The Blueprints: How Each Big Ten Team Can Advance Past Its First Opponent

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 19th, 2014

The Big Ten is largely known as one of the best, if not the best, basketball conferences in all of the land. This hasn’t necessarily equated to great success in the postseason, however. In fact, it’s been 14 long years since one of the league members has cut down the nets on the first Monday night in April (Michigan State – 2000). The first key to winning it all, obviously, is to win your first game. As we head into the league’s six openers over the next two days, here is what each Big Ten team needs to accomplish in order to get into the next round.

Aaron Craft must create turnovers for Ohio State to beat Dayton. (Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire)

Aaron Craft must create turnovers for Ohio State to beat Dayton. (Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire)

  • Ohio State must create turnovers to beat Dayton: This holds true for almost every game that the Buckeyes play, but it’s especially important here because Dayton plays a slower pace and they turn the ball over 18.1% of the time. Aaron Craft, Shannon Scott, Lenzelle Smith Jr. and the rest of the rangy, athletic Buckeyes need to realize that their best offense here is their defense. If they get some live-ball turnovers that will allow them to get out and run, they’ll have Dayton right where they want them.
  • Michigan State must stop the triple threat to beat Delaware: Delaware has three legitimate offensive weapons in Jarvis Threatt, Devon Saddler, and Davon Usher. All three average at least 18.0 PPG for a team that plays at the 10th fastest tempo in the country. Michigan State has their own big three, however, in Adreian Payne, Gary Harris, and Keith Appling. If the Spartans’ trio can outscore the group of Blue Hens, with Branden Dawson locking down the 6’6″ Usher in the process, Sparty should move on. Read the rest of this entry »
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Bracket Prep: Florida, Virginia, Michigan State

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 17th, 2014

Championship Week has found its close, but here are a few final short reviews of each of the automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket this week. None of these titans really needed the “automatic bid” portion of their Tournament title gift package, of course, but with each figuring to play a key role in the weeks ahead, here’s what you need to know about a trio of Championship Week’s final victors.

Florida

Billy Donovan And The Gators Are SEC Champions Twice Over, But Florida Has Their Sights Set On A Greater Prize

Billy Donovan And The Gators Are SEC Champions Twice Over, But Florida Has Their Sights Set On A Greater Prize

  • SEC Champion (32-2, 21-0)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #2/#3/#3
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +16.1
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #1

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. In the final minutes of basketball before the 2014 NCAA Tournament bracket was unveiled, Florida survived Kentucky to claim the SEC crown, complete their 21-game conference sweep, and keep alive a 26-game win streak. Quite a tidy going away package for the Gators, who will enter the Tournament as a #1 seed and among the two or three favorites to cut down the nets in Dallas. The one-point victory Sunday was only the fifth time this season that the Gators have won by three points or less – a testament to the workmanlike attitude that has extended this win streak time and time again.
  2. The Gators led the SEC in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Defensive weaknesses are hard to spot with the Gators, but despite the high overall level of offensive efficiency, there is a weak spot or two that opponents will seek to exploit. Florida’s free throw shooting is shaky (66.2% as a team, 295th nationally), and even primary ballhandlers Scotty Wilbekin (72%), Casey Prather (68%) and Kasey Hill (63%) are anything but sure things at the charity stripe. Three-point shooting isn’t a concern for Florida at first glance – they shoot 37% as a team, 73rd best in the country – but Wilbekin (58 3PM, 40%) and Michael Frazier (107 3PM, 46%) have combined to make over 70% of the team’s three-point field goals. The rest of the team shot just 27% from distance, so if an opponent can find a way to take away looks from either Wilbekin or Frazier – especially the latter, who is strictly a perimeter shooter – things could get pretty one-dimensional for the Gator offense.
  3. Florida is the perfect example of a team that used the entire season to grow into an elite squad. For much of November and December, Billy Donovan was just trying to keep proverbial head above water with his team, as pieces shifted in and out of the Gator lineup. Wilbekin, Prather, Dorian Finney-Smith, Kasey Hill, and Chris Walker all missed time for various reasons, but save for road losses at Wisconsin and Connecticut (and no shame in those, either), the Gators kept on winning. Prather grew into an unlikely All-American candidate, Wilbekin has staked his claim as the best point guard in America, and Frazier is now second to none when it comes to perimeter shooters. None of these things happen without one of the best coaches in the game pressing all the right buttons from the sideline, but Donovan has spent the last four months constructing a team poised for even greater things in the NCAA Tournament. And after winning 26 games in a row en route to a sweep of the SEC titles, that, my friends, is saying something.

