Big Ten Season Wrap-Up: Michigan State

Posted by jnowak on March 29th, 2012

Besides the fact that Michigan State bowed out of the NCAA Tournament in the Sweet Sixteen as a #1 seed, it was an incredible year for Tom Izzo‘s group for no other reason than the fact that the Spartans were  a #1 seed at all. Michigan State began the year unranked and lost its first two games but worked its way to a share of the Big Ten regular season title, the Big Ten Tournament title, and the program’s fourth #1 seed in the Izzo era. And as far as that era is concerned, this year’s group may be one of its best in terms of chemistry, defensive tenacity, and the other qualities that have come to define Michigan State basketball. Here’s a look back at the year that was:

Draymond Green helped Michigan State to a fantastic season nobody saw coming. (AP)

  • In a nutshell: It sounds like a broken record by now, but this team really recaptured what has made Michigan State basketball so great over the years — defense, rebounding, toughness, and chemistry — after it had been lacking, particularly with last year’s group. Draymond Green emerged as one of the best players in college basketball, not to mention the most valuable, with his incredible arsenal of capabilities. Role players like Austin Thornton and Brandon Wood as well as freshmen Travis Trice and Branden Dawson produced. Izzo was not shy in saying how much he loved this team and he had good reason to.
  • Overachievement: Without Delvon Roe, who “retired” before the season after battling chronic knee injuries, it wasn’t clear how the Spartans’ frontcourt would fare. Green is a talented forward who can produce from the left block pretty much at will, but the inside presence of Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne together was really what took the Spartans to the next level. Nix has slowly been progressing over the last two years, but Payne really took a giant leap from his freshman season. Nix jumped from 8.2 minutes per game and 2.7 PPG last year to 18.9 and 8.1, respectively, this season. Payne jumped from nine minutes to 17.9 and 2.5 PPG to seven a night. What made them particularly dangerous, though, was their contrast in styles. Nix is a more traditionally-styled, big-bodied center while Payne is a long, athletic big man. Read the rest of this entry »
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A Closer Look: Michigan State vs Louisville

Posted by Ryan Terpstra on March 21st, 2012

For some pundits on the national scene, Michigan State is thought of as the team “after Kentucky” most likely to win a national championship. The Big Ten co-champs and Big Ten Player of the Year Draymond Green have a tough task ahead of them with #4 seed Louisville. It’s a rematch of the 2009 Elite Eight when Michigan State upset Louisville 64-52.  What will happen this time around?  Let’s take a look:

Can Tom Izzo lead Michigan State to another Elite Eight? (photo: AP)

1.  How will Louisville approach this game?  Last time these two teams met in 2009, Louisville came out with Rick Pitino‘s bread an butter–the full-court press. However, the Spartans were able to break the press and get some easy baskets, so the Cardinals backed off. Will Louisville decide to attack the Spartan guards again this time around? My guess would be yes. While Keith Appling is a solid ball-handler, he can be turnover-prone at times, as evidenced by his seven-turnover performance against Ohio State on February 11 and his five-turnover game in a loss to Illinois on January 31. The other guards charged with handling the pressure will be senior Austin Thornton (a shooter not known for his handle), Brandon Wood, and true freshman Travis Trice. Don’t be surprised if Draymond Green takes an active role in bringing the ball up the court in an effort to negate the speed and trapping abilities of the Cardinal guards. Louisville relies heavily on guys like Russ Smith (84 steals on the year) and Peyton Siva (63 steals) to create opportunities, and they will need their guards to be better than the Spartan guards if they hope to score the upset.

2.  Will Keith Appling once again be dared to shoot? In a surprising turn of events against Saint Louis, Keith Appling turned into Rajon Rondo. Meaning, the Biliken defense routinely sagged off Appling at the three-point line, daring the Spartan point guard to shoot the ball. It was perplexing to those who have followed Appling’s career because Keith has always been known as a scorer and a guy who certainly has three-point range. In fact, he started the year shooting 52% in the first six games of the year even going 3-5 in a win over Florida State. But the scouting report in this season cannot be denied: Appling hasn’t hit more than one three in a game since December 28. He admitted after the Saint Louis game that he felt disrespected by the defense, yet he was able to knock down a big outside shot late in the second half. Will Louisville employ the same strategy? And if they do, will Appling be willing to pull the trigger to try and make them pay?

