Michigan State Grows Stronger Ahead of Selection Sunday

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 12th, 2016

Tom Izzo’s disappointment in the first half against Ohio State on Friday might be the best indication yet of just how well his Spartans are playing. Less than a week after beating the Buckeyes in East Lansing, Michigan State controlled the opening 20 minutes from start to finish, taking a seven-point lead into the locker room and holding its bubble-bound opponent to just 26 points on 27 shots. “I thought we got off to a bit of a sluggish start,” Izzo said. “We didn’t feel like we were in sync the whole first half.” His team went on to dominate, of course, winning by 27 points and completing a three-game season sweep of the Buckeyes by an average margin of 20.3 PPG. The victory was more than just a necessary step toward a Big Ten Tournament title, though. On a night when the threes weren’t falling, Michigan State – in one of its best defensive performances of the year – took an important stride toward invulnerability heading into the NCAA Tournament.

Denzel Valentine and the Spartans continue improving. (http://247sports.com/)

Denzel Valentine and the Spartans continue to get better. (http://247sports.com/)

Guard Bryn Forbes entered Friday as the nation’s best individual three-point shooter on the nation’s best three-point shooting team, having knocked down more than 50 percent of his 200 attempts from behind the arc. On nights that he and Denzel Valentine (a top 50 three-point shooter in his own right) get hot, Michigan State is incredibly difficult to beat. Friday was not one of those nights; the Spartans shot just 8-of-23 on three-point field goals, and Forbes never got going. For Izzo, it could not have worked out any better. “The best thing that happened was Bryn struggled, best thing for our future, because we had to learn to play without,” he said. Instead of blowing out the Buckeyes with lights-out perimeter shooting, the #2 seeded Spartans blew them out by pounding the glass and finding easy looks inside. Already a top 20 offensive and defensive rebounding team, Michigan State ripped down 14 offensive boards (41.2% OReb) and prevented many Ohio State second-chances on the other end. To score, the Spartans used a combination of high-percentage transition looks, easy put-backs and well-run set plays to blow open the lead after halftime, opening the final 20 minutes on a 14-2 run and never looking back. Spartan big men Deyonta Davis, Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling complemented Valentine’s predictably excellent play by combining for 27 points on 12-of-19 shooting. Junior guard Eron Harris, playing in his hometown for the first time since high school, poured in 13 points of his own. College basketball’s most efficient offense was as efficient as ever (1.27 points per possession), even without its usual perimeter prowess.

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Buy, Sell, or Hold: Big Ten Stock Analysis

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 8th, 2014

CBS studio analyst and SI.com columnist Seth Davis wrote his annual article on Monday treating 63 teams as though they were stock market commodities. He gave each squad a designation where he chose to either buy, sell, or hold the stock of each team. When buying, it means that the team may be struggling right now, or struggled at some point recently, but he thinks it has a chance to play much better going forward. When holding, it means he thinks the team is likely to stay where they are, or that he’s unsure about what they will do going forward. When selling, it means that the team appears to have hit its ceiling and can only get worse, or that it doesn’t have much of a chance in his eyes. For example, Wisconsin and Indiana are both in his sell category, but for different reasons. Most of Davis’ takes involving Big Ten teams are spot on, but here’s how each of the eight B1G teams were listed, followed by a few takes about teams that could be classified differently.

Nik Stauskas will play a major role as Michigan attempts to prove to people that they can thrive without Mitch McGary (USA TODAY Sports)

Nik Stauskas will play a major role as Michigan attempts to prove to people that they can thrive without Mitch McGary (USA TODAY Sports)

Seth Davis’ Selections

Buy: Michigan State
Hold: Illinois, Minnesota
Sell: Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin 

RTC Big Ten Microsite Changes

Michigan: (from Sell to Buy). Everyone has written off Michigan with Mitch McGary’s back injury, but Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan have stepped in and done a nice job in his absence. Davis mainly talks about how brutal the Michigan schedule looks, but 10 or more conference wins is still a real possibility. The win at Minnesota last week already helps quite a bit, and they could very well start 4-0 in the league before they go to Wisconsin on January 18. The stock on Michigan has been low since the team’s early struggles, and it plummeted to great depths when the McGary news broke. But there is still too much talent on this roster to believe that John Beilein’s team can’t finish in the top four of the conference. This could definitely be a value buy if you get the Wolverines now.

