Michigan State Frontcourt Finding Itself Ahead of Crucial Stretch

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 25th, 2014

Michigan State’s narrow victory against Navy in its season opener raised a few serious concerns for Spartans fans, not the least of which was the team’s frontcourt play outside of Branden Dawson. Not only did forwards Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling combine for just 10 points in that win, but the Midshipmen found surprising offensive success near the basket, unearthing countless easy looks on their way to 56 percent shooting inside the arc. After showing some positive flashes in a loss to Duke, however, and playing markedly better against Loyola (Chicago) in its home opener, the Michigan State big men seem to be taking incremental steps in the right direction. On Monday night, in a 79-52 victory over Santa Clara – an evening in which Dawson was sidelined with the flu – those small steps turned into even bigger strides, as Schilling, Costello and Dawson-fill-in Marvin Clark Jr. demonstrated a level of assertiveness and production that was largely missing 10 days ago. With the Spartans’ most crucial week of non-conference play looming just ahead, it’s a sign of improvement that may have come in the nick of time.

Michigan State's Gavin Schilling had a big night against Santa Clara on Monday. (Photo: Mike Carter, Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports)

Michigan State’s Gavin Schilling had a big night against Santa Clara on Monday. (Photo: Mike Carter, Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports)

Tom Izzo mentioned the 6’9’’ Schilling as a possible breakout player before the season began, and he fully looked the part – in terms of production, aggression and physique. After playing somewhat tentatively against Navy, Schilling was at times dominant against the smaller Broncos, scoring 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting and securing 11 rebounds in just 18 minutes on the court – his first career double-double. “He’s so strong and athletic… he’s got a nice jump-hook, he can use both hands,” Izzo said of the big man afterwards. Interestingly, Schilling’s outing was statistically similar to Costello’s night against Loyola, wherein the junior scored a career-high 13 points and notched 11 boards. While he didn’t near that scoring production against Santa Clara, tallying just two points, Costello did log nine rebounds and a pair of blocks, at times demonstrating the same ball-commanding assertiveness he did against the Ramblers (and subsequently earning three trips to the free throw line). More importantly, both he and Schilling were defensive enforcers in the paint, helping limit Santa Clara to a 32 percent two-point shooting mark that would have been even lower if not for a few late buckets. Likewise, the pair combined for 13 of the team’s 21 offensive rebounds, keeping possessions alive and enabling Michigan State to put the game away early. “Costello and Schilling have been bright spots,” Izzo put simply after the game.

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First Weekend Observations From the Big Ten

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 17th, 2014

The Big Ten tipped things off along with the rest of the country this weekend in the form of a whopping 18 games in three days. Minnesota and Rutgers were the only two conference teams that lost, but they also played two teams in Louisville and George Washington, respectively, that should make some noise nationally. While it would be next to impossible to have seen all 18 games in some capacity, here’s some of what we observed on this end.

James Blackmon Jr lead the way offensively in Indiana's huge opening win. (Matt Detrich, Indy Star)

James Blackmon Jr lead the way offensively in Indiana’s huge opening win. (Matt Detrich, Indy Star)

  • Indiana Could be Fun to Watch: A team effective field goal percentage of 75.4 percent will not be duplicated for the whole season, but the Hoosiers played a really fun brand of offensive basketball in their throttling of Mississippi Valley State, 116-65, on Friday night. Freshman James Blackmon, Jr looks to be the real deal, and Robert Johnson (15 points, seven rebounds, five assists, three steals) might not be far behind. Max Hoetzel also was impressive, displaying the versatility at times to serve as a point forward. The Hoosiers did a really nice job moving without the ball and creating offensive spacing, which lead to many of their 23 three-point attempts being wide-open looks. They will get tested playing SMU at home on Thursday night (after tonight’s Mike Davis reunion with Texas Southern), but the contrast in styles and the return of Troy Williams and Stanford Robinson to the lineup will make it worth watching.
  • Michigan State Needs to Find a Post Presence: Michigan State seemed to be sleepwalking through a good chunk of its five-point win over Navy on Friday night, and it wasn’t just from turning the ball over 18 times. The Spartans allowed Navy to score way too easily inside the paint, causing the game to be much closer than it should have been given the size and talent differential on display. With Jahlil Okafor and Duke looming for Tom Izzo’s team on Tuesday night, Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling will have to be much bigger factors on the defensive end of the floor. Denzel Valentine won’t play as poorly as he did that night, but the Spartans’ offense looked disjointed other than the times when Travis Trice got open looks (5-of-6 from three). Michigan State will eventually get things right and still be a factor in the B1G race, but it might take some time if they can’t prevent those easy inside looks.

