Rushed Reactions: #7 Michigan State 60, #2 Virginia 54

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 22nd, 2015

rushedreactions 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 @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Tom Izzo and Michigan State beat a higher seeded Virginia for the second straight year. (rushthecourt)

Tom Izzo and Michigan State beat a higher seeded Virginia for the second straight year.

  1. Michigan State’s defense is toxic for Virginia shooters. For the second year in a row, the Cavaliers struggled to put the ball in the hoop against the Spartans in NCAA play. In last year’s East Regional semifinal, Virginia shot 35 percent from the field and things were even worse in this one, as the Cavaliers went 17-for-57 (29.8%) from the floor. Malcolm Brogdon, in particular, has not liked seeing the green Spartan jerseys. Last year he suffered through a 4-for-14 shooting night and this time he only managed nine points, going 3-of-12 from the floor. As expected, the Cavaliers’ defense and rebounding kept them in the game, but in the end, Virginia’s offense just wasn’t up to par for the second year in a row.
  2. Michigan State is one tough #7 Seed.  As soon as the brackets came out last Sunday night, almost everyone agreed that the Spartans were underseeded. That certainly appears to be a correct assessment and Virginia paid the price for it. Perhaps if the Big Ten Tournament title game was played earlier in the day last Sunday, the Selection Committee would have had time to more properly seed Michigan State. In any event, that day’s tough overtime loss to Wisconsin, combined with this win, show that the Spartans are capable of getting Tom Izzo back to the Final Four again. And it doesn’t hurt that the East Region’s top seed, Villanova is already home too.
  3. Branden Dawson did it again. Last year, Dawson torched the Cavaliers with 24 points and 10 rebounds, and he proved to a tough match-up again – on both ends of the floor. Today, the senior forward punished Virginia in the paint, finishing the game with 15 points, nine boards, and four blocks. Just like we thought, it was a man’s game inside, and Dawson was the baddest dude of them all. His first leap is so quick and explosive, which enabled him to outreach everyone for many fifty-fifty balls.

Star of the Game. Travis Trice, Michigan State. The senior guard got the Spartans off to a blazing start with an amazing offensive display. In the first five and a half minutes of the game, Trice had 13 points on 5-for-5 shooting including three 3-pointers, as Michigan State grabbed an early 11 point lead. He finished with 23 points and his dagger three with just under three minutes to go giving the Spartans enough breathing room to close the game out.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Third Round, Sunday

Posted by RTC Staff on March 22nd, 2015

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For the majority of programs around the country, making the Sweet 16 is the start of what would be considered a “successful” season. While many of the programs set to participate in today’s Third Round have aspirations that extend well beyond the final 16, making it to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament has always been a mark of accomplishment. After today, eight teams will punch their ticket to next week. Here are eight preview’s of Sunday’s games.

#2 Virginia vs. #7 Michigan State – East Region Second Round (at Charlotte, NC) – 12:10 PM ET on CBS

Virginia faces Michigan State for the second-straight March. (Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports)

Virginia faces Michigan State for the second-straight March. (Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY Sports)

The good news for Virginia is that Justin Anderson – still recovering from a broken finger – looked more like his old self against Belmont on Friday, scoring 15 points on 4-for-6 shooting and earning several trips to the free throw line. The bad news is that its vaunted defense allowed the #15-seeded Bruins to shoot 59 percent from two-point range and hang around for most of the afternoon. Michigan State, meanwhile, made relatively easy work of Georgia. Which makes one wonder: Is an upset a-brewin’ in Charlotte? Belmont found success by using its three-point barrage to spread out the Cavaliers’ Pack-Line defense, then exploiting the resultant lanes. The Spartans – while not quite as deep-ball oriented – attempt over one-third of their shots from behind the arc and hit nearly 39 percent of the time. On top of that, Tom Izzo’s club is very effective on both the offensive and defensive glass, led by rejuvenated forward Branden Dawson (12 PPG, 9 RPG). If Michigan State can stretch the defense, penetrate those openings and create second-chance opportunities, it might be able to find success against America’s second-most-efficient defense. Unfortunately, if Anderson takes another step forward, that might not be enough. With the 6’6” wing knocking down perimeter jumpers and attacking the lane on Friday, Virginia scored 1.22 points per possession – its most since February 28th – and looked much closer to the patient-but-efficient offense that dominated opponents in December and January. No matter how well the Spartans spread the floor, they are never going to score at will against Tony Bennett’s defense – no one does – so their ability to get stops will become crucial. But if Anderson is earning trips to free throw line and scorching from behind the arc, I’m not sure Izzo’s bunch can get enough stops to win this game. Expect Michigan State to stay within striking distance for 35-plus minutes, but count on Anderson to make the difference in the end.

