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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Key Questions for Michigan State at Wisconsin

Posted by Alex Moscoso and Brendan Brody on February 9th, 2014

Michigan State‘s visit to Wisconsin today might have been a possible match-up of the top two Big Ten teams a few weeks ago. Now, it’s a tale of two different teams. While the Spartans sit atop the league standings, the Badgers has lost five of their last seven and are hoping to avoid dipping below .500 in the conference. Big Ten microsite writers Alex Moscoso and Brendan Brody ask each other questions about this match-up in order to preview what may happen when they take the court.

Sam Dekker and the Badgers have need a big win against Michigan State to stop the bleeding. (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

Sam Dekker and the Badgers need a big win to stop the bleeding. (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

AM: The Spartan’s offense stalled against Georgetown without Adreian Payne and Brandon Dawsen. On Sunday, Dawsen will be out, but Payne will be back in. Will the return of Payne be enough to get this offense back on track and put numbers up against the Badgers?

BB: It’s gotten to the point now where we really don’t know what roster the Spartans will have on a game-by-game basis. Just when they get Payne back, they decide to sit Keith Appling on Thursday night because of his nagging wrist injury. Even without their floor general, they still shot 12-23 from behind the arc against Penn State. Regardless of whether or not Appling plays Sunday, there’s no indication that Sparty won’t put points on the board against Wisconsin. The three-point shooting won’t be there like that every game obviously, but Payne and Matt Costello will be able to get plenty of points in the paint against a Badger unit that struggles to guard inside. In their last seven games, Wisconsin has allowed 51.5 % shooting on two-pointers. Payne will get more comfortable in his second game back, and Appling or Travis Trice should be able to get in the lane like a lot of point guards have been able to do recently against the Badgers.

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Big Ten M5: 02.07.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 7th, 2014

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  1. Everyone knows about Adreian Payne the basketball player, but unless you are a regular viewer of the BTN show “The Journey,” you may not know the story of his relationship with 8-year-old cancer patient Lacey Holsworth. He met her when he and his Michigan State teammates went on a hospital visit, and they’ve remained friends and have been a constant source of motivation for each other. In the wake of news that Lacey’s cancer has unfortunately returned, Bleacher Report’s Jason King does a tremendous job tracing their special bond and some of the off-the-court tragedies Payne has overcome to become a potential first-round draft pick.
  2. Minnesota has struggled defensively all season long, and it’s worth wondering whether a switch to man-to-man on a permanent basis might be a cure for what ails them on that side of the ball. On one side, the zone can be effective because there simply aren’t very many teams in the conference that consistently make teams pay from the outside. On the other side however, the Gopher man-to-man helped them have a much better second half defensively against Purdue. Playing man would allow Deandre Mathiue and Austin Hollins to potentially get more steals and allow the team to get easy buckets in transition. Either way, they can’t allow 23 offensive rebounds like they did against Purdue if they want to finish above .500 in league play.
  3. Mike Tyson quotes should be taken with grain of salt, but one of his more famous ones applied to Nebraska and their efforts in their 79-50 loss to Michigan on Wednesday night. “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth,” can easily be applicable to how quickly Michigan came out and leveled the Huskers with hay-makers to the tune of 9 made three pointers in the first half. This result reinforces the fact that Nebraska cannot really be taken seriously until they get a quality road win, or just a road win in general. They get another chance Saturday when they travel to Northwestern.
  4. Tim Frazier is the first name people generally think of when they think Penn State basketball. But the contributions of DJ Newbill, especially during their three game winning streak shows that Newbill could be equally, if not more important to the team. After averaging only 8 points per game in his first three Big Ten games, Newbill has upped that mark to 19.7 points per game in their last six games, and 20 points per game in their last three wins. He also does a nice job on the glass despite being only 6’4″. It will be interesting to see where Frazier and Newbill end up once post-season honors are announced.
  5. Thursday means another edition of ESPN releasing Joe Lunardi’s latest Bracketology predictions. The most interesting takeaway from this edition is that it does nothing to solve the question about which conference is the best. If you were to only use the amount of NCAA tournament teams per conference to figure that question out, you would be greeted with a four-way tie at the top. The ACC, Pac-12, Big 12, and the Big Ten all have six teams in his field right now. Minnesota is the lowest seeded team right now for the league, with Indiana lurking as the third team in his “first four out” category.
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Morning Five: 02.07.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on February 7th, 2014

