Rushed Reactions: #22 Michigan State 69, #8 Michigan 55

Posted by Walker Carey on March 16th, 2014

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Sunday’s Big Ten Tournament title game between Michigan and Michigan State in Indianapolis.

Three Key Takeaways.

MSU is Playing Like the Spartans We All Expected

MSU is Playing Like the Spartans We All Expected

  1. “THIS” version of Michigan State is very dangerous. Tom Izzo‘s squad was very popular Final Four pick in the preseason. As the season progressed, the Spartans lost their popularity due to a variety of injuries. Floor leader Keith Appling missed time. Standout scorer Gary Harris missed time. Versatile forward Branden Dawson missed time. Stretch big man Adreian Payne missed time. The question changed from, “Will Michigan State get to the Final Four?” to, “Will Michigan State ever get healthy?” The Spartans finally played with a full roster for the final three games of the regular season, but they only went 1-2 in those games. This prompted national pundits to question if the team will be able to shake off the rust in time to make a serious run in the postseason. Michigan State just may have answered that question this week, as it ripped off three relatively easy victories en route to the Big Ten Tournament title. As the NCAA Tournament is set to begin later this week, Michigan State finally appears to be the team that many thought it would be.
  2. Michigan’s offense was out of sorts all afternoon. The biggest factor in Michigan winning the regular season conference title by three game was its marvelous offensive attack. Sophomore guards Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert bursted onto the scene as two of the elite shot makers in the conference, sophomore forward Glenn Robinson III used his versatility and great athleticism to be a legitimate threat from both the inside and outside, and freshman point guard Derrick Walton Jr. showcased a natural ability to distribute the basketball. All four were thrown off their games Sunday afternoon, as Michigan State’s defense was tenacious from start to finish. The Wolverines finished with their second-lowest scoring output of the season and that can be majorly attributed to its shooting struggles all afternoon. Michigan finished shooting just 31.5% from the field and it could never get anything going from behind the three-point line, finishing at just 26.1% from distance. Every team goes through poor shooting games, but for a team that relies so much on its outside shooting, Michigan is going to need to make better adjustments when up against a tenacious defense if it wants to advance deep into the NCAA Tournament.
  3. These are two teams to keep an eye on in the NCAA Tournament. Michigan State is as talented as any team that will be in the Field of 68. Now that they are at full health, the Spartans will be a popular pick to advance deep into the bracket. While it did not play well Sunday afternoon, Michigan is still an extremely good team that won the regular season Big Ten title for a reason. This year’s NCAA Tournament seems like it is wide open and the two teams that played Sunday afternoon in Indianapolis each have a chance to – at the very least – make a run to the Final Four.

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Rushed Reactions: #22 Michigan State 83, #12 Wisconsin 75

Posted by Walker Carey on March 15th, 2014

rushedreactions

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday afternoon’s Big Ten Tournament semifinal between Michigan State and Wisconsin in Indianapolis.

Wisconsin Couldn't Complete the Comeback Attempt Today in Indy

Wisconsin Couldn’t Complete the Comeback Attempt Against Michigan State Today in Indy

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. Michigan State showed how dangerous its offense can be. The Spartans really made their offensive abilities known in this victory. Six Spartans finished in double-figures, led by senior big man Adreian Payne, who finished the game with 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting in only 17 minutes. The Spartans, as a team, were a hot shooting squad throughout the victory. They finished the afternoon at 56.9 percent from the field after shooting a sizzling 65.4 percent in the first half. Dangerous teams in the postseason receive great play from the point guard position and Michigan State received tremendous support from that position on Saturday. Starter Keith Appling and reserve Travis Trice combined for 21 points and 10 assists, while only committing one turnover. There has been a lot of talk all season about how that once Michigan State gets healthy, it will be a contender to cut down the nets in North Texas in early April. If the Spartans can string together several more offensive performances like Saturday, all that talk may have ultimately been warranted.
  2. Branden Dawson continues to impress in his return from injury. Dawson had a big night in Friday evening’s quarterfinal victory over Northwestern, as he finished with 16 points and nine rebounds. That strong performance carried over to Saturday afternoon, as the junior finished with 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting to go along with seven rebounds. Dawson had missed nine games due to a broken hand in the meat of the Big Ten schedule, but since his return at the beginning of the month, he has emerged as a very important player for the Spartans.
  3. Wisconsin’s inconsistent defense is troubling. In the Badgers’ 26-point victory over Minnesota on Friday night, their defense was terrific. Minnesota was held to just 57 total points on 32.8 percent shooting from the field. Bo Ryan‘s squad guarded with great intensity the other night and that was a major reason why it earned such a lopsided victory. Saturday against Michigan State was a different story though, as the Spartans were given open looks for much of the game and had very good success in converting those looks. The Spartans were able to build a 17-point halftime lead due to its scorching 65.4 percent shooting from the field in the opening 20 minutes. While its shooting percentage went down to 48 percent in the second half, Michigan State still was given many opportunities to increase its lead with little resistance from the Badger defense. To advance in the NCAA Tournament, you need to be consistently good on both ends of the court. That being said, Wisconsin is going to need to find a way to string together a stretch of solid defensive performances if it wants to advance far in the bracket.

