Michigan State Appears Back on Track: Delaware Its Latest Test

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on March 20th, 2014

If you had said you were tired of hearing one phrase in the Big Ten this season, it likely would have revolved around Michigan State. It was repeated nearly every game: “When Michigan State is healthy, the Spartans are one of the best teams in the country.” Well, after an injury-plagued regular season, we finally got the chance to see what the Spartans can do at full strength in last weekend’s Big Ten Tournament.¬†Two wins later over teams that came into Indianapolis in the conversations as potential No. 1 seeds, America was fully back on board with the Spartans. As of this writing, Michigan State is considered the favorite to make it to the Final Four out of the East region and one of a handful of teams considered likeliest to win it all. Even President Obama is picking the Spartans. The question, of course, is whether the Big Ten Tournament revealed the true answer to that original statement, and whether Sparty’s opening round game against Delaware today is just the first step on its way to Arlington.

The Spartans may finally be healthy but Michigan State needs Keith Appling to play back to his pre-injury level for a deep March run. (Leon Halip/Getty Images North America)

The Spartans may finally be healthy but Michigan State needs Keith Appling to play back to his pre-injury level for a deep March run. (Leon Halip/Getty Images North America)

Perhaps the best sign that Michigan State is back to an elite level is that it seemed to get better as the Big Ten Tournament went along. Over the Spartans’ three games, it appeared that they were slowly but surely getting back on track. In its first game against Northwestern, it methodically took care of business against an outmatched Wildcats team. In the semifinal against Wisconsin, Michigan State showed its offensive flair by shooting 53.8 percent from three and 56.9 percent overall. Most notably was its performance in the championship game against Michigan, as Sparty held the one of the nation’s best offenses to 31 percent shooting and 26 percent from three-point range. This is a sea change for a team that had been struggling defensively prior to the return of Dawson.

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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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Big Ten M5: 03.06.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on March 6th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. The recent skid for Michigan State has plenty of people questioning if this team is still a top contender. First it was the defense, as the Spartans need to switch on screens without Branden Dawson was causing issues. With his return, though, a loss at Illinois still happened. That prompted the players to air their frustrations with each other in a “players-only” meeting this week. The interesting aspects are that the Spartans were blaming each other, showing a team divided instead of coming together. This late in the season that is never how a team wants to be interacting and playing. Tonight at home against Iowa provides a good chance to see if the issues really were put to bed or if what Tom Izzo calls “the biggest joke in athletics” is just that and the Spartans continue to struggle.
  2. It shouldn’t be news to anyone how big of a week is coming up for Nebraska. It certainly is known to head coach Tim Miles as he admitted he has been checking projections and RPI rankings the past three weeks as his team has began flirting with the bubble. Every game is important for the Cornhuskers right now as they need every possible win to get into the tournament. It certainly would help if they could push themselves up to fourth in the Big Ten as well. Miles may believe they are a tournament team, and now is the chance for them to prove it. Do that and they will have surprised everyone in the country by not just playing in March, but playing in the main event.
  3. Indiana‘s Will Sheehey won’t be a player that sits at the top of the Hoosier record books. Still, he did plenty for the program as he played his final home game last night against Nebraska. Sheehey hit the 1,000-point mark, but the biggest thing he will be remembered for is coming into the program along with Victor Oladipo and helping change the culture. He is a 4-year player that helped lead the transformation from desolation to its first Sweet 16 appearance in a decade (he hit the winning shot against VCU in 2012 to reach it). He helped set a work ethic for the change, and while his last campaign has had road bumps, Sheehey’s legacy will be part of leading the revival.
  4. Penn State has strong guard play this season, that’s no question, but its future may be in the frontcourt. Lately, Pat Chambers has been playing his big men together on the court in Jordan Dickerson and Donovon Jack. Chambers says he plans to use the line-up for the remainder of the season but it struggles with staying on the court due to endurance and match-up issues. It is still one we will likely see in the future and it will be quite the change from a guard-oriented team to one that pounds the ball down low.
  5. We always like to discuss players and All-American status. For coaches it is typically limited to individual conference coaches of the year and the overall national one. Well, Bleacher Report’s Jason King decided to expand his list and he has two Big Ten coaches on his “King’s Court Coaches All-American Team.” Michigan’s John Beilein made the second team and Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan made the third team. He also gave Tim Miles of Nebraska the “most-underrated” award. It’s tough to argue about the Big Ten coach positions, though Beilein could likely make a case for being on the First-Team after losing Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and then Mitch McGary midseason yet still winning an outright Big Ten title. Miles being omitted but listed as the “most underrated” also seems deserving and the right spot. Tom Izzo could make a case for an addition dealing with all the injuries, but for the most part, the Big Ten was represented accurately. This could also be seen as another nod for Beilein as the Big Ten Coach of the Year, which most have him or Miles winning it.
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