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  1. If you have watched many Michigan State games this season you have probably heard about the friendship that Adreian Payne has developed with Lacey Holsworth, an eight-year-old who is being treated for a neuroblastoma. Jason King has a phenomenal story on not only the friendship that Payne and Holsworth have developed, but also the obstacles that Payne has overcome to get to where he is today. Outside of the stories regarding Payne and Holsworth our favorite part of the column is how Payne kept John Calipari waiting for an hour because Payne wanted to finish his tutoring session after Calipari had taken a helicopter there to meet him during Payne’s recruitment.
  2. We are nearly a month away from the NCAA Tournament, but we can already say that Creighton will be one of the most intriguing teams in the field. Not only do they have the National Player of the Year in Doug McDermott (you can already send him all the trophies and plaques) and one of the most ridiculous deep threats in the country in Ethan Wragge, but they also have one of the worst defenses among contenders in the country, which means they should be playing highly entertaining games. Now it appears that they may be on the verge of getting back starting point guard Grant Gibbs, who has been out since January 7 after injuring his knee. According to Gibbs there is a chance that he could play as early as tonight against DePaul. The addition of Gibbs, who was averaging 6.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game, would make the Bluejays an even more dangerous team in March.
  3. Tarik Black may not be producing the kind of numbers that one would have expected based on the attention his transfer to Kansas generated (for the record, we questioned Black’s utility when schools were chasing after him), but it appears that he has caught the eyes of some individuals as a pro prospect. Perhaps not surprisingly those individuals–Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in particular–are looking at Black as a potential NFL tight end. Given Black’s size and the success of former college basketball players Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, and Jimmy Graham (and Black’s lack of production on the basketball court) it certainly seems like a feasible option. We will be interested to see how many moderately successful college basketball players decide to pursue this path rather than head overseas to play professional basketball.
  4. Every week Luke Winn’s Power Rankings are filled with a veritable smorgasbord of useful statistics, but usually one or two jump out at us as particularly interesting. This week’s edition is no different as the stat that jumps out at us is how dependent Syracuse is on Trevor Cooney for its three-point shooting as he accounts for 57.1% of the team’s made three-pointers. Only Marcus Paige at North Carolina accounts for a higher percentage at 57.6%. As Winn notes it is risky to rely so heavily on one individual for three-point shooting and it could end up being one of Syracuse’s weaknesses in March that many have overlooked thus far.
  5. On our podcast a few weeks ago Ken Pomeroy talked about the growing influence of advanced metrics at the NBA level and how it is so far beyond anything we saw at the college level. As Kirk Goldberry details these metrics are promising to analyze every move a player makes on the court. If what Goldberry says is true this movement should revolutionize how we analyze players in much the same way that advanced metrics have revolutionized the way baseball players are evaluated. However, as Pomeroy also noted college basketball is pretty far behind the NBA so it will be a long time before we see it at the college level.
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A Closer Look at Michigan State’s Game Without Adreian Payne & Branden Dawson

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on February 6th, 2014

According to the East Lansing Journal, Michigan State’s senior forward, Adreian Payne, will play against Penn State on Thursday night. After missing seven games with a foot injury, his return couldn’t come at a better time for the injury-riddled Spartans, who are also playing without their leading rebounder, Branden Dawson. Dawson will be out for at least more three weeks with a broken hand. Losing two out of three games without two of their best players isn’t completely surprising, but let’s take a closer look at why Tom Izzo needs at least one of them to be healthy by March to maintain any aspirations of contending for the national title. Specifically, let’s examine three statistics that generally show how Dawson and Payne’s absence has affected the Spartans on both ends of the floor.