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Big Ten Tournament: Friday Recap/Saturday Preview

Posted by Walker Carey on March 15th, 2014

With the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament in the books, we take a look at a few of the big takeaways from Friday, as well as storylines to keep in mind on Friday.

What went down on Friday:

The Top-Seeded Wolverines Survived an Upset Bid by Illinois Friday

The Top-Seeded Wolverines Survived an Upset Bid by Illinois Friday

  • Top-seeded Michigan survived a scare from a tenacious Illinois squad. The Wolverines saw a 13-point lead completely disappear before senior forward Jordan Morgan converted a layup with seven seconds left to give Michigan the 64-63 victory. The Wolverines were able to build their 13-point lead thanks to great assertiveness from sophomore Glenn Robinson III and the play-making ability of Big Ten Player of the Year, Nik Stauskas. The team’s fortunes, however, changed in the second half when Illinois dropped into a 2-3 zone that utterly frustrated Michigan throughout a majority of the second half.
  • Ohio State advanced to the semifinals with an epic 71-67 comeback victory over Nebraska. The Buckeyes trailed by 18 points with just over 13 minutes to play, but junior forward LaQuinton Ross and their suffocating defense took over and allowed Thad Matta’s squad to come all the way back to earn the victory. Senior guard Aaron Craft did not have the best game statistically, but he once again showed how valuable it is to have a confident, heady leader at the controls.
  • Wisconsin was very impressive in its 26-point mauling of a Minnesota team that could not find its way off the bubble. Senior guard Ben Brust turned in a career-best performance for the Badgers, finishing with a game-high 29 points. Bo Ryan’s squad also received a significant contribution from its bench, as guard Bronson Koenig and forward Nigel Hayes combined for 29 points. There have been questions all season about Wisconsin’s defense, but the Badgers were outstanding on that end of the court, limiting Minnesota to just 32.8 percent shooting for the game. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten All-Tournament Team: Quarterfinal Friday

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 15th, 2014

After the second day of action, the most unpredictable league in the country got kind of predictable. The four semifinalists are the the four teams that we on the microsite picked to finish in the top four of league play this season. It sets up some tremendous match-ups for Saturday, but first, here are five standouts from Friday’s quarterfinals in Indy.

LaQuinton Ross posted another double-double as Ohio State knocked off Nebraska. (Lucy Nicholson, Reuters)

LaQuinton Ross posted another double-double as Ohio State knocked off Nebraska. (Lucy Nicholson, Reuters)

  • LaQuinton Ross, Ohio State: Ross makes an appearance on the honor roll for the second day in a row because he had a double-double for the second day in a row. He shot the ball better yesterday, (9-of-18 from the field), snagged 13 rebounds, and also contributed two steals. He also picked up a technical foul for shoving Walter Pitchford at the 14:58 mark in the second half while his team was down 13 points. He scored 16 of his 26 points from that point forward, almost outscoring Nebraska (21 points) all by himself.
  • Ben Brust, Wisconsin: If someone had told me that Ben Brust scored 29 points in a game, I would have had to assume that he went nuts from behind the three-point line and hit something like six or seven bombs. His scoring last night, however, was a little more diversified. He hit all nine of his free throws, went 4-of-10 from deep, and was able to get to the basket after some nifty shot fakes. Brust also chipped in a trio of steals, doing a nice job pressuring Minnesota’s guards.

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Is Keith Appling Back, and With Him, Michigan State?

