Conference Report Card: Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 25th, 2011


 

 

Brian Goodman is an RTC editor and contributor.

Year In Review

Before the start of the season, pollsters bought into Kansas State as the sexy pick to take the Big 12 in 2011 on the heels of an Elite Eight appearance in 2010. The Big 12 was not overly impressive in non-conference play, as the Wildcats fell hard to Duke in a de facto home game in Kansas City, and Missouri did the same against Georgetown in one of the more thrilling matchups of the early season.

As league play began, the preseason #3 Wildcats disappointed, starting 2-5, and the usual stalwarts of the Big 12, Kansas and Texas, rose to the top. After topping the Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse in January, the Longhorns looked to be in the driver’s seat, especially after Kansas was blindsided at Bramlage Coliseum to give Texas a two-game lead. However, Rick Barnes‘ team suffered another late-season collapse, going 2-3 to finish the regular season while the Jayhawks dusted off the competition to pull ahead to take their seventh straight conference crown.

Elsewhere in the conference, the Wildcats bounced back to end the season in third place. The middle of the conference wasn’t settled until the latter stages of the season with Missouri falling lat and Texas A&MColorado and Nebraska treading water. Baylor underachieved, given the talented personnel in Waco, and Oklahoma State never really looked in sync. OklahomaTexas Tech and Iowa State all had awful seasons to finish at the bottom of the standings.

In the conference tournament final, Kansas played its best basketball of the season, topping Texas to gain some revenge entering the Big Dance. Colorado was snubbed on Selection Sunday despite beating Kansas State three times, but the Big 12 still managed to get five teams into the NCAA Tournament. However, only the Jayhawks made it out of opening weekend alive, and they fell short of expectations as they lost to Shaka Smart and the Rams’ reign of BCS destruction.

KU's front line of Thomas Robinson (left) and the Morris twins evolved into a strength, and the Jayhawks struggled most when they weren't utilized on offense. (AP/Jamie Squire)

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Morning Five: 03.03.11 Edition

Posted by jstevrtc on March 3rd, 2011

  1. Jason Wright of the Deseret News sums up what he saw from the San Diego State students during last Saturday’s BYU vs SDSU game, and is still none too happy about it. After reading his account, we had some questions of our own for him: how can you blame the crowd for your daughter hearing that often-used and ineffective two-syllable expletive chant (it’s one word, by the way, Jason) after a bad call when it’s your hand holding the remote? You shouldn’t have had a problem changing the channel if this really was one of two games you’ve watched from start to finish this year, as you admit. And as far as BYU going off “to find other places to play?” Well, they did. Care to wager if the reception is any better in the WCC next season?
  2. This isn’t a recycling of a previous M5 nugget, but it is a link to a story about a former Michigan State guard transferring to Iowa State. Last summer, it was Chris Allen. Now it’s Korie Lucious who’s headed to Ames. They’ll practice but won’t play together, since Allen will be on the court next year, a season Lucious must sit out before he returns for 2012-2013. Korie cited ISU coach Fred Hoiberg’s NBA connections as a reason for choosing the Cyclones.
  3. At the Villanova @ Seton Hall game on February 15th, it has been alleged that the partner of Keon Lawrence’s mother (Lawrence had already been dismissed from the team) assaulted the mother of SHU guard Jordan Theodore in the stands. Later that night, Theodore, flanked by two dudes in ski masks, allegedly knocked on Lawrence’s dorm room door while packing a gun. Yeesh. Theodore now faces a charge of unlawful possession of a firearm on school property, despite the questionable testimony that led to it.
  4. The glare problem in Oregon’s Matthew Knight Arena has been remedied, but the midcourt line controversy remains. That may soon change. In this story at the blog of The Oregonian, floor designer Tinker Hatfield comments on his inspiration for the court’s design, how he loves the controversy about it, what the symbols on the floor mean, and the competitive advantages that may be inherent in the design. As a defense for the lack of a highly visible half court line, he says that the center line at Kansas‘ Allen Fieldhouse is partially obscured by the large Jayhawk logo at midcourt [Ed. note: I’m looking at KU’s floor as I type this, and the whole center line is visible].
  5. Tell us we haven’t seen the last of Fang Mitchell at Coppin State. The Eagles have been to the NCAA Tournament four times (1990, 1993, 1997, 2008) and Mitchell has been at the helm for each one. In his 26-year tenure, he’s won four MEAC Coach of the Year awards, and from 1992-98 his squads won 54 of 55 conference games. It’s been a tough decade for CSU, though, despite this year’s squad posting a 10-5 MEAC record going into their senior night game this evening against Morgan State. The Baltimore Sun’s Ken Murray writes that the winds of change may be swirling in Baltimore. Despite his evidence, we still hope it isn’t true.
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Morning Five: 02.07.11 Edition

