It’s a Love/Hate Relationship: Volume V

Posted by jbaumgartner on December 11th, 2012

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish each week throughout the season. In this piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball.

Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED… another strong week from Michigan. I’ve always gotten a kick out of subtly rooting for the Wolverines, but have never quite been able to put my finger on why. I guess that while most people enjoy stirring up images of tradition and excellence when programs like Indiana get back on track, with Michigan it’s more about stirring up those memories of just how stinking COOL the program was in the early 90s with the Fab Five. This is a fun team to watch, and it doesn’t hurt that they have two sons of former NBA stars leading the way, either.

Tim Hardaway Jr. and Friends Have Been Outstanding This Season

I LOVED… Illinois putting up one of the true statement wins of the young season and perhaps emptying out the Gonzaga bandwagon already. What an incredible start for John Groce, and what a performance from Brandon Paul. That’s probably as encouraging as anything for the Illini, that they had a closer to ride down the stretch of a tight game. That’ll bode well for a Big Ten that is sure to have plenty of nailbiters all year long.

I LOVED…. laughing at this show of solidarity from the ACC presidents about no more schools leaving the conference. I’d say it’s safe to say at this point that potentially 80 percent of all major conference schools are at least entertaining hypothetical scenarios or potential TV deals at the moment. With switches happening almost every other week, it’s fairly comical to deny it.

I LOVED… and by loved, I mean lovvvvvvvvvved App State center Brian Okam’s hysterical blooper-reel free throw, as his charity toss slipped off his hands and literally went 10 feet vertically and maybe three feet horizontally (and that’s generous). But I also loved that Okam could see the humor and took the time to give a statement about the shot. Just remember big man – the next one is always going in.

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Big Ten M5: 12.11.12 Edition

Posted by jnowak on December 11th, 2012

  1. It sounds like the 2013-14 college basketball season is going to break ground on a large scale yet again, and with Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis again at the forefront of the idea, at least one Big Ten team is likely to participate in his latest and greatest idea. But as the culmination of the season — the NCAA Tournament and, particularly, the Final Four — has grown larger by the years and come to fill bigger spaces and stadiums, could the postseason suddenly be looking to slim down again? The Final Four hasn’t been played in a conventional basketball arena since 1996 and the next four Final Fours have already been scheduled for domes, but television executivess and NCAA administrators aren’t ruling out a return to arenas beyond that.
  2. Illinois has quietly been building one of the most impressive — and, perhaps, surprising — seasons around the country thus far, and their star is finally seeing the fruits of his labor. After leading the Illini to an impressive win at Gonzaga over the weekend, Brandon Paul was named the Big Ten Player of the Week. But should we be surprised? Just a few days after scoring 14 against Western Carolina, he went off for a season-high 35 against the Zags, shooting 10-of-16 from the field and 10-of-11 from the free throw line, all the while catapulting himself into the early national and conference Player of the Year discussion.
  3. It was just last year we were talking some promising freshmen at Iowa, and here we are again doing the same. With Aaron White now a sophomore, it’s newcomers like Adam Woodbury and Anthony Clemmons who are drawing high praise. Tork Mason of The Daily Iowan says that this incoming class has given the Hawkeyes some much-needed swagger, combining for 36 points over the last two games. In that span, Clemmons has a superb 16 assists and just one turnover.
  4. For the most part, as Deshaun Thomas goes, so goes Ohio State. And when things aren’t going well — consider his 3-of-10 shooting in the first half against Long Beach State, which led the preseason All-American to get down on himself recently — Thomas has been prone to show it on the floor. But coach Thad Matta has noticed an improvement in Thomas’ maturity, which has been critical as he’s stepped into a leadership role for the Buckeyes this season. “It’s just me learning the game and becoming an impact player and knowing there are other things than just scoring,” Thomas told “There are other things in the game of basketball.” Unfortunately for the rest of the Big Ten, Thomas can do most everything within the game of basketball.
  5. Michigan State freshman Denzel Valentine has thrilled Spartan fans this season with his dazzling style of play and court vision, but he’s also maddened them at times when his inexperience has shone through. It’s the latter trait that has led Tom Izzo to rein Valentine in a bit lately, saying the freshman is on “a choker leash.” Valentine had just one turnover in the second half against Loyola on Saturday, after a couple frustrating moments earlier in the season. It’s never a good idea to question the coaching strategies of the six-time Final Four head coach, so it’s reasonable to expect to see Valentine slowly but surely getting more comfortable with a controlled role during the rest of the season.
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Set Your DVR: Weekend Edition

