How Can Michigan State Keep Things Rolling Against Oklahoma?

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 27th, 2015

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Michigan State has made yet another Sweet Sixteen appearance under Tom Izzo and it did so by surprising a very good Virginia team in the Third Round. The Spartans are now 6-2 since March 1, with both losses coming at the hands of Wisconsin. With the two highest seeds now removed from the East Region, it’s looking like another Final Four run for Coach Tom Izzo is a realistic possibility. But first things first. Tonight the Spartans will have to get through an Oklahoma team with the sixth-best defensive efficiency in college baskeball. Here are several ways for Sparty to get the job done and advance to the Elite Eight.

Branden Dawson needs to continue to be a factor for Michigan State to advance Friday night.  (Al Goldis/AP)

Branden Dawson needs to remain a factor for Michigan State to advance. (Al Goldis/AP)

  • Bryn Forbes > Frank Booker: Both teams have a sniper coming off the bench who can swing things simply by knocking down outside shots. Forbes has been more consistent, as he led the Big Ten in eFG (60.0%) and shot 43.0 percent from behind the three-point line on the season. Booker has only shot 31.3 percent from behind the arc, but he’s been hot since mid-February in making six of 12 attempts in Oklahoma’s two NCAA Tournament wins. Forbes needs to enter the game and be more of a factor than Booker here. If he can make shots and give Michigan State another scoring option outside of Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice on the perimeter, the Spartans have the tools to offset Oklahoma’s stellar defense.
  • Keep Spangler off the Glass: Ryan Spangler would be a perfect fit as a Spartan. He’s physical and he crashes the boards with a zeal that many players under Tom Izzo have exhibited. Unfortunately, he plays for Oklahoma. This means that Gavin Schilling and Matt Costello need to do their best in preventing the junior banger from notching his 15th double-figure rebounding game tonight. Spangler and TaShawn Thomas cannot be the tougher duo here, and the two Michigan State post players have the ability to make Oklahoma pay for surrounding their inside pair with three guards.

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Branden Dawson Leading a Michigan State Resurgence

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 22nd, 2015

One of the teams that no one wants to see on their side of the bracket next month is getting better. Michigan State has managed to keep its efficiency rating high (currently #19 on KenPom) despite being classified as a bubble team by many bracketologists (Sparty is a #8 seed at Bracket Matrix). A shaky non-conference slate along with two early Big Ten losses to Maryland suggested that this might turn out to be a very disappointing season in East Lansing. Not so fast. The Spartans have quietly won four out of their last five games and have worked their way up to a three-way tie in the loss column (four) at second place in the league. The primary reason for this team hitting its stride at just the right time is senior forward Branden Dawson. The 6’6″ workhorse leads the league in rebounding and has been wreaking havoc all overt the floor defensively. His scoring touch around the rim has also returned, reminiscent of his postseason numbers from last year when he averaged 15.7 PPG and 8.1 RPG on 68.1 percent shooting from the floor.

Branden Dawson is making a push to be a First-Team All Big-Ten selection. (Maddie Meyer, Getty Images)

Branden Dawson is making a push to be a First-Team All Big-Ten selection. (Maddie Meyer, Getty Images)

Dawson struggled early this season before missing two games right before conference play. In looking at his statistical splits on a month-by-month basis, it’s easy to see that he’s playing his best ball at just the right time.

  • November: (10.2 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 0.7 BPG, 52.8% FG)
  • December: (11.2 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 0.8 BPG, 42.4% FG)
  • January: (13.1 PPG, 12.3 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 1.6 BPG, 58.0% FG)
  • February: (15.2 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 3.0 BPG, 66.7% FG)

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A Soft December Just What the Doctor Ordered For Michigan State

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 19th, 2014

Michigan State’s non-conference schedule has been defined by missed opportunities – first against Duke, then Kansas, then Notre Dame – and now, for the first time in years, it will enter Big Ten play with virtually zero quality wins of note. Only Texas Southern and the Citadel remain before the conference opener against Maryland beckons on December 30, the final two contests in an exceedingly soft five-game stretch that’s sure to leave the Spartans’ resume short on substance. And yet, as Wednesday night’s 20-point victory over Eastern Michigan showed, this light period might be the best possible scenario for Tom Izzo’s club. With two players returning from injury, Branden Dawson on the mend and the offense still finding its identity, December offers the crucial break Michigan State needs to round into form.