Posted by jstevrtc on February 7th, 2011

So, now that that’s over…

  1. Despite suffering that defeat at the hands of The Jimmer and BYU twelve days ago, there’s still a lot of love out there for San Diego State. And why not? They’re fun to watch, have multiple weapons, and have a great built-in story of redemption in head coach Steve Fisher. The New York Times’ Pete Thamel recently visited the Aztec boss and explains why there’s a lot more at stake this year for him than just a Final Four or a national title.
  2. Ashton Gibbs leads his Pittsburgh squad in scoring (16.3 PPG), free throw percentage (89.7%), and three point percentage (46.3%). He drilled all five of this treys in the win against Cincinnati on Saturday en route to a 25-point night. Unfortunately for the Panthers, that’s the last contribution Gibbs will be making for a while. Gibbs has an MCL injury as a result of wear-and-tear to his left knee and will miss the next 10-14 days. He won’t need surgery, for now, but you’ll definitely notice him on the sideline with a very large brace on that knee.
  3. The clubhouse leaders for Korie Lucious’ final year of service next season appear to be Iowa State and Marquette. Even with two Final Fours’ worth of experience under his belt, considering the year he’s had both on and off the court, is it worth it for a program to open its doors to Lucious? The Marquette site Cracked Sidewalks lists the pros and cons of bringing the dismissed Michigan State man aboard. For the record, we’ve still got our money on Iowa State, since Chris Allen’s there.
  4. The tall, suited, enthusiastic, bespectacled fellow you see on the Ohio State bench during games is assistant coach and former Ohio Bobcat captain Jeff Boals. His distinct look (with the cool frames), reputation as both a coach and compadre among his players, and tweeting skills — we’ve been followers of @JeffBoals for well over a year, now — have inspired a couple of OSU students who sit near the bench during home games to adopt the coach’s appearance, right down to the hairstyle and specs, calling themselves the Boals Brothers. OSU’s Lantern has a nice piece on the coach who’ll almost certainly be running his own team in the next few years and become another branch of the Thad Matta coaching tree, assuming Boals would ever want to leave the good gig he’s got now.
  5. A basketball Beanpot? Yes, please. For 58 years, Boston’s four major hockey schools — Boston U., Northeastern, Harvard, and Boston College — have taken part in the Beanpot, a tournament among themselves with games on the first two Mondays in February for city bragging rights. As Boston is a young town and one of the best sports cities in the country, you can easily assume how popular the venerated event is. They had a hoops version for 14 years that petered out in 1976, but with the interest of Philadelphia’s Big 5 growing ever further both inside and outside of Philly, and because other cities and states are pondering similar events (get it done, Chicago), a hoops Beanpot with Holy Cross and UMass also thrown in the mix might become a reality, according to the Boston Globe. The coaches seem to be all for it, if they can figure out where to fit it on the schedule. We’d like to go ahead and put in our credential request now…
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ATB: The Day After

Posted by jstevrtc on January 28th, 2011

The Lede. Hopefully everyone was over their Jimmer hangovers by the time the games started tonight. Judging by Twitter, and…well, pretty much every sports outlet in the nation, the transitive verb “to Jimmer” has entered the American sporting lexicon with some serious impact. We can’t remember when a college baller’s name has ever been used in this fashion; nobody ever said “You got Turnered/Walled,” or “He Morrisoned them,” or “They Hansbrough’d the heck out of that poor team.” And the only name we can think of that contains a reverent “The” at the beginning that’s in regular use today belongs to U2 guitarist The Edge, though — and credit to Seth Davis for starting the trend — “The Jimmer” is now commonplace usage in referring to just about everybody’s favorite player.