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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 6th, 2014

The opening weekend of B1G conference play consisted of six games that were played to varying degrees of competitiveness. There were no upsets, but there were certainly some fireworks. Iowa’s Fran McCaffery might have drawn a future suspension for his outburst in the second half of his team’s loss at Wisconsin. Penn State’s DJ Newbill also was shown the exit after he got into an altercation with Illinois’ Kendrick Nunn. Here are some of the other happenings from the weekend.

Gary Harris seemed to find his shooting stroke again in Michigan State's victory at Indiana.

Gary Harris seemed to find his shooting stroke again in Michigan State’s victory at Indiana.

Player of the Weekend: Gary Harris: Harris showed signs of shaking off his post-injury rust against Penn State last Tuesday, but he really broke out on Saturday in Bloomington, going for 26 points and five steals in Michigan State’s 73-56 win. Harris went 5-of-10 from deep, scoring eight points in a row during a 10-0 first half stretch that helped bury the Hoosiers early. More than just his scoring output, what showed that Harris is nearing 100 percent was how active he was defensively. Indiana tends to turn the ball over a good deal, but Harris was doing his best by flying around the perimeter to make sure the trend continued. The preseason Big Ten Player of the Year is slowly starting to show why he was picked for that honor, and also why he’s considered to be a potential lottery pick next June.

Super Sub of the Weekend: Matt Costello: Granted Costello only scored two points against Indiana, but the sophomore was another defensive standout for Sparty. He blocked three shots in 15 minutes of action, and forced a couple of other misses simply by staying big in the post. Michigan State blocked nine total shots as a team, and held the Hoosiers to an awful 36.8 percent shooting on two-pointers. Costello was a huge part of why Indiana’s shooting numbers were so poor, despite his limited minutes.

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Five Must-See Days of Action During B1G Conference Play

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 27th, 2013

After a non-c0nference stretch that saw six B1G teams ranked at one point or another, and a combined record of 116-29 as of December 26 for the 12 teams in the league, conference play starts in earnest on December 31. Many storylines and potential subplots are sure to emerge during the conference season, so here is a quick guide giving you five key days when you have to be glued to your TV if you’re a follower of the league. Go ahead and clear your calendars now.

 Will Sheehey will play an important role when the Hoosiers take on Illinois on December 31st in Champaign (AP Photo/Michael Conroy).

Will Sheehey will play an important role when the Hoosiers take on Illinois on December 31 in Champaign (AP Photo/Michael Conroy).

December 31

  • Ohio State at Purdue (1:00 PM, ESPN2)
  • Indiana at Illinois (3:00 PM, ESPN2)
  • Michigan State at Penn State (5:00 PM, BTN)
  • Nebraska at Iowa (7:00 PM, BTN)

The first day of conference action is highlighted by a rematch of the classic Indiana-Illinois game from last season that made Tyler Griffey a household name. Purdue, Penn State, and Nebraska all get their first chances to notch a statement win if they can knock off their Top 25 opponents.

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Five Big Ten Players Who Need to Increase Their Production

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 16th, 2013

Late last week we took a look at seven Big Ten players who have put forth surprising performances over the first month of the season, so now it’s time to check in on five more Big Ten players who need to start playing up to the expectations they were afforded in the preseason. These five players were candidates for preseason accolades by various pundits, but none has played all that well to this point. If their respective teams want to enjoy deep NCAA Tournament runs in March, they will need to contribute at a much higher level than they have so far. Luckily, there’s still plenty of time to turn things around. It’s only mid-December.