Michigan State PPP

Per possession, the points allowed and the points scored give us an indication of Michigan State’s efficiency over the last three games. So far this season, the Spartans have only allowed 0.96 points per possession (PPP), and without the forwards, they have allowed, on average, a whopping 1.1 PPP on defense. Getting out-rebounded in each game will do that to you because offensive rebounds will lead to significantly easier buckets than jumpers. Even Denzel Valentine, one of the better rebounding guards in the country, isn’t enough to fill Dawson’s shoes because he is too busy chasing guards around the screens to come back to the defensive glass on every possession. Losing the rebounding edge is an obvious reason for the drop-off in defensive performance, but the Spartans have also been weak on transition defense because they continue to attack the offensive glass, despite a shorter lineup. This metric is tough to measure with the data available, but generally speaking, sending your forwards to the offensive glass on every possession means that the guards will need to run back immediately to cover any transition plays. That’s one area where they specifically miss Dawson because he would often sneak into the paint off the baseline to grab offensive rebounds. And when he did, there was no reason for Valentine to attack the glass, allowing him to run back down the floor to prevent any transition opportunities. Without Dawson and Payne, the Spartans have to change their philosophy of consistently picking up offensive boards – a change that’s tougher to implement because such a move would reduce their overall energy on the court.

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Big Ten M5: 02.04.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 4th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Last week started off poorly for Ohio State with a loss to Penn State, but they managed to end on a positive note with a win at Wisconsin. Despite that, the Buckeyes found themselves unranked in this week’s AP Top 25 for the first time since 2010. This news highlights a fall from grace that has led the Buckeyes to a sub-.500 record in league play. They’ve been hurting themselves with an impotent offense, which ranks 163rd in points per game and 118th in offensive efficiency. The Buckeyes have a tough road game at Iowa tonight, but there is some reprieve after that as they are still favored to win all of their remaining games, according to KenPom. Ohio State has gotten itself into this mess, though, by losing games it was supposed to win all along. So a return to the Top 25 this season is certainly no guarantee.
  2. Up until Saturday, Michigan State had been getting by well enough without Adreian Payne in the lineup. But when the Spartans faced a sinking and equally depleted Georgetown squad at Madison Square Garden, they left Manhattan with their second loss in three games. Now, Tom Izzo is hoping to have his star big man back for Thursday night’s game against Penn State. He believes Payne will play at least some minutes, but how many will depend on how the senior is feeling in a couple of days. The Spartans need Payne back in a big way since losing wing Branden Dawson last week. Without either of the bigs available, Michigan State relied on making threes to get back in the game against the Hoyas. Obviously, that did not work out very well.
  3. They may be tied for first place in the Big Ten, but John Beilein and his Wolverines are not taking their game versus Nebraska on Wednesday night for granted. Michigan’s head coach has been paying attention to what’s happening in Lincoln, and he believes no team has been playing better in conference play than the Cornhuskers. Beilein is wise to be cautious, as his team is coming off its first conference loss to Indiana while the Cornhuskers have won two straight games and three of its last four. Michigan is battling for a Big Ten title, but Tim Miles is hungry to create momentum as he rebuilds the program. After a one-point win in Lincoln last month, Beilein certainly won’t be caught off guard.
  4. It’s been an up-and-down season for many teams in the Big Ten, and no squad may reflect that notion better than Indiana. After a slow start, the Hoosiers registered a huge win against a then-undefeated Wisconsin team, and at the time it seemed like Indiana may have been turning things around. But the Hoosiers then followed up that victory with three losses in its next four games. Last weekend, though, Tom Crean’s group registered its second big win of conference play by beating Michigan for its first loss in the Big Ten. Now, Indiana has its confidence back as it spends the week preparing to battle Minnesota on Saturday. This time the Hoosiers hope to continue the momentum gained over the weekend with the goal of pushing forward to another NCAA Tournament bid.