Freshman Javon Bess should provide added depth for the Spartans. (J. Scott Park | MLive.com)

Freshman Javon Bess should provide added depth for the Spartans. (J. Scott Park | MLive.com)

On the one hand, Wednesday night marked an important step forward for the Spartans. Freshman Javon Bess – an expected contributor who missed the first month-plus with a foot injury – made his debut, logging one point and five rebounds in nine minutes of action. Izzo was high on Bess in the preseason and seems confident that the 6’5’’ wing will add an important, unique dimension it’s been lacking. “We’re missing a tough guy, and he [Bess] brings that to the table,” the coach said afterward. Likewise, sophomore guard Alvin Ellis III contributed 14 minutes in just his second full game back in the rotation. But while both players should provide needed depth in the coming months (especially Bess, whom Izzo thinks is “going to be an Alan Anderson-type”), neither appears to be game-shape enough yet to significantly contribute. Bess looked very raw during his brief second-half stint – understandable, considering the layoff – and Ellis, though aggressive, appeared clumsy and lost on several possessions. Luckily, with the team’s soft slate and eight days off prior to Maryland, Izzo has the luxury of slowly working them back to form: “Now we have time for practice.”

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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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Big Ten M5: 11.17.14 Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on November 17th, 2014

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  1. Former Indiana coach Mike Davis will make his first return to Assembly Hall tonight since he resigned from the head coaching position at Indiana in 2006. Upon his hiring in 2000, Davis was immediately met with animosity from Bob Knight apologists, setting the tone for his tumultuous six-year tenure as the Hoosiers’ head coach. Indiana played for one national title under Davis in 2002 (losing to Maryland), but his teams went 42-38 in his final three seasons at the helm. Currently embattled head coach Tom Crean said he hopes Davis gets a “tremendous reception” tonight when he brings Texas Southern (0-1) to Bloomington – but Davis is guaranteed to be greeted with plenty of audible heckles as well.
  2. Michigan State skated by Navy on Friday night by a score of 64-59, raising a few eyebrows around the college basketball community. But according to Lansing State Journal‘s Graham Couch, that kind of close win could be beneficial for the Spartans in the long run. Tom Izzo inserted three new starters in his lineup (Travis Trice, Alvin Ellis III and Matt Costello), but he only got double-figure scoring from Trice and Branden Dawson. Head coach Tom Izzo said he needs to see more production from his returning starters, Denzel Valentine and Dawson, but it’s an absolute certainty that Izzo would much rather have the bump in the road come now than come later on in the season.
  3. Rutgers opened its season with a 17-point home loss to George Washington, getting beat in just about every relevant statistical category. Myles Mack led the Scarlet Knights with 14 points, but he didn’t get much help from his supporting cast. Freshman Mike Williams poured in 10 points off the bench, but no other Knights reached double figures. Junior Etou and newcomer Bishop Daniels went a combined 1-of-16 from the field and Kadeem Jack is on the mend, so there aren’t many positives for Rutgers fans right now – unless you count D.J. Foreman’s monstrous dunk. And that’s certainly worth something.
  4. Caris LeVert was excellent in Michigan’s season-opening win over Hillsdale on Saturday, notching 20 points, nine assists and eight rebounds in the Wolverines’ 92-68 victory. LeVert and point guard Spike Albrecht were both relatively unknown recruits coming out of high school, but the two are now Michigan’s permanent team captains for the 2014-15 season. LeVert was one of three Wolverines to score more than 20 points on Saturday, whereas Albrecht came off the bench to score four. Head coach John Beilein said Albrecht and starting point guard Derrick Walton Jr. will be on the court together a lot this season, a rare dual-point guard situation that you should keep your eye on.
  5. Purdue’s Vince Edwards, a true freshman, introduced himself to the Boilermakers faithful in a big way this weekend, scoring 13 points and grabbing eight rebounds in his debut before turning around and dropping 26 points in a win over IUPUI on Sunday. Kendall Stephens shined alongside Edwards on Sunday, pouring in 24 points with six three-pointers as Purdue shot 50 percent from the field. The Boilermakers host Grambling State on Thursday before facing Kansas State in Maui on November 24. Purdue’s going to need more out of A.J. Hammons sooner than later, as the talented but enigmatic big man gathered a total of seven rebounds and scored only 11 points in his first two games.
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Big Ten M5: 04.03.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on April 3rd, 2014