Darius Morris and Crew Start the Celebration (J.Gonzalez/Detroit FP)

But enough of that for now. We’ll have many chances to discuss him later. Tonight we saw three tough conference road wins, two of them in games involving bitter rivals. We have a couple of RTCs we have to weigh in on, and a pair of outstanding tweets from the Gonzaga vs St. Mary’s game. First, though, we start…with Sparty.

Your Watercooler Moment. On the halftime coverage of ESPN2’s St. Mary’s @ Gonzaga game, when asked about how dire the situation was for Michigan State this year after their loss to Michigan tonight, even the understated Dan Dakich hesitated for effect and said gravely, “Well…it’s pretty serious.”

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Two Michigan State Players Guilty of Poor Judgment, Possibly More?

Posted by rtmsf on September 29th, 2010

We’ve blathered on and on about this before, but year after year it never fails to amaze.  Anecdotally at least, it seems that the months of August and September every single year are marked with college basketball players filling up the police blotters.  Why can’t guys stick to getting ready for the upcoming hoops season rather than involving themselves in all sorts of other nonsense?  Our theory is that players get back to school and have nothing going on for the first time in quite a while.  Summer camp and international team obligations are over. Individual workouts won’t start for another month, and the formal start of practice a month after that.   The demands of classwork haven’t really kicked in yet.  The weather is still hot, and guys are looking to cut loose.

A Different Kind of Madness Every Fall

In other words, all of the pieces of the common aphorism that “idle hands are the devil’s playthings” are in place, and just as consistently as sundresses on the quad in August, players around the nation cannot seem to avoid the early fall tendency to put themselves in situations where trouble finds them.   We’re not being accusatory here — we fully allow and understand that players are often victims of false accusations and overzealous police and prosecutors as a result of their local celebrity — but that’s why they need to be careful to stay out of risky situations.  And yet, year after year, they don’t. 

The latest and greatest case comes from Michigan State.  You know, Tom Izzo’s superb program that has been to the last two Final Fours and is an odds-on favorite to reach a third next April.  According to a report released today by the Michigan Messenger, two high-profile (unnamed) MSU players were accused of a serious sexual assault in a dorm on the night of August 29-30.  The details of both the police report, much of which was corroborated by the alleged victim and one of the two players, paint a horrific picture. 

Once in the room, the three started playing basketball using a mini-hoop. When the victim missed a basket, one of the men told her she had to remove an article of clothing. The victim agreed and removed her t-shirt because she had a tank top on underneath.  At this point, the victim says, the players began to deliberately miss baskets until they were stripped “completely naked.” One of the men allegedly blocked the doorway to the room, while the other “cornered” the victim in the room.  “[The victim] explained to [detectives] that the body language of [the players] suggested she was not free to leave,” the report says. “[Redacted] was blocking any escape path to the exit of the dorm room. [The victim] stated that after [redacted] approached the door he turned the lights in the room off and the room went completely dark. At this point, the sexual assault began.  The victim told police the players penetrated her in various positions. The victim told detectives the players allegedly asked her “how does that feel?” and “how do you want it?” The victim says she told the players she didn’t want it and gave “other indicators she was not a willing participant.”  The victim told police that the players pinned her down, but at one point she freed her arms momentarily and struck one of the players in the face. The player was on top of her and in response to her hitting him, he allegedly said, “Don’t. Just relax. C’mon,” as he continued to assault her, the report says.

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2010-11 RTC Class Schedule: Kentucky Wildcats

Posted by zhayes9 on August 27th, 2010

Zach Hayes is a editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court.  To see the entire group of 2010-11 Class Schedules, click here.

After dissecting a trio of Big 12 teams in prior weeks, more and more elite programs are releasing their 2010-11 schedules to the masses. Let’s continue with Kentucky, a squad that reloaded following the departure of an astounding five first round draft picks.

