Big Ten Opening Night: Three Things to Watch For

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 14th, 2014

Eleven Big Ten Teams will make their season debuts tonight. While the only true marquee game on the schedule is the Minnesota-Louisville clash in Puerto Rico, here are three things to watch for if you’re checking out the league as the season begins.

  • Hampton vs. Iowa: Hampton went 18-13 last year, and the Pirates hung with Penn State in the first round of the CBI before ultimately losing by four points. They return eight players from their top 10 in minutes played for a team that ran at the 11th-fastest tempo in the country last season. They did a tremendous job in blocking shots and holding teams to a low percentage on two-point attempts, and have good front line size to match up with the Hawkeyes on the interior. Iowa no longer has Roy Devyn Marble to handle the ball and take all of its big shots, so Mike Gesell and Josh Oglesby will have to be hitting from long range because points in the paint will not be easy to find. This game bears watching because it will be a track meet up and down the court, and because there is also some small upset potential here if Iowa doesn’t come to play.
Mike Geselll will have to take care of the ball Friday night against Hampton. (Getty).

Mike Geselll will have to take care of the ball Friday night against Hampton. (Getty)

  • Michigan State vs. Navy: The Midshipmen went 9-21 last year, so thinking that they will push Sparty tonight might be something of a stretch. But they do return almost everybody from that team, and they did a solid job forcing turnovers last season. Michigan State, of course, has a new floor general, and although Travis Trice has gotten plenty of reps in his three years in East Lansing, he’s never been the guy. Denzel Valentine has a tendency to cough up the ball on occasion, and Lourawls Nairn will be making his much-anticipated collegiate debut. Keep an eye on whether Michigan State can avoid making silly mistakes here. A sloppy effort against a clearly inferior opponent might be a bad sign as the team gets set to take on Duke in the Champions Classic in four days.
  • Minnesota vs. Louisville: This game is the obvious call if you’re looking for opening night intrigue. Minnesota has an early chance to grab a huge non-conference win by playing a top 10 team. Richard Pitino will coach against his dad, who probably knows the Gophers about as well as his son does. Richard, of course, served as an assistant at Louisville just a few seasons ago, so the same likely holds true with the younger Pitino’s knowledge about the Cardinals. If you like guard play, you will get a chance to watch Andre Hollins and Deandre Mathieu take on Chris Jones and Terry Rozier. If the battle in the post is more your cup of tea, then check out Elliott Eliason and Maurice Walker trading haymakers with potential All-American Montrezl Harrell. This one sells itself.
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Introducing the RTC All-Big Ten Third Team

Posted by Eric Clark on November 12th, 2014

College basketball makes its return on Friday, and the Big Ten microsite’s writing crew has come together and formally voted on their preseason All-Big Ten teams. Having already released our pick for Big Ten Freshman of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, we’ll release the rest of our preseason projections later this week.

RTC All-Big Ten Third Team

Shavon Shields, junior, Nebraska 6’7”, 221 lbs. (12.8 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 44.3% FG). Terran Petteway is the obvious catalyst for the Huskers, but Shields, a Big Ten honorable mention selection last year, will be his primary sidekick. Standing at 6’7”, Shields can pose significant match-up problems at the two-guard spot. The Olathe, Kansas, native ranked 11th in the Big Ten in defensive rebounding last season, pulling down over four caroms per game while leading Nebraska with 5.8 boards per game. His ability to get to the basket is what makes him truly indispensible, while all his work on the boards from the wing positions are gravy.

Shavon Shields Leads the RTC Big Ten Preseason Third Team  (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Shavon Shields Leads the RTC Big Ten Preseason Third Team (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Rayvonte Rice, senior, Illinois 6’4”, 230 lbs. (15.9 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.66 SPG). Rice made waves in his first season of play at Illinois (he redshirted the 2012-13 campaign due to NCAA transfer rules), leading the team in points and pulling down 210 rebounds, just one shy of the team high. Rice will be counted on even more this season after Tracy Abrams was lost for the season with a knee injury. If Rice can improve upon his three-point percentage (29.5%), he’ll be a far more dangerous player this season. Pairing a solid long-range game with his size, strength and overall toughness would serve the Illini well come postseason crunch time.