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 8th, 2014

When Keith Appling nailed his first three-pointer against Iowa on Thursday night, a sense of reserved joy and nervous hope emanated from the Breslin Center crowd. After all, the beleaguered Spartan point guard hadn’t hit one since suffering a wrist injury in February that sidelined him for three games, not to mention stunted his offensive production — no one knew if this was a blind squirrel finding a nut, or a sign of positive things to come. But when Appling sunk his second triple, capping off a 12-point scoring explosion that marked his best output since January? The arena sounded much more confident this time around, booming with an optimism that not even a senior night victory could manufacture alone. Instead, the cathartic roar acknowledged a greater possibility: If Appling is once again a viable a weapon on the offensive end, Michigan State is once again a Final Four threat.

If Keith Appling is truly back, the Spartans could be set for another March run. (Leon Halip/Getty Images North America)

If Keith Appling is truly back, the Spartans could be set for another March run. (Leon Halip/Getty Images North America)

Entering Thursday, Michigan State had lost three of its previous four games and Appling looked completely inept when it came to putting the ball in the basket. He scored two points in the home loss to Nebraska, one point against Purdue, and combined for 11 in back-to-back defeats to Michigan and Illinois. But while the 6’1’’ senior’s inability to score was troubling enough, his inability to even threaten to score was a much larger problem. Pre-injury Appling was a skilled shooter and an aggressive attacker, both skills that (in addition to his role as facilitator) took pressure off of and opened up shots for shooting guard Gary Harris, the Spartans’ most dynamic offensive player. Whether it was a waning shot clock or a team-wide offensive funk, the ability for Harris or Appling to penetrate-and-kick, finish at the rim, or get to the free throw line, enabled Michigan State to generate points in difficult circumstances. When the point guard hurt his wrist, sapping him of confidence and causing him to continuously defer, much of the burden was placed on Harris’ shoulders — and defenses knew it. Down the stretch against Illinois, for example, the team looked lost as the sophomore tried, time after time, to create his own shot to little avail. “For a long time, Gary had to do everything,” Tom Izzo mentioned after Thursday’s game.

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Big Ten Weekend in Review: Illinois and Indiana Mount Late Charges

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 3rd, 2014

With the drama pretty much settled at the top of the Big Ten standings, the biggest storyline to emerge from the weekend was the fact that Illinois and Indiana have rallied back to the point of respectability. Illinois shocked Michigan State 53-46 in East Lansing and has now won four of their last six games. Indiana was missing its Freshman of the Year candidate Noah Vonleh, yet still won over Ohio State 72-64 in a game that wasn’t really as close as the final score indicated. The Hoosiers have now won three of their last four contests and sit at 17-12 (7-9 in the Big Ten) on the season. Illinois is also 17-12 overall, with a 6-10 league mark. It’s still unlikely that either team will make its way to the right side of the bubble, but they’re inching closer and have meaningful games left this week that could help their respective causes. Iowa got back on track with a win over Purdue; Michigan continued to roll; and Wisconsin won its seventh game in a row. Here’s some of the rest from the weekend that was.

Roy Devyn Marble once again took over offensively as Iowa beat Purdue to stop a three game losing streak. (Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports).

Roy Devyn Marble once again took over offensively as Iowa beat Purdue to stop a three game losing streak. (Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports).

Player of the Weekend: Roy Devyn Marble: Marble continues to be slightly overlooked as a defensive player, as his length and wingspan are vital in Iowa’s 1-2-2 trapping half-court zone. Marble reached four or more steals for the fourth time this season, as Iowa forced 16 Purdue turnovers in its win on Sunday. He also did his normal damage on the offensive end as well, scoring 13 of his 21 points in the first half. He needed 18 shots from the field to get there, but this was more a function of Purdue’s defense as opposed to Marble forcing anything. He ended the game with team highs in points (21), assists (five), and steals (four).

Super Sub of the Weekend: Evan Gordon: Gordon and fellow senior Will Sheehey have really played well in the past week as Indiana won two out of three games. Gordon did nothing spectacular on Sunday, but he was really steady as a secondary ball-handler along with Yogi Ferrell. He knocked down pressure free throws in the late stages of the game once again, scoring nine points on the afternoon. He also got three steals as the Hoosiers were able to frustrate Aaron Craft into another horrible offensive game where the senior went 2-of-11 from the field with three turnovers. It looks as though Tom Crean is starting to lean on his seniors in the closing stages of games, as Gordon, Sheehey, and Jeff Howard saw time down the stretch in the win.

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Will Michigan State Ever be the Team We Thought It Could Be?