With so much turnover, Calipari has another tough coaching job on his hands

Team Outlook: A fan base as rabid and fanatical as Kentucky’s surely awaited this week’s announcement with tremendous anticipation. Big Blue Nation has expectations for their Wildcats that perennially surpass any other program in the nation. Their point guard and this April’s #1 overall pick in the NBA Draft, John Wall, will be replaced by Brandon Knight, whose high school accolades and ranking matches those of his predecessors under John Calipari. If deemed eligible by the NCAA, Enes Kanter will fill the post presence left by the ultra-productive DeMarcus Cousins. Similarly to Kanter, Terrence Jones spurned Washington and headed to Kentucky, a 6’9 wing very capable of matching the offensive production provided by Eric Bledsoe a season ago. The key word for Kentucky and Calipari since he took the helm: replenish. And if Knight, Kanter and Jones are history next April, three more top-ten recruits will fill the void. It’s a tall task for Knight and Kanter to match the contributions of Wall and Cousins, two of the top three players in the sport last season. Still, with such talent abounding, a wide open SEC, and the true dribble-drive offense back into high gear, to expect a giant step back from Big Blue and underestimating the coaching prowess of Calipari would be a grave mistake.

Non-Conference Schedule Rank (ranked 1 thru 10, 10 being the most difficult): 7.5. A program with the visibility and significance of Kentucky should challenge themselves at every chance. Forced out of necessity more than choice to load up in November and December at Memphis, Calipari has utilized that same strategy in Lexington. The potential is there to face fellow powerhouses at least in terms of college basketball history: North Carolina, Michigan State, Louisville, Indiana, Notre Dame, Washington and Oklahoma, although these teams remain at varying degrees of competitiveness. Kentucky will surely attract an enormous contingent to Maui where they could face a top-ten team in the semifinals in Washington and a top-two team in the finals, Michigan State. North Carolina is still working its way back up to elite status following last year’s NIT berth, but the young Wildcats’ trip to the Dean Dome won’t be any sort of cakewalk. The same theory applies to Louisville on New Year’s Eve, the next chapter of one of the fiercest rivalries the sport knows. A matchup with possible NCAA squad Notre Dame should also prove competitive. Kentucky gets everyone’s best shot, and it’s no relief for Calipari that up to seven non-conference contests will be either on true road or neutral floors.

Cupcake City: Two notable cupcakes travel to Lexington when Mississippi Valley State and Coppin State make the trip for what should be 40-point blowouts, but other than that Calipari did a solid job limiting the scrubs. East Tennessee State returns their top three scorers from an NCAA Tournament team that was blown out in the first round by, you guessed it, Kentucky. I’m not saying the Wildcats are vulnerable to lose to the Buccaneers, but they will not be a total walkover. Winthrop rode a Big South Cinderella run to an NCAA bid and is on the slate. Boston University with John Holland and Jake O’Brien is halfway decent, while a Maui tune-up in Portland against the rebuilding Pilots will provide a raucous atmosphere. Last season, Kentucky did struggle a bit early in the campaign against Miami (OH), Stanford and Sam Houston State while Calipari determined roles and rotations for a plethora of new players. If the same holds true a year later, Portland and BU could be pesky opponents.

Toughest Early Season Test: It’s far from a guarantee that Kentucky downs Washington in the Maui semifinals. After all, the Huskies return the majority of their backcourt led by Isaiah Thomas, Venoy Overton and Abdul Gaddy with a frontcourt anchored by Matthew Bryan-Amaning and a talented newcomer in Terrence Ross. Plus, they should have plenty of motivation to knock Kentucky down a few pegs following the Kanter and Jones situations that have been rehashed continuously. If the Wildcats can survive Washington, and I have a sneaking suspicion they will, Michigan State awaits in the final if the Spartans can knock off Connecticut or Wichita State (unless they pull a Virginia against Chaminade). The Spartans return their entire Final Four squad with the exception of Raymar Morgan and Chris Allen. Containing Kalin Lucas is baptism by fire for green Brandon Knight, while wing Darius Miller may have the unenviable task of chasing around three-point bomber Durrell Summers. The Spartans will likely be ranked number two in the nation behind Duke at this point. Win or lose, the learning experience will certainly be valuable for the young Wildcats.

