halftime, in fact, Michigan State’s final box score would have looked even uglier — which is remarkable when you consider that the Spartans finished 8-of-37 from three-point range. Despite getting hammered on the glass, Syracuse’s length inside was too much for big men like Nick Ward (10 points) and Jaren Jackson (two points). Even when Michigan State began passing out of the high post with Ben Carter — its best interior passer — the team’s go-to shooters like Josh Langford simply couldn’t hit. Afterward, Tom Izzo put it simply: “I thought we’d have a little easier time getting it in the middle.”
  2. Michigan State’s offense was atrocious. And it’s not a complete surprise. Michigan State boasted the ninth-most efficient offense in college basketball entering Sunday, largely the product of excellent outside shooting and a great running game. But there were times this season — Michigan, Rutgers, and others — in which the Spartans looked rhythmless and inept in the half-court. That issue reared its ugly head again on Sunday. Against an opponent built to slow teams down, Michigan State wasted far too much shot clock dribbling and handing-off instead of running clear offensive sets. When the pick-and-roll didn’t work — and it generally did not — Cassius Winston (4-of-12) and the Spartan guards were apt to either force a bad shot or hope Miles Bridges (4-of-18) could make something out of nothing. Following Michigan State’s home loss to Michigan on January 13 — a game in which it struggled mightily from the field — Izzo noted, “we have to do some soul-searching.” If Sunday’s performance was any indication, it’s clear that the Spartans never found their soul — at least not offensively.
  3. Jim Boeheim’s system works, no matter what you feel about it. There’s been plenty of chatter this weekend about whether Tony Bennett’s ‘system’ will ever result in March success for Virginia. Meanwhile, Boeheim’s 2-3 zone defense — very much a system in its own right — has enabled the offensively-limited Orange to make yet another deep run. For the second time in three seasons, Syracuse is finding the perfect level of cohesion at exactly the right time with an extremely shallow roster (351st nationally in bench minutes). How? Opponents facing Boeheim’s team for the first time simply don’t know how to breach that zone, especially with Syracuse’s length all over the court. The 73-year-old’s success should give those doubting Bennett a moment of pause.

Read the rest of this entry »

Rushed Reactions: #2 Purdue 76, #10 Butler 73

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 18th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) is in Detroit this weekend. 

Three Key Takeaways.

Vincent Edwards came up big for the shorthanded Boilermakers. (Photo: Raj Mehta/USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Without Isaac Haas in the lineup, Vincent Edwards stepped up. Purdue suffered a devastating blow on Friday when 7’2″ center Isaac Haas, the team’s second-leading scorer (14.7 PPG) and premier post threat, fractured his elbow against Cal State Fullerton. First reports indicated that he would miss the entire NCAA Tournament; subsequent reports revealed he might see limited minutes. But after his arm brace failed to clear NCAA safety standards over the weekend, the Boilermakers were officially left having to fill the void. Vincent Edwards did exactly that. In just 27 minutes of action because of foul trouble, the senior forward scored 20 points on 6-of-8 shooting — including a couple of timely triples — and came up with a lead-preserving block on Butler’s Kamar Baldwin in the closing minutes. After a late-season ankle injury and two subpar performances in the Big Ten Tournament, Edwards stepped up in a big way for the shorthanded Boilermakers.
  2. Matt Haarms and Purdue’s frontcourt reserves exceeded expectations. No Haas in the lineup meant more minutes for freshman Matt Haarms and the rest of Purdue’s frontcourt reserves. And they made good on that extra playing time. Haarms, a 7’3″ Dutchman, was a defensive force in the paint, blocking a couple shots, drawing a charge and preventing easy Butler looks around the rim (especially in the first half). Junior Grady Eifert — who played sparingly during the regular season — tracked down five rebounds in 17 high-energy minutes. Forwards Nojel Eastern and Jacquil Taylor, who had played just four minutes total since January 20, also helped fill the void. “I’m proud of those other guys who had to increase their roles,” Purdue head coach Matt Painter said afterwards.
  3. Kelan Martin did not get enough help. As he did against Arkansas, Kelan Martin — an all-Big East first teamer and Butler’s top offensive weapon — did his part (and then some) on Sunday, scoring 29 points on 9-of-18 shooting. During the second half especially, his ability to attack the rim at-will proved to be the Bulldogs’ best and most consistent form of offense. Painter called him “fantastic” afterwards, and he was. But unlike on Friday, he did not receive enough help from his teammates — most notably Kamar Baldwin. After putting on a show against Arkansas (24 points on 9-of-17 FG), the sophomore guard scored just 14 points on 5-of-16 shooting. And his teammates weren’t much better, considering no other Bulldog finished in double figures. In a game that was decided by a few key possessions, Butler needed someone other than Martin to step up offensively.