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Three Keys for Michigan State’s Trip to Texas Today

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 21st, 2013

In what many thought would be a mismatch coming into the season, Michigan State will travel to Texas today in a game that has turned into an interesting battle of one-loss teams. In beating North Carolina in Chapel Hill Wednesday night, the basketball discourse surrounding Texas has taken a turn from the topic of when will Rick Barnes get fired to one more reasonably assessing the legitimacy of the group that he has assembled in Austin this year. That said, the Longhorns have only beaten one other top 100 team (Stephen F. Austin), so this game will give us an inkling as to whether Texas should be taken seriously. Michigan State has a good deal of question marks itself due to health problems and that the Spartans have come back to earth after strong start to the season. What follows are three keys for Michigan State to come away with the win later today (4:00 PM EST, CBS).

Tom Izzo might have this same look on his face on Saturday if Michigan State doesn't beat Texas(AP)

Tom Izzo might have this same look on his face on Saturday if Michigan State doesn’t beat Texas(AP)

  1. Take advantage of Texas’ Perimeter Defense. This will much easier if Gary Harris comes back strong from his ankle injury, as he will probably be the biggest key if he’s in the lineup. Right now, Michigan State really does not have much in the way of depth, so the return of one of the best players in the B1G obviously adds to that. It’s also important because Texas doesn’t do a great job in defending the three. The Longhorns are ranked 250th in the country in three-point defense, so with Harris back in action they’ll be able to find more spots to take advantage of this. Keith Appling has shot the ball really well this year too, but Travis Trice could play a huge role. He’s shooting 39.4 percent from deep, and if he gets some open looks with Texas paying more attention to Appling and/or Harris, he has a chance to blow up his 7.0 PPG average. Read the rest of this entry »
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Michigan State’s Loss to North Carolina: Three Questions Sparty Must Answer

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 5th, 2013

Michigan State’s run as the number one team in the land is likely over after losing convincingly to North Carolina in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge Wednesday night. The Spartans went down 79-65 in a game in which they were outrebounded, outhustled, and just generally beaten down by the enigmatic Tar Heels. While not an excuse, the Spartans’ three best players all suffered some sort of ailment in the contest, as Gary Harris tweaked his injured ankle, Keith Appling suffered a hip pointer from a nasty spill, and Adreian Payne had a muscle cramp that he couldn’t shake. But nobody else stepped up, as the team shot only 35.9 percent from the field, allowed the Tar Heels to score 1.09 points per possession, and were whipped on the defensive glass (UNC grabbed 39 percent of its offensive rebounding opportunities). None of this will happen to Tom Izzo’s team very often as the season plays out. To answer the titular question, though, the loss isn’t all that meaningful in that it was to a team that very well may spend a good portion of the season in the Top 25. But questions remain that Michigan State will have to answer if it is really to prove that it is a serious national title contender. Here are three in particular.

Roy Williams got the last laugh Wednesday night against Tom Izzo and Michigan State

Roy Williams got the last laugh Wednesday night against Tom Izzo and Michigan State

  1. Does Michigan State have the depth it needs to contend for a national title? This game would have been the perfect opportunity for someone like Branden Dawson, Travis Trice, or Denzel Valentine to take over, but it didn’t happen. Dawson was silent to the tune of scoring only two points and more importantly grabbing only three rebounds. Trice had five steals, but along with only two assists and four turnovers. Valentine shot 1-of-4 from the field and didn’t do anything else to make an impact. If your three best players are struggling with injuries or just off nights, someone else has to come through and none of these likely candidates stepped up. This team is built on the big three of Harris, Payne and Appling, a trio that might be the best group in terms of combined talent and experience of any team in the country, but the others will have to contribute more consistently if Sparty is to reach the final weekend of the season. Read the rest of this entry »
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Three Takeaways from Michigan State’s Champions Classic Performance

Posted by Max Jakubowski on November 13th, 2013

Youth or experience? It was the key question posed going into Tuesday night’s showdown between Michigan State and Kentucky, and the Spartans’ experience won out after holding on for a 78-74 win over Kentucky. The Spartans will presumably be the new #1 in the polls next week, but before that, here are a few takeaways from the huge Michigan State win:

Gary Harris knows his Spartans are the new number one.

Gary Harris knows his Spartans are the new number one.

