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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What’s Trending: Just Another Week of Insanity

Posted by Griffin Wong on February 11th, 2016

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Griffin Wong (@griffwong90) is your weekly host.

Seriously, Another Trip?

Not cool, Grayson Allen. Having fallen to the floor after a missed shot, the Duke sophomore tripped Louisville freshman Raymond Spalding on his way upcourt.

Though the officials initially missed the call, the trip was ruled a flagrant foul upon further review. Duke ultimately got a much-needed win, but Allen definitely suffered a loss in the public eye.

93%

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Big Ten M5: 12.04.15 Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel on December 4th, 2015

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  1. Riding a string of three straight losses, the wheels have predictably started to fall off at Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights got even worse news when head coach Eddie Jordan announced forward Deshawn Freeman will miss the next two weeks with a sore knee. It’s a tough blow for a team facing upcoming games against Seton Hall, George Washington and mid-major darling Monmouth in the next 17 days. The junior leads Rutgers in scoring (13.1 PPG) and field goal percentage (54.4 percent) while ranking second in rebounding (5.3 RPG).
  2. While the Big Ten tied or won its seventh straight Big Ten/ACC Challenge on Wednesday, Indiana’s abhorrent lack of defense was one of the Challenge’s biggest storylines. In a 94-74 loss to Duke, the Hoosiers allowed 1.52 points per possession while three Duke players posted an offensive rating of 160.0 or higher, per KenPom.com. The Blue Devils didn’t merely take advantage of a handful of bad matchups; they throttled a team that didn’t display much effort on defense all night. Since the start of last season, the Hoosiers have allowed at least 1.2 points per possession six separate times, and also allowed a terrible Alcorn State team to score 70 points against them on Monday.
  3. Perhaps the biggest win of the Challenge was Wisconsin’s 66-58 road victory at Syracuse. The Badgers’ offense isn’t nearly as efficient or high-scoring as it was the last two seasons, but freshman Ethan Happ’s 18-point, 15-rebound night is exactly what Bo Ryan’s team needs: a legitimate third scoring option to take some of the pressure off of Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes. Depth has been an issue as Wisconsin reboots its system this season, so Happ needs more performances like he had in the Carrier Dome. If Brevin Pritzl is ruled out for the season, the bench could be even shorter. He’s only played in just four minutes this season due to complications from a broken foot suffered in August and should learn his fate on Friday after undergoing additional tests.
  4. Despite its issues in the frontcourt, Michigan has shot the three-pointer well again this season. The Wolverines shoot 43.0 percent from three as a team, but Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton, Jr., and Duncan Robinson’s shooting numbers are the most impressive part. Robinson and Walton are each shooting over 60 percent from deep and have combined for 34 made threes on 55 attempts (62 percent). In Robinson’s last three games, he has made 14-of-20 three-point attempts. That makes LeVert’s own impressive 52 percent mark from beyond the arc seem rather insignificant. While these numbers won’t last all season, Michigan has proven it is capable of shooting its way to victory on any given night.
  5. We detailed Iowa’s depth on Wednesday, but Jarrod Uthoff’s fantastic start to the year shouldn’t be lost in the Hawkeyes’ deeper-than-expected offense. Uthoff ranks third in scoring in the Big Ten with 17.7 PPG, is second in blocked shots with 2.6 per game and is one of three players in the conference posting averages of at least 17 points and six rebounds per game (Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine and Ohio State’s Marc Loving are the others). His 8.1 percent turnover rate also ranks fifth in the conference. Don’t sleep on Uthoff — he’s playing like a shoo-in for First Team All-Big Ten.
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Drawing Battle Lines, Day Two: Making a Case For Tuesday’s Games

Posted by Brad Jenkins and Patrick Engel on December 1st, 2015

After one day of competition, the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge is tied at one game a piece, with 12 more matchups to come tonight and tomorrow (schedule below). Wake Forest tipped things off Monday night by using a furious late rally to top Rutgers, 69-68, while Minnesota held off Clemson, 89-83, in the evening’s nightcap behind a strong performance by freshman Jordan Murphy. Both of those games were played at Big Ten venues, but the ACC will have the home court edge tonight by hosting four games. To prepare for this evening’s action, the ACC and Big Ten microsites are once again here to defend the schools they cover. Patrick Engel (Big Ten) and Brad Jenkins (ACC) make the case for each team in their respective leagues for all six contests that will take place tonight on the ESPN family of networks.

acc big ten schedule

Michigan at N.C. State (7:00 PM ET, ESPN2)

