Three Takeaways from Michigan State’s Champions Classic Performance

Posted by Max Jakubowski on November 13th, 2013

Youth or experience? It was the key question posed going into Tuesday night’s showdown between Michigan State and Kentucky, and the Spartans’ experience won out after holding on for a 78-74 win over Kentucky. The Spartans will presumably be the new #1 in the polls next week, but before that, here are a few takeaways from the huge Michigan State win:

Gary Harris knows his Spartans are the new number one.

Gary Harris knows his Spartans are the new number one.

  • Michigan State will only go as far as its point guard play this season, and boy, did Keith Appling silence the critics with an incredible stat line of 22 points, seven assists, seven rebounds, four steals, and only three turnovers. Appling has been known to have turnover issues and a showing like last night will go a long way to raising the senior ‘s confidence with the ball and running the team effectively. Appling’s backcourt mate Gary Harris also contributed a huge 15-point first half performance. Along with the combined 42 points from the two Michigan State guards, both were active in intercepting the passing lanes of Kentucky and causing a total of 17 turnovers. After Kentucky had tied the game with 4:48 left, Appling hit a huge three from the corner and then Harris stole the ball and finished with a layup to put MSU up for good. Guard play in March wins championships, and if Appling and Harris can continue to make major plays like those, Tom Izzo’s squad has as good a chance as any team to make it to Dallas for the Final Four.

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2013-14 RTC Class Schedule: Michigan State Spartans

Posted by BHayes on September 6th, 2013

Bennet Hayes is an RTC columnist. He can be reached @HoopsTraveler. Periodically throughout the preseason, RTC will take an in-depth look at the schedules of some of the more prominent teams in college basketball.

Watch out for Sparty in 2013-14. Tom Izzo returns nearly every key contributor from his Sweet 16 squad of a year ago, with only bruising big man Derrick Nix since departed. More good news for East Lansing’s finest: the Big Ten shouldn’t prove quite as challenging as it did last season as fellow top-four finishers Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio State all suffered major personnel losses in the offseason. That may mean some turnover at the top, especially with a number of teams in the bottom half of the conference looking improved from a season ago. So, sure – you can expect a little reshuffling at the top of the Big Ten. But with the returns of Keith Appling, Gary Harris, and Adreian Payne (among others) to East Lansing, you should also feel pretty safe in believing that Sparty will be right where they always are come March – in the hunt for a Big Ten title, preparing themselves for a sustained Tournament push.

The Emergence Of Spartan Big Man Adreian Payne Makes Michigan State A Scary Team

The Emergence Of Spartan Big Man Adreian Payne Makes Michigan State A Scary Team (Getty Images)

  • Team Outlook: Despite the arrival of a relatively underwhelming freshmen class – neither center Gavin Schilling nor shooting guard Alvin Ellis has the look of a minute-eating freshman, Tom Izzo’s cupboard is fully stocked. The backcourt features the Spartan’s two top scorers from a year ago in Keith Appling (13.4 PPG, 3.3 APG) and Gary Harris (12.9 PPG, 41% 3PT). Both battled nagging injuries throughout last winter, so an offseason of rest and rehabilitation may have been just what the Spartans needed although Harris appears to have suffered a temporary setback with a sprained ankle that will keep him out until at least the start of practice. With another year under their belt and improved health (knock on wood), there should be an expectation of increased, or at least more efficient, contributions from the duo. The third centerpiece of this Spartan club is center Adreian Payne, who broke out in his sophomore season posting season averages of 10.5 PPG, 7.6 RPG, and 1.3 BPG as the big man even showed an unexpectedly refined touch from deep. After only attempting two three-pointers in his first season in East Lansing, Payne went 16-42 from beyond the stripe last season, giving Izzo (and NBA scouts) hope that he might progress even further here in year three. Branden Dawson (8.9 PPG and 5.9 RPG) is the fourth Spartan returning starter, while versatile sophomore Denzel Valentine (5.0 PPG and 4.1 RPG) would seem like the top candidate to occupy the starting slot left open by the departure of Nix, an insertion that would necessitate a slide to the power forward position for Dawson. Sophomore Travis Trice (4.8 PPG, 1.9 APG) should operate as a capable backup for Appling at the point, but Tom Izzo will have decisions to make in rounding out the bench rotation beyond Trice. Matt Costello and Alex Gauna only averaged about six minutes per game each a season ago, but both could be thrust into larger roles this time around. Junior Russell Byrd and the freshman Schilling may also be options for Izzo in his quest to sort out the frontcourt rotation, as he seeks to at least partially replace the physicality and production that Nix brought to the table last season. Payne and Dawson should take care of plenty of that by themselves, and let’s also remember that this is Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans – if you can’t rebound you don’t see the floor, so expect the old coach to find some tough role players somewhere on the roster. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten M5: 12.03.12 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on December 3rd, 2012