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Morning Five: 08.23.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on August 23rd, 2010

  1. Our correspondent Andrew Murawa put the Mountain West/WAC situation into understandable terms over the weekend, but we wanted to highlight one area of particular concern.  It certainly appears that BYU will now remain a member of the MWC, while the WAC’s Fresno State and Nevada will join up with its new league as soon as possible; but the real wildcard in all of this is Utah State.  If the Mountain West is able to recruit it’s twelfth school USU over to its side, that would leave the WAC with a mere five teams, less than the requisite six needed (for five consecutive years) to retain its automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.  The current mixture of automatic/at-large bids in the Big Dance exists at 31/37.  If the WAC implodes, another at-large team could be getting a bid as soon as the 2012 Tourney.  Somewhere in southwest Virginia Seth Greenberg just danced a jig.
  2. Jason King at Yahoo! Sports takes a look at one of the most unappreciated aspects of college basketball recruiting, the top assistant coaches who get the job done in the trenches so that the head coach can later take all the credit and glory of those hotshot players.  It should be no surprise to you that the names of assistants at Ohio State, Kentucky, Memphis, Texas, Kansas and Michigan State are all represented on this list.   What is odd is that nobody from Duke or UNC are here — perhaps Coach K and Roy Williams are simply all that is needed to get the job done at those schools.
  3. Chris Allen, the Michigan State guard who did not meet the standards required of him by head coach Tom Izzo, will re-surface at Iowa State in the 2011-12 season.  His decision to transfer to ISU over UTEP and St. John’s is a major boon for Fred Hoiberg’s rebuilding project in Ames.  Allen, a full-time starter on the 2009-10 Spartans, will bring a toughness and solid three-point stroke to the Cyclone program for his senior campaign.  Let’s hope, though, that whatever it was that put him in the doghouse in East Lansing will be left behind among the unused moving boxes.
  4. MaxPreps has released its post-summer top 100 recruits for the Class of 2011, and Michael Gilchrist (Elizabeth, NJ) remains at the top despite strong summers from several competitors.  Kentucky’s John Calipari has already received verbals from three of the top nine — Gilchrist, Anthony Davis (Chicago, IL), and Marquis Teague (Indianapolis, IN).  Interesting note: if you want to see great HS talent in person next season, the Commonwealth of Virginia, with nine players, is where you should be.
  5. This is a must-read every summer, as Luke Winn gives us his 2010-11 Breakout Five players.  He uses Pomeroy statistics to make educated determinations as to the players most likely to have impact sophomore campaigns, and his findings are worth the time.  The biggest surprise name on the list?  Miami (FL)’s Reggie Johnson.
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Morning Five: 08.10.10 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on August 10th, 2010

  1. A couple of years ago we posted an article about teams taking advantage of a bylaw allowing them to start their season early by playing overseas once every four years. Coming into this season Oregon had planned to go to Europe to get ready for this season, but after the firing of Ernie Kent and a rash of other departures the Ducks are considering cancelling their trip to Europe.
  2. For the past few years the NC ProAm has been one of the feature summer events for college players in particular incoming freshman with the best example being John Wall famously dunking on Jerry Stackhouse last summer. We’ve heard plenty of chatter coming out of the tournament this year about the performance of such notable incoming freshmen as Kyrie Irving and Harrison Barnes, but it was a pair of Duke players (Andre Dawkins and Ryan Kelly) that came away with the title as they scored 18 and 16 points respectively in the championship game. It probably didn’t hurt that they had a few chumps (Raymond Felton, Josh Powell, and tournament MVP Marcus Fisher) rounding out the starting line-up.
  3. Speaking of Blue Devils, Nolan Smith appears to have been stepping up this summer, showing a new explosiveness that we haven’t seen thus far in his college career (at least not to this degree).  He poured in 41 points in a recent NC ProAm game, even drawing praise from former Tar Heel Jawad Williams. Our favorite part of the article is Jawad throwing “praise” at Mason Plumlee saying “Plumlee is very skilled for a guy with his height. He could be a Josh McRoberts-type player.” Uh, thanks. I’m sure every Duke fan just felt like throwing up.
  4. When Tom Izzo announced that Chris Allen would no longer be a part of the Michigan State basketball program, the first thought on many people’s mind was where he would end up. According to his mother “the phones have been blowin’ up” as she cites Notre Dame, UConn, Iowa State, Memphis, and South Florida as some of the many schools that have been actively courting her son. For their part, the UConn staff has denied making any such contact. So now the question is Ms. Allen trying to pull a Drew Rosenhaus on us or is UConn being less than honest about their recruiting again?
  5. Are we tired of talking about Anthony Davis and the alleged $200,000 yet?  As you know, over the weekend Davis’ father told anyone who would listen that the family was planning on suing the Chicago Sun-Times over its allegation that his son was for sale to the highest bidder on the open market.  Echoing our take on the matter (that this is much ado about nothing), Gary Parrish came correct with a witty piece describing how great the theater would be if people like John Calipari and Oliver Purnell were forced to give sworn testimony on the record.  Which is, of course, why there’s a greater chance of this computer turning into Amy Adams and flitting around the RTC offices like a winsome handmaid.
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Recruiting Rumor Mill: 08.09.10 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on August 9th, 2010