  • Patrick: We’ve seen Michigan at both its best and its worst so far this season. As I detailed on Monday, it’s becoming clear that the Wolverines have plenty of shooters but are going to once again struggle in the paint. NC State isn’t great at either defending the three (35.7%) or shooting it (32.4%), but the Wolfpack are one of the biggest teams in the country (ninth in height). Michigan has to find space against NC State on the perimeter without getting beat in the paint or on the glass to earn a win here.
  • Brad: The obvious advantage here for the Wolfpack is in the paint. N.C. State should control the boards, and it will need to because Michigan is bound to hit more threes than Mark Gottfried’s team. As long as he can stay relatively fresh, Anthony Barber (39.2 MPG) should win the point guard matchup with Derrick Walton. The Wolfpack aren’t deep and must avoid foul trouble, but they can’t shy away from being physical in defending the offensively-potent Michigan wings.

Northwestern at Virginia Tech (7:00 PM ET, ESPNU)

  • Brad: There’s no way to sugarcoat Virginia Tech’s opening home loss to a SWAC team (Alabama State), but Buzz Williams’ guys have shown some recent signs of improvement. Iowa State beat them handily in the semifinals of the Emerald Coast Classic last week, but the Hokies bounced back to beat a decent UAB squad in overtime the next night. If Virginia Tech is to win this game, it probably will have to do so by living at the foul line.
  • Patrick: The Wildcats have survived without Vic Law so far. They’re not elite in any one area, but they also don’t have a singular glaring weakness. They’ve been a perimeter-oriented team to this point, but Alex Olah’s ability to get to the free throw line will challenge a Virginia Tech team that rarely lets its opponents get there. Northwestern has a good chance of winning this game on the road if it can earn charity stripe opportunities while keeping the free throw-minded Hokies (nation-leading 60.9% free throw rate, per KenPom) away from the line.

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The RTC Podcast: Conference Preview Edition

Posted by rtmsf on November 6th, 2015

In this, the third preseason installment of the RTC Podcast, the guys welcome Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) to join the discussion about favorites, surprises and storylines for each of the six major basketball conferences (sorry, American fans!). In a wide-ranging pod, consensus was reached in only a couple of conferences this preseason — see if you can guess which ones? As always, Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114) hosts, and make sure to subscribe on iTunes so it will automatically download to your listening device each week. The full rundown is below!

  • 0:00-10:23 – ACC Preview
  • 10:23-17:51 – Big East Preview
  • 17:51-25:21 – Big Ten Preview
  • 25:51-32:54 – Big 12 Preview
  • 32:54-37:51 – Pac 12 Preview
  • 37:51-43:43 – SEC Preview
  • 43:43-45:41 – Which will be the best conference?
  • 45:41-49:13 – College Basketball Survivor Pool
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Where 2015-16 Happens: Reason #25 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on October 20th, 2015

Here we go… headfirst into another season heralded by our 2015-16 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball, our annual compendium of YouTube clips from the previous season completely guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on Friday, November 13. We’ve captured what we believe were the 30 most compelling moments from last season, some of which will bring back goosebumps and others of which will leave you shaking your head in astonishment. You can find all of this year’s released posts here.

#25 – Where Special Valentine’s Day Delivery Happens.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-122012-132013-14 and 2014-15 preseasons.

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Final Four Fact Sheet: Wisconsin Badgers

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on April 2nd, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

Midway through a week before the most highly-anticipated Final Four in years, let’s do a reset on each of the four teams still standing. Today’s victims: Michigan State (published this morning) and Wisconsin.

How Wisconsin Got Here

West Region Champions. The West Region’s top unit began its NCAA Tournament run by downing #16 seed Coastal Carolina, then fighting off pesky #8 seed Oregon in the round of 32. Wisconsin headed out to Los Angeles the following weekend, where it overcame a seven-point deficit to beat #4 seed North Carolina before pouring in 1.33 points per possession against #2 seed Arizona to reach its second straight Final Four.

Wisconsin is the most efficient offensive team in a long time. (Hans Gutknecht/Los Angeles Daily News)

Wisconsin is the most efficient offensive team in a long time. (Hans Gutknecht/Los Angeles Daily News)

The Coach

Bo Ryan. Wisconsin has made the NCAA Tournament in each of Ryan’s 14 seasons in Madison and never once finished worse than fourth place in the Big Ten standings. He’s been an enormously successful head coach from the get-go, and yet until recently the prevailing narrative was that his ‘system’ – tailoring recruiting to fit his swing offense instead of the other way around – precluded any deep March runs. So much for that. The 67-year-old has now led the Badgers to back-to-back Final Fours, developed unheralded recruit Frank Kaminsky into a legitimate NBA prospect, enabled blue-chipper Sam Dekker to fully realize his talent, and put the Badgers in position to compete for its first National Championship since 1941.