  1. Great coaches don’t rest easy even after a 27-point blowout against a mid-major team. Ohio State beat Northern Kentucky 70-43 but Thad Matta is still concerned about their cohesiveness on the offensive end. Sophomore wing Laquinton Ross played 29 minutes and scored a career high 22 points along with eight rebounds, but Matta didn’t see enough “fluidity” in their transition offense and hopes to improve that by the end of December. The Buckeyes play seven homes games this month which should help them tie up a lot of loose ends and establish their rotation before the conference season begins. Ross and fellow sophomore Sam Thompson will continue to see more playing time because the small forward spot in the starting rotation is open for either of them based on their performance.
  2. Speaking of players who are trying to establish their identity on their team, sophomore forward Alex Gauna has really impressed Tom Izzo over the first few weeks of the season. Gauna has been used some in the pick-and-pop type of plays but he has been working on his rebounding during practice. Even though he might not play more than 10-12 minutes per game this season, he provides much-needed depth for Izzo along the front line if Adreian Payne or Derrick Nix get into foul trouble. Nix usually does not play more than 30 minutes per game, so Gauna’s improvement gives Izzo more options if he continues to improve different facets of his game. Gauna has the size (6’9″, 245 lbs) to become an integral part of Izzo’s rotation especially if he continues to show his commitment to defense.
  3. Elliott Eliason is another big man who could be a big factor for his team, the Minnesota Gophers. The starting center is not expected to spearhead the Gophers’ offense by any means but he has shown that he can provide stability in the paint and finish around the basket. Even though it is only a matter of time before he takes a backseat to star forward Trevor Mbakwe, Eliason has shown signs of improvement offensively and that might be enough for Tubby Smith to keep him in the rotation. The 7’0″ center lost 10 pounds over the offseason and has been defending the paint fairly well. Rodney Williams is another forward option but he doesn’t have the size to defend true power forwards during conference play, therefore Eliason and Mbakwe could see some minutes together when they play teams with great size in the paint.
  4. Michigan head coach John Beilein has his designated three-point gunner in freshman guard Nik Stauskas. Beilein moved him into the starting rotation against Bradley and it appears that senior guard Matt Vogrich might be coming off the bench for rest of the season. Stauskas has averaged 14 PPG this year and continued his hot shooting against Bradley by scoring 22 points and hitting 4-of-5 shots from beyond the arc. He is shooting 62% from the perimeter and his commitment to defense has convinced Beilein to insert him into the starting lineup. As defenses collapse on Tim Hardaway Jr. or Trey Burke on their drives to the basket, Stauskas will continue to see great looks if he consistently moves into the available openings on those possessions.
  5. Illinois head coach John Groce strongly believes in positive encouragement and that could be one of the major reasons for the Illini’s unbeaten record after the first three weeks of basketball. After a 15-3 start last season, the Illini finished the season with just a 17-15 overall record which of course led to the firing of Bruce Weber. Many fans believe that Weber lost control of his team as the players lost confidence in themselves and his ability to lead them. But Groce has picked up those pieces and his “upbeat approach” has instilled new life into seniors Tyler Griffey, Brandon Paul and D.J.Richardson. The Illini guards have the green light to pull the trigger in transition and continue to push the tempo with some freedom in the offense. But there is a drawback to that approach, as point guard Tracy Abrams shows in that he has averaged 3.4 turnovers per game so far this season. Abrams was on the bench during the last two Illinois games during crunch time.
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Four Thoughts on Michigan State vs. Kansas…