So apparently Anthony Davis has been in the news. . . Outside of that fiasco there was also a bit of other news on the recruiting circuit.

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Morning Five: 08.04.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on August 4th, 2010

  1. The big news of the day came from East Lansing, as twice-consecutive Final Four team Michigan State announced that it will no longer require the services of rising senior guard Chris Allen, a player who started 27 games last season and averaged 8/3/2 APG in a balanced offensive attack.  Tom Izzo stated that Allen had not met the standards required by him as a player in the MSU program, but he will help Allen transfer to another D1 program for his senior year (incidentally, Allen is the first player Izzo has ever booted).  After a year sitting out as a transfer, some lucky school will be the beneficiary of an athletic perimeter defender with the ability to knock down threes in rhythm (40% last year and 97 on his career).  As for preseason top five team Michigan State, the general consensus is that this loss will be negligible.  Their depth in the backcourt just got much thinner, but the feeling is that Korie Lucious, Durrell Summers and Keith Appling will be able to handle the additional burden.  Frankly, we believe that Izzo could take a team filled with incorrigible circus animals to the Final Four, so the Spartans will be fine.
  2. If you believe Tre’Von Willis‘ lawyer, the senior UNLV guard facing domestic battery charges in Sin City expects to play a full season for the Runnin’ Rebels this coming season.  Willis is accused of choking his girlfriend in late June, but his attorney pleaded not guilty for him today and his preliminary hearing will not occur until November 22.  This could mean that any possible trial on this matter (if it came to that) could begin well into 2011, potentially freeing him up to play the entire season.
  3. The Big 12 announced its conference composite schedule yesterday, and we’re happy to report that both Sunflower State showdowns will be televised nationally this year.  The game in Lawrence is slotted for Saturday, January 29 (ESPN), and the return game in Manhattan is two weeks later on Valentine’s Day.
  4. Can you imagine a 20-team Big East that covered land from Kansas to NYC east-west and Boston to Tampa north-south?  Yeah, half the country, basically.  Adam Zagoria reported yesterday that the conference was looking at this opportunity should the Big 12 have ultimately disbanded earlier this summer.  In a related matter, Big East commissioner John Marinatto emphatically denied the persistent rumor that the conference was set to add Memphis to its lineup.
  5. Count Mike DeCourcy among those who think the renewed calls for Rick Pitino to be fired from Louisville to be meritless.  It doesn’t really make much sense to us either, so little in fact that even last summer we never seriously entertained the idea that Pitino might actually lose his job there.  As we all know, basketball is serious business in Kentucky, and Pitino has done very well (although not extraordinarily so) there.  To fire him now (or last summer when the allegations came out) would not only put a huge financial burden on the school, but it would also set back the recruiting arms race that the arrival of John Calipari on the scene in Lexington has put into overdrive.  As for the Sypher trial, the prosecution rested its case on Tuesday; it’ll now be up to the defense team to poke tortellini-sized holes into it.
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Why the Spartans Will Win It All…

Posted by rtmsf on March 31st, 2010

We asked writers from each of the four Final Four schools to provide us with a persuasive article on why their team will win it all this coming weekend.  Joey Nowak of the State News tells us that Michigan State has one x-factor that no other school can claim: Tom Izzo. 

In picking a national champion, you can crunch every number and compare every statistic you can find. You can weigh records, odds, matchups and the history books. Champs have been chosen from everything — jerseys, mascots, school colors, height and weight, birthdays and signs of the zodiac. But the reason Michigan State will be the team cutting down the nets at Lucas Oil Stadium on Monday night can be spelled out in four letters.