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Rushed Reactions: #22 Michigan State 69, #8 Michigan 55

Posted by Walker Carey on March 16th, 2014

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Sunday’s Big Ten Tournament title game between Michigan and Michigan State in Indianapolis.

Three Key Takeaways.

MSU is Playing Like the Spartans We All Expected

MSU is Playing Like the Spartans We All Expected

  1. “THIS” version of Michigan State is very dangerous. Tom Izzo‘s squad was very popular Final Four pick in the preseason. As the season progressed, the Spartans lost their popularity due to a variety of injuries. Floor leader Keith Appling missed time. Standout scorer Gary Harris missed time. Versatile forward Branden Dawson missed time. Stretch big man Adreian Payne missed time. The question changed from, “Will Michigan State get to the Final Four?” to, “Will Michigan State ever get healthy?” The Spartans finally played with a full roster for the final three games of the regular season, but they only went 1-2 in those games. This prompted national pundits to question if the team will be able to shake off the rust in time to make a serious run in the postseason. Michigan State just may have answered that question this week, as it ripped off three relatively easy victories en route to the Big Ten Tournament title. As the NCAA Tournament is set to begin later this week, Michigan State finally appears to be the team that many thought it would be.
  2. Michigan’s offense was out of sorts all afternoon. The biggest factor in Michigan winning the regular season conference title by three game was its marvelous offensive attack. Sophomore guards Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert bursted onto the scene as two of the elite shot makers in the conference, sophomore forward Glenn Robinson III used his versatility and great athleticism to be a legitimate threat from both the inside and outside, and freshman point guard Derrick Walton Jr. showcased a natural ability to distribute the basketball. All four were thrown off their games Sunday afternoon, as Michigan State’s defense was tenacious from start to finish. The Wolverines finished with their second-lowest scoring output of the season and that can be majorly attributed to its shooting struggles all afternoon. Michigan finished shooting just 31.5% from the field and it could never get anything going from behind the three-point line, finishing at just 26.1% from distance. Every team goes through poor shooting games, but for a team that relies so much on its outside shooting, Michigan is going to need to make better adjustments when up against a tenacious defense if it wants to advance deep into the NCAA Tournament.
  3. These are two teams to keep an eye on in the NCAA Tournament. Michigan State is as talented as any team that will be in the Field of 68. Now that they are at full health, the Spartans will be a popular pick to advance deep into the bracket. While it did not play well Sunday afternoon, Michigan is still an extremely good team that won the regular season Big Ten title for a reason. This year’s NCAA Tournament seems like it is wide open and the two teams that played Sunday afternoon in Indianapolis each have a chance to – at the very least – make a run to the Final Four.

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Rushed Reactions: #22 Michigan State 83, #12 Wisconsin 75

Posted by Walker Carey on March 15th, 2014

rushedreactions

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday afternoon’s Big Ten Tournament semifinal between Michigan State and Wisconsin in Indianapolis.

Wisconsin Couldn't Complete the Comeback Attempt Today in Indy

Wisconsin Couldn’t Complete the Comeback Attempt Against Michigan State Today in Indy

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. Michigan State showed how dangerous its offense can be. The Spartans really made their offensive abilities known in this victory. Six Spartans finished in double-figures, led by senior big man Adreian Payne, who finished the game with 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting in only 17 minutes. The Spartans, as a team, were a hot shooting squad throughout the victory. They finished the afternoon at 56.9 percent from the field after shooting a sizzling 65.4 percent in the first half. Dangerous teams in the postseason receive great play from the point guard position and Michigan State received tremendous support from that position on Saturday. Starter Keith Appling and reserve Travis Trice combined for 21 points and 10 assists, while only committing one turnover. There has been a lot of talk all season about how that once Michigan State gets healthy, it will be a contender to cut down the nets in North Texas in early April. If the Spartans can string together several more offensive performances like Saturday, all that talk may have ultimately been warranted.
  2. Branden Dawson continues to impress in his return from injury. Dawson had a big night in Friday evening’s quarterfinal victory over Northwestern, as he finished with 16 points and nine rebounds. That strong performance carried over to Saturday afternoon, as the junior finished with 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting to go along with seven rebounds. Dawson had missed nine games due to a broken hand in the meat of the Big Ten schedule, but since his return at the beginning of the month, he has emerged as a very important player for the Spartans.
  3. Wisconsin’s inconsistent defense is troubling. In the Badgers’ 26-point victory over Minnesota on Friday night, their defense was terrific. Minnesota was held to just 57 total points on 32.8 percent shooting from the field. Bo Ryan‘s squad guarded with great intensity the other night and that was a major reason why it earned such a lopsided victory. Saturday against Michigan State was a different story though, as the Spartans were given open looks for much of the game and had very good success in converting those looks. The Spartans were able to build a 17-point halftime lead due to its scorching 65.4 percent shooting from the field in the opening 20 minutes. While its shooting percentage went down to 48 percent in the second half, Michigan State still was given many opportunities to increase its lead with little resistance from the Badger defense. To advance in the NCAA Tournament, you need to be consistently good on both ends of the court. That being said, Wisconsin is going to need to find a way to string together a stretch of solid defensive performances if it wants to advance far in the bracket.