The RTC Certified Pick: Virginia

#1 Duke vs. #8 San Diego State — South Region Third Round (at Charlotte, NC) — 2:40 pm ET on CBS

Steve Fisher is Leading This Year's Aztecs to Unexpected Success (Getty Images/K. Horner)

Steve Fisher vs. Coach K? Sign me up! (Getty Images/K. Horner)

Duke and San Diego State will play for the first ever in what highlights as an extremely intriguing matchup. The Aztecs were clinical in discarding St. John’s Friday night, even showing an unusual accuracy from three-point range (9-of-22 on threes). When Steve Fisher’s team can find ways to score the basketball – from three-point range or elsewhere – they become a difficult team to beat. There is little inconsistency to the Aztecs’ efforts on the defensive end, where they regularly cause intense trauma to opponents. That defensive activity is what should have Coach K’s attention right about now. Duke guards Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones stand 6’2” and 6’1”, respectively; no Aztec guard is shorter than 6’3”, and wings like Winston Shepard (6’8”) and Dwayne Polee (6’7”) will also take turns harassing Duke’s pair of star guards. The Blue Devils did manage well against Virginia and their bigger group of guards, but San Diego State presents a longer, more athletic challenge than even the Cavaliers. Of course, the question on the flip side is one that has long plagued the Aztecs: How will SDSU score points? Duke’s defense has taken nights off this year, sure, but there should be some trust that Coach K can devise a game plan capable of removing easy-bucket opportunities. The Aztecs’ best bet may be a continuation of the long-range prowess they displayed Friday night. There are guys on the roster who can knock down those deep shots – Quinn, Shrigley and Polee prime among them. Can they hit enough to complement the terrifying SDSU defense?

San Diego State would be a more appealing pick to pull the stunner if this game were not being played in Charlotte. As is, they are faced with defeating a #1 seed in a virtual road game, a proposition that even the strongest of stylistic matchups can fail to enact. Duke should be scared – the Aztecs are a truly scary matchup in this spot – but expect San Diego State to fall a shot or two short of swinging the upset. Duke will leave the home cooking behind in advancing to Houston.

The RTC Certified Pick: Duke Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #7 Michigan State 70, #10 Georgia 63

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 20th, 2015

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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 @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Travis Trice led Michigan State's decisive first half run. (Kirthman F. Dozier/Detroit Free Press)

Travis Trice led Michigan State’s decisive first half run.
(Kirthman F. Dozier/Detroit Free Press)