Read the rest of this entry »

Rushed Reactions: #4 Gonzaga 90, #5 Ohio State 84

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish.

Three Key Takeaways.

Gonzaga’s Zach Norvell Introduced Himself to America (USA Today Images)

  1. 15-0 Runs Aren’t Worth as Much as They Used to Be. Gonzaga came out of the gates like Secretariat this evening in Boise, blitzing Ohio State by an early score of 15-0 before anybody could get a lather worked up. And although the Buckeyes worked their way back into contention in the second half — even taking a five-point lead with 6:02 remaining, it was all Zags from that point on. Gonzaga went on a blistering 18-3 run over the next four-plus minutes, keyed specifically by a pair of back-breaking threes from Zach Norvell and Rui Hachimura that swung the momentum back to the Bulldogs and finished off a tired group of Buckeyes. From that point on, it was another Gonzaga celebration as Mark Few‘s club moved on to its fourth consecutive Sweet Sixteen.
  2. The Next Gonzaga Star is Born. Zach Norvell is a known commodity in the college basketball community, especially among those who closely follow the Gonzaga program, but the rest of America was formally introduced to the talented redshirt freshman tonight. Putting together a stat line of 28 points, 12 rebounds and four assists in 39 minutes of action, it was also his timely three-pointer from the right corner that allowed Gonzaga to get its sea legs back after taking a haymaker from Ohio State in the middle of the second half. Quite a bit better than his four-point, zero-rebound effort back in November when the two teams met for the first time.
  3. Ohio State Will be Back. Head coach Chris Holtmann‘s arrival in Columbus last summer re-energized a program, and more specifically, a pair of rising seniors who had continually underachieved during their Ohio State careers. The program was in desperate need of new blood and the former Butler coach quickly started turning the Buckeyes’ basketball culture around. The result was a team that rose from the Big Ten doldrums with a 7-11 finish last year to a 15-3 second-place finish under new management. Those seniors — Jae’Sean Tate and Kam Williams (along with transfer Andrew Dakich) — clearly bought into the new philosophy, finding a healthy balance between their talents and facilitating the rise of junior Big Ten Player of the Year Keita Bates-Diop. It will be rebuilding mode next season with the expected loss of Bates-Diop along with the seniors, but Holtmann has proven hungry and will have the Buckeyes back in the NCAA Tournament sooner than later.

Player of the Game. Zach Norvell, Gonzaga. It was noted above, but Norvell’s big game shot-making provided the difference against an Ohio State team that had significantly improved since the teams met at the PK80 in late November. If the Zags plan on advancing to consecutive Final Fours next weekend, it will be because Norvell played a major role in leading that charge.

Read the rest of this entry »

Rushed Reactions: #5 Kentucky 95, #13 Buffalo 75

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish.

Three Key Takeaways.

Hamidou Diallo Flexes After a Huge Second Half Dunk (USA Today Images)