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Big Ten Morning Five: 03.12.12 Edition

Posted by jnowak on March 12th, 2012

  1. Michigan State is the Big Ten Tournament champion and Draymond Green is the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. And with that, the Spartans are also the #1 seed in the West region of the NCAA Tournament. But to get there, a multitude of things needed to go right. Michigan State got important help down low from Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne, as well as crucial contributions from senior wings Brandon Wood and Austin Thornton. Without Branden Dawson, there were questions about how far this team could go. What about now? And how about this great photo of Green hoisting the Big Ten Tournament trophy via The State News photographer Justin Wan?
  2. On the other end of that championship game spectrum falls Ohio State, which got a #2 seed in the East region of the tournament. The Buckeyes, who were shooting for an unprecedented third straight Big Ten tournament championship in their fourth consecutive title game, were hindered by foul trouble to Jared Sullinger in the first half and Aaron Craft in the second. The Buckeyes stumbled in conference play, but certainly showed they are capable of playing in New Orleans in a few weeks.
  3. Michigan State and Ohio State aren’t the only two teams dancing. Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Purdue also made the tournament field.’s Tom Dienhart takes a look at those Big Ten teams in the field — who’s hot, who’s not, who has the easiest road, who’s likely to be upset, and more.
  4. Notice that none of those teams mentioned above was Northwestern? Once again, the Wildcats are on the outside looking in on the Big Dance, missing out on yet another golden opportunity to break through into the tournament field. The Big Ten Network‘s Tim Doyle chats here with Northwestern coach Bill Carmody about his squad being left out of the NCAA Tournament.
  5. As the Indianapolis Star‘s Bob Kravitz points out, the state of Indiana is full of good stories as it relates to the NCAA Tournament. (The fact that there’s basketball-related excitement coming out of Indiana should come as a shock to no one). From Purdue‘s successes and the determination of Robbie Hummel to the rejuvenation of the Hoosiers under Tom Crean, there is plenty to cheer for at this time of year in the Hoosier State.
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Four Thoughts From The Big Ten Tournament Semifinals

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 11th, 2012

Well, that didn’t turn out to be too exciting.  The top four seeds of the Big Ten Tournament made it to the semifinals yesterday but only two teams were clear about their intentions – Michigan State and Ohio State.  Neither squad is satisfied about sharing the regular season title but there will be nothing shared on Sunday as they face off in the Big Ten Tournament final in Indianapolis.  The Spartans ground it out to beat Wisconsin, 65-52, despite the Badgers jumping out to an early 20-9 lead in the first half.  Ohio State, on the other hand, wasted no time as they came out firing right from the tipoff.  Their hot shooting in the first few minutes put them up 16-3 against Michigan and continued their dominance to beat the Wolverines 77-55.  Here are a few thoughts from Saturday’s action in Indy.

Deshaun Thomas has been stepping up for Ohio State lately.

  1. Deshaun Thomas is ready for March – Thomas has been on fire offensively over the past five games, averaging 19.6 points per game.  Michigan did not have any player who could match Thomas’ aggressiveness or athleticism.  Thomas must have finally realized that few players in the conference can match his size and quickness, and he is beginning to take full advantage of the matchups. Michigan had no answer for his 22 points and six rebounds on Saturday.  Thad Matta is elated to see his group of sophomores fired up for the final stretch of the season.  Aaron Craft obviously never takes a play off, but Thomas and Jared Sullinger have shown a sense of urgency during the last two weeks. Sullinger is averaging over 22 points per game since the loss to Wisconsin in Columbus two weeks ago.  Sunday’s matchup against the Michigan State forwards will tell a lot about Sullinger and Thomas’ leadership. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten Writer Roundtable: Four Questions As the Regular Season Winds Down

Posted by Ryan Terpstra on March 1st, 2012

Big Ten contributors Joey Nowak (@joeynowak) and Ryan Terpstra (@terphimself) give their thoughts on four conference questions as just a few more games remain in the regular season, and the Big Ten champion has yet to be decided.