  1. Michigan State’s first half run was the key. After getting off to a slow start and trailing by six points early, the Spartans got it going at both ends of the floor and roared to a 12-point halftime lead. Georgia made a spirited effort to recover in the second half but could never quite catch up. During that first half, Georgia’s ball-handling deficiencies came to the forefront. The Bulldogs entered the game with five more total turnovers than assists on the season, and they played to form in that regard today by coughing it up 10 times in the first 20 minutes. That problem, combined with an inability to make shots (28 percent shooting in the first half), dug the Bulldogs a huge hole that it never climbed out of. Meanwhile, Michigan State got out in transition (eight fast break points) and heated up from deep with five threes before the intermission.
  2. Georgia’s bigs really struggled to finish at the rim. Georgia’s primary big men, Marcus Thornton and Nemanja Djurisic, each entered the contest shooting close to 50 percent from the field but neither came close to that mark today. The two combined to only make 4-of-17 shots against the Spartans, with most of the misses coming close to the basket. It could be attributed to non-explosive players failing to finish through the kind of contact that is allowed in NCAA games, because it wasn’t an effort problem (each player grabbed at least 10 rebounds). Credit goes to Michigan State for making those opportunities for Thornton and Djurisic tough ones, as the Bulldogs only converted 34.9 percent of their two-point shots for the game.
  3. Free throws are a problem for Michigan State. Michigan State was outscored by 10 points at the free throw line and that has been a recurring theme as the Spartans have made 106 fewer foul shots than their opponents this year. Part of the problem is that Michigan State just doesn’t shoot the ball very well from the stripe (63.3 percent on the year), but it also doesn’t get there very often either. Perhaps this is just a byproduct of these Spartans becoming more of a jump shooting team than we are used to from Tom Izzo, but it could hurt them as the competition improves open perimeter shots are tougher to find and knock down.

Stars of the Game.  Travis Trice & Branden Dawson, Michigan State. Tom Izzo’s veterans came through for him, one in each half. Trice was the catalyst behind the first half spurt, with 11 points and four assists before the break that included a pair of threes that gave the Spartans a nice working margin. Dawson spent most of the opening stanza on the bench because of foul trouble, finishing the half with no points or rebounds. However, when Georgia made its push early in the second half, it was Dawson who helped get the game back under control. He finished with 14 points and six boards to hold off the Bulldogs.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Friday Afternoon

Posted by RTC Staff on March 20th, 2015

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In what was certainly one of the most competitive and jam-packed “opening” days in NCAA Tournament history, Friday’s slate of games will have a hard time following Thursday’s remarkable act. However, today offers a fair share of fascinating matchups as well. Here is a preview of Friday’s afternoon games:

#2 Kansas vs. #15 New Mexico State – Midwest Region (from Omaha, NE) — 12:15 PM EST on CBS.

New Mexico State has not lost since January 17 and will enter Friday’s action looking to pull a stunner against the second-seeded Jayhawks. The Aggies are led by their freshman big man Pascal Siakam, who caused problems for WAC big men throughout the season. Siakam carries averages of 13 points and 7.7 rebounds per game and he will look to mix it up against the Kansas frontline. New Mexico State, as a team, has been a very formidable defensive unit throughout the season, as it is 18th in the country in points per game allowed. Unfortunately for Kansas, its frontline depth took a bit of a hit earlier this week when it became known that freshman forward Cliff Alexander would definitely miss the NCAA Tournament due to a pending NCAA investigation. Sans Alexander, the Jayhawks still have some talent in the post with the strong play of junior forward Perry Ellis and the late season emergence of redshirt sophomore Landen Lucas. While Siakam’s play in the post could keep things close for a little while, expect Kansas’ perimeter play, led by point guard Frank Mason and swingman Kelly Oubre, to be the key as the Jayhawks will comfortably advance to the Round of 32.

The RTC Certified Pick: Kansas

#7 Michigan State vs. #10 Georgia — East Region First Round (at Charlotte, NC) — 12:20 pm ET on truTV.