  1. John Calipari Doesn’t Lose to Mid-Majors. After tonight’s victory, John Calipari’s record against mid-majors at Kentucky is an incredible 83-1 — with the one loss coming as an NIT road game against Robert Morris in 2013. Now, let’s get the obvious out of the way in saying that most of those mid-majors were simply outclassed by Kentucky’s typical overwhelming talent. It’s also true that a sizable portion of those mid-majors were forced to play Kentucky in Rupp Arena, and good luck for any team (mid- or high-major) to come out of there with a win. But ask Virginia about playing mid-majors in the NCAA Tournament. Or Arizona. Or UCLA. Or Tennessee. Or Texas. It’s not easy to consistently beat those very hungry and admittedly talented teams in their own right — time after time after time again. Yet Calipari continues to win those games, and he should be commended for it. It comes down to having your players ready to perform, and as he showed yet again today, he’s proven a masterful coach in that regard.
  2. The Artistry of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Much has been written this season about the ascent of Gilgeous-Alexander from expected role player to perhaps Kentucky’s most important piece. But today was perhaps his best game of the season, peppering a highly efficient shooting performance (10-of-12 FG) along with a masterful floor game. It certainly seems that the Wildcats are going as far as the precocious freshman can take them — in his last nine games, his only mildly inefficient performance came in Kentucky’s only loss — at Florida to end the regular season. Given that he’s a point guard in a wing’s body at this level, the mismatches that he creates are absolute hell for teams to defend against. It will be interesting to see what a physical defensive group like Cincinnati or Texas Tech might be able to do with him.
  3. Buffalo Has Nothing to Be Ashamed Of. With eight minutes remaining in today’s game, Buffalo was within five points. They had worked the Kentucky margin down from a peak of double-figures and the partisan fan base they had picked up in Boise was rocking. For approximately 72 minutes of action in the Taco Bell Arena, the Bulls had proven themselves worthy against two of college basketball’s elite. From that point on, they just wore out. Kentucky started getting to the rim seemingly at will, and everyone knew it was over. Head coach Nate Oats exuded pride in his team’s performance this March after the game, and he certainly has a foundation on which to build going forward.

Player of the Game. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kentucky. The star freshman came up big for his Wildcats today, scoring 27 points and logging six rebounds and six assists in 39 minutes of action. He is the straw that stirs the Wildcats’ drink, and he proved it again today.

Read the rest of this entry »

Rushed Reactions: #2 Duke 87, #7 Rhode Island 62

Posted by Walker Carey on March 17th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is in Pittsburgh this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Rhode Island Had No Answers For Duke Today (Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Duke’s talent advantage was just too much for Rhode Island to overcome. Rhode Island began the game with its hair on fire. The Rams had a distinct pep in their step. That energy allowed them to open a quick 7-2 lead and it certainly got their fans into the swing of things. The energetic start was short-lived though as Duke rapidly exerted both its overwhelming size advantage and definite talent advantage. The Blue Devils make things look easy. Whether it was Grayson Allen and Gary Trent Jr. hitting perimeter shots or Trevon Duval driving the lane or Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. having their way in the post, Duke’s horses were just way too much to overcome. Whenever it seemed like Rhode Island may have had a bit of a spark that could have led to a little run, the Blue Devils rapidly put that to bed. This game was a total annihilation, but that is known to happen when playing a group as talented as Duke.
  2. The Duke zone continues to create issues for its opponents. The fact that Duke tried running man-to-man for so long with this personnel continues to baffle. It was quite clear early on that the Blue Devils would continue to struggle in man-to-man due to the lack of great individual defenders on their roster. When it finally made the full-time switch to the zone in January, it became obvious that the team’s length and ability to move laterally made it a terrific zone team. Entering today’s action, the Blue Devils ranked eighth in the country in defensive efficiency. That ranking would have been impossible if Duke had made the decision to stick with the man-to-man. Duke’s zone success was on display once again this afternoon, as Rhode Island was held to just 62 points on 39.7% shooting. It should also be noted that a lot of the shots the Rams did make were not exactly open looks.
  3. Today marked the end of quite the run for Rhode Island basketball. The Rams have nothing to hang their heads about. They just ran into a buzz saw today. It can be argued that no one would have bested Duke this afternoon. With the loss, Rhode Island’s season ends and a major chapter of Rams basketball has reached its conclusion. A senior class of E.C. Matthews, Jared Terrell, Stanford Robinson, Andre Berry, and Jarvis Garrett played its final game in a Rhode Island uniform. That class was what brought the Rams back into the national conversation. NCAA Tournament bids and subsequent first round wins – both this year and last – continued that conversation. It must also be noted that there is a good chance coach Dan Hurley will not be back on the Rhode Island sideline next season. The star coach is said to be a strong candidate for both the Connecticut and Pittsburgh openings. No matter if Hurley returns or not, the Rhode Island program will look dramatically different in the 2018-19 season.