Posted by bmulvihill on December 7th, 2012

Brendon Mulvihill is the head curator for @SportsGawker and an RTC contributor. You can find him @TheMulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

With a month to go in the non-conference season, we are starting to sort out the contenders from the pretenders. This weekend provides some additional match-ups that will give us a better indication of which teams we should watch out for come March. Let’s get to the breakdowns.

Colorado at #10 Kansas  2:00 PM EST, Saturday on ESPN2 (***)

This Weekend Colorado Tries to Beat Kansas for the First Time Since 2003

  • You might call this game a renewal of a Big 12 rivalry but the reality is that it has been far from a “rivalry.” Kansas has not lost to Colorado since the 2002-03 season. While this will be the first time that CU plays Kansas as a member of the Pac-12, coach Tad Boyle is 0-3 against the Jayhawks since taking the helm in Boulder two seasons ago. The big question for the Buffaloes will be how they handle KU center Jeff Withey. A few weeks ago, CU was able to slow down another seven-footer in Isaiah Austin when they defeated Baylor. However, Withey is not a freshmen trying to fit himself into “The Pierre Jackson Show.” He’s a senior who has proven to be a dominant force on defense and a capable offensive threat. Withey also cleans up on the glass, particularly on the defensive end. Colorado needs to figure out how to grab some of those misses lest it become a long night. Keep an eye on the three-point shooting of Colorado guards Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie. Both are threats from deep and both need to be on target to have a chance to win this one.

Temple vs. #1 Duke  3:15 PM EST, Saturday on ESPN (****)

  • Last season, Temple beat Duke in Philadelphia on the backs of Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson and Khalif Wyatt. Hollis-Jefferson and Wyatt combined to go 15-22 from the field in a somewhat surprising upset of the Blue Devils. The Owls also did it without this season’s leading scorer, Scootie Penn. However, when you compare this Duke team to last season’s team, they are more balanced and more patient without Austin Rivers dominating the ball. The Blue Devils have scoring threats all over the floor and point guard Quinn Cook is proving to be an excellent distributor. Additionally, Mason Plumlee has been superb. The key for the Owls will be figuring out a way to stop Plumlee in the paint. Unfortunately for Temple, scoring can come from anywhere when playing the Blue Devils. They are too balanced and too battle tested at this point to drop one to the Owls this year.
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Tyler Griffey Looks Like a Brand New Player In John Groce’s Offense

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on December 4th, 2012

Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.

Illinois head coach John Groce talked at length about instilling confidence into the Illini during the offseason. He talked about pushing the tempo. He talked about making the players tougher specifically during the late stretches of the game. After an 8-0 start, it is very clear that there is a change to these Illini when compared to last season. Winning the Maui Invitational and pulling out gutsy wins against Gardner-Webb and Georgia Tech in Champaign proves that Groce’s coaching style is beginning to work. No other player has benefited the most from the new coaching staff after the first three weeks than senior forward Tyler Griffey. An overall offensive philosophy that includes a reliance on the three-point shot helps Griffey because of his inherent strengths, including great range on his jumper and also the ability to handle the ball in half-court sets. Let’s examine how the new coaching staff has affected Griffey’s performance on the court.