Michigan State will battle Georgia in Charlotte. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Michigan State will battle Georgia in Charlotte. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Michigan State comes in hot after rolling to the Big Ten Tournament championship game and nearly edging Wisconsin. The Spartans are ranked 17th overall by KenPom and have become a substantially better offensive team over the course of the season, especially with a healthy Branden Dawson (12 PPG, 9.1 RPG) in the lineup. The senior forward looked like his old self in the Big Ten Tournament, averaging nearly 16 points, eight rebounds per game and locking down on the defensive end. The Spartans are at their best in transition and should push the tempo against the defensively stingy Bulldogs, a lengthy team which held opponents to the nation’s 15th-lowest effective field goal percentage this season. Although Tom Izzo’s bunch has become less-reliant on three-pointers as the year’s progressed, it wouldn’t hurt for Denzel Valentine (41.8% 3PT), Bryn Forbes (42.4% 3PT) and Travis Trice (36.6% 3PT) to knock down some perimeter shots, considering Georgia’s especially-stout interior defense (43% 2PT). On the other end, the Bulldogs do one thing especially well – attack the basket – which should keep them afloat against a Michigan State team that sent teams to the free throw line at the Big Ten’s third-highest rate. Junior guard Charles Mann (highest free-throw rate in the SEC) and his backcourt mates will get to the stripe. The Spartans are more well-rounded and should win this one, but count on a slimmer margin than some have suggested.

The RTC Certified Pick: Michigan State Read the rest of this entry »

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What Are Big Ten Teams Seeking This Weekend?

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 19th, 2015

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While it’s unlikely that all seven Big Ten teams will still be around at the end of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, each has something to gain from even just one win. None of the matchups on Thursday and Friday are overly imposing, and in actuality, many of them seem to be pretty equal. The Round of 32 could be a different story, but here’s what each team has on the line with a quality opening weekend performance:

Troy Williams will need to play well for IU to advance.   (Chris Howell/Herald Times)

Troy Williams will need to play well for Indiana to advance. (Chris Howell/Herald Times)

  • Indiana: This NCAA Tournament appearance is all about showing that the program hasn’t hit a wall under head coach Tom Crean and it’s about quieting the critics that have been out in full force this year. A win over a Wichita State squad with plenty of excellent experience in four starters who made the Final Four two seasons ago would be a nice victory for a team with no seniors and almost no size. Winning a second game against fellow blue-blood Kansas would give the Hoosiers valuable March experience to build upon with a great majority of the team scheduled to return next season.
  • Iowa: Iowa can regain some of the credibility it lost from last season’s nosedive. The Hawkeyes still have some problems with consistency although they’ve been slightly better in closing out the 2014-15 campaign. Fran McCaffery‘s team avoided the First Four this time around but it still has a difficult opener against the Atlantic 10 regular season champion, Davidson. Just being back in March Madness, though, isn’t good enough for Hawkeyes fans. Mostly the same cast of characters played significant minutes in last season’s opening round loss to Tennessee, so winning a game or two here will show that this talented crew didn’t underachieve during its time in Iowa City. McCaffery doesn’t have to face the same amount of pressure that someone like Crean does at Indiana, but losing early in March once again won’t exactly help him either.
  • Maryland: The Terrapins were ranked for most of the season, eventually making their way into the top 10 at the end of the year. Despite how Maryland fared in the polls, they ended up with only a #4 seed and have a challenging road to the Sweet Sixteen. This means that they need to get to the second weekend to show the committee and others that they were justifiably ranked where they were. They were the second best team in the conference for much of the season, but an early flame-out in March would give the critics of Big Ten basketball plenty of ammunition in saying that the league didn’t deserve seven bids. The Terps need to avoid the upset bug and make a solid run.

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Bracket Prep: East Region Analysis

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 17th, 2015

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Throughout Tuesday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (10:00 AM), South (11:00 AM), Midwest (1:00 PM), West (2:00 PM). Here, Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) breaks down the East Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC East Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCeastregion).

East Region

Favorite: #1 Villanova (32-2, 16-2 Big East). For as good as Virginia has been this season, Villanova enters the NCAA Tournament as hot and seemingly infallible as any team outside of Kentucky. The Big East champion Wildcats are currently riding a 15-game winning streak, including 11 victories by double-figures and two drubbings – an 89-61 win over Providence and 105-68 beat-down of St. John’s – against current Tournament participants. They boast the fourth-most efficient offense in the country thanks to a balanced lineup that sees six different players average between nine and 14 points per game, and have a true inside presence and rim protector in 6’11” big man Daniel Ochefu (9.2 PPG, 8.4 RPG). And even though Jay Wright’s team relies heavily on perimeter shooting, it happens to be one of the best three-point shooting teams in America at 38.9 percent. To boot, Villanova’s defense holds opponents to well under one point per possession.