Style

Ryan’s swing offense is predicated on floor spacing, good perimeter ball movement, off-ball screening and cutting. It’s incredibly slow – the second-slowest in college basketball (21.7 seconds per possession) – and also incredibly effective. Wisconsin leads the country in adjusted offensive efficiency. The Badgers take 37.5 percent of their shots from behind the arc, the highest rate among Final Four teams, while earning trips to the free throw line at the second-lowest rate ahead of only Michigan State. On the other end, Wisconsin focuses on playing tough, half-court man-to-man defense without fouling. Read the rest of this entry »

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Final Four Fact Sheet: Michigan State Spartans

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on April 2nd, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

Midway through a week before the most highly-anticipated Final Four in years, let’s do a reset on each of the four teams still standing. Today’s victims: Michigan State and Wisconsin (later this afternoon).

How Sparty Got Here

East Region Champions. Michigan State beat #10 seed Georgia in its NCAA Tournament opener before using superb defense and key coaching adjustments to stun #2 seed Virginia in the Round of 32. From there, it was off to Syracuse where the Spartans edged #3 seed Oklahoma in the Sweet Sixteen and overcame an eight-point halftime deficit by beating Louisville in overtime to punch a surprising but well-earned ticket to Indianapolis.

For the second-straight season, a #7-seed won the East Region. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

For the second straight season, a #7 seed won the East Region. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The Coach

Tom Izzo. Izzo’s remarkable run of March success has been well-documented. He’s now tied with Rick Pitino and Roy Williams for fourth all-time with seven Final Four appearances – three of which came as a #5 seed or worse. His .742 NCAA Tournament winning percentage and 46 total victories rank fifth among active coaches. By defeating Louisville last Sunday, Izzo notched his 13th win over a higher seed in the Big Dance – the most such victories all-time – while improving to 20-4 in the second game of an NCAA Tournament weekend, also one of the finest marks ever. Simply put, Michigan State’s 20th-year leader is masterful in the third month of the year.

Style

At 17.8 seconds per possession, Michigan State is among the more uptempo offensive teams in the country and ranks second behind only Kentucky among Final Four units. The Spartans are more than willing to get out in transition, finish near the rim or locate open shooters – like transfer Bryn Forbes (43.5% 3FG) – on the wing. In the half-court, Izzo’s club moves the ball very well (seventh-highest assist rate in college basketball), takes a healthy number of perimeter jumpers and likes to run ball-screen and pick-and-roll action as the shot clock wanes. Defensively, Michigan State applies some man-to-man ball pressure and tries to limit both easy looks in the paint and second-chance opportunities (72.9% DReb). Only three teams in college basketball forced its opponents into longer offensive possessions this season (20.1 seconds per trip).

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Rushed Reactions: #7 Michigan State 76, #4 Louisville 70 (OT)

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 29th, 2015

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

Michigan State is headed to Indianapolis. (Dennis Nett / Syracuse.com)

Michigan State is headed to Indianapolis. (Dennis Nett / Syracuse.com)

  1. Overtime giveth, overtime taketh away. Michigan State went 2-5 in overtime games prior to today, including a six-point home loss to Richard Pitino-coached Minnesota in February and an 11-point defeat against Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game. Louisville had only played one overtime contest before this afternoon – a 10-point victory over North Carolina. Yet, despite that recent history – with the stakes higher than ever – the basketball gods looked favorably upon the Spartans during the extra period. Bryn Forbes (14 points) knocked down a three-pointer to tip things off. The Cardinals, on the other hand, missed two early shots, including a layup. Branden Dawson found himself in perfect position for a late, game-clinching offensive rebound and putback that essentially sealed the win. “Sometimes it can be a cruel game,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said afterward, referring to the fickle nature of bonus basketball. In another tight game with razor-thin margin for error, good fortune finally went the way of Michigan State.
  2. Michigan State clamped down in second half. Louisville shredded Michigan State’s interior defense in the first half, shooting 13-of-27 from two-point land and scoring 31 of its 40 points from inside the arc or at the free throw line. Cardinal forward Montrezl Harrell – who scored 24 points against North Carolina State on Friday – scored 12 in the game’s opening 11 minutes, helping his team grab an eight-point lead at the break. Then the Spartans clamped down. Over the final 25 minutes of regulation and overtime, Louisville shot just 6-of-32 from the field and mustered only an additional 30 points. Michigan State shut down the lane – limiting the Cardinals’ dribble penetration and collapsing on Harrell (who only scored four points the rest of the way) – and did a better job extending on shooters. That defensive stinginess enabled Izzo’s club to climb back in the game and ultimately wind up on top.
  3. Another Elite Eight thriller. As if last night’s Notre Dame-Kentucky game wasn’t enough, the Elite Eight delivered yet another thrilling finish in Syracuse today. The back-and-forth second half was filled with momentum swings and fraught with drama, including Mangok Mathiang’s game-tying free throw at the end of regulation that seemingly hung in the air for minutes before falling through the net. All told, the lead changed 11 different times and was tied on nine different occasions before Michigan State grabbed the final edge in overtime. If regional weekend is a sign of things to come, then next week’s Final Four should be nothing short of excellent.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Elite Eight Sunday