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Big Ten Tournament: Friday Recap/Saturday Preview

Posted by Walker Carey on March 15th, 2014

With the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament in the books, we take a look at a few of the big takeaways from Friday, as well as storylines to keep in mind on Friday.

What went down on Friday:

The Top-Seeded Wolverines Survived an Upset Bid by Illinois Friday

The Top-Seeded Wolverines Survived an Upset Bid by Illinois Friday

  • Top-seeded Michigan survived a scare from a tenacious Illinois squad. The Wolverines saw a 13-point lead completely disappear before senior forward Jordan Morgan converted a layup with seven seconds left to give Michigan the 64-63 victory. The Wolverines were able to build their 13-point lead thanks to great assertiveness from sophomore Glenn Robinson III and the play-making ability of Big Ten Player of the Year, Nik Stauskas. The team’s fortunes, however, changed in the second half when Illinois dropped into a 2-3 zone that utterly frustrated Michigan throughout a majority of the second half.
  • Ohio State advanced to the semifinals with an epic 71-67 comeback victory over Nebraska. The Buckeyes trailed by 18 points with just over 13 minutes to play, but junior forward LaQuinton Ross and their suffocating defense took over and allowed Thad Matta’s squad to come all the way back to earn the victory. Senior guard Aaron Craft did not have the best game statistically, but he once again showed how valuable it is to have a confident, heady leader at the controls.
  • Wisconsin was very impressive in its 26-point mauling of a Minnesota team that could not find its way off the bubble. Senior guard Ben Brust turned in a career-best performance for the Badgers, finishing with a game-high 29 points. Bo Ryan’s squad also received a significant contribution from its bench, as guard Bronson Koenig and forward Nigel Hayes combined for 29 points. There have been questions all season about Wisconsin’s defense, but the Badgers were outstanding on that end of the court, limiting Minnesota to just 32.8 percent shooting for the game. Read the rest of this entry »
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The RTC All-Big Ten Team: Michigan State’s Gary Harris

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on March 12th, 2014

Next up on the countdown of the RTC All-Big Ten team is a sophomore with a silky smooth shot from beyond the arc: Michigan State’s Gary Harris. One of the questions surrounding the Spartans at the beginning of the season was whether they could manufacture enough offense when needed and Harris’s performance this season has affirmatively addressed that dilemma. As a freshman, he was a one-dimensional player who could nail the long-range shot effectively (41% 3FG), but as a sophomore, he has blossomed into an effective scorer that is just as dangerous off the dribble.

Gary Harris (right) is the second best player in the Big Ten.

Gary Harris (right) is the second best player in the Big Ten. (Getty)

Why Gary Harris is the second best player in the league: The simple answer to that question is that Harris is the best player on the second-best team in the Big Ten. Statistics such as 55.4% TS and 31.8% FT Rate show his prowess on the offensive end, but there is no metric that measures his durability on a team that has nursed injuries since January. Over the past two months, Adreian Payne, Keith Appling and Branden Dawson have all missed significant time, but Harris’ consistency kept the Spartans in contention for the Big Ten title. One or two off nights from the sophomore guard could have resulted in another loss or two, which would have dropped the Spartans down to the #5-#6 seed range for the upcoming NCAA Tournament. Taking almost 30 percent of the team’s total shot attempts and still managing a reasonable true shooting percentage shows his discipline as a scorer. In addition to his offensive contributions, Harris has established himself as the clear-cut go-to guy on Tom Izzo’s team — this distinction will provide clarity for a team that is still struggling to regain team chemistry because of a lack of continuity from the starting rotation.