Darrun Hilliard and the Wildcats are the team to beat in the East. (AP)

Darrun Hilliard and the Wildcats are the team to beat in the East. (AP)

Should They Falter: #2 Virginia (30-3, 16-2 ACC). Virginia could have been a #1 seed and very well might play like one if Justin Anderson (12.3 PPG) rounds into form over the coming days and weeks. Since the 6’6″ wing went down with a broken hand in February, the Cavaliers’ offense has sorely missed his outside shooting (46.9% 3FG) and ability to get to the rim. The junior returned (in a limited capacity) for the ACC Tournament, however, and could be in better basketball shape by this weekend. Either way, the regular season ACC champs should be fine in the early-going, since their defense is borderline impenetrable. No team in the country – not even Kentucky – touts better adjusted defensive efficiency numbers than Tony Bennett’s guys, a product of his pack-line system which thrives on eliminating access to the paint and forcing tough shots from perimeter. Outside of Villanova, it’s hard to envision many teams in the East mustering enough offensive production to topple the Wahoos – especially if Anderson again finds his footing. Read the rest of this entry »

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big Ten Teams

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 15th, 2015

Seven teams from the Big Ten made it into the field of 68 after the selections were announced late Sunday afternoon. There were some surprises in terms of seeding and matchups which will be covered later in this post, but all in all there wasn’t anything too earth-shattering in terms of where the seven conference teams ended up. Here are five quick takeaways from this year’s bracket.

Frank Kaminsky and Wisconsin ended up getting a one seed and avoiding Kentucky for now. ( USA Today Images)

Frank Kaminsky and Wisconsin ended up getting a one seed and avoiding Kentucky for now. ( USA Today Images)

  1. Wisconsin Avoided Kentucky But.…: There is a good news/bad news element with Wisconsin’s draw. The good news is that because the Badgers navigated their way through the Big Ten Tournament to get to 31-3, they secured a #1 seed. The bad news is that they procured that seed in an absolutely loaded West Region. The Badgers will potentially face a rematch of last season’s wild Round of 32 game against #8 seed Oregon followed by a battle with Arkansas or North Carolina in the Sweet Sixteen. Then perhaps another southern California regional final against Arizona in the Elite Eight. Avoiding Kentucky after everyone thought the Badgers might be the #2 seed in the Wildcats’ region is obviously a positive, but this is by no means an easy road to Indianapolis.
  2. Maryland Gets Shafted?: The second-best team in the league ended up as a #4 seed in Kentucky’s Midwest Region despite its strong 27-6 overall record (15-5 in the Big Ten). It’s surprising that the Terps ended up with a seed similar to that of Georgetown, a team that lost 10 games on the year. The Terps have to play #13 Valparaiso in their first game, which is not a gimme by any stretch. They then would have to play either of West Virginia or Buffalo in the round of 32. It can definitely be argued that Maryland should have been given more respect and a better seed line for such a successful regular season. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: #5 Wisconsin 80, Michigan State 69

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 15th, 2015

RTC National Columnist Bennet Hayes was in Chicago this week for the Big Ten Tournament Championship.

Three Key Takeaways.