I-Z-Z-O.

Izzo Approaching Some Rarefied Air

The Michigan State head coach’s middle name is March. No one prepares like Izzo and his staff, no one is better on a two-day tournament turnaround and, thus, no team is ever more prepared for the NCAA Tournament than an Izzo-coached squad.  Players buy into his philosophies (defense, toughness and rebounding produce the No. 1 rebounding and No. 58 field-goal defense in the nation) and his promise of “You get me through the first game, I’ll get you through the second” rings true on a perennial basis.

Speaking of crunching stats, let’s do these: Izzo has led the Spartans to a remarkable 16-3 record in the second game of an NCAA Tournament weekend. (For those keeping score at home, that national title game everyone is talking about? That’s the second game of an NCAA Tournament weekend.)  It’s a well-known fact in the college basketball community that no other program has reached six Final Fours in the last 12 years, but it’s also crucial to note that only Izzo, UCLA’s John Wooden and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski have led any team on such a run in history.

Izzo is 35-11 in the Big Dance, good for second in winning percentage among active coaches (he passed Roy Williams with two wins this weekend) and he’s nipping on Krzyzewski’s heels for the number one spot. Should the Spartans win the title, Izzo will be the top dog.  There’s a phrase that is thrown around East Lansing that the “players play the game” and it comes down to nothing else. But with Izzo at their back, these players turn their hopes and dreams over to the man in green and he works his magic.

More Hardware Coming Back to East Lansing (LSJ/R. Sanford)

Some are calling this Izzo’s greatest coaching performance — reaching the Final Four without MSU’s leading scorer and point guard (Kalin Lucas), with their best perimeter defender (Chris Allen) hobbling with a torn ligament in his right foot and an explosive forward (Delvon Roe) playing through “ridiculous” pain with a torn meniscus in his right knee.  No question it’s up there. And with a Final Four field that has been as open as any in recent memory and a national title up for grabs, why not side with the man who continues to prove doubters wrong?

I-Z-Z-O.

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Final Four Team-By-Team Previews: Michigan State

Posted by zhayes9 on March 31st, 2010

Rush the Court’s Zach Hayes will deliver a breakdown of each Final Four team every day this week. Here are the Butler and West Virginia previews. Today we delve into Michigan State’s chances during their sixth Final Four under Tom Izzo.

It's Mr. Izzo's time of year

Crucial Tourney Moment(s): Michigan State and Maryland played a two-minute stint of basketball during their second round clash unrivaled in this NCAA Tournament. Timeouts, fouls and other stoppages were few and far between. Instead, up-and-down basketball, star players making season-deciding buckets and one backup point guards’ clinching shot at the buzzer made the difference. After Greivis Vasquez capped off a heroic late game performance with a leaner that gave the Terps the lead, it was the roundest point-forward in the land, Draymond Green, finding a streaking  Korie Lucious under the ducked head of Delvon Roe for a three-pointer that sent the Spartans to St. Louis, and, following victories over Northern Iowa and Tennessee, on to the Final Four for the second straight season.

Advantage Area: Coaching can often be overstated. After all, it’s ultimately the players on the floor and their individual decision making and skill level that decide games. Yet there’s something about Tom Izzo and his ability to construct a basketball team that peaks when the stakes are at the highest level. A Spartan team mired with chemistry issues, injuries and suspensions for most of the season has rallied around a single goal and are somehow playing into April. Everyone gives Izzo, aptly nicknamed Mr. March, full credit for the turnaround and the program’s annual success. Everyone except Izzo, of course. There are three other great coaches in Indianapolis this year, though, and the games are determined on the floor. Where the Spartans hold an advantage is their ability to run effective sets in the halfcourt, overall athleticism, capability of functioning at different speeds and the versatility of players like Raymar Morgan and Draymond Green. The second half they played against Northern Iowa on the offensive end was a thing of beauty.