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 3rd, 2014

Branden Dawson’s return on Saturday was supposed to be the first positive step towards a full-strength resurgence for Michigan State, a “welcome back” moment for a bona-fide National Championship contender. Instead, the Spartans looked more like a fledgling team with a disorganized collection of talent than a veteran bunch ready to make a deep March run. “We didn’t play like a Michigan State team is supposed to play,” Tom Izzo said after the  53-46 home loss to Illinois. But with only a handful of games remaining before the stakes are significantly raised, the question has suddenly become two-fold for Izzo and his struggling group: Will they hit their peak before it’s too late? And—perhaps more ominous—is their peak even as high as first thought?

The concerns are piling up for Tom Izzo and the Spartans. (Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports)

The concerns are piling up for Tom Izzo and the Spartans. (Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports)

Despite his noticeable rust on the offensive end, Dawson’s first game back was actually encouraging in a lot of ways for the Spartans. The athletic junior seemed just as aggressive on the glass and tenacious on defense as he did before suffering the broken hand that kept him out a month. In 25 minutes of action, Dawson was energetic and unafraid, pulling down a team-high four offensive rebounds to go along with a pair of steals and a blocked shot—all-around pretty good, considering the long absence. The larger, more glaring concern was the play of Keith Appling; only recently back from an injury himself (wrist), the point guard remains nowhere near the player he was before the affliction. The Appling of old would confidently (and accurately) launch from behind the arc, explosively attack the basket, and knock down free throws when he earned trips to the line. It’s the reason he scored in double figures for seven straight games earlier this season and was in the conversation for Big Ten Player of the Year. But since his three-game hiatus in mid-February? The senior leader has attempted only three three-pointers, seldom penetrated the lane, and has gone just 2-for-8 from the charity stripe in 103 minutes of combined action. Among his misses were several potentially game-altering attempts against the Illini on Saturday that might have changed the outcome had they gone in. Whether it’s the lingering wrist injury or something else, Appling cannot continue to play at this level if the Spartans are going to make a run in the Big Ten and NCAA Tournament—he’s simply too important, both as a scoring option and a facilitator, to remain a non-factor.