Josh Gasser May Have Saved Wisconsin's Big Ten Title (USA Today Images)

Josh Gasser May Have Saved Wisconsin’s Big Ten Title (USA Today Images)

  1. Hold On, Selection Show. The Spartans and Badgers needed extra time to decide the Big Ten championship game, temporarily preventing the NCAA Tournament committee from finalizing the bracket. Michigan State had briefly seized a double-figure lead with under eight minutes to play, but the separation didn’t last. Wisconsin quickly erased the Spartans’ edge with a 16-5 run, setting in motion a dramatic final three minutes of action. The first 25 minutes of the game had played out much like those final three and overtime did: back-and-forth fashion, as the teams took turns claiming and reclaiming the lead, much to the delight of a United Center divided in their patronage. After Wisconsin dominated overtime, the bracket could finally be completed, and one of the great college basketball games of this season had found its close.
  2. An Aggressive Branden Dawson. Tom Izzo spoke earlier in the week about encouraging Dawson to pick up his offensive aggressiveness. No such request needed to be made after tipoff this afternoon. True to reputation, Dawson terrorized the rim with vicious dunks on multiple occasions, also displaying a nice in-between game at times. He scored points out of both post-ups and dribble drives, finishing the afternoon with 16 points. Dawson also grabbed seven rebounds in one of his strongest performances of the season. His breakaway dunk with 7:44 to play gave Michigan State what would be its largest lead of the day, igniting the Spartans’ faithful in attendance.
  3. Unexpected Contributor. It’s been a challenging season for Duje Dukan, but the senior gave the Badgers a huge boost off the bench in the first half. He knocked down two threes as part of an eight-point effort in the first frame, ultimately finishing with 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting. It capped off a very nice week in Chicago for Dukan. Contributions like today’s from the senior would be much appreciated in the NCAA Tournament, as Wisconsin’s thin bench remains a concern heading into the season’s final phase.

Star of the Game. Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin. The heroes were many for the Badgers. Frank Kaminsky was outstanding (19 points, five rebounds) and Nigel Hayes’ relentless aggression was a key part of the Badgers’ comeback, but Koenig may have made the two biggest plays of the game. The sophomore was fouled and made two free throws to tie the game with 15 seconds to play in regulation, then came up with the biggest bucket of the extra period, hitting a three to put Wisconsin up six with two minutes to play. That final bucket would prove back-breaking for the Spartans and it was delivered by a player who has grown increasingly comfortable in taking the big shot. Koenig finished with 18 points and nine assists.

Quotable.

  • “I thought we played one of the greatest games we’ve played for 32, 32 and a half minutes…And then we made a couple mistakes, and they made a couple of great shots.” –Tom Izzo
  • “He made us look around, look around the gym, and he wanted us to look at that and remember that feeling. Take that all in. That was we don’t want to feel that feeling again.” –Travis Trice, on why Izzo took a time-out with 3.7 seconds left in OT and the Spartans down 11
  • “To go out the way we did and fight back and really take the Big Ten title was awesome. Our fans were great, an awesome environment to play in and it was just a blast.” –Kaminsky, who was named Big Ten Tournament MOP
  • “That was a high level NCAA Tournament game right there, if you ask me, as far as the crowd, the intensity, the swings, the up-and-down. For us to get that one and get the No. 1 seed, these guys are extremely proud to represent the University in that way.” –Bo Ryan

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A Love Story: Tom Izzo And March

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 14th, 2015

After Michigan State won yet another postseason basketball game – this one a come-from-behind, emotionally charged Big Ten semifinal victory over Maryland, a well-known secret was made public: The love affair between Tom Izzo and March is real. “I love March for two reasons: it’s tournament basketball and a chance to win a championship and the weather is getting nicer,” Izzo said. “It’s just a phenomenal time of year.”

Tom Izzo's Team Is Getting Hot In March Once Again. Michigan State Takes On Wisconsin For The Big Ten Title On Sunday. (Photo: USA Today Sports)

Tom Izzo’s Team Is Getting Hot In March Once Again. Michigan State Takes On Wisconsin For the Big Ten Title on Sunday. (Photo: USA Today Sports)

Izzo’s fondness for the calendar’s third month leads us into a familiar story: Michigan State works its way through an inconsistent regular season to find stability and success in March. These Spartans ably fulfilled the opening act of the narrative, putting together a season as uneven as any Izzo has overseen. Michigan State lost 10 regular season games. The Spartans never put together a winning streak longer than four games. And the coup de grace: a startlingly low nadir, a home loss to Texas Southern back in December. But for Michigan State fans, now comes the fun piece of that two-part story. It’s March, and after a gut-check of a win over Maryland, Michigan State has won four in a row entering Sunday’s Big Ten Tournament title game. There’s an especially massive challenge awaiting the Spartans tomorrow, but win or lose against Wisconsin, Tom Izzo has this team approaching the NCAA Tournament at its speediest velocity yet.