Potential Downfall: There are two areas of great importance that the Spartans lack and both could prove their ultimate downfall- steady, experienced point guard play and reliable low-post scoring. Korie Lucious has done a commendable job replacing the Spartans floor leader Kalin Lucas thus far, but often surrendered careless turnovers to the heavy ball pressure of Tennessee’s Bobby Maze and Melvin Goins. No team defends as physically in the halfcourt as Butler. Both Shelvin Mack and Ronald Nored are pests that force turnovers at a decent rate. Lucious shouldn’t worry about wowing anyone under the bright lights of Lucas Oil Stadium; instead, focus on taking care of the basketball and running sets, finding Durrell Summers off screens, locating Draymond Green for open mid-range shots and controlling the pace of the game. Michigan State also lacks a true low post scorer that can go toe-to-toe with Matt Howard. Delvon Roe is playing with a torn meniscus and Derrick Nix is a freshman without much experience. Should they advance, neither West Virginia or Duke possesses a consistent scoring threat on the low block.

X-Factor: Raymar Morgan is the ultimate x-factor in college basketball. When Morgan plays up to his talent level, the Spartans are a team to be reckoned with. Durrell Summers shooting stroke is also a major x-factor in Saturday’s game. Summers has been Izzo’s most valuable offensive cog in the last three games: 25-39 FG, 14-22 3pt and 66 points. The Spartans were able to knock off Northern Iowa largely because the Panthers defense dares opponents to make long jump shots and Summers delivered. He exploded onto the scene as a sophomore last March and will look to do the same this year coming off screens and hitting jumpers. With Chris Allen hobbled and Lucious worried about running the offense, it’ll be up to Summers to bail Michigan State out on more than one occasion late in the shot clock when the Butler defense imposes their will in the halfcourt.

Key Semifinal Matchup: Shelvin Mack vs. Korie Lucious. As it does so often in the Final Four, this game could come down to point guard play. The entire world will be judging Lucious on how he steps up in the absence of Kalin Lucas. It is Mack’s job to annoy Lucious as much as possible, much like Bobby Maze and Melvin Goins gave him as little room as possible to operate. It’s not just about defense for Mack, though. His game on the offensive end has made leaps and bounds from his freshman to sophomore seasons, likely due to his experience playing for the Under-19 U.S. team this summer. Mack drained 39% of his threes this season and also has a strong, built body that acts like a bulldozer attacking the basket. It’s up to the defensively challenged Lucious to contain Mack and force more of the scoring load on Gordon Hayward.

Crunch Time Performer: Tom Izzo doesn’t have one main option down the stretch like West Virginia with Da’Sean Butler or Butler with Gordon Hayward. He could diagram a play to get Durrell Summers an open look from deep, isolate Draymond Green and let him operate (ran this play late in the Maryland game), or even clear out for Lucious if he has confidence in him (ran this play late in the Northern Iowa game). And it was Raymar Morgan who found himself open down the floor against Tennessee. Rather than one player the opposing defense can focus on, Izzo has the luxury known as unpredictability. There’s nobody better in college basketball following a timeout than Izzo.

Experience: The experience factor is clearly advantage: Spartans in this Final Four. Nearly everyone that sees regular minutes played on last year’s runner up squad with the exception of Derrick Nix and Garrick Sherman. Even Lucious hit two threes in the semifinal win against Connecticut. Not to mention Tom Izzo will be coaching in his sixth Final Four, a mark only Coach K can replicate. Raymar Morgan is the Spartans team captain and will need to step up leadership-wise on the floor should Michigan State fall into a deficit against Butler.

Forecast: Many casual fans are labeling Michigan State as “lucky” they received a mid-major 5-seed in the Final Four rather than Syracuse or Kansas State, a point I respectfully dispute. Butler beat both of those aforementioned teams and will be playing in front of a plethora of navy blue-clad Bulldog fans in their backyard, much like Michigan State experienced last year in Detroit. Butler is an extremely fundamentally-sound, well-coached team with talented players that are operating at their best at the most opportune time. All of those factors also apply to Sparty, though. Should they eclipse Butler, West Virginia or Duke will pose a tremendous threat in the title game. Both the Mountaineers and Blue Devils have more talent across the board than the Spartans, especially without Lucas in the fold.

Prediction: I foolishly doubted Tom Izzo and picked Maryland, Northern Iowa and Tennessee all to beat Michigan State. I figured the shaky Spartans I watched the entire month of February would rear its ugly head at some point in the tournament and it still hasn’t happened. Michigan State simply makes winning plays in March and Izzo is the best in the business this time of year. Spartans advance to the final.

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