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  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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Big Ten Tournament: Friday Recap/Saturday Preview

Posted by Walker Carey on March 15th, 2014

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

What went down on Friday:

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

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

  • Top-seeded Michigan survived a scare from a tenacious Illinois squad. The Wolverines saw a 13-point lead completely disappear before senior forward Jordan Morgan converted a layup with seven seconds left to give Michigan the 64-63 victory. The Wolverines were able to build their 13-point lead thanks to great assertiveness from sophomore Glenn Robinson III and the play-making ability of Big Ten Player of the Year, Nik Stauskas. The team’s fortunes, however, changed in the second half when Illinois dropped into a 2-3 zone that utterly frustrated Michigan throughout a majority of the second half.
  • Ohio State advanced to the semifinals with an epic 71-67 comeback victory over Nebraska. The Buckeyes trailed by 18 points with just over 13 minutes to play, but junior forward LaQuinton Ross and their suffocating defense took over and allowed Thad Matta’s squad to come all the way back to earn the victory. Senior guard Aaron Craft did not have the best game statistically, but he once again showed how valuable it is to have a confident, heady leader at the controls.
  • Wisconsin was very impressive in its 26-point mauling of a Minnesota team that could not find its way off the bubble. Senior guard Ben Brust turned in a career-best performance for the Badgers, finishing with a game-high 29 points. Bo Ryan’s squad also received a significant contribution from its bench, as guard Bronson Koenig and forward Nigel Hayes combined for 29 points. There have been questions all season about Wisconsin’s defense, but the Badgers were outstanding on that end of the court, limiting Minnesota to just 32.8 percent shooting for the game. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten M5: 02.20.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on February 20th, 2014

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  1. The Big Ten may not have a freshman who is as heralded as the numerous national ones like Tyler Ennis, Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins and the others. Still, there have been plenty of impact rookies to talk about, including a likely top 10 pick should Indiana’s Noah Vonleh leave for the draft. The Big Ten Geeks took a look at the conference’s Freshman of the Year race, essentially narrowing it down to the trio of Vonleh, Michigan’s Derrick Walton Jr. and Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes. It’s hard to argue against those three being the best, although Illinois’ Kendrick Nunn has been impressive too. Overall, the Geeks give Vonleh the slight edge and I would agree with them unless Michigan wins the Big Ten title. If the Wolverines finish the season on top, it would be tough to argue against Walton given how much he has turned up his play in conference action. He is the biggest reason this team has responded so well to loss of Mitch McGary and overcome Nik Stauskas’ recent scoring slide.
  2. Everyone knows letdown games occur, but it is extremely rare to have a player candidly admit as much. Michigan State‘s Matt Costello did just that when discussing the Spartans’ recent struggles against Nebraska, and his candor is refreshing. Michigan State losing at home to a Cornhuskers team that had been dismal on the road was certainly a shocker, and the fact that Costello (and maybe in turn the rest of the team) didn’t respect Nebraska appears to have been a contributing factor. Outsiders can look to injuries as well, but this team has overcome injuries all season long. A lackadaisical attitude was the bigger factor and we’ll see if they learned to not overlook an opponent when the Spartans go to Mackey Arena to face Purdue tonight.
  3. Michigan has had plenty of players raise their games in Big Ten play, and recently it has been Caris Levert who has stepped up as the Wolverines’ scoring leader over the last five games. He has proven to have no problem attacking the basket to create his own shot while drawing the foul or stepping outside to shoot the three. Michigan will need to continue getting solid contributions from Levert with its massive intrastate rivalry game against Michigan State coming up this weekend. Also of note in this article — John Beilein discusses the Olympics and the sport of curling. Who doesn’t like curling?
  4. The postponement of the Iowa vs. Indiana game following a beam falling on Tuesday night was certainly a scary situation. It is very fortunate that it happened when no one was in the arena, but with the Indiana women at home last night, it appears the Hoosiers will still be able to host the Hawkeyes later this season. The question is when will it happen and how the team will respond? Tom Crean says it is just a matter of adjusting to changing circumstances and being ready to play no matter what. The two schools will still have another day to schedule the game before the Big Ten is obligated to step in and schedules it for them.
  5. Wisconsin has plenty of players that contribute every game, but this is news it certainly did not want to see. Senior guard Ben Brust left practice yesterday after he was hit from behind and knocked down. The injury appears to be to his back and he is currently listed as day-to-day. The Badgers have likely clinched an NCAA Tournament berth barring a complete collapse, but with a game at Iowa coming that could have big seeding implications, this injury is certainly not good news. Brust isn’t just a good scoring threat for the Badgers, but he is also one of the best leaders on Bo Ryan’s team. Not having him in a raucous Carver-Hawkeye Arena over the weekend could be a daunting task for the Badgers.
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Key Questions for Michigan State at Wisconsin