  5. While many teams in the conference have experienced bouts of disappointment in conference play, Wisconsin may being suffering through one of its worst stretches in the Bo Ryan era. Just a few short weeks ago, the Badgers were 16-0 and hoping to lock up a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Now, Wisconsin has lost five of its last six games and — what is most surprising of all — they have dropped their last three home games. Under Ryan, the Badgers were close to unbeatable at the Kohl Center, logging only 18 losses in over a decade there. They will have a good chance to get a much needed win at last-place Illinois on Tuesday night, but if they want to reverse the losing trend at home, they’ll have to do it against Michigan State on Sunday. With the way their defense has been playing lately, that will not be an easy task.
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Big Ten M5: 01.30.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on January 30th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Michigan State is obviously a better team with Adreian Payne on the floor. The big man had a realistic chance to win the Big Ten Player of the Year award given the way he started the season, but he hasn’t played in the Spartans’ last six games. With his pain still lingering, Tom Izzo has had to defend his cautious approach to playing his talented big man. It can’t be easy to see his team play without Payne, but let’s keep in mind that this Michigan State team has higher aspirations than just winning the conference. Going without him right now to avoid further aggravation of the injury seems well worth it if Payne will be (hopefully) 100 percent come NCAA Tournament time.
  2. Yogi Ferrell has been impressive. The Indiana sophomore went from role player to star and has seen his scoring shoot up quite a bit this season. His ability to stay at that level as Big Ten play wears on is just as important if Indiana is to go from bubble team back to the NCAA Tournament. Ferrell is the clear leader of a young team and has done admirably in guiding an up-and-down Hoosiers squad. He is also the only player who can routinely hit outside shots to help open things up for Noah Vonleh inside. With a softer part of the schedule coming up for Indiana, look for Ferrell to really dominate.
  3. It wasn’t the player who we thought would be the dominant one for Michigan. In fact, he wasn’t even one of the two players expected to be the star for the Wolverines. Yet, Nik Stauskas is learning to adjust on the fly to becoming the opponent’s top defensive focus. The strategies to try and stop him have almost all been ineffective, as Stauskas is the biggest reason Michigan has gone from what appeared to be a lost season with the Mitch McGary injury to sitting in first place by itself nearly halfway through conference play. It’s been an impressive run and one Stauskas will need to continue if his team is to stay on top .
  4. It doesn’t get much better than how Iowa had it coming into Tuesday night’s game against Michigan State. The Spartans were without Payne and wing player Branden Dawson. It was in front of a sold out and raucous home crowd. Yet Iowa could not close the deal, and the loss represents a huge blown opportunity. The defeat really sets the Hawkeyes back now, because Fran McCaffery’s group dropped to three games back of first place as result. It’s no wonder the head coach called them out for not being tough enough. If they are going to have any shot at winning the Big Ten title, they can’t afford any more home losses this season.
  5. It is never an easy decision for a coach when a player picks up multiple early fouls. In the last two games, Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan has had to deal with this decision regarding his interior star, Frank Kaminsky. If the decision were up to Kaminsky, he’d stay in the game despite the foul trouble. It is no surprise to hear a player wants to play no matter the circumstance, but the key issue in these coaching decisions is always the game situation. In the Badgers’ last game against Purdue, Wisconsin was able to utilize an offense/defense substitution pattern with Kaminsky. It also helped that the team never trailed so it never became imminent to have its better offensive player in the game. It will be interesting to see what happens when Kaminsky is in foul trouble, though, and the Badgers are losing.
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Two Key Questions as Michigan State Visits Iowa Tonight

Posted by Jonathan Batuello and Deepak Jayanti on January 28th, 2014

Michigan State took its first conference loss as it tries to overcome numerous key injuries. Iowa has proven it is one of the best teams in the Big Ten. Now the second and third place teams in the conference are set to square off this evening in Iowa City. Two of our Big Ten writers – Deepak Jayanti and Jonathan Batuello – address a couple of key questions heading into the battle for second place in the Big Ten standings.

Devyn Marble

Devyn Marble Looks to Lead the Hawkeyes to Second Place in the Big Ten

With Branden Dawson out and Adreian Payne’s status still uncertain, how does Michigan State limit the Hawkeyes’ rebounding – where it averages 10 more a game than its opponents – and their inside play?