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Big Ten M5: 11.10.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 10th, 2014

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  1. After numerous key losses from last year’s team, Denzel Valentine has to have a big season for Michigan State if Sparty wants to avoid falling back into the Big Ten pack. If preseason exhibitions are any indication, then Valentine is definitely in line for a huge season. He went for 24 points and 12 rebounds on 6-of-9 shooting from behind the arc in the Spartans’ first preseason tilt, then topped that off with a 15-point, 11-rebound, 11-assist triple-double over the weekend. Should he notch one of these stat lines in the regular season, he would join a select group of Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Draymond Green and Charlie Bell as the only Michigan State players to register one in a regular season game.
  2. Another preseason standout has been Ohio State freshman guard D’Angelo Russell. Russell enters college basketball with plenty of expectations, and he showed the reason behind them by leading the Buckeyes in scoring in a win over Walsh College, 77-37, on Sunday. In addition to his 17 points, he also chipped in eight rebounds and six assists for an all-around fantastic performance. Four Buckeyes went for double figures, including fellow freshman Ja’Sean Tate with 10 points. With so much experience on the roster, it will be interesting to see how Thad Matta manages his team if Russell is the team’s best offensive weapon. Will the seniors allow him to take the big shots late in games?
  3. Eddie Jordan is quietly putting together a solid recruiting class for Rutgers with his growing haul in the Class of 2015. Highly-rated point guard Corey Sanders is already in the fold, and now combo guard Justin Goode has also pledged his services to the Scarlet Knights. Goode joins his teammate at Hargrave Military Academy, Kejuan Johnson, in becoming the second recruit from the school to verbally commit to Rutgers in just the last week. With Myles Mack leaving after this season, having as many guards on the roster to choose from will help Jordan rebuild this long-suffering program.
  4. Even though it was against a Division II opponent, it has to be a good sign for Northwestern to score 102 points in a game — which is the exact output the Wildcats put up in their 50-point Friday night win against McKendree. Alex Olah led the team in scoring with 18 points, eight rebounds and four blocks. The team shot an absurd 72 percent from the field, and head coach Chris Collins used garbage time to mix different combinations of lineups with all the new players on the roster. The coach was pleased with the effort, saying, “We have a lot of guys who are really good players. I am really proud of our group.”
  5. The image of Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery stalking the officials on to the court in the Hawkeyes’ loss at Wisconsin last year was one of the most memorable and infamous moments of the Big Ten season. Having a son diagnosed with cancer will change one’s perspective, however, and McCaffery acknowledges that each possession on the basketball floor is not going to get him quite as upset as it probably would have in the past. Patrick McCaffery, now 6’5″, is currently dunking in junior high games. Recent blood work shows that he is cancer-free, and this is obviously outstanding news for the entire Iowa basketball family.
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Can Michigan State’s Travis Trice Replace Keith Appling?

Posted by Brendan Brody on October 17th, 2014

Michigan State lost a lot of talent from last year’s Elite Eight team. Gary Harris and Adreian Payne both heard their names called in the first round of the NBA Draft. Kenny Kaminski had one offcourt problem too many and therefore transferred to Ohio University. Keith Appling also left town, going undrafted after a senior year marred by injuries. As far as replacements, the Spartans ended up with only the 32nd best incoming recruiting class, per ESPN.com. But all is not lost in East Lansing, however, as returnees Branden Dawson and Denzel Valentine are much of the reason Sparty has been slotted into the preseason Top 25 polls. But the success of the season may hinge on Appling’s replacement, Travis Trice, who is expected to take over the majority of the minutes at the lead guard spot and appears that he’ll be a more than capable substitute.