The Spartans trailed 12-1 and 23-7 in the first half as a result of both their own spotty shooting and Melo Trimble’s decidedly un-spotty shooting (the Maryland freshman started 5-of-5 from the field). Travis Trice (13 first half points) helped stem that early tide, enabling his team to enter the halftime intermission down just eight points. Michigan State completed the comeback in the second half with a series of emotional surges. No mini-run elicited more sentiment than a 13-0 burst capped by Denzel Valentine’s first points of the afternoon, a three-point field goal with 12:38 to play. They would also wind up being Valentine’s final points, but the burst of Michigan State momentum forced Maryland to take timeout as the Spartan faithful rejoiced in their team’s first lead of the game.

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Rushed Reactions: Michigan State 62, Maryland 58

Posted by Henry Bushnell on March 14th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

Michigan State Has Put Things Together (USA Today Images)

Michigan State Appears to Have Put Things Together (USA Today Images)

  1. Melo Trimble was borderline unstoppable early. The freshman was on fire from the opening jump and Michigan State’s defense struggled to contain him. When Trimble is knocking down threes off the dribble, he’s a considerable problem. His first three triples and five shots all found the bottom of the net, helping Maryland jump out to a quick and commanding 23-7 lead. However, after that initial spurt, two things slowed him down. Michigan State’s help defense improved on his touches and the Spartans also got a bit more physical with the youngster. That clearly threw him off his game — and after starting 5-of-5, Trimble made just two of his final 11 shots on the afternoon. This was the single biggest reason that Michigan State was able to climb back into the game.
  2. Michigan State’s frontcourt was great. Matt Costello was at it again and Marvin Clark got in on the act too. Izzo said in the postgame press conference that Clark “idolizes” Branden Dawson, and while Dawson struggled for long periods of the game, Clark came in and brought great energy. He and Costello combined for 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting, and after allowing Maryland to hit the offensive boards early, they dominated the paint late. When Dawson finally got going, his athleticism took over the game late. He’s the most physically dominant player in the conference with his combination of size, strength and leaping ability, and he used it proficiently down the stretch. Dawson finished with 17 points and eight rebounds.
  3. Maryland finally lost a close game. These teams were about as evenly matched as possible. When that had been the case previously this season, the Terps had won every single time. They came into today with an 11-0 record in games decided by six points or fewer, and that’s why KenPom rated them as the luckiest team in the nation. That record was unsustainable though, and as a result, Maryland finally picked up its first close-game blemish.

Player of the Game. Travis Trice. His statistics — 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting — tell some of the story, but it was how and when he got those numbers that made him so important. The two most crucial periods of the game were a first half stretch when Michigan State recouped some of the points it spotted Maryland right off the bat, and then an early second half run that ultimately gave the Spartans the lead. Trice was the best player on the floor during both of those stretches. The diminutive guard is never going to overpower his opponents, especially not against guards as strong as those at Maryland, but he was Sparty’s catalyst all afternoon long.