  • Michigan State will only go as far as its point guard play this season, and boy, did Keith Appling silence the critics with an incredible stat line of 22 points, seven assists, seven rebounds, four steals, and only three turnovers. Appling has been known to have turnover issues and a showing like last night will go a long way to raising the senior ‘s confidence with the ball and running the team effectively. Appling’s backcourt mate Gary Harris also contributed a huge 15-point first half performance. Along with the combined 42 points from the two Michigan State guards, both were active in intercepting the passing lanes of Kentucky and causing a total of 17 turnovers. After Kentucky had tied the game with 4:48 left, Appling hit a huge three from the corner and then Harris stole the ball and finished with a layup to put MSU up for good. Guard play in March wins championships, and if Appling and Harris can continue to make major plays like those, Tom Izzo’s squad has as good a chance as any team to make it to Dallas for the Final Four.

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Big Ten M5: 10.31.13 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on October 31st, 2013

morning5_bigten

  1. With the loss of Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State has a big scoring void to fill. Thomas averaged 19.8 points, which was nearly double that of the Buckeyes next leading scorer in Aaron Craft. Ohio State is hoping without just one scorer, though, everyone will get involved forcing opposing teams to guard everyone on the floor. Everyone already knows Craft will have to add some offense to his well-known defense, but LaQuinton Ross, Lenzelle Smith, Sam Thompson, and Amir Williams are the keys to the Buckeyes. If the team gets consistent scoring from all of those players, it will certainly cause opponents bigger headaches than last season when taking away Thomas meant shutting down Ohio State.
  2. Michigan State has plenty of strength returning to its starting lineup in Gary Harris, Keith Appling, Branden Dawson, and Adreian Payne. There’s still one open spot, though, and it appears freshman forward Gavin Schilling is making his case to seize it. In the Spartans first exhibition, a 101-52 win against Grand Valley State, Schilling played the most minutes and scored four points with five rebounds coming off the bench behind sophomore Matt Costello. This position will be an important one to keep an eye on for Michigan State as it tries to make a national title run. The four returning starters already make them a strong team, but if Schilling can continue to prosper and make every position on the Spartans starting five strong, it only makes their chances for a national title better. If he doesn’t get into the starting lineup, it at least makes it a small drop-off if Schilling has to play minutes for Costello or Payne at the forward positions.
  3. There’s plenty of hope surrounding the Purdue basketball program following a disappointing campaign last year. A big key to that will be what the newcomers provide to the Boilermakers, one of which is 5th year transfer Errick Peck. The 6-foot-6, 223 pound forward was in the starting lineup for Purdue in its 80-73 exhibition win over University of Indianapolis last night as he scored five points, had six rebounds and even attempted a 3-pointer. This versatility is something that Matt Painter has noticed and hopes to utilize in the Cornell transfer this season. Peck will likely find himself getting plenty of minutes with AJ Hammons still serving his three-game suspension and could very well find himself playing all over the court for Purdue. His ability to play with his back to the basket or from the outside allows Painter to use a big lineup with Peck at the three alongside Jay Simpson and Hammons or smaller with Peck at the four.
  4. With Mitch McGary and other post players returning to Michigan, John Beilein has a decision coming up soon. According to MLive’s Brendan Quinn, the Wolverines coach will have to decide whether he wants to redshirt freshman Mark Donnal. The 6′ 9″ forward played just more than five minutes and scored three points in Michigan’s 117-44 exhibition win over Concordia, which was more than only the walk-ons. With fellow freshmen Zak Irvin and Derrik Walton, Jr. filling the roles left by Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr., Donnal is the only freshman with plenty of upperclass experience ahead of him. Whether Beilein does redshirt Donnal or not is interesting because, as Quinn points out, Michigan only has 11 scholarship players this season. If he uses a redshirt, that makes the Wolverines very thin with only 10 total scholarship players.
  5. It’s always great to see when a head coach uses his position to help the greater good. Iowa’s Fran McCaffery has certainly done his best to help fight cancer after losing both his parents to colon cancer. Tuesday, McCaffery hosted his second annual Coaches vs. Cancer event where he was hoping to raise more than the $52,000 that was raised a year ago. It’s also given the coach a chance to touch a few people who have dealt with the deadly disease, including the one this story highlights in Wil Roling who joined Iowa on the team’s trip to Indiana last year. Now, Roling has had a going-away party from his hospital and was back at the Coaches vs. Cancer event, but this time he was healthy and playing with McCaffery’s two oldest sons. That’s something we can all celebrate.
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Big Ten M5: 10.24.13 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on October 24th, 2013