Posted by Alex Moscoso and Brendan Brody on February 9th, 2014

Michigan State‘s visit to Wisconsin today might have been a possible match-up of the top two Big Ten teams a few weeks ago. Now, it’s a tale of two different teams. While the Spartans sit atop the league standings, the Badgers has lost five of their last seven and are hoping to avoid dipping below .500 in the conference. Big Ten microsite writers Alex Moscoso and Brendan Brody ask each other questions about this match-up in order to preview what may happen when they take the court.

Sam Dekker and the Badgers have need a big win against Michigan State to stop the bleeding. (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

Sam Dekker and the Badgers need a big win to stop the bleeding. (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

AM: The Spartan’s offense stalled against Georgetown without Adreian Payne and Brandon Dawsen. On Sunday, Dawsen will be out, but Payne will be back in. Will the return of Payne be enough to get this offense back on track and put numbers up against the Badgers?

BB: It’s gotten to the point now where we really don’t know what roster the Spartans will have on a game-by-game basis. Just when they get Payne back, they decide to sit Keith Appling on Thursday night because of his nagging wrist injury. Even without their floor general, they still shot 12-23 from behind the arc against Penn State. Regardless of whether or not Appling plays Sunday, there’s no indication that Sparty won’t put points on the board against Wisconsin. The three-point shooting won’t be there like that every game obviously, but Payne and Matt Costello will be able to get plenty of points in the paint against a Badger unit that struggles to guard inside. In their last seven games, Wisconsin has allowed 51.5 % shooting on two-pointers. Payne will get more comfortable in his second game back, and Appling or Travis Trice should be able to get in the lane like a lot of point guards have been able to do recently against the Badgers.

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Big Ten M5: 01.31.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 31st, 2014

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  1. Michigan State sophomore Matt Costello has seen his role become much more important with Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson sidelined. He posted a double-double in the Spartans’ win against Iowa on Tuesday night, which led to Tom Izzo calling it “ the best game of his life.” Costello has done a great job blocking shots all season long, but it seems as though he’s getting more comfortable playing extended minutes. His rebounding will be sorely needed until the Spartans are back at full strength. It will be interesting to see if the former top-100 recruit can develop a back-to-the-basket game in his next two years in East Lansing.
  2. The B1G season went from strange to borderline wacky Wednesday night when supposed cellar dwellers (at least according to preseason rankings) Penn State and Northwestern won on the road against Ohio State and Wisconsin, respectively. Both of these teams were ranked in the top five nationally a mere three weeks ago. More on Ohio State in a moment, but Wisconsin’s issues can be traced to how well it’s letting other teams shoot the ball, and how poorly it’s shooting from behind the arc. Teams have been living in the paint in all four recent losses, and until the Badgers get that fixed, they’ll continue to hover around .500 in conference play.
  3. Ohio State also looked like a potential Final Four contender until recently, but they’ve arguably looked even worse than Wisconsin in the last couple of weeks. It’s disturbing that senior Lenzelle Smith Jr. was quoted as saying that the team “doesn’t care enough.” Maybe these quotes will spark something in the Buckeyes and they’ll play with more emotion going forward. But Smith and fellow senior Aaron Craft, who both started in the Final Four as sophomores, need to do more on the court in terms of providing senior leadership. Smith needs to shoot better and Craft — despite the free pass the national media seemingly gives him — needs to stop turning the ball over at what has been an alarming rate during their recent struggles.
  4. In happier news, Minnesota is one of the teams in the league that has outperformed against expectations so far. Everyone knows that the team has missed the inside presence and rebounding of the graduated Trevor Mbakwe, but that doesn’t mean that Oto Osenieks hasn’t played well as a stretch-four during his junior season. Osenieks isn’t ever going to average 10 rebounds a game, but he’s improved quite a bit since his last season under former coach Tubby Smith. This can mainly be viewed in his three-point shooting, as the lanky junior has gone from only hitting 2-of-26 as a sophomore, to 12-of-37 during the 2013-14 campaign.
  5. When Penn State jumped out to a 47-40 lead at halftime in its first league game against Michigan State, you could see that this team had the potential to jump up and bite some of the Big Ten heavyweights this season. And after an 0-6 start, the Nittany Lions have won their last two after Wednesday night’s victory in Columbus. They got this win despite many setbacks that should have doomed them to defeat, overcoming a huge free throw disparity and some questionable calls that went against them. After failing to close out the game in numerous close contests, it will be interesting to see whether getting this win can be a springboard for Penn State going forward.
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Big Ten M5: 01.20.14 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on January 20th, 2014