Posted by jnowak on November 14th, 2012

With a 67-64 win against No. 4 Kansas in the Champions Classic in Atlanta on Tuesday night, No. 8 Michigan State avoided starting consecutive seasons 0-2 for the first time since the first two years of Spartan basketball (1899 and 1900). Now, after a grueling five days that included two games on a national stage — on Friday at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany and Tuesday at the Georgia Dome — the Spartans can settle in to a more manageable non-conference slate with a 1-1 start. There’s plenty to feel good about with this group of Spartans, but still some early-season concerns. Here are a few thoughts from Tuesday night’s game:

Keith Appling took over late in Michigan State’s 67-64 win over Kansas on Tuesday. (Paul Abell/US Presswire)

  1. Keith Appling might just be ready to lead — In more ways than one, perhaps. The Spartans desperately need a go-to scorer, and they desperately need a leader this season after the departure of Draymond Green. Appling showed on Tuesday that he can be both, turning in a game-high 19 points — including a late 3-pointer that appeared to be the dagger, and then a beautiful drive-and-scoop off the glass that ultimately was — and taking control of the game when the Spartans needed leadership. Appling had a realization of sorts after the UConn game that the offense was going to have to run through him this season. It can be a difficult thing to harness, particularly since he’ll be shifting between the one and two when Travis Trice is healthy and in the rotation, and because the Spartans want to run the fast break but also have a wealth of half-court sets. But Appling’s ability to shoot the ball presented itself on Tuesday (6-for-9 from the field and 3-for-3 from deep) and he turned the ball over just twice in 38 minutes. But most importantly, those shots came in crunch time. The Spartans needed big baskets a couple times against Connecticut and never got them. Tuesday, Michigan State’s go-to scorer obliged. Read the rest of this entry »
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RTC’s Top Ten Recruiting Classes of 2010

Posted by zhayes9 on October 13th, 2010

Zach Hayes is RTC’s resident bracketologist and a frequent contributor.

For the college basketball fanatic, incoming freshman are like shiny, new toys. It’s one of the true pleasures of following the sport religiously and a benefit of the current one-and-done era: every talented prospect from all reaches of the nation must compete on the college hardwood for at least one season. It gives us a chance to enjoy John Wall’s end-to-end speed, Kevin Durant’s heroics and Michael Beasley’s scoring prowess, even for just five months. A handful of  coaches have assembled an accomplished group of these freshmen, whether as a complete annual overhaul (Kentucky) or an influx into an already stable core (Duke). Here are the top ten freshmen classes around college basketball this season and a preview of what fans that may not follow the ins and outs of recruiting can expect from these all-world talents:

1. Kentucky - G Brandon Knight, C Enes Kanter, F Terrence Jones, G Doron Lamb, F Stacey Poole, F Eloy Vargas

Calipari's Newest Band of Merry Freshmen

Let this sink in: John Calipari’s 2010 class is good for tops in the nation, yet his 2011 group is even better with arguably three of the top five prospects next year. This year’s collection is highlighted by Knight, Gatorade’s National High School Player of the Year as a junior and easily one of the nation’s top prospects. In fact, he’s even further along as a pure scorer than his predecessor at the point for Kentucky, with a more reliable jumper and the ability to carry his team offensively. Maybe more importantly, Knight has the mentality, toughness and competitive nature to take on the burden of leading a program of Kentucky’s stature with such lofty expectations. The class would take a considerable blow if Kanter, a Turkish import dealing with eligibility concerns, can’t take the Rupp Arena floor at any point this season. Kanter plays in the post with high efficiency and an array of advanced moves, making him the ideal replacement for the ultra-productive DeMarcus Cousins. Kanter is talented enough to be a First Team All-America candidate if he plays an ample amount of games. Like Kanter, Jones is a former Washington commit that features a tremendous outside jumper and a hard-working mentality on defense, a trait that will endear him to Calipari immediately, a coach that has always demanded equal effort on both ends of the floor. Lamb is another gifted scoring two-guard that would be the highlight of nearly every other recruiting class in the nation, while Poole is more of a slashing wing with supreme athleticism. Look for Florida transfer Eloy Vargas to earn playing time immediately for what could be a relatively thin Kentucky frontcourt.