Travis Trice has to play a bigger role for Michigan State to make another run at the B1G title.(Leon Haiip, Getty Images)

Travis Trice has to play a bigger role for Michigan State to make another run at the B1G title.(Leon Haiip, Getty Images)

Trice should not be unfamiliar to Big Ten fans, as he enters his senior year having played no fewer than 34.9 percent of the available minutes in his three-year career. He started eight games last season, ranking 16th in the league with an assist rate of 18.8 percent. He also held a dazzling assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.3 to 1 (slightly better than Appling’s mark of 2.1 to 1). The Spartans were 6-2 in the games where he started, made possible in no small part by his averages of 9.3 PPG and 3.6 APG on sizzling 18-for-35 shooting from behind the arc. By the end of the season, over the Spartans’ last five games, Michigan State used a lineup that featured Appling and Trice on the floor at the same time 18.3 percent of the time, per kenpom.com, showing that Tom Izzo had developed great trust in Trice’s presence on the floor. These facts are not meant to bash Appling for the solid four years he gave to Michigan State; it’s only to show that Trice can handle a greater share of the responsibility, even if he’s necessarily more of a focus on opposing scouting reports this time around. Appling understandably struggled playing through pain last year, and it seemed as though dwindling confidence in what his body could do played a significant role in his lack of production down the stretch. Trice has struggled with various maladies throughout his career as well, so the obvious caveat with his pending role in the spotlight is of course staying healthy.

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Can Michigan State Get to the Final Four Without an Elite Point Guard?

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on April 9th, 2014

About six months ago, when we kicked off RTC’s Big Ten microsite for the 2013-14 season, one of the first articles written was a discussion about Michigan State’s reliance on Keith Appling. “If Appling is effective, then the Spartans are arguably the best in the country, and without him, they lack the leadership to make the Final Four.” Fast-forward six months from that piece, and we saw Appling average two points per game during four games in the NCAA Tournament (that is not a typo). Tom Izzo’s offense looked completely lost during the final 10 minutes of its Elite Eight loss against Connecticut, and they were headed down a similar path against Virginia  before Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson muscled their way to a victory. This particular discussion is not about why Appling was so ineffective because it is likely that he was still hurting from his wrist injury and just could never get back to 100 percent. Instead, the last two weeks proves the importance of Izzo’s dependence on effective point guard play, because every one of his Final Four teams relied heavily on a true point guard who could lead the team during crunch time.

Tom Izzo's teams are at their best with an effective point guard.

Tom Izzo’s teams are at their best with an effective point guard. (Getty)

Let’s start with the late 1990s when Izzo raised Michigan State basketball to a whole new level on the national stage by taking them to three straight Final Fours. There was a guy named Mateen Cleaves who had a pretty good handle on running the point, essentially acting as an extension of Izzo on the court. Even after Cleaves graduated, Charlie Bell handled the point guard duties effectively in the half-court, while the emergence of Jason Richardson on the wing improved the overall offense. Following that three-year stretch of playing on the last weekend, Izzo couldn’t get them back to the Final Four even though he recruited some excellent guards – Chris Hill and Maurice Ager were excellent scorers, but they couldn’t command the offense because of their skill sets better suited for calling their own numbers. Then came Drew Neitzel, a true point guard who was comfortable dishing the ball and letting the talented wings produce the bulk of the offense. Without Neitzel, Hill and Alan Anderson would have been the first set of seniors that would have graduated under Izzo without making a Final Four (until this year of course). Consider the next two Final Four appearances by the Spartans and another effective point guard, Kalin Lucas, dominated on both ends of the floor. Lucas was hurt during the NCAA Tournament for one of those runs, but Korie Lucious was able to step in effectively to cover the point guard position.