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Rushed Reactions: Michigan State 76, Ohio State 67

Posted by Henry Bushnell on March 13th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

Denzel Valentine (USA Today Images)

Denzel Valentine (USA Today Images)

  1. Michigan State locked down on D’Angelo Russell. Lourawls ‘Tum Tum” Nairn, despite being slightly undersized to deal with the Buckeyes freshman star, did an admirable job staying on him and limiting his space to operate tonight. Russell also simply didn’t have his best night. He shot 7-of-16 from the field and finished with 19 points and three assists, but much of that production came late when the game was already somewhat out of reach. In fact, after Ohio State had gone down by 17 points, Russell was on the bench or playing off the ball for the mini-run that got the Buckeyes back in it. With Russell for the most part held in check, Shannon Scott (13 points, nine assists) picked up some of the slack . But the Buckeyes go as Russell goes, and Friday they both went slowly.
  2. Michigan State’s frontcourt players won their matchups. Aside from Branden Dawson, none of Tom Izzo’s big men will ever play like stars. But guys like Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling got the better of Ohio State’s frontcourt tonight. Though unspectacular, the pair combined for 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting, quietly contributing to the win. Dawson was also impressive in his return from injury. He doesn’t have a refined offensive game but his combination of size and athleticism was unmatched and he gave the Spartans something that the Buckeyes didn’t have. Dawson finished with 14 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in this one.
  3. Michigan State shared the ball really well. The Spartans had 23 assists on 29 made field goals tonight. They don’t have a team full of players who can break opponents down off the dribble, but they are extremely well-coached and always put themselves in great position off the ball. Additionally, a number of Michigan State’s regulars are upperclassmen who have played with each other for several years now. They have an innate sense of where teammates are going to be when they get in trouble, and it’s why they are able to get so many good looks without individual offensive stars. That’s also how they have put together a top-10 assist rate in the country this season.

Player of the Game. Denzel Valentine. You could really name three players of the game for the Spartans — Valentine, Dawson and Trice — but it was Valentine who was steadily efficient all game. Valentine took just 14 shots, but had 23 points, and, identical to Dawson, chipped in with eight rebounds and seven assists to complete a great all-around performance.

Sights and Sounds. Tom Izzo and Thad Matta had an unpleasant exchange in the postgame handshake line. Matta was furious with the referees toward the end of the game and was still livid as he walked over to Izzo. Perhaps Izzo took exception to that. Izzo dodged the question in the postgame press conference by saying, “We were just talking about how hard this job is.” He called it “a friendly exchange.” Matta said he and Izzo “were both kind of in agreement about what we saw out there tonight,” perhaps again talking about the refereeing.

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Team Goals in the Big Ten Tournament

Posted by Alex Moscoso on March 11th, 2015

Tournament week officially begins for the Big Ten on Wednesday afternoon, and with it, a new opportunity for each team to write their own ticket to the NCAA Tournament. Some teams are already guaranteed an at-large bid and are playing for seeding; some sit squarely on the bubble and are playing for entry into the field; and some are trying to make history as the first team lower than a #6 seed to win this tournament. In this analysis we will describe what certain teams aim to accomplish this week in Chicago — and to save both time and sanity, this will only address the eight teams that have a realistic chance at an at-large bid. Enjoy!

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  • Illinois: The Illini really put themselves in a deep hole when they blew a big lead and lost at Purdue on Saturday. That defeat dropped them to an #8 seed in the Big Ten Tournament  (BTT) and guaranteed Illinois a quarterfinal matchup against Wisconsin. That loss and the resultant placement in this week’s bracket effectively ended the Illini’s potential for a deep conference tournament run. The realistic team goal for Illinois is to beat Michigan on Thursday and hope for early exits from several other bubble teams — Indiana among them. Then pray they can sneak into the field’s First Four.
  • Indiana: The Hoosiers have a singular goal to get themselves off the bubble and into the at-large field. To do that, they’ll need to start with a win over Northwestern. That alone may not be enough, though, which means they probably also need a win against Maryland in the quarterfinals on Friday. Adding a top 10 RPI win to Indiana’s resume will all but assure that the Hoosiers will hear their name called on Selection Sunday.
  • Iowa: The Hawkeyes appear to be safely in the field and are now playing to improve their NCAA Tournament seed line. Most pundits list Iowa as a #7 seed so the Hawkeyes’ main goal should be to avoid losing its opening Big Ten Tournament game against either Penn State or Nebraska. A bad loss to their resume at this point could result in a dreaded #8 seed.

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