Tyler Griffey has been extremely effective under the new coaching staff in Champaign

  1. Groce won’t bench him for a shooting slump: Griffey likes to shoot and the best shooters always try to shoot their way out of slumps. Confidence is huge for perimeter-oriented players and they shouldn’t be penalized for taking an ill-advised shot once in a while. Groce’s offensive schemes rely on guards who can handle the ball but who also can shoot from multiple spots on the floor. Griffey is no longer afraid to take a good shot and miss because he isn’t looking over his shoulder to the bench hoping that he isn’t pulled from the game. Over the past couple of seasons, if Griffey missed a few consecutive shots, it was likely that ex-coach Bruce Weber would bench him and make him think about those misses for an extended period of time. Sure, Griffey isn’t the greatest defender because he has a tough time against bigger forwards, but his offensive skills can outweigh his defensive drawbacks when he catches fire from beyond the arc. By riding the bench for a while, a shooter’s confidence gets rattled and Griffey felt like he could never get into a consistent rhythm during his first three seasons. But under the new coaching regime, he can afford to miss a couple of wide-open shots here and there before finding his rhythm. A perfect example was his performance in the Gardner-Webb game. A few days beforehand, Griffey was absolutely on fire in Maui as he shot 7-9 from beyond the arc and scored a total of 34 points. During the G-W game, he was 1-7 at one point in the second half, but Groce stuck with him even when the game was down to the wire and it paid off as he drilled a three-pointer to take the lead with two seconds left. Shooting yourself out of a slump and hitting the big shot is just as much of a confidence booster as it is to shoot over 75% during a three night stretch at Maui. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten Power Rankings: Week Three

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on November 23rd, 2012

This is the third installment of our weekly Big Ten Power Rankings which we will publish each Friday. This week’s voters were Deepak Jayanti, Joey Nowak and Kevin Trahan of the Big Ten microsite.

John Groce’s Illini look like a revamped group that will compete in the Big Ten.

  1. Indiana (5-0): Indiana solidified its No. 1 ranking by winning the Legends Classic in New York. The Hoosiers were pushed to overtime against Georgetown, but they came out on top thanks to the stellar play of Jordan Hulls. IU certainly didn’t look polished against the Hoyas and there could be some bumps in the road, but the Hoosiers took care of business as expected, therefore they still deserve the top billing in the Big Ten and the country.
  2. Michigan (4-0): Like the Hoosiers, the Wolverines were pushed to the limit by an unranked but very tough Big East team. Jamie Dixon’s Panthers are a hardy group that are trying to make their way back into the NCAA Tournament this season. The Wolverines held off Pitt in their first true test of the season by grinding it out and playing great defense. But we still don’t know a lot about this team, and likely won’t learn a lot more when they face Kansas State Friday night. We may have to wait for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge game against NC State to properly evaluate this team. Until then, we still think that the talented Wolverines are the second best team in the conference.
  3. Ohio State (3-0): The Buckeyes have been good but not great in the early going, disposing of some lesser foes in just three games so far. They’ll get a great chance to show what they’re made of against Duke in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, but until then, this team needs to show more that it can separate itself from lesser opponents. Because we have a small sample to evaluate them against the rest of the Big Ten, they are slotted as the third best team in the conference at this point. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions, Maui Style: Illinois 78, Butler 61

Posted by rtmsf on November 21st, 2012


Some quick thoughts from today’s first Maui Invitational championship game between Illinois and Butler