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Big Ten M5: 04.03.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on April 3rd, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Frank Kaminsky wasn’t always a star at Wisconsin, so it’s easy to forget that he rarely saw heavy minutes behind a loaded Badgers’ frontcourt in his first two seasons. This year the junior burst on to the scene when he set the school’s single game record with 43 points against North Dakota. His progression into a star didn’t surprise his athletic family that knew it was just a matter of time before he got there. He has now certainly reached their expectations, as he won the West Region’s Most Outstanding Player award last weekend. Kaminsky’s on-court success lies in his ability to play both inside and outside the paint, causing nightmares for opposing teams and representing a big key to Wisconsin’s potential of winning a national championship this weekend.
  2. One of the Big Ten teams facing the most turnover this offseason is Michigan State. Sparty is for sure losing two starting seniors in Adreian Payne and Keith Appling, and is likely to also lose Gary Harris to the NBA. Add in the potential of Branden Dawson also going league and the Spartans could be looking at four new starters next season. This makes starting lineup projections interesting, with Travis Trice, Denzel Valentine, Kenny Kaminski, Matt Costello and probably Javon Bess or a three-guard lineup if Dawson leaves. Michigan State will be a very interesting team next season, having lost a great amount of talent and on paper appearing to be a middle of the pack conference team. Then again, while all the injuries hurt Tom Izzo’s team this season, it gave these reserves minutes that they wouldn’t have otherwise gotten.
  3. Another team facing plenty of questions right now is the other major school sharing the state. Michigan has three potential guys who could bolt to the NBA this spring, which creates quite a distinguishable best and worst case scenario for next season for the Wolverines. If Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary all return, John Beilein’s team won’t just be a favorite to win the Big Ten, but also a national title favorite. If all three leave school, Michigan will still be solid and likely to battle for a top four spot in the conference standings, but its national contender status would certainly be very different barring huge jumps from the remaining players.
  4. The Big Ten had three players in the McDonald’s All-American Game last night. With this in mind the Big Ten Network‘s Shawn Merriman evaluated the top former Big Ten players who participated in the game. Players were rated solely based on their collegiate careers and the winner is none too surprising. Not only is Michigan State’s Magic Johnson the best former Big Ten McDonald’s All-American to play in the game, but he could easily be argued as the best Big Ten player of all-time. Others on the list include plenty of big names like Purdue’s Glenn Robinson and Indiana’s Isiah Thomas and then some college stars like Michigan State’s Mateen Cleaves and Illinois’ Dee Brown. Will any of this year’s three participants have careers similar to what these guys accomplished? Probably not, but you never know until they show up on campus.
  5. Northwestern may have not gotten to play in the postseason again this year, but senior Drew Crawford still has another game to go. Crawford will play for the West in the Reese’s Division I College All-Star Game in Dallas this week. He is one of two Big Ten players invited to the game along with Indiana‘s Will Sheehey, who will play for the East. It is a solid career-ending honor for two seniors who were major contributors for their teams this season. Neither may have made the NCAA or NIT this season, but getting one more game will be good for them to showcase their skills.
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2013-14 All-Americans by the (Jersey) Numbers

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 2nd, 2014

When it comes to wrapping up a college basketball season, I have a hard time doing an All-American team, because, for one, it just seems hard to narrow down four and a half months of basketball to just five names (or even 10 or 15 if you add a second or third team). Instead, in the interests of recognizing more of the players that filled up my brain this season, what I’ll do here today is take all 37 possible uniform numbers (only the digits zero through five are possible uniform numbers in NCAA basketball, to aid referees in calling fouls), and pick one player for each number. Note that I am not always going to pick just the best player here. My own prejudices and likes/dislikes will factor in, plus I want to be able to pick a guy that I will remember most from this season. In the case of a tie, a senior will get the nod. Here is my list of Players of the Year by jersey numbers.

0 – Ryan Watkins, Sr, Boise – His team didn’t even make the NCAA Tournament, but Watkins’ senior season was one to remember. The nation’s best offensive rebounder for the second year in a row, Watkins’ efficient offense and tough defense was a constant for a Broncos team that underachieved elsewhere.