DJ: They can’t limit Iowa’s rebounding without Payne and Dawson in the lineup. Even with one of those two forwards, they’d have to put up a fight to contain the multiple big men that Fran McCaffery uses in the paint. Aaron White, Gabrial Olaseni and Melsahn Basabe are not only good rebounders, but they are also very nimble around the paint – they move very well for their size. It is unfortunate that we can’t see the Spartans’ bigs battle this Iowa front line because the Hawkeyes’ depth keeps their less talented big men fresh. And I am not even including Adam Woodbury, a seven-footer, in this discussion. The best case scenario for the Spartans tonight is to limit the Hawkeyes’ offensive boards to five; otherwise, it will be very tough for them to give up too many easy baskets and still outscore the Hawkeyes on the other end. Expect to see Denzel Valentine play over 30 minutes because his directive would be to hit the defensive glass on every possession to make up for the absence of Dawson.

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Big Ten M5: 01.28.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 28th, 2014

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  1. At this point it’s really not news when Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo says that injured senior Adreian Payne is unlikely to play before seemingly every contest. Izzo stated on Monday morning that “he [Payne] ran yesterday a little bit more, with more weight on it, but he’s very doubtful for tomorrow,” when asked about his big man’s injury. You have to give Izzo credit for not jeopardizing Payne’s future earnings by rushing him back into the lineup too quickly. You also have to wonder how many other coaches would have had the confidence to hold a star player out knowing that there’s a bigger prize to win starting in March. Sparty certainly has as good of a shot at winning the national championship as any team in America when playing at full strength.
  2. Despite the likelihood of not playing again this season due to back surgery, Mitch McGary is still helping Michigan in every way he can. McGary was seen on the sidelines providing motivation to his teammates any way he can. A recent example was picked up by the ESPN cameras on Saturday in East Lansing, where McGary was shown holding a whiteboard that said “win the game” during a timeout. He’s also been a great resource for Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford, as he can talk the same language with his fellow post teammates and give them constructive feedback from the sidelines.
  3. Indiana showed some signs of turning the corner in its win against Illinois on Sunday. The Hoosiers are far from a polished offensive machine, but they’ve continued to pound teams on the boards regardless. Some of the younger players are also starting to play better, such as freshman Stanford Robinson, who played 29 productive minutes against the Illini. An NCAA berth might still be a stretch, but continued improvement over the season’s last month will go a long way toward getting the program back to elite status in the future.
  4. LaQuinton Ross has taken a good chunk of the blame for Ohio State’s up-and-down season, but Lenzelle Smith Jr. has also been terribly inconsistent with his shooting. After starting B1G play by shooting an abysmal 16 percent from behind the arc, he played much better in the Buckeyes’ recent win against Illinois, hitting 4-of-8 from downtown after going 7-of-31 in the nine games before that. If Ohio State could ever get Ross and Smith going at the same time, they could still become a factor in the Big Ten race.
  5. Iowa could move to a half-game back of Michigan State when the two teams clash tonight in Iowa City. This is one of the biggest Iowa home games in years, as the Hawkeyes have become a player on the national scene for the first time in a decade or longer. Fran McCaffery’s team has already beaten Xavier and Ohio State in a pair of resume-enhancing win, erasing the memory of an 0-7 mark against Top 25 squads last year. With a limping Spartans team coming to town tonight, Iowa needs to capitalize on the fact they are playing the game on their home court against a team at less than full strength.
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Key Questions Heading into Michigan vs. Michigan State Today

Posted by Brendan Brody & Alex Moscoso on January 25th, 2014

Well, this is it. The final two undefeated teams in conference play will go head-to-head tonight in East Lansing. The Spartans will have the advantage of playing in the raucous Breslin Center, but they’ll be shorthanded since both Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson are expected to miss the game. Michigan, on the other hand, doesn’t have Mitch McGary to man the post, but Nik Stauskus has been red hot offensively and the team appear to have moved on from its early season troubles. Two of our Big Ten microsite writers, Brendan Brody and Alex Moscoso, tackle the big questions headed into the game.

All eyes are on the Big Ten this weekend, as Michigan and Michigan State face off for first place in the league.

All eyes are on the Big Ten this weekend, as Michigan and Michigan State face off for first place in the league.