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. The Illinois Guards Played Like a Weight Has Been Lifted From Their Shoulders. The old joke goes something like this: Former Illinois head coach Bruce Weber happened upon a Champaign bank robbery a while back, but the suspects got away because he wouldn’t let the guards shoot. Hey, we didn’t make it up — we’re just repeating it. But regardless of the joke’s origin, the fact is that John Groce has unleashed the creativity and talents of his senior guards, Brandon Paul and DJ Richardson, as well as sophomore Tracy Abrams, in a way that we haven’t seen from these players previously in their careers. As a result, they’re confident and they’re producing — Paul was the MVP of the tournament, while Richardson was on all the all-tournament team. As Brad Stevens said about Paul in particular after the game — “he’s a big-time pro” — we’re finally getting to see what he can do on a regular basis. He averaged 20/4/3 APG over the three days — nobody was able to really figure him out.
  2. Butler Struggles When It’s the Rotnei Clarke Show. It probably goes without saying, but in three games here in Maui this week, the Bulldogs were at their best when Rotnei Clarke was acting as distributor while also picking his spots to shoot. When he found open teammates tonight, the shots simply weren’t falling — there were several in particular with Kellen Dunham (0-9) and Chase Stigall (0-2) where it was clear that their legs just weren’t under them after three games in three days. Clarke finished with 27 points on 10-19 shooting, but at the under-four timeout, he had accounted for exactly 50% of Butler’s points. None of the other players who had been so effective in the North Carolina game — Khyle Marshall, Andrew Smith, Dunham, Stigall — were able to do much tonight. Without their contributions, Butler won’t win many games relying solely on Clarke’s shooting prowess.
  3. Long-Term Prognosis of Both Teams. It says here that Illinois and Butler are both NCAA Tournament caliber teams, but they have obvious weaknesses that will be exploited during conference play. We’re guessing that the Illini have the higher ceiling, though. They’re not going to win the Big Ten without a legitimate big man inside (where have you gone, Meyers Leonard?), but the guard play should be enough to push John Groce’s team into the top of the middle of that league behind the likes of Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State. Butler is on a bit more shaky ground, though. So much of the offense needs to flow through Rotnei Clarke that the ceiling for the Bulldogs will largely depend on the ongoing development of players like Khyle Marshall, Andrew Smith and Kellen Dunham. The pieces are there for Butler to make a run at the top three in the Atlantic 10, but the margin for error seems considerably large this year.

Star of the Game. Brandon Paul, Illinois. Paul’s numbers were good — 20/3/4 assts — but it was how he set the tone from the opening tip that impressed tonight. He had an assist on a three and knocked down two jumpers of his own before the first TV timeout to help give the Illini a working lead of 13-5, and Butler never got the margin under five points the rest of the way. If he plays this way all year, he’ll be an All-American to go along with his Maui Invitational MVP trophy.

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Two Key Observations From Illinois’ Win Over USC in Maui

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on November 20th, 2012

Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.

In case you did not stay up until the wee hours on Monday night to watch the Maui Invitational, you probably missed Illinois’ dominating 30-point win over Southern California. The Trojans brought in a slew of talented transfers this season and are expected to be competitive in the Pac-12 and potentially make a run at an NCAA bid. The game was supposed to a close contest between two good teams but John Groce’s Illini took off with the game immediately from the tip-off. The Illini shot 45% from beyond the arc on their way to building a 30-point lead during the first half. Illinois fans are cautiously optimistic about their team because they have been used to late season slumps after a hot start, but last night’s group had a different feel to them. There was an extra hop to the steps of DJ Richardson and Brandon Paul and company that was non-existent during the last two months of the 2011-12 season. Keeping in mind that it is just one game against a team that is not a juggernaut, the following are two key takeaways from last night’s game:

D.J. Richardson and the Illini look like a revamped group so far this season.

  1. Defensive Intensity: When Illinois played three guards (D.J. Richardson, Brandon Paul and Tracy Abrams) along with a wing (Myke Henry or Joe Bertrand), they were very quick on defense in disrupting the passing lanes. They lack the depth in the frontcourt and may be exposed in the paint but the guards caused a ruckus by being extremely active and pressing the ball-handlers in the half court sets. The Illini big men – Nnanna Egwu and Tyler Griffey, may not be able to defend the post effectively which means that the opponents can push the ball inside but this strategy will backfire if the Illini guards make it very tough for the guards to make an effective entry pass. The USC forwards — Aaron Fuller and Eric Wise -– were never truly comfortable in the paint because their guards could not settle down. During most of the Trojans’ inbound plays, Egwu jumped up and down in front of the  player who was trying to inbound the ball which forced him to throw the pass to the other end of the court and a reset of their offense all over again. Paul, Bertrand and Abrams were all over the USC guards and forced 16 turnovers including 11 steals. Every Illini fan is expecting the guards to push the tempo offensively but Groce might have convinced them to make a difference on the defense immediately. Read the rest of this entry »
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Some Predictions for Individual Big Ten Awards This Season

