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


  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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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


  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


  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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