morning5_bigten

  1. The last time Michigan State won the national title, they had a big man named Andre Hutson, who was assertive in the paint, especially on the defensive end. This season, his squad is one of the favorites to win the title, and he has a freshman – Gavin Schilling – who is drawing comparisons to Hutson. The 6’9″, 240 lb forward, said his focus is to “run, rebound and defend” this season. Schilling will start out as a backup to Adreian Payne and Alex Gauna, but he may be able to provide some serviceable minutes in case one of the forwards gets into foul trouble going up against a rugged conference in January or February. If he ends up being as good as advertised, then he could be another piece that helps Michigan State make a run at another national title.
  2. Speaking of freshmen having an impact, Michigan has two terrific guards – Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin – who could contribute within John Beilein’s rotation. Both of them have the offensive skillset to help the Wolverines, but Beilein has enough scorers in Ann Arbor – he needs them to help on the defensive end as well. According to the coaching staff, both of them are quickly picking up the defensive principles, which should help them gain significant playing time this season. Irvin’s 6’6″ frame will help him guard the combo guards such as Gary Harris and Lenzelle Smith Jr during conference play. The Wolverines can score effectively, but if Irvin steps up on defense, he could elevate them to compete for a Final Four or beyond.
  3. The Hoosier fan base is very familiar with Eric Gordon’s offensive skills as he led Indiana to an NCAA Tournament during his freshman season in Bloomington. Gordon could score with the best of them, but his brother, Evan Gordon, is ready to show his skills to the Hoosier faithful. Gordon, a transfer guard, can provide an offensive spark and complement Yogi Ferrell’s production in the backcourt, as Tom Crean needs an experienced scorer on a team full of talented freshmen such as Noah Vonleh. Crean said, “He has to take his game to another level. He’s got to see his game rise on both sides of the court, offensively and defensively, and see that leadership rise. “
  4. Gordon is not the only transfer who can help his team in the Big Ten this year. Iowa’s Jared Uthoff sat out last year after transferring from Wisconsin, and will be ready to help the Hawkeyes return to the NCAA Tournament. Uthoff, a former Mr. Basketball in Iowa, is excited about the opportunity to play for the Hawkeyes. “It’s going to be a very special moment for me when I can step out on the court with this Hawkeye uniform on,’’ Uthoff said. Devyn Marble (15 PPG) will be the primary scoring option for the Hawkeyes, but if Uthoff can chip in offensively to back him up, that’ll be a huge boost this season.
  5. Scoring won’t be an issue for the Penn State backcourt of Tim Frazier and D.J.Newbill. Both of them can fill up the stat sheet, even though Frazier is coming from an injury. Penn State’s basketball program may not make any headlines but head coach, Pat Chambers, is doing his best to keep an upbeat attitude entering into his third season at Happy Valley. It is very likely that Chambers may not lead the Nittany Lions back to the NCAA Tournament over the next two years, but his ability to connect with the players will help on the recruiting trail and eventually lead the program back to relevancy in the Big Ten.
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Seven Sweet Scoops: Trey Lyles Trims List, Andrew Wiggins Sets Visits, and More…

Posted by CLykins on February 13th, 2013

7sweetscoops

Seven Sweet Scoops  is the newest and hottest column by Chad Lykins, the RTC recruiting analyst. He will discuss the seven top stories from the week in the wide world of recruiting, involving offers, which  prospect visited where, recent updates regarding school lists, and more chatter from the recruiting scene. You can also check out more of his work at RTC with his weekly column  “Who’s Got Next?”, as well as his work dedicated solely to Duke Basketball at  Duke Hoop Blog. You can also follow Chad at his Twitter account  @CLykinsBlog  for up-to-date breaking news from the high school and college hoops scene.

 Note:  ESPN Recruiting  used for all player rankings.

1. Trey Lyles Cuts List to Six

Arsenal Technical High School (Indiana) five-star power forward Trey Lyles has narrowed his list of schools down to six. Lyles, the No. 5 overall ranked prospect from the class of 2014, is down to Butler, Duke, Florida, Kentucky, Louisville and UCLA. “I’m just focused on those schools,” Lyles said in an interview with the Indianapolis Star“I like the style they play, they have rich legacies, have good coaches and I feel like I could be comfortable at any of them.” The 6’9″ Lyles, a former Indiana commitment, recently took a visit to Lexington this past weekend for the Wildcats’ SEC clash against Auburn. He was also on the Kentucky campus for their Big Blue Madness festivities in October. He has also taken trips to in-state Butler and Louisville and will plan to take official visits to Duke, Florida and UCLA at the conclusion of his junior season. He is currently averaging 22 points, 17 rebounds and seven assists for Arsenal Tech this season.