Read the rest of this entry »

Rushed Reactions: #1 Villanova 81, #9 Alabama 58

Posted by Walker Carey on March 17th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is in Pittsburgh this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Villanova Ran Through Alabama Like a Freight Train This Afternoon (USA Today Images)

  1. Donte DiVincenzo was the story of the first half. Villanova’s first half did not go as planned. Both Jalen Brunson and Omari Spellman spent more than 10 minutes of the opening stanza relegated to the bench because of foul trouble. Star swingman Mikal Bridges struggled to get anything going in the first 20 minutes, totaling just a single point on an 0-for-5 shooting performance. But amazingly, the Wildcats still held a five-point halftime lead. That advantage was largely because of an incredible first half performance from sophomore guard Donte DiVincenzo. The versatile wing tallied 18 of Villanova’s 32 first half points and did so on an impressive 6-of-10 (5-of-9 3FG) shooting performance. DiVincenzo is the Wildcats’ top reserve who often plays starter minutes, so today’s performance did not come completely out of nowhere, but today’s game could have had a much different result if DiVincenzo had not been so brilliant in the early going.
  2. Mikal Bridges was the story of the second half. Bridges certainly struggled in the first 20 minutes of the game. The junior forward could not get any of his shot attempts to fall and it appeared like he was having trouble getting acclimated to the Alabama defense. That all changed very quickly when the second half commenced. The Wildcats ripped off an 18-1 run to open the stanza, with Bridges scoring 16 of those 18 points. He was effective in utilizing his athleticism to get open and he was burying jumpers over the oncoming Alabama defenders with remarkable ease. All in all, Bridges finished the second half with 22 points on 7-of-9 shooting. It was an incredible performance after what was a forgettable first half, and it propelled Villanova easily into the Sweet Sixteen.
  3. Villanova will not lose if it plays like it did in the second half. Considering what happened in Charlotte last night with Virginia and UMBC, it is difficult to make any surefire predictions about this tournament. However, it is pretty safe to say Villanova will not fall victim to the upset bug if it turns in four more performances like this afternoon’s second half effort. The Wildcats were sharp defensively, holding Alabama to just 36 percent shooting in the final 20 minutes, and they were probably better offensively. The ball moved incredibly well, leading to a number of open looks that Villanova buried with ease while building its insurmountable lead. It was truly a fantastic performance. It will be interesting to see if it will carry over to Boston next weekend.

Read the rest of this entry »

Rushed Reactions: #11 Syracuse 57, #6 TCU 52

Posted by Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) on March 17th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) is in Detroit this weekend. 

Three Key Takeaways.

Syracuse’s defense was all over TCU on Friday night. (Carlos Osorio / Associated Press)

  1. TCU’s super-efficient offense struggled against the Syracuse zone. TCU was hands-down the most efficient offense in the Big 12 this season, ranking 7th nationally in adjusted efficiency and shooting nearly 40% from behind the arc. But it struggled mightily against Syracuse’s patented 2-3 zone. The Horned Frogs shot just 3-of-17 from behind the arc, the Orange defense using its size — Syracuse is the tallest team in college basketball — and length to prevent good looks. TCU also turned the ball over at an uncharacteristically high rate, which may have been the difference (extra possessions) considering both teams shot nearly identical from the field and the free throw line. “This was just a defensive game, and we didn’t give them good looks from the three-point line,” Syracuse Jim Boeheim said afterwards.
  2. Marek Dolezaj’s career night couldn’t have come at a better time. Slovakian freshman Marek Dolezaj entered Friday averaging 5.2 PPG. He scored 17 points on Friday night, including 11 of his team’s first 23 points. He was so on point, in fact, that even his sole three-point attempt — just his ninth of the season (2-of-9 3PT) — went in, helping Syracuse jump out to an early lead. For an offense that can at times look inept, Dolezaj’s contributions (he scored 20 points against Wake Forest on March 6) could be the spark Syracuse needs for another March run.
  3. Jim Boeheim out-performing expectations in March once again. Two years ago, Syracuse was a double-digit seed and one of the last teams to sneak into the Dance. Sound familiar? That team wound up making a completely unexpected Final Four run, the fifth appearance of Boeheim’s career. This year’s team — tall, methodical, defensive-minded — has plenty of similarities, if not a player as dynamic as Michael Gbinije. With two NCAA Tournament wins now under its belt, Boeheim is once again making lemonade out very bubbly lemons.