00 – Royce O’Neale, Jr, Baylor – As far as the scorekeeper is concerned, a single zero and a double zero are the same number, but what fun is that? The transfer from Denver was anything but a big zero for the Bears this season, playing a big role for Scott Drew as an inside-outside threat and another big body in the Baylor zone.

Jabari Parker May Leave Duke Without So Much As A Single NCAA Tournament Win, But He Was Spectacular Offensively For The Blue Devils This Year (Photo: Ethan Hyman)

Jabari Parker May Leave Duke Without So Much As A Single NCAA Tournament Win, But He Was Spectacular Offensively For The Blue Devils This Year
(Photo: Ethan Hyman)

1 – Jabari Parker, Fr, Duke – After a quick nod to George Washington’s guard Maurice Creek, who bounced back from a career severely hampered by numerous injuries to turn in an inspiring senior season, we’ll acknowledge the fact that when we look back on 2013-14, Parker will be the guy who wore a #1 that we’ll remember most vividly. In what will likely be his lone season in Durham, he put his vast array of skills on display, leading his team in points, rebounds, blocks and sheer number of spectacular plays.

2 – Russ Smith, Sr, Louisville – A deep number with candidates ranging from big guys Sim Bhullar and Khem Birch to guards like Xavier Thames and Briante Weber, the nod here is a no-brainer. Smith’s career under Rick Pitino has been a whirlwind. After barely playing his freshman year, he earned big minutes as a sophomore only to show himself as a inveterate gunner who never saw a shot he didn’t like. But in his junior and senior seasons, he actually turned into a – gasp! – highly efficient offensive player. His three-point shooting improved every year and his game off the bounce was always explosive. And defensively? For the past two years, he’s been the best perimeter defender in America. Read the rest of this entry »

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East Region Final Analysis: Michigan State vs. Connecticut

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 30th, 2014

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#4 Michigan State vs. #7 Connecticut – East Regional Final (at New York, NY) – 2:20 PM ET on CBS

Cinderella story Connecticut is on the precipice of its fifth Final Four in school history, but to get there the Huskies will have to get past a focused group of Spartans. Michigan State outlasted Virginia on Friday evening in what was a good old-fashioned slugfest. Should the Spartans get past the Huskies on Sunday afternoon in New York, Tom Izzo’s streak of sending every four-year player he has coached at Michigan State to a Final Four will continue.

Can Izzo Lead The Spartans To Another Final Four?

While Connecticut has rebounded the basketball very well in this tournament, it has to be a concern for Kevin Ollie ahead of this game. The statistics show Michigan State is a much better rebounding team and that will result in crucial bonus possessions for the Spartans if it proves to be the case. As always, Izzo’s teams pride themselves on toughness, defense and rebounding. On the boards, the athletic Spartans have a significant edge. The Huskies will need DeAndre Daniels to have a similar game to the one he had against Iowa State on Friday, although going up against Adreian Payne and company will be much more difficult than an undersized and shorthanded Iowa State group. Offensively, Connecticut must shoot the ball well from the perimeter and get good dribble penetration from Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier. A combination of those two things is the only way the Huskies can open up the floor and break down Michigan State’s defense. Napier, who has been turnover-prone over his career, must take good care of the basketball as to not fuel the lethal Spartans transition game.

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Rushed Reactions: #4 Michigan State 93, #13 Delaware 78

Posted by Kenny Ocker on March 20th, 2014

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion@RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregionKenny Ocker is an RTC correspondent. He is covering the Spokane pods of the East and West regionals this week. He wrote this after 4-seed Michigan State beat 13-seed Delaware 93-78 in Spokane on Thursday afternoon.

Three Key Takeaways.