Top five junior Trey Lyles is down to Butler, Duke, Florida, Kenutcky, Louisville and UCLA

Top five junior Trey Lyles is down to Butler, Duke, Florida, Kentucky, Louisville and UCLA

2. Andrew Wiggins Sets Unconfirmed Visits

The nation’s No. 1 overall ranked player Andrew Wiggins is beginning to make progress with his recruitment. The 6’8″ small forward out of Huntington Prep (West Virginia) has only visited one school — Florida State — on his list of candidates. However, that will soon change. Also considering Kansas, Kentucky and North Carolina, Wiggins has now set tentative dates with each of those three schools. Kentucky will receive Wiggins’ second official visit on February 27 as the Wildcats will host Mississippi State. He was scheduled to be in attendance for Kentucky’s Big Blue Madness festivities in October but had to cancel. He will follow that up with a visit to the Kansas campus on March 4 for the Jayhawks’ final home game of the season against Texas Tech. To close it out, Wiggins will then travel to Chapel Hill on March 9 for the Tar Heels’ ACC showdown against Duke. North Carolina head coach Roy Williams has feverishly pursued Wiggins in the last few months and has really gained steam in this recruitment, however, Florida State and Kentucky are still considered the top two to land the potential No. 1 NBA draft pick in 2014. While those specific dates could change as they have yet to be confirmed, Wiggins timetable is seemingly geared towards the spring signing period which falls from April 17 to May 15. Read the rest of this entry »

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Seven Sweet Scoops: Tyus Jones Visits Kentucky, Justin Jackson Hosts UNC…

Posted by CLykins on January 18th, 2013

7sweetscoops

Seven Sweet Scoops  is the newest and hottest column by Chad Lykins, the RTC recruiting analyst. Every Friday he will discuss the seven top stories from the week in the wide world of recruiting, involving offers, which  prospect visited where, recent updates regarding school lists, and more chatter from the recruiting scene. You can also check out more of his work at RTC with his weekly column  “Who’s Got Next?”, as well as his work dedicated solely to Duke Basketball at  Duke Hoop Blog. You can also follow Chad at his Twitter account  @CLykinsBlog  for up-to-date breaking news from the high school and college hoops scene.

 Note:  ESPN Recruiting  used for all player rankings.

1. Tyus Jones Takes Unofficial To Kentucky. Last weekend the nation’s top junior, point guard Tyus Jones, took an unofficial visit to Kentucky for the Wildcats’ game against the Texas A&M Aggies. Despite watching Kentucky drop its fifth loss of the season, Jones still considers the Wildcats a top contender in his recruitment. Back in December, head coach John Calipari visited Jones twice in one week and has since developed a strong bond with the Apple Valley (Minnesota) product, who became the all-time leading scorer in school history on Tuesday. Including Kentucky, the 6’1″ point guard lists Baylor, Duke, Kansas, Michigan State, Minnesota, North Carolina and Ohio State among his possibilities. While Duke looms as the perceived leader, Kentucky is going to make this a race to the finish.

The nation's No. 1 junior, Tyus Jones, took an unofficial visit to Kentucky last weekend

The nation’s No. 1 junior, Tyus Jones, took an unofficial visit to Kentucky last weekend

2. North Carolina Conducts In-Home Visit With Justin Jackson. One week after performing in front of the North Carolina coaching staff, small forward Justin Jackson received an in-home visit with head coach Roy Williams on Wednesday evening. Jackson, who includes the Tar Heels along with Arizona, Ohio State, Texas A&M, Virginia and Washington, has held an offer from North Carolina since the completion of the AAU season. Ever since then, Williams has been on a relentless pursuit in landing the 6’7″ small forward out of the Homeschool Christian Youth Association (Texas). While the Tar Heels aren’t pushing for a commitment yet, they are however looking to get Jackson back down to Chapel Hill for a visit during the regular season. “We talked a little about a visit, like coming down for a game,” Jackson said. “We’ll probably try to figure that out sometime, but right now I’m trying to focus on the season.” For now, this is North Carolina’s recruitment to lose. Read the rest of this entry »

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