Gary Harris needs to get healthy and start producing if Michigan State wants to get to a Final Four.

Gary Harris needs to get healthy and start producing if Michigan State wants to get to the  Final Four.

  • Glenn Robinson III, Michigan (13.0 PPG, 9.3 FGA, 32.4% 3FG, 3.9 FTA). Many thought that Robinson would have a breakout 2013-14 campaign, but Michigan’s close home loss to #1 Arizona on Saturday was the first time all season he looked like he might — 20 points and four rebounds on 8-of-9 shooting. For the most part, he has spent way too many possessions standing still on the perimeter instead of looking to attack the basket. Saturday’s game might be a start, but Michigan as a whole seems to still be figuring things out with the departures of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr., but they need Robinson to play like a star if they want to come close to duplicating last year’s success.
  • Will Sheehey, Indiana (10.2 PPG, 1.7 APG, 21.4% 3FG). To his credit, Sheehey has been really good defensively this year. For example, he absolutely locked down spectacular shooter Travis Bader last Tuesday in the Hoosiers’ win over Oakland. Where he needs to get his mojo back is on the other end of the floor. It was expected by many analysts that Sheehey would be able to pick up a good deal of the scoring slack. And although he put together his best offensive game of the season over the weekend with 22 points on 9-of-15 shooting, he’s having a horrible season putting the ball in the hole. On many possessions he seems to end with either a missed easy layup or a blocked shot. His shooting percentage has dropped nearly four percent and the career mid-30 percent three-point shooter is nowhere near that mark this season. If Sheehey can improve his scoring average by three or four points per game on good shooting in league play,  Indiana will be in much better shape come March.

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The Seven Most Surprising Big Ten Players So Far This Season

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 13th, 2013

With the season now a little over a month old, it’s time to take a look at how different players are performing in accordance with their preseason expectations. I’m always more of a good news first kind of guy, so I’ll start with the guys who are making a better-than-expected impact first, with the disappointments coming next week. Many of these players are transfers, although some are simply just producing more in additional minutes. The common thread with all seven of these Big Ten breakout players is that they are heavily contributing to wins in more than one way, and doing so at a high level.

Frank Kaminsky has played his way into B1G Player of the Year consideration (Getty)

Frank Kaminsky has played his way into B1G Player of the Year consideration (Getty)

  • Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin (14.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 2.1 BPG, 1.1 SPG, 42.9% 3FG, 55.4% FG). “Frank the Tank” is leading the Badgers in scoring, steals and blocks. People thought that he’d be able to have an impact with more minutes due to the graduation of Jared Berggren, but no one thought he’d be capable of dropping 43 points in a single game. Kaminsky leads a balanced attack on the offensive end that has five different players capable of scoring 20 on a given night, and he’s a defensive presence to the tune of blocking 7.06 percent of all opponents’ field goal attempts. Wisconsin in general has been a surprise, but Kaminsky has been an even bigger one.
  • Eliott Eliason, Minnesota (5.7 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 2.5 BPG). Eliason got lost in the shuffle last season with Trevor Mkakwe and Rodney Williams getting most of the frontcourt minutes in 2012-13. This year he has emerged as a major rebounding and shot-blocking threat for the Gophers. Eliason is currently third in the league in defensive rebounding rate (26.5%), sixth in offensive rebounding rate (12.6%), and third in block rate (11.74%). On a team that frequently features a three-guard attack, it is vital that someone can clear the glass and protect the rim, which Eliason is doing at an elite level in the early going.

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Big Ten Resume Review: Part II

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 10th, 2013

Yesterday we took a look at the current resumes of teams #12 to #7 in the Big Ten at this early point of the season. Today we examine the top six resumes.

6. Minnesota (8-2)

Andre Hollins and the Gophers need some marquee wins after losing two out of three in Maui.

Andre Hollins and the Gophers need some marquee wins after losing two out of three in Maui.