Posted by Bennet Hayes & Tommy Lemoine on March 29th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

The Elite Eight is here. Two more games that have a chance to become classics. Let’s break them down.

#4 Louisville vs. #7 Michigan State – East Region Elite Right (at Syracuse, NY) – at 2:20 PM ET on CBS

Denzel Valentine and the Spartans hope to wind up in Indy next weekend. (Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports)

Denzel Valentine and the Spartans hope to wind up in Indy next weekend. (Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports)

Rick Pitino and Tom Izzo are no strangers to this stage, or each other. The Hall of Fame Louisville coach ranks fourth all-time with seven Final Four appearances, including two since 2012. The 20th-year Michigan State head man trails just behind with six, along with four Elite Eight trips since 2009. And for the third time in seven years, their teams will meet in the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. This is familiar territory. What’s not familiar, though, is the route each team took to reach this point. Unlike in 2009 and 2012 – when both teams were either #1 or #2-seeds – the Cardinals and Spartans enter this afternoon’s contest having endured rocky seasons with somewhat limited expectations. Izzo’s club lost 11 games this year, including a baffling home loss to Texas Southern in mid-December. Pitino’s unit dismissed point guard and top three-point shooter Chris Jones in late February, further exacerbating its offensive woes. Yet here they both are, playing for the right to move on to Indianapolis.

So what should we expect from these resilient teams? For Louisville, this much we know: its defense – ranked fifth nationally in adjusted efficiency – will be stout. As per usual for Pitino-coached squads, it will apply heavy ball pressure and limit good looks from behind the arc (30% 3PT defense). What’s been surprising about its three-game run, however, is the offensive production. Against Northern Iowa and North Carolina State, the Cardinals scored 1.2 and 1.17 points per possession, respectively, and received high-efficiency, high-production performances from both Terry Rozier (25 points; 146 ORtg against the Panthers) and Montrezl Harrell (24 points; 150 ORtg against the Wolfpack). The newfound offensive consistency – especially in the half-court – has turned them into a substantially more well-rounded unit, one that looks much closer to the team that began the year 11-0.

The specific areas of Michigan State’s recent improvement are slightly harder to pin-point but no less impactful. Power forward Branden Dawson has been playing his best basketball of the season – on both ends of the court – since the start of the Big Ten tournament onward. The Spartans have done a better job taking care of the ball, suffering just five miscues against Oklahoma on Friday night. And Travis Trice (20.6 PPG in NCAA Tournament) has emerged as the teams’ consistent, go-to scorer – something it lacked earlier in the year. All of the little things seem to be coming together for Izzo’s group at the right time.

This afternoon’s matchup might ultimately come down to a few key factors: Louisville’s ability to score around the rim against Michigan State’s interior defense (43.6% 2PT), and whether the Spartans can keep their offensive cool against the Cardinals’ various matchup zone and man-to-man defensive looks. Oddly, North Carolina State kept itself alive on Friday by knocking down shots from behind the arc (9-for-20 3FG) against Louisville, but struggled to score in the paint. Izzo’s club will need a little bit of both today, and certainly needs to take care of the ball. Likewise, Dawson, Matt Costello, and the rest of Michigan State’s big men cannot allow Harrell and Louisville’s penetrating guards nearly as many good looks near the basket as they found on Friday. In the end, I like Michigan State’s ability to crash the offensive glass (33.9% OReb) against the Cardinals’ sub-par defensive rebounding (30.9% DReb) to be the difference – not to mention the fact that doubting Izzo on the back-end of an NCAA Tournament weekend seems foolish. Expect a thrilling, hotly-contested and well-coached contest either way.

The RTC Certified Pick: Michigan State

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