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  1. Terone and Ronnie Johnson don’t necessarily receive the glare of a national spotlight like the Harrison twins from Kentucky, but they are a formidable combination of brothers themselves. While Terone has averaged 13.4 PPG to help the Boilermakers with the offense, Ronnie has averaged 3.7 APG to set the tone in the half-court. The brothers have come through in the clutch lately, loggin recent wins over Illinois and Penn State. After the win over the Nittany Lions, older brother Terone said of his younger sibling, “But at the end of the game, he made a big steal for us, which we thought was great and we congratulate him for that.” With a 13-5 overall record, it is uncertain if the Boilers have the juice to make the NCAA Tournament, but they will need the brothers to win a couple of road games if they hope to be considered by the committee in March.
  2. Sometimes the certainty of not having your best player around can benefit a team in a positive way. With Mitch McGary sidelined for at least a few more weeks, the Wolverines may have finally found their identity, now clearly under the leadership of sophomore Nik Stauskas. Stauskas went off for 23 points over Wisconsin, nailing a pull-up three to win the game on the road in Madison. With the win, John Beilein’s squad now sits at the top of the Big Ten with a perfect 5-0 record, but more importantly, the Wolverines are clicking on the offensive end. Even Bo Ryan was impressed with the sophomore’s performance when he said: “Any time a guy steps back like that, you try to cover ground like that with that quick a release? … That step-back’s so fast and that release is so fast, you’re not going to (defend it). He’s quick. He’s like a cat.”
  3. Speaking of injuries helping a team improve, Adreian Payne’s sore foot is giving an opportunity for Matt Costello to take advantage of additional playing time and gain confidence in his offensive game. With Payne out for three games, Costello has been actively involved in the half-court, specifically running the pick-and-roll with Gary Harris. Harris was on fire from the field against Illinois on Saturday night, scoring 23 points with most of them coming off the pick-and-roll with Costello. Costello chipped in with eight points and showed off his excellent jumper away from the hoop. These minutes will help Tom Izzo once Payne comes back because Costello’s confidence will be very high based on his performances while Payne was out.
  4. When Wisconsin was still unbeaten, we were raving about their offensive versatility, and specifically the fact that all five of their starters could shoot from the perimeter and score with anybody. But we may have slightly overlooked some of their defensive flaws and the two losses last week showed why they are not a lock to win the conference title. During both games, the Baddgers experienced numerous defensive breakdowns, which could haunt them over the next few weeks when they face Iowa, Michigan State and Ohio State. Michigan’s Nik Stauskas had a field day against their backcourt with 23 points, and during the late minutes against Indiana, Yogi Ferrell and Stanford Robinson found their way into the paint rather easily against the porous Wisconsin defense.
  5. Indiana‘s loss to Northwestern at home on Saturday is a primary example of a “letdown game.” Just a few days after their fans rushed the court because they ended Wisconsin’s unbeaten season, the Hoosiers sleptwalked for most of the game against the Wildcats. They shot a dismal 25 percent from the field instead of relying on Noah Vonleh to take them to a win. Vonleh ended up with 17 points, but he should have taken more shots because the IU backcourt of Yogi Ferrell and Will Sheehey shot an icy 3-of-21 from the field. Inconsistent shooting has been a concern for the Hoosiers, but they need to recognize that Vonleh is good enough to carry the team in the paint if their long-range shooting is off on a given night.
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