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Key Questions For Michigan State at Ohio State Today

Posted by Alex Moscoso & Brendan Brody on March 9th, 2014

It’s the final weekend of the regular season and teams are either jockeying for seeding or trying to get on the right side of the bubble. Later this afternoon, Michigan State will travel to Ohio State and, with both teams clearly in the NCAA Tournament field already, this game will be about building momentum for the Big Ten Tournament and beyond. Once again, RTC Big Ten writers Alex Moscoso and Brendan Brody preview the game as they each ask one another a question about the today’s match-up.

Keith Appling and the Spartans' offense try to keep the momentum going against Ohio State on Sunday. (Leon Halip/Getty Images North America)

Keith Appling and the Spartans’ offense try to keep the momentum going against Ohio State on Sunday. (Leon Halip/Getty Images North America)

AM: In its last two games, Ohio State’s defense (#2 in KenPom) has underperformed against two inferior teams (Indiana and Penn State). Meanwhile, Michigan State’s offense (#18 in KenPom) has been inconsistent since the beginning of February. In the match-up between the Buckeyes’ defense vs the Spartans’ offense today, which comes out on top, and why?

BB: It’s hard to say whether Michigan State’s performance Thursday night against Iowa was simply the result of Iowa’s porous defense or a sign that the Spartans are once again fully healthy and clicking on all cylinders. Numbers like 1.26 points per possession, 58.3 percent shooting from the field, and 20 assists on 28 made fields goals, aren’t anything to take lightly, whether they were accomplished against the league’s third-worst defense in conference play or otherwise. Part of the problem for Ohio State in its two losses is that the Buckeyes let their opponents shoot 38.7 percent from three even though they forced an average of 17 turnovers. The Spartans hit 11 threes the first time these two teams played, and after witnessing Thursday’s offensive clinic, I think they’re going to get the best of the Ohio State defense. Thad Matta’s team wins on defense by eliminating the three, but Michigan State is a bad match-up because of the way they share the ball (11th in the country in assist rate), and how they can spread things out in transition with multiple shooters that can burn you. Kenny Kaminski, Travis Trice, Adreian Payne and Appling all shoot over 40 percent from distance for the season, and Gary Harris is 16-of-33 in his last four games from that distance. I think the Iowa game showed what everyone thought at the beginning of the season. Michigan State is about to go on a run, and Ohio State won’t stop them this afternoon.

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Big Ten M5: 03.07.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 7th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Indiana more than likely saw their already slim NCAA Tournament hopes dashed by losing to Nebraska 70-60 on Wednesday night. Despite some flashes of quality play in some of their impressive wins they have gotten at home, this has really been a puzzling team to figure out through most of the season. Mediocre is a strong word to use for a team that lost two NBA lottery picks and two other senior starters, yet still has a 17-13 record. Inconsistent and unpredictable might be more apt terms to describe the 2013-14 Hoosiers. Their poor non-conference schedule hasn’t done them any favors as far as their resume goes, and it’s also lead to a team not being prepared for Big Ten play.
  2. Minnesota unexpectedly is losing a player who started 23 of their 30 games this season. Oto Osenieks is ending his basketball career after it was determined that a knee injury that he’s had multiple surgeries on simply is too damaged for him to continue on. Joey King has taken over the starting power forward spot, so look for he and Charles Buggs to continue getting the majority of the minutes at that spot.
  3. Ohio State faces a crucial test Sunday afternoon when they take on Michigan State. The game is significant because it’s Senior Day for Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. But Shannon Scott says that it’s more important to get the win “to get (us) into the best situation we can for the tournament.” Scott also said in the interview that he likes his role coming off the bench due to the fact that he can “fit in where (he) can and figure out what the team needs at the time and try and do it.” With Keith Appling of Michigan State having his best game in quite some time last night against Iowa, the Buckeyes will need big efforts from both Craft and Scott on Sunday night to make Senior Day a memorable one.
  4. Michigan’s sophomore class- especially Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert, Glenn Robinson III, and the injured Mitch McGary- garner most of the headlines and publicity for the recently-crowned Big Ten regular season champions. But you can’t overlook the contributions of freshmen Derrick Walton Jr, and Zak Irvin. They both have showed much more consistency as the season has gone along, and Coach John Beilein believes their improvement has been the key to turning things around after a shaky non-conference part of their season. Both have had played really well and they have both blended in seamlessly as the season has gone along. Michigan has had some outstanding players make substantial jumps between their first and second seasons in Ann Arbor, and if this trend continues, Walton and Irvin will be Big Ten mainstays for as long as they are donning the maize and blue.
  5. Switching over to the other Michigan school in the league, Adreian Payne and Keith Appling played their last game in East Lansing for Michigan State last night when they beat Iowa 86-76. The pair are victims of the program’s past success, as they and fellow senior Dan Chapman will have been the first senior class under Tom Izzo to have not played in a Final Four. It hardly seems fair that many will view their time with the program to have been unsuccessful unless they advance four spots into the bracket without taking a loss. The Spartans took a small step toward that goal however by impressively beating the Hawkeyes. Appling looked to be much more comfortable, and if he really is healthy finally, this team can be just as good as everyone thought in the preseason.
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Two Key Questions for Iowa at Michigan State Tonight