Star of the Game. Marek Dolezaj, Syracuse. The 6-9 Slovakian couldn’t miss on Friday, knocking down every type of shot you can imagine on his way to 17 points. Had Dolezaj not fouled out midway through the second half, he may have posted a career high. For Syracuse to upset Michigan State on Sunday, it’s going to need role players like Dolezaj to step up in similar fashion. Read the rest of this entry »

Rushed Reaction: #9 Florida State 67, #8 Missouri 54

Posted by David Changas (@dchangas) on March 17th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. David Changas (@dchangas) is in Nashville this weekend. 

Three Key Takeaways.

Michael Porter, Jr. never got to display his full capabilities in what likely will be his only college season. (Jim Brown/USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Florida State’s first half defense was absolutely stifling. In the first half, Missouri made a total of five shots on its way to a 22-point deficit. Florida State has not been particularly stingy on the defensive end this season, ranking 78th in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom. But they forced the Tigers to take bad shot after bad shot, and Missouri was unable to connect on much. The defensive pressure the Seminoles put on Missouri also led to a number of easy baskets. In the second half, Missouri made a run over the first 10 minutes to reduce the deficit all the way to six, but Florida State responded with a 9-0 run to extend its lead back to 15 with just over seven minutes remaining
  2. The Seminoles were the deeper team. Florida State got points from 11 different players, and none scored more than 14 points. As Missouri made its second half surge, the Seminoles were able to weather the storm and looked fresher down the stretch. It did not help Missouri that it was without senior forward Jordan Barnett, who was arrested for DWI after the SEC Tournament and was suspended for the game. Regardless, it was clear that Florida State was the fresher team down the stretch and had more energy, which allowed it to put the game away.
  3. The MPJ effect. It was clear that Cuonzo Martin was going to go all-in with Michael Porter, Jr. in this game, and while the temptation to play a guy who is going to be a top-five draft pick was too much to overcome, Porter was simply out of gas in the second half and made a number of careless errors because of it. Porter certainly could not have been expected to go as long as he did – he logged 28 minutes for the game – and it is certainly a shame for college basketball fans that such a unique talent will have a college career that consisted of just over a couple of games. Porter’s game figures to translate well to the next level, and even in the midst of this contest, he showed flashes of why he was considered the consensus top recruit in the class of 2017.

Player of the Game. Mfiondu Kabengele, Florida State. The freshman forward led the Seminoles with 14 points and 12 rebounds as he notched only his second double-double of the season. Read the rest of this entry »

Rushed Reactions: #16 UMBC 74, #1 Virginia 54

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 17th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is in Charlotte this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

UMBC’s jubilation was one for the ages after becoming the first #16-seed to knock off a #1-seed in NCAA history. (Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports)