2. North Carolina - F Harrison Barnes, G Reggie Bullock, G Kendall Marshall

This three-man class continues the steady stream of Roy Williams recruiting coups, although the Hall of Fame coach hopes that this trio has more of an immediate impact than his 2009 unit of John Henson, Dexter Strickland, Leslie McDonald and the Wear twins. Barnes is the near-unanimous choice for the best all-around player in the 2010 class and the prohibitive favorite to take home Freshman of the Year honors this season. Good luck finding easily noticeable flaws in Barnes’ game. He excels in the mid-range, can score in a multitude of ways, has an excellent perimeter shot, shows unwavering effort on the glass and plays with an IQ off the charts for an 18-year old. Williams hit the jackpot when he convinced Barnes to spurn Duke (can you imagine Barnes with Irving and that returning team?) and spend his one year in college at Chapel Hill. He’s a phenomenal student and a coaches’ dream, always willing to listen to advice to improve this game. The Heels backcourt is somewhat crowded with Larry Drew, II, also expected to see heavy minutes, but both Bullock and Marshall are way too gifted to keep on the bench. Bullock features a pinpoint outside jumper — possibly the best in the entire class — and has a true offensive mentality as a two-guard in Williams’ offense. Marshall is more of the pure point guard, a phenomenal distributor blessed with uncanny court vision. He could be an upgrade over Drew in a short period of time. Marshall will need to improve his shooting range to avoid defenses sagging off of him late in games.

3. Ohio State - C Jared Sullinger, F DeShaun Thomas, G Aaron Craft, G Jordan Sibert

Sullinger is Reminiscent of Zach Randolph in the Paint

Nobody would be shocked to see Sullinger challenge Barnes for top freshman in the country this season. What makes him so effective in the post is a rare combination of brute strength and touch around the rim. Always playing with confidence and a high motor, Sullinger can score in a multitude of ways down low that make him nearly impossible to guard. Expect the Columbus native to step in immediately at the center position as an upgrade from the incumbent Dallas Lauderdale. Thomas is one of Indiana high school’s top all-time scorers, a versatile southpaw forward that can finish anywhere on the floor and has the strength/athleticism to guard power forwards. Due to the return of David Lighty, Jon Diebler and William Buford, along with Sullinger entering the fray and the question mark at point guard, Ohio State has enough depth that Thomas may prove Matta’s ace in the hole off the bench this season.  Craft could end up winning that open point guard competition. While his offensive game needs improvement, all Matta will need from his freshman is the ability to find his plethora of talented teammates and play capable defense against opposing point guards, two areas where Craft is very capable. Sibert could also see chunks of minutes as a freshman. The Cincinnati product is still inching back to 100% following a leg injury, but when healthy will provide the Buckeyes with another slashing wing with a scorers’ mentality.

4. Memphis - G Will Barton, F Jelan Kendrick, G Joe Jackson, F Tarik Black, G Chris Crawford

Hopefully UTEP, UAB and other Conference USA foes enjoyed one year of lackluster Memphis basketball. That brief spell is about to come to a quick and decisive end when this prized recruiting class takes the floor at FedEx Forum. Barton has the highest ceiling — a 6’6 shooting guard that can score at virtually any spot inside of halfcourt, uses his size to lock down defensively and finishes smoothly at the rim. He should start immediately alongside Wesley Witherspoon, giving head coach Josh Pastner plenty of height and versatility around his perimeter. Kendrick is another 6’6 prospect with point guard skills. He has the vision and distributing skills to direct traffic late in games for Pastner, but can also step in at the shooting guard or small forward. Local product Joe Jackson could win the point guard job immediately as another phenomenal scorer with an offensive repertoire that reaches far beyond his years. He’s been seemingly unstoppable late in games scoring the basketball, although his progress running the Tigers attack as a pure point is something to keep an eye on. Black is the top post player in this class, another Memphis kid that’s virtually unguardable with the rock deep in the paint. He should see immediate minutes alongside Will Coleman and Angel Garcia on the Tigers frontline.

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