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on March 6th, 2014

Michigan may have clinched the Big Ten, but Iowa‘s trip to Michigan State tonight has plenty of importance for Big Ten Tournament and NCAA seeding. The Hawkeyes are in a battle with Nebraska and Ohio State for their first top-four finish in conference play since they tied for fourth during the 2006-07 season. Michigan State, on the other hand, is trying to get some confidence with its entire lineup finally healthy. For both teams, it is an important contest in terms of momentum, so with that in mind, here are two key questions heading into tonight’s game:

Roy Devyn Marble and the Hawkeyes desperately need a win at Michigan State for NCAA Tournament seeding purposes (Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports).

Roy Devyn Marble and the Hawkeyes desperately need a win at Michigan State for NCAA Tournament seeding purposes (Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports).

1. Both Iowa and Michigan State have had skids recently (losing three of four with each winning versus Purdue), so which team needs this win more for confidence and NCAA Tournament seeding purposes?

Realistically both teams need this win, but Iowa probably needs it more than Sparty. The Hawkeyes ended their losing streak against Purdue, but it nearly blew a double-figure second half lead against the Boilermakers. Iowa is also on the verge of losing a first round bye in the Big Ten Tournament as well as seeding for the NCAA Tournament. Most prognosticators have Fran McCaffery’s group sitting in the #6-#7 range (RTC’s Daniel Evans has them as a #7 seed), so a win likely helps them avoid a fall to the challenging #8-#9 seed line and a potential second-round match-up with a #1 seed. It also gives them the confidence of another marquee win, something they have lacked with only one win against a current Top 25 team. Michigan State needs the win too, as it is battling for a top four protected seed in the NCAA Tournament, but with its lineup only recently becoming healthy, regaining chemistry for tournament play is of paramount importance. Everyone knows what a full Spartans squad can do and seed placement won’t really deter that potential if they start firing on all cylinders.

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Will Michigan State Ever be the Team We Thought It Could Be?

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 3rd, 2014

Branden Dawson’s return on Saturday was supposed to be the first positive step towards a full-strength resurgence for Michigan State, a “welcome back” moment for a bona-fide National Championship contender. Instead, the Spartans looked more like a fledgling team with a disorganized collection of talent than a veteran bunch ready to make a deep March run. “We didn’t play like a Michigan State team is supposed to play,” Tom Izzo said after the  53-46 home loss to Illinois. But with only a handful of games remaining before the stakes are significantly raised, the question has suddenly become two-fold for Izzo and his struggling group: Will they hit their peak before it’s too late? And—perhaps more ominous—is their peak even as high as first thought?

The concerns are piling up for Tom Izzo and the Spartans. (Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports)

The concerns are piling up for Tom Izzo and the Spartans. (Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports)

Despite his noticeable rust on the offensive end, Dawson’s first game back was actually encouraging in a lot of ways for the Spartans. The athletic junior seemed just as aggressive on the glass and tenacious on defense as he did before suffering the broken hand that kept him out a month. In 25 minutes of action, Dawson was energetic and unafraid, pulling down a team-high four offensive rebounds to go along with a pair of steals and a blocked shot—all-around pretty good, considering the long absence. The larger, more glaring concern was the play of Keith Appling; only recently back from an injury himself (wrist), the point guard remains nowhere near the player he was before the affliction. The Appling of old would confidently (and accurately) launch from behind the arc, explosively attack the basket, and knock down free throws when he earned trips to the line. It’s the reason he scored in double figures for seven straight games earlier this season and was in the conversation for Big Ten Player of the Year. But since his three-game hiatus in mid-February? The senior leader has attempted only three three-pointers, seldom penetrated the lane, and has gone just 2-for-8 from the charity stripe in 103 minutes of combined action. Among his misses were several potentially game-altering attempts against the Illini on Saturday that might have changed the outcome had they gone in. Whether it’s the lingering wrist injury or something else, Appling cannot continue to play at this level if the Spartans are going to make a run in the Big Ten and NCAA Tournament—he’s simply too important, both as a scoring option and a facilitator, to remain a non-factor.