Adreian Payne Put On a Superstar Show on Thursday in Spokane

Adreian Payne Put On a Superstar Show on Thursday in Spokane

  1. Adreian Payne played the best half of basketball I’ve ever seen in person. Michigan State’s star forward hit back-to-back three-pointers in the first half, then went inside for an old-fashioned three-point play, taking the game from Michigan State six-point lead to 33-18 in two minutes, then capped his personal 12-0 run with another three-pointer. He finished the first half with 23 points on 6-of-8 three-point shooting and was perfect on four three-pointers and seven free throws. Just outstanding.
  2. Delaware got the pace it wanted. The Blue Hens came into the game with the 10th-fastest tempo in the nation and the Spartans were somewhat below average in their game speed. The 93-78 score reflects the up-and-down nature of this battle. Unfortunately for Delaware, there wasn’t much else that went the Blue Hens’ way, as a four-guard team built on shooting the ball made only 20-of-54 field goals. Don’t let the Blue Hens’ 78 points fool you; the Spartans had a strong defensive showing here today.
  3. Will they get the lights replaced in Spokane Arena by the time the next game tips off? The Spartans shot 53 percent from the field, 53 percent from three-point range, and 92 percent from the free-throw line this afternoon. Granted, defense isn’t exactly Delaware’s forte, but even still, this result should send chills down the spine of any team that may have to face the Spartans down the line in the East Region.

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Bracket Prep: Florida, Virginia, Michigan State

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 17th, 2014

Championship Week has found its close, but here are a few final short reviews of each of the automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket this week. None of these titans really needed the “automatic bid” portion of their Tournament title gift package, of course, but with each figuring to play a key role in the weeks ahead, here’s what you need to know about a trio of Championship Week’s final victors.

Florida

Billy Donovan And The Gators Are SEC Champions Twice Over, But Florida Has Their Sights Set On A Greater Prize

Billy Donovan And The Gators Are SEC Champions Twice Over, But Florida Has Their Sights Set On A Greater Prize

  • SEC Champion (32-2, 21-0)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #2/#3/#3
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +16.1
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #1

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. In the final minutes of basketball before the 2014 NCAA Tournament bracket was unveiled, Florida survived Kentucky to claim the SEC crown, complete their 21-game conference sweep, and keep alive a 26-game win streak. Quite a tidy going away package for the Gators, who will enter the Tournament as a #1 seed and among the two or three favorites to cut down the nets in Dallas. The one-point victory Sunday was only the fifth time this season that the Gators have won by three points or less – a testament to the workmanlike attitude that has extended this win streak time and time again.
  2. The Gators led the SEC in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Defensive weaknesses are hard to spot with the Gators, but despite the high overall level of offensive efficiency, there is a weak spot or two that opponents will seek to exploit. Florida’s free throw shooting is shaky (66.2% as a team, 295th nationally), and even primary ballhandlers Scotty Wilbekin (72%), Casey Prather (68%) and Kasey Hill (63%) are anything but sure things at the charity stripe. Three-point shooting isn’t a concern for Florida at first glance – they shoot 37% as a team, 73rd best in the country – but Wilbekin (58 3PM, 40%) and Michael Frazier (107 3PM, 46%) have combined to make over 70% of the team’s three-point field goals. The rest of the team shot just 27% from distance, so if an opponent can find a way to take away looks from either Wilbekin or Frazier – especially the latter, who is strictly a perimeter shooter – things could get pretty one-dimensional for the Gator offense.
  3. Florida is the perfect example of a team that used the entire season to grow into an elite squad. For much of November and December, Billy Donovan was just trying to keep proverbial head above water with his team, as pieces shifted in and out of the Gator lineup. Wilbekin, Prather, Dorian Finney-Smith, Kasey Hill, and Chris Walker all missed time for various reasons, but save for road losses at Wisconsin and Connecticut (and no shame in those, either), the Gators kept on winning. Prather grew into an unlikely All-American candidate, Wilbekin has staked his claim as the best point guard in America, and Frazier is now second to none when it comes to perimeter shooters. None of these things happen without one of the best coaches in the game pressing all the right buttons from the sideline, but Donovan has spent the last four months constructing a team poised for even greater things in the NCAA Tournament. And after winning 26 games in a row en route to a sweep of the SEC titles, that, my friends, is saying something.

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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 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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