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Big Ten M5: 02.28.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 28th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. For the first time in quite a while, Michigan State should have its full roster intact on Saturday when the Spartans take on Illinois. Branden Dawson will return to action for the first time in nine games, although head coach Tom Izzo doesn’t know how much he’ll be able to play. Dawson will have to wear a brace on his injured hand, but as long as said brace doesn’t hinder his ability to rebound and play defense, it shouldn’t be an issue. Even with players not necessarily playing at 100 percent health-wise, the Spartans will gain a lot of credibility with the selection committee by winning their last three with their lineup fully in place.
  2. Ben Brust has been slightly off shooting the ball as of late. He turned things around last game in the second half against Indiana however, and in the process became the 38th player in Wisconsin history to hit the 1,000-point plateau. Brust credited his teammates for this accomplishment saying, noting that “he was lucky to have good players when I got here to set an example for me.” Brust is shooting a slightly lower percentage (37.0%) on threes this season than in his last two (38.9% in both his sophomore and junior seasons), but he’s posting a much higher offensive rating and is knocking down almost 90 percent of his free throws. He could garner even more space in Wisconsin basketball lore with a hot shooting streak come March.
  3. Illinois is starting to turn things around after the Illini lost eight games in a row during conference play. They’ve now won three out of five games since they switched their starting lineup, putting Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn into the starting unit in place of seniors Jon Ekey and Joseph Bertrand. With their win against Nebraska on Wednesday night, the Illini guaranteed themselves a .500 record for the regular season. If they can miraculously win out against the likes of Michigan State, Michigan and Iowa, they may even have a remote opportunity to play themselves back onto the bubble. In this year’s Big Ten, you never know.
  4. That last statement could definitely also be applied to what happened with Minnesota forward Charles Buggs and his performance Tuesday night at The Barn. In this year’s Big Ten, you never know, and no one would have imagined or thought that someone who had played a grand total of 21 minutes all season could score 13 points and ignite a rally that may have saved the Gophers season. Buggs almost transferred in the midst of the coaching transition, but stick around because he thought his athleticism would work well in their up-tempo system. With Oto Osenieks hobbled with a knee problem, Buggs may have won himself extended time the rest of the season at the power forward spot.
  5. Anyone who saw the transition and success Northwestern had during their mid-season turnaround had to have noticed that JerShon Cobb was a huge part of their efforts. It was announced on Thursday afternoon that due to lingering knee and foot problems, Cobb will not play the rest of the season. Cobb will be heard from again as a senior leader for the 2014-15 version of the Wildcats, but for now they will struggle to win games for the rest of the 2013-14 campaign. This makes an already short bench even shorter, and hurts them defensively by losing Cobb’s length at the guard spot.
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Big Ten M5: 02.27.13 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on February 27th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. It’s common to think about Michigan State‘s numerous injury woes this season when discussing Sparty. With a rotation that relies so heavily on its starters, the losses of players throughout the regular season have been critical. Tom Izzo will get a chance to put a full and healthy lineup on the floor, though, with Branden Dawson due back in action soon, and his return will be critical for the Spartans to get back on track defensively. Dawson has been a strong defender for the team when he has played and his ability to limit the need for switching on ball screens will be helpful. Adreian Payne has struggled with that adjustment, so Dawson’s return means fewer issues for him and the whole team on the defensive end of the floor.
  2. There may not be a tougher way for Purdue to lose a game than it did last night against Michigan. The Boilermakers never trailed in regulation but lost in overtime by a single point on  buzzer-beater. Matt Painter’s team was perfect from the free throw line (a huge shock for the league’s worst foul shooting team) until its very last free throw, the front end of a one-and-one that left them ahead by only one. Finally, it was Glenn Robinson III, the son of one of Purdue’s all-time greats, who hit the tough baseline drive that rolled in for the win as the buzzer expired. It can only be described accurately as a “level one” stomach punch for Purdue fans. The ending was certainly troublesome, but maybe worse is that the team blew a 19-point lead in about 20 minutes of action. At home. Purdue now has to find two wins somewhere to make it to .500 on the season, which is no guarantee given its remaining schedule (away games at Iowa and Wisconsin followed by a home game vs. Northwestern).
  3. It has become a familiar trend for Indiana fans this season. The Hoosiers show flashes of brilliance on the road only to have it all come crashing down defensively in the second half. For the third time this season, Indiana held a double-figure lead on a road opponent (Wisconsin) and lost. Most troubling for the Hoosiers was Yogi Ferrell’s admission that nothing changed for the Badgers offensively; rather, the team just simply stopped defending as well in the second half. It is understandable that after a 19-point first half that the Badgers weren’t going to continue to shoot so poorly, but Indiana went from a 10-point halftime lead to an 11-point loss in relatively short order. That’s why Tom Crean’s team is headed to the NIT this season.
  4. Wisconsin has certainly had some big swings this season. It went from undefeated and No. 3 in the national polls to not being ranked at all in a matter of weeks. Now, the Badgers appear to be back in the neighborhood of being considered a Final Four contender. The big reason for this change is that its shooting and scoring have returned from the brief  hiatus. The persuasive number to consider here is that in the Badgers’ recent six-game winning streak they are scoring 1.18 points per possession, up from 1.04 points per possession during its five losses. This observation makes the answer on whether Wisconsin can run to the Final Four pretty simple. If the Badgers are hitting their shots, then their offensive versatility certainly makes it a potential team to see in North Texas.
  5. The bubble is always a scary place for a team. Minnesota certainly helped its NCAA Tournament case by getting a statement win over Iowa on Tuesday. The Golden Gophers aren’t yet off the bubble, but they helped their case tremendously by beating the Hawkeyes. At 18-11 with games against Michigan and Penn State remaining (plus the Big Ten Tournament), it has a good chance to reach the 20-win plateau. If the Golden Gophers win both of these games and their opening conference tournament game, they should be safely in the Dance. But in order to leave nothing up to chance, it wouldn’t be recommended to drop both games and hope for a run through what will be one of the nation’s most competitive conference tournaments.
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Weekend Preview in the Big Ten

Posted by Alex Moscoso & Brendan Brody on February 22nd, 2014

Typically, RTC Big Ten microwriters Alex Moscoso and Brendan Brody preview the weekend’s most important or interesting conference game. This week the problem is — and it is a good problem we might add — that all the games on this weekend’s slate have some level of significance. So we decided instead of focusing on just one to quickly preview and analyze each of the five weekend match-ups in this single post. Enjoy.