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Three Thoughts as Michigan State Reamed Purdue

Posted by Walker Carey on February 21st, 2014

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Thursday night’s game between Michigan State and Purdue in West Lafayette.

Michigan State entered Thursday night’s game at Purdue in dire need of a victory. The Spartans had lost three of their last five games and were still struggling with the effects of injury bug. Tom Izzo’s squad also had to make sure that they did not fall a game behind Michigan in the loss column in the Big Ten standings before Sunday’s clash in Ann Arbor. The Spartans took the lead from the first possession Thursday night and never looked back. After scoring just 51 points in this past Sunday’s home loss to Nebraska, Michigan State exploded for 49 first half points and cruised to a 94-79 road victory to set up a monumental showdown Sunday at the Crisler Center.

The following are three thoughts from Thursday’s action:

Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo watches from the sideline as Michigan States Adreian Payne (5) puts up a three-point shot in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in West Lafayette, Ind. Michigan State defeated Purdue 94-79. Payne scored a game-high 23 points in the game. (AP)

Tom Izzo watches from the sideline as Adreian Payne puts up a three-point shot. Michigan State defeated Purdue 94-79. Payne scored 23 points in the game. (AP)

  1. When Gary Harris And Adreian Payne Are Firing On All Cylinders, Michigan State’s Offense Is Nearly Impossible To Contain. Harris has struggled with inconsistency recently in Big Ten play and Payne missed seven games with a foot injury, but both players displayed their standout ability Thursday. After just a 5-of-15 shooting performance in the loss to Nebraska, Harris was in the zone all evening against Purdue, finishing with 25 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the field and 6-of-9 from behind the three-point line. When Harris was not lighting up Purdue, it was Payne doing the honors. The senior big man finished with 23 points on 8-of-14 shooting and displayed his versatility with a 4-of-8 performance from behind the three-point line. Harris and Payne are not only Michigan State’s most talented players, they are two of the most talented players in the Big Ten. Their spectacular outings Thursday in West Lafayette showed just how dominant the Spartans’ offense can be on a given night. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten Award Spotlight: Does Denzel Valentine Deserve Recognition?

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 20th, 2014

The phrase “glue guy” is used almost to the point of it being a cliche. It’s thrown around by announcers almost every game to describe players, many of whom simply aren’t very good or have much of a lasting impact. Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine has been neither of those things this season: He’s been very good in his sophomore campaign, and he has made a significant and necessary impact for the 21-5 Spartans. He’s been the almost-literal definition of a glue guy, as he’s one of only two Michigan State players to have played in all 26 games during an injury-riddled season for a team that still has a chance to make the Final Four in Arlington and cut down the nets. But has he done enough to merit all-Big Ten consideration?

Denzel Valentine has been stuffing the stat sheet all season long for Michigan State. (Eric Gay, AP)

Denzel Valentine has been stuffing the stat sheet all season long for Michigan State. (Eric Gay, AP)

Before laying out the case statistically for Valentine and his impact, here’s a comparison to consider:

  • Player A: 25.5 MPG, 9.9 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.9 BPG
  • Player B: 29.0 MPG, 7.8 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.4 BPG

Player A is Draymond Green’s sophomore numbers, and player B is Denzel Valentine’s sophomore numbers. As you can see, they aren’t all that different. Green played more out of the post, but both players have filled similar roles early in their careers. Neither were asked to score, but they were both counted on by Tom Izzo to distribute the ball, hit the glass, and defend their butts off. Green was named to the all-Big Ten third team in his sophomore season, so it’s not all that far-fetched that Valentine would earn similar recognition this season. Consider his impact: He’s currently the only player to rank in the league’s top 10 in both rebounds and assists; he’s in the top 20 in steals (13th); and he’s fifth with a 2:1 assist to turnover rate. Whether his numbers are a bit inflated because of how many players Michigan State has had injured is irrelevant — his level of production is still quite solid.

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