Posted by jnowak on November 12th, 2012

With the season getting under way, the Big Ten Microsite writers put their heads together and predicted who will come away with some conference hardware this season. Take a look:

  • Big Ten Player of the Year: Cody Zeller, Indiana — A pretty easy choice, all things considered. Zeller is the best player returning to the consensus No.1 team in the country, and a near unanimous selection to be an Associated Press preseason All-American. The sophomore center has it all — good hands, smarts, a nose for the ball around the basket, and runs the floor well. This is his award to lose.
  • All-Big Ten First Team: Cody Zeller, Indiana — see above; Trey Burke, Michigan — the conference’s best point guard who had a breakout season as a freshman and flirted with the NBA; Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State — another AP preseason All-American poised to be a star with the departure of Jared Sullinger; Tim Frazier, Penn State — the conference’s most dangerous scorer, but with plenty of pressure on his shoulders; Drew Crawford, Northwestern — Crawford should be the go-to guy in Evanston this season, with the perimeter all to himself to do what he does best.

No surprise here: Indiana’s Cody Zeller is our preseason Big Ten Player of the Year (Sandra Dukes/US Presswire)

  • All-Big Ten Second Team: Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota — a constant double-double threat on the mend from ACL surgery; Aaron Craft, Ohio State — perhaps the best floor general and defensive player in the league; Keith Appling, Michigan State — a true scorer who can find his groove in Michigan State’s fast-paced offense; Brandon Paul, Illinois — the best player on an Illinois team trying to find itself; Roy Devyn Marble, Iowa — a big part of the resurgence in Iowa City. (Others considered: Mike Bruesewitz, Wisconsin; Derrick Nix, Michigan State; Terone Johnson, Purdue)
  • Defensive Player of the Year: Aaron Craft, Ohio State — A predictable choice for a guy who has already won the award once and has been on the All-Big Ten Defensive Team each of his first two seasons in Columbus. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten M5: Opening Day Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on November 9th, 2012

  1. The preseason top 50 players for the Wooden Award has been announced and nine Big Ten players were included on the list. The full list can be found here but clearly the B1G dominates the list which should come as no surprise because there are five teams ranked in the Top 25 from the league. Michigan, Indiana and Ohio State have two players each on the team, while Michigan State’s Keith Appling, Illinois’ Brandon Paul and Penn State’s Tim Frazier round the up the rest of the nine. Paul and Frazier might not lead their teams to the NCAA Tournament but both of them are expected to stuff the stat sheets and should average at least 15 PPG this season.
  2. Speaking of Indiana, Tom Crean is hoping that the suspensions of Hanner Perea and Peter Jurkin will be reduced after the NCAA hears their appeals. Both freshmen were suspended for nine games for accepting benefits from a booster. After losing Derek Elston for a few weeks due to an injury, Crean needs their help in the frontcourt to protect and complement Cody Zeller. The Hoosiers won’t struggle too badly without them but a long suspension will derail their plans to improve by conference season with a full rotation of players. Indiana’s game against North Carolina in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, for example, will be tough but they have enough talent to overcome the Tar Heels without these two freshmen.
  3. The college hoops season tips off today with Michigan State battling Connecticut at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany. This is a big game for Tom Izzo not just professionally but also at a personal level. One of Izzo’s relatives, Michael Izzo, works at the commissary office and will meet the head coach along with his family. Izzo is also happy that the troops overseas will get to see an exciting match-up between two historic programs in college hoops. As for the game itself, Michigan State’s Gary Harris will showcase his talents for the first time on the national stage and the Spartans will look to lock down the Connecticut backcourt of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright if they want to pull of an opening win today.
  4. Ohio State is considered a top 10 team in the country mainly due to the talents of Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft. Not only do the Buckeyes have two potential All-Americans on their roster but they also have great depth at the wing position. Thad Matta will wait until tonight’s tipoff to decide who starts at the small forward position for the season opener against Marquette. Sam Thompson and Laquinton Ross are the finalists for that spot and both are great choices due to their gifted athleticism. Ross was highly ranked out of high school and is supposed to have great offensive skills while Thompson is a very tough defender. Lenzelle Smith Jr. will play at the scoring guard position alongside Aaron Craft in the backcourt.
  5. Minnesota’s Tubby Smith has to be glad that the season is finally here after all of the off-court troubles he’s had to deal with over the last couple of months. But on the flip side, he will also be under intense scrutiny to perfrom and the fans will expect him to show some results on the court. He is owed $2 million this season and needs to prove that he is worth such a big paycheck. Trevor Mbakwe is definitely confident that the Gophers will prove their worth on the court and he has a great supporting cast as well. Rodney Williams can get to the basket in several different ways and Andre Hollins will be great on the perimeter. Smith needs to win consistently over the next two months to divert all of the negative attention back to winning actual basketball games and prove that he has control of the program.
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Big Ten M5: 11.08.12 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on November 8th, 2012