  1. History has been made! Not only did UMBC pull off the biggest upset ever in the Big Dance, it did so handily. Virginia came in as the top overall seed in the tournament and the unanimous #1 team in both major polls, but the Cavaliers were totally outplayed. It’s not the first time Virginia has struggled in the first round as a #1 seed. Four years ago, the Cavaliers trailed Coastal Carolina by five at the half before coming back to win by 11. When the scored was tied at the half in this one, Virginia still seemed to be in good position. But UMBC stormed out of the locker room and immediately seized control of the game. It appeared that the Cavaliers got rattled, perhaps feeling the pressure of what was at stake. Even the vaunted pack line defense of Tony Bennett withered against the Retrievers’ attack, allowing uncontested layups and open threes. Regardless of why it happened, UMBC and Virginia will forever be remembered as the two participants when a #16 seed beat a #1 seed for the first time in NCAA Tournament history.
  2. UMBC was not overwhelmed by the moment. In the NCAA Tournament for just the second time in school history, UMBC didn’t flinch against the #1 team in the land. Calling on the same moxie they displayed in the America East conference tourney — they won the title on top-seeded Vermont’s home floor — the Retrievers battled the Cavaliers on even terms for most of the first half and then dominated the rest of the way. Much credit has to go to Ryan Odom for having his team believe it was possible and to the UMBC players for making it happen. To pull off the huge upset though, UMBC would need more than guts and confidence. They would also have to make a bunch of three-point shots and they did just that, sinking 12-of-24 from behind the arc.
  3. Is it possible that De’Andre Hunter meant more to Virginia than we thought? When it was announced that Hunter was going to miss the NCAA Tournament due to a broken wrist, it was a big loss for the Cavaliers. But we didn’t expect it to cause problems for Virginia so early in the tourney. Not to take anything away from UMBC, but the Cavaliers did not look the same without the ACC’s Sixth Man of the Year. It also didn’t help that Devon Hall had perhaps his worst outing of the season, scoring only two points on 1-of-9 shooting. Hunter’s absence probably also affected Virginia’s defense. Without their most athletic player available, the Cavaliers allowed the quicker Retrievers to penetrate the pack line repeatedly in the second half.

Player of the Game. Jairus Lyles, UMBC. The senior leader of the Retrievers came through with 28 points, including 23 after the half. Lyles was extremely efficient against the nation’s best defense — making 9-of-11 from the field and 3-of-4 from distance. Read the rest of this entry »

Rushed Reactions: #3 Michigan State 82, #14 Bucknell 78

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 16th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) is in Detroit this weekend. 

Three Key Takeaways.

Miles Bridges was high NBA-caliber Friday evening in the Spartans’ tournament opener. (Raj Mehta/USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Miles Bridges took over down the stretch. After a back-and-forth first half that ended with Michigan State up just four, the All-American and future lottery pick asserted himself when Michigan State needed him most. In a three-minute period midway through the second half, Bridges ripped off 10 straight points, including a monstrous tip-slam over Bucknell center Nana Foulland. The sophomore finished with 29 points in all — 19 in the second half alone — in the type of performance Spartan country envisioned he would upon announcing his return last summer. Everything from Bridges’ talent to his assertiveness has been questioned by someone at some point this season, deserved or not. But on Friday, there was no questioning his excellence, and no denying that Michigan State is scary when he plays this well.
  2. Zach Thomas’s effort shouldn’t be forgotten. The Patriot League Player of the Year was awesome on Friday night (27 points), despite fouling out on a technical foul with six minutes remaining and despite playing with cotton swabs in his nose. The 6’7″ senior scored 20 points in the first half alone, drilling cold-blooded three-pointers and taking advantage of mismatches when Tom Izzo sat his best bigs. In a world where one-and-done players often rule the conversation, it’s great to see talented. little-known  four-year players put on a show against top-notch competition. “There wasn’t much of one. I mean, we didn’t defend him,” Izzo said of his team’s game plan for Thomas.
  3. Jaren Jackson needs to stay out of foul trouble. While discussing Zach Thomas’s skillset after the game, Bucknell coach Nathan Davis made a point of saying that the senior could post-up anyone on the floor “except maybe Jaren Jackson.” The rest of his statement had nothing to do with Jackson, but that comment spoke volumes — there simply aren’t many players in college basketball with Jackson’s length and defensive ability. And that’s why the freshman can’t afford to find himself in foul trouble like he did on Friday, or like he did in Michigan State’s two Big Ten Tournament games. Jackson, who has a 7’4″ wingspan, is an elite rim-protector capable of defending multiple positions; when he is on the floor, opponents becomes far more one-dimensional. And that’s not even taking into account his offensive versatility. Though the Spartans were able to overcome his absence against Bucknell, they might not be so lucky against better, bigger opponents in future rounds.

Star of the Game. Miles Bridges, Michigan State. The super-sophomore had one of his best performances of the season on Friday, finishing with 29 points and nine rebounds in 35 minutes of action. Izzo spoke after the game — as he has before — of always wanting Bridges to be more aggressive. If he he keeps playing like this, Michigan State will go very deep into March. Read the rest of this entry »