1) Will we see an outright Big Ten champion?  Or is the conference title possibly going to be shared?

Joey:  In other words, will Michigan State beat Ohio State this weekend? I think the answer is yes. It’s hard to watch the Spartans, after how badly they tanked last season, and try to avoid becoming too enamored with them this year. But time and time again they have proven that this really is a special squad that gets it and is tune with so many important factors required to win.

They are one of  just 12 teams in Division I that is undefeated at home (three in the power conferences) and there are too many intangibles working in their favor this weekend: playing at home, Senior Day honoring Draymond Green, Austin Thornton and Delvon Roe, and the motivation to win a title outright while denying Michigan and Ohio State, of all teams. Not to mention how entirely out of sorts Ohio State has seemed lately. It will be a dogfight, but I think the Spartans beat the Buckeyes and claim a completely unexpected Big Ten title all for themselves.

Can Ohio State stop Michigan State's quest for an outright Big Ten Title? (Associated Press)

Ryan:  As much as people in Ann Arbor are hoping to sneak in and grab a share of a conference title (wow, Michigan fans rooting for Ohio State?  Can it be true?), I think that Michigan State is going to get to job done because they are so potent at the Breslin Center. The only thing I would worry about for the Spartans is getting TOO hyped up, which can happen when young men are trying so hard to defeat a quality opponent. The Spartans obviously don’t lack for motivation, and the bigger question to me is what’s going on with the Buckeyes? Jared Sullinger had to bail them out against Northwestern; a team that is very tough this season, but on paper can’t handle Ohio State’s frontcourt. With Sullinger admitting that he has been thinking out the referees and how they are officiating his post game, I’m wondering if that will come back into play in what I would expect to be a very physical game in East Lansing. I think Michigan State hangs another Big Ten banner for Tom Izzo.

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It’s Official – Kalin Lucas Ruptures Achilles Tendon

Posted by jstevrtc on March 22nd, 2010

You knew it from the way he went down on Sunday afternoon, but an MRI confirmed today that star Michigan State guard Kalin Lucas tore his left Achilles tendon in that amazing second round game against Maryland.

The Spartans and their fans have to be wondering what else can happen to this team.  Michigan State’s players have already achieved more than what could have been expected of them, considering the injuries they’ve sustained:  Lucas is the team’s leading scorer and dime-dropper and is known as one of the mentally toughest players in the game.  Delvon Roe was visibly limping in the Maryland game on a right knee that’s already endured one surgery, Chris Allen could only go for four minutes because of a right foot injury he suffered in the first tournament game against New Mexico State, and Raymar Morgan has a busted tooth.

Mutual Support: Izzo and Lucas (AP/Rajah Bose)

If Tom Izzo and his banged-up squad want to get by a Northern Iowa team playing mesmerizing basketball right now, not only do they need more minutes and more production from already hurting players, they also need some serious help from the bench.  Korie Lucious averaged 22 minutes and 5.2 points a game during the season, but played 27 minutes and contributed 13 points including the game-winner on Sunday.  He and Draymond Green are the two Spartans who immediately come to mind as far as who has to really step up now.  Specifically at the guard position, Lucious and Durrell Summers can look forward to playing almost every minute if Allen can’t go.  Junior Mike Kebler (4.0 MPG in 22 games, 0.4 PPG), a former walk-on, played eight minutes against the Terrapins and could see even more time, now.  Derrick Nix (7.8 MPG and 2.5 PPG), a 6’5 and 280-pound freshman, and 6’5 sophomore Austin Thornton (5.7 MPG in 30 games, 1.1 PPG, also a former walk-on) can provide relief minutes at the forward positions; both saw time against Maryland, contributing eight and four points, respectively.

If you’d like to learn more about Lucas’ injury, read on:

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