  1. Illinois head coach John Groce has iterated multiple times during the offseason about the need to push the tempo in Champaign. He wants his guards to increase the pace of the game but limit their turnovers. Illinois is loaded with guards such as Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson and Tracy Abrams but what about the big guys? Sophomore forward Nnanna Egwu returns after playing only 10 MPG last season. Meyers Leonard is now a key part of the Portland Trailblazers so Egwu will need to do his best to provide that inside presence to Illinois. He does not have the offensive skills yet but he brings a bunch of energy in his minutes and will fit in fairly well with a fast-paced system because he runs the floor very well. The Daily Illini discusses Egwu’s role for the Illini and what the Orange Krush can expect from him in Groce’s offense.
  2. Speaking of forwards, Wisconsin has an excellent trio returning for their senior seasons. Jared Berggren, Mike Bruesewitz and Ryan Evans will provide valuable on-court experience for Bo Ryan this season. All three of these players understand the swing offense very well and know the particulars of the Wisconsin system. Berggren shoots the deep ball very well for a big man (38% 3FG) and Bruesewitz is a jack of all trades, especially on defense. Evans averaged 6.8 RPG last season but can score from several positions on the floor. If all of these players are healthy (a big if right now), they will provide a great foundation for Ryan despite a largely unproven backcourt of Ben Brust and George Marshall.
  3. Transitioning from experienced forwards to a freshman version, Michigan’s Mitch McGary is working hard to slim down before the regular season. The top-25 recruit is currently 6’10” and weighs 262 lbs. but is trying to get leaner and improve his conditioning in preparation for a season that could result in a potential Final Four. McGary is specifically focused on staying near the rim and defending the post which will be extremely important against the other top big men in the league such as Cody Zeller and Trevor Mbakwe. John Beilein should be happy about McGary’s work ethic and his keen understanding of his defensive role for the Wolverines.
  4. Penn State’s Tim Frazier will be one of the best players in the Big Ten this season. Every team in the league will focus their defensive sets to send multiple defenders at Frazier but that strategy might not work because of two other wings on the Penn State roster. Guards D.J.Newbill and Jermaine Marshall have improved over the offseason and should be poised to take advantage of any double-teams drawn by Frazier this season. Marshall averaged 10.8 PPG last season while Newbill transferred from Southern Miss after averaging 9.2 PPG as a freshman. Newbill in particular will provide some depth on the perimeter and could match up well against the second- or third-best defenders on opposing teams if he plays alongside Frazier and Marshall.
  5.  Michigan State’s Branden Dawson has been watching a lot of film of some of the great guards that have passed through East Lansing over the years. Dawson is still recovering from an ACL injury suffered last March and has used the time off to improve his game outside of the gym by focusing on game film. Tom Izzo’s staff has been showing the sophomore tapes of other legendary Spartans such as Jason Richardson, Morris Peterson and Charlie Bell. Dawson has the right mixture of athleticism and size to eventually be as good as any of those names if he can stay healthy. He proved that he was a very cerebral player last season when he assumed the role of a defensive stopper which is very impressive for a freshman to become in a competitive conference.
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