  • Best Win: @ Richmond (74-59)
  • Worst Loss: Arkansas (87-73)
  • Breakdown: The Gophers have gotten off to a decent start with a win at home against Florida State and at Richmond highlighting their eight wins. They blew a chance at a marquee match-up with Gonzaga by losing to Arkansas in Maui, instead having to settle for a win against Division II Chaminade. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, they will be 11-2 heading into conference play. They didn’t really do anything to help their NCAA chances with the non-conference slate, but they also didn’t do anything to really damage them either.
  • Status Right Now: NCAA #9-#12 seed.
  • Projected Status: NCAA #9-#12 seed. They’ll have opportunities with two games each against Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa. Going 3-3 in these games and maybe notching a road win out of one of those will carry major weight.

5. Indiana (7-2)

  • Best Win: Stony Brook (90-74)
  • Worst Loss: @ Syracuse (69-52)
  • Breakdown: IU has looked a bit uneven at times, as the Hoosiers have had some games that have been a little closer than they should have been at home before turning it on at the end. They have also lost two games to teams that are a combined 18-0, but they haven’t really beaten anybody all that great yet either. They’ll have one more chance on Saturday in their annual Crossroads Classic tilt, this year against Notre Dame.
  • Status Right Now: NCAA #8-#10 seed.
  • Projected Status: NCAA #6-#9 seed. This is going to be a team that will make you scratch your head one game and marvel at their athleticism and talent the next. They’ll win some they shouldn’t, lose some they shouldn’t, and Selection Sunday will be an interesting evening in Bloomington.

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Big Ten Resume Review: Part I

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 9th, 2013

After everything has calmed down in the aftermath of the B1G/ACC challenge, it’s time to take a first look at the resumes that each team in the league has put together. Granted, this is going to be a fluid situation all season, but right now this is how it shakes out. I won’t reveal my exact methodology, but suffice it to say that I used a combination of KenPom efficiency ratings and the RPI to assign a specific value to each team’s wins and losses. Starting from the bottom and working up, this is how B1G teams stand right now as we head into the exams period. I’ve listed teams #12-#7 here, with teams #6-#1 to come tomorrow.

12. Northwestern (5-5)

Chris Collins' First Season in Evanston Has Been Challenging So Far

Chris Collins’ First Season in Evanston Has Been Challenging So Far

  • Best Win: Western Michigan  (51-35)
  • Worst Loss: Illinois State (68-64)
  • Breakdown: Northwestern has played four power conference teams but did not win any of those games. The Wildcats played Missouri reasonably close, but they lost by 21 to an NC State team that is predicted to finish in the middle to the bottom of the ACC. They have a chance to finish the season with more than 20 losses given the formidable conference slate Chris Collins’ team has ahead of it. They got back on track slightly with a win against a top-150 Western Michigan team on Saturday, but don’t expect the wins to pile up here.
  • Status Right Now: No postseason.
  • Projected Status: No postseason. Not trying to pick on the Wildcats, but they’ve done nothing to show that they are better than all the other bottom-level teams in the conference right now, and might only win three or four games in league play.

11. Nebraska (6-3)

  • Best Win: Miami (60-49)
  • Worst Loss: @ Creighton (82-67)
  • Breakdown: When listing Creighton as their worst loss here, this is more because of the fact that the Cornhuskers blew a golden opportunity to get a signature win, and because they looked so bad in doing it. That said,  Tim Miles’ squad has probably slightly exceeded expectations. They’ve started 6-3, but have no wins versus anyone that would be in the field of 68. Their first two losses to UMass and UAB weren’t horrible ones, and neither is the Creighton loss, but the Huskers need a win at Cincinnati on December 28 or they would need to do some significant conference damage.
  • Status Right Now: No postseason.
  • Projected Status: No postseason. This team could pull off some upsets and get to five or six B1G wins, and if so, they could find themselves headed to the NIT.

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