Wisconsin at Iowa (Saturday, 12:oo PM ET, ESPN2)

Fran McCaffery Was Not Happy About His Previous Ejection (AP)

Fran McCaffery Was Not Happy About His Previous Ejection (AP)

AM: This is one of the most consequential games this weekend as it pits the current third and fourth place teams against one another. If Wisconsin loses, the Badgers will likely be out of contention for a regular season championship as they’ll find themselves three games back of the Michigan-Michigan State winner with only five games remaining. In their previous meeting, Iowa came firing out of the gates and built an 11-point lead at half before blowing it as Fran McCaffery was ejected for an incensed outburst towards the officials. Look for Iowa to try to set the pace once again, but this time get players other than Roy Devyn Marble involved. It would also help to defend the three-point line better than they did at the Kohl Center, where Wisconsin shot a tidy 45.5 percent.

Minnesota at Ohio State (Saturday, 6:oo PM ET, BTN)

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Big Ten Award Spotlight: Does Denzel Valentine Deserve Recognition?

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 20th, 2014

The phrase “glue guy” is used almost to the point of it being a cliche. It’s thrown around by announcers almost every game to describe players, many of whom simply aren’t very good or have much of a lasting impact. Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine has been neither of those things this season: He’s been very good in his sophomore campaign, and he has made a significant and necessary impact for the 21-5 Spartans. He’s been the almost-literal definition of a glue guy, as he’s one of only two Michigan State players to have played in all 26 games during an injury-riddled season for a team that still has a chance to make the Final Four in Arlington and cut down the nets. But has he done enough to merit all-Big Ten consideration?

Denzel Valentine has been stuffing the stat sheet all season long for Michigan State. (Eric Gay, AP)

Denzel Valentine has been stuffing the stat sheet all season long for Michigan State. (Eric Gay, AP)

Before laying out the case statistically for Valentine and his impact, here’s a comparison to consider:

  • Player A: 25.5 MPG, 9.9 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.9 BPG
  • Player B: 29.0 MPG, 7.8 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.4 BPG

Player A is Draymond Green’s sophomore numbers, and player B is Denzel Valentine’s sophomore numbers. As you can see, they aren’t all that different. Green played more out of the post, but both players have filled similar roles early in their careers. Neither were asked to score, but they were both counted on by Tom Izzo to distribute the ball, hit the glass, and defend their butts off. Green was named to the all-Big Ten third team in his sophomore season, so it’s not all that far-fetched that Valentine would earn similar recognition this season. Consider his impact: He’s currently the only player to rank in the league’s top 10 in both rebounds and assists; he’s in the top 20 in steals (13th); and he’s fifth with a 2:1 assist to turnover rate. Whether his numbers are a bit inflated because of how many players Michigan State has had injured is irrelevant — his level of production is still quite solid.

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A Closer Look at Michigan State’s Game Without Adreian Payne & Branden Dawson

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on February 6th, 2014

According to the East Lansing Journal, Michigan State’s senior forward, Adreian Payne, will play against Penn State on Thursday night. After missing seven games with a foot injury, his return couldn’t come at a better time for the injury-riddled Spartans, who are also playing without their leading rebounder, Branden Dawson. Dawson will be out for at least more three weeks with a broken hand. Losing two out of three games without two of their best players isn’t completely surprising, but let’s take a closer look at why Tom Izzo needs at least one of them to be healthy by March to maintain any aspirations of contending for the national title. Specifically, let’s examine three statistics that generally show how Dawson and Payne’s absence has affected the Spartans on both ends of the floor.

Michigan State PPP

Per possession, the points allowed and the points scored give us an indication of Michigan State’s efficiency over the last three games. So far this season, the Spartans have only allowed 0.96 points per possession (PPP), and without the forwards, they have allowed, on average, a whopping 1.1 PPP on defense. Getting out-rebounded in each game will do that to you because offensive rebounds will lead to significantly easier buckets than jumpers. Even Denzel Valentine, one of the better rebounding guards in the country, isn’t enough to fill Dawson’s shoes because he is too busy chasing guards around the screens to come back to the defensive glass on every possession. Losing the rebounding edge is an obvious reason for the drop-off in defensive performance, but the Spartans have also been weak on transition defense because they continue to attack the offensive glass, despite a shorter lineup. This metric is tough to measure with the data available, but generally speaking, sending your forwards to the offensive glass on every possession means that the guards will need to run back immediately to cover any transition plays. That’s one area where they specifically miss Dawson because he would often sneak into the paint off the baseline to grab offensive rebounds. And when he did, there was no reason for Valentine to attack the glass, allowing him to run back down the floor to prevent any transition opportunities. Without Dawson and Payne, the Spartans have to change their philosophy of consistently picking up offensive boards – a change that’s tougher to implement because such a move would reduce their overall energy on the court.

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