Michigan State is a top 10 defensive unit but their two best defensive players (Dawson and Payne) are likely to be out for the game. Michigan, on the other hand, is an elite offensive team. Will the Spartans be able to slow down the Wolverines given their injuries?

BB: The Michigan offense has been really impressive lately, and Michigan State might have had problems slowing them down even with Dawson and Payne in uniform tonight. Without those two seeing action, I just don’t know how they can hinder the Wolverines from scoring essentially whenever they want. Stauskas has been the best player in the conference over the last several weeks, but this team has much more weaponry than their sophomore assassin to call upon. Caris LeVert and/or Glenn Robinson III should have a huge advantage as the Spartans are going to have to use either a small guard like Travis Trice or with some combination of Kenny Kaminski/Russell Byrd to defend them. Big men like Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford aren’t strong offensively, but everyone else that gets significant playing time can score the ball from a multitude of different spots on the floor. Unless they go into some horrific shooting funk where they can’t make anything, Michigan will not be slowed down offensively tonight.

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Big Ten M5: 01.23.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on January 23rd, 2014

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  1. When people think of Big Ten basketball, most tend to associate the league with defense, ugly play and low-scoring games. Northwestern has certainly gotten that formula down pat lately. In its last four games — including its double-overtime victory over Purdue — the Wildcats have played ugly and won three of them. It’s quite the change from earlier in the year, as Northwestern all of a sudden has a chance to push for a .500 overall record and a possible NIT berth. Chris Collins came to Evanston wanting to build a defensive-oriented squad and this team is starting to buy in and take on that identity. Its brutal offense may still be lacking, but if Northwestern can limit possessions and hold every team to under 60 points, it has a chance to make some kind of a postseason tournament this year. Would anyone have predicted that just a few short weeks ago?
  2. It is without question that Michigan State is a better team with Adreian Payne on the floor. Despite not playing in the last four games and remaining unbeaten in league play, Tom Izzo still has a tough decision to make on Saturday. With first place in the conference on the line, Sparty hosts Michigan and Izzo does not yet know whether Payne will play. This obviously can’t be an easy decision, but even a slightly hobbled Payne would be huge for the team. The biggest issue is the potential risk involved — if Payne plays and further aggravates the injury, how big of a blow could that be for a team aspiring to win not only a Big Ten title but a national championship?
  3. This wasn’t the start Indiana wanted to its Big Ten conference season. The Hoosiers now sit at 2-4, but that includes games against three teams that were ranked in the top five at the time. Indiana only faces two more current top 10 team in the rest of the conference season (at home against Iowa; away against Wisconsin) so the push for the NCAA Tournament is on. The Hoosiers likely would not be invited as of today, so it can’t afford to lose too many more games. The positive of not playing as many elite teams is obvious in that wins will be easier to come by; the drawback, of course, is that the chance for another marquee win is also diminished.
  4. Richard Pitino has had plenty of experience with big-time programs, but his inaugural Big Ten experience has been  exceptional for the first-year Minnesota head coach. The quotes in the story bring an interesting perspective on the league and how it compares to other conferences. He highlights how Big Ten arenas create a unique experience: “Not every place had home courts like Iowa had, like Nebraska had last night against Ohio State, or like we have. These are the best home courts in all of college basketball.” The arena experience is certainly something that gives additional credence to the idea that the Big Ten is one of the toughest conferences to win in all of college basketball.
  5. It was unreasonable to think Nebraska would go winless in the Big Ten this season. The Cornhuskers had been close in nearly every game to start the conference season, but nobody saw its first victory coming against the likes of Ohio State as it did on Monday night. Tim Miles’ team sprung the upset to land its first win against the Buckeyes since Thad Matta got to Columbus 10 years ago. It did so with strong inside play and contributions from nearly the entire team, which was especially prevalent on the foul line as the Cornhuskers went 20-of-26 there. With all the close losses and a big confidence-building win over the Buckeyes, don’t be surprised if Nebraska pulls another big upset before the conference season is over. Minnesota and Indiana will both visit Lincoln in the coming week.
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