Bracket Prep: South Region Analysis

Posted by Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) on March 17th, 2014

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

You should also check out our upcoming RTC Podblast with Bennet breaking down the South Region, which will drop both on the site and on iTunes Tuesday.

South Region

Favorite: #1 Florida (32-2, 21-0 SEC). The Gators are the clear front-runner to win the South region, and after winning their last 26 games, should also be the presumptive favorite to cut down the nets in Dallas. Winning four games in a row to reach the Final Four is never an easy chore, but the field’s #1 overall seed has all the necessary ingredients to make a fourth final four run under Billy Donovan.

Billy Donovan And Scottie Wilbekin Are Both Huge Reasons Why Florida Enters The NCAA Tournament As The #1 Overall Seed

Billy Donovan And Scottie Wilbekin Are Both Huge Reasons Why Florida Enters The NCAA Tournament As The #1 Overall Seed

Should They Falter: #2 Kansas (24-9, 15-5 Big 12). The Jayhawks’ case is a tricky one. With Joel Embiid, Kansas is easily the scariest #2 seed in the field and a serious threat to win it all; but the Jayhawks are far more difficult to quantify without their gifted freshman big man. Nothing is definite with Embiid’s prognosis, but if healthy and able to play, Kansas would only be the slightest of underdogs in an Elite Eight rematch with Florida. The outlook gets a little gloomier if the future trumps the present for the potential #1 overall pick in April’s NBA Draft (the one named Joel), but Andrew Wiggins’ recent offensive explosions still make Kansas a threat to run deep in this Tournament. Don’t forget that they will have a nice home court advantage in St. Louis for rounds two and three, and that crutch could help the Jayhawks advance to the second weekend without too much fuss – with or without Embiid. It’s still Bill Self and KU; don’t make the mistake of believing Joel Embiid’s health will be the sole determinant of the Jayhawk’s fate.

Grossly Overseeded: #8 Colorado (23-11, 12-9 Pac-12). There are no egregious examples of overseeding in this region, but Colorado stands out as the South’s most overvalued team. #3 Syracuse and #5 VCU may also have been generously awarded an extra seed line, but as currently constructed, the Buffs deserved to be closer to the cut-line than their #8 seed would suggest they actually were. Since Spencer Dinwiddie went down on January 12, Colorado managed only a .500 record in the Pac-12 and rarely looked competitive in outings against the upper echelon of the league. They are just 64th in KenPom’s rankings (only NC State is worse among at-large selections), and each of their three wins since February 19 was earned by the narrowest of margins (quirky note: all had final scores of 59-56). Askia Booker has remade himself in Dinwiddie’s absence and Tad Boyle deserves a ton of credit for navigating CU through the storm and into this field, but Colorado is just not one of the 32 best teams in college basketball.

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Ohio State’s Experience and Defensive Urgency Make Buckeyes a Tough NCAA Tournament Out

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 16th, 2014

Ohio State is a flawed basketball team. The Buckeyes don’t have anyone that shoots over 40 percent from three. They don’t have a consistent back-to-the-basket big man. Their point guard sometimes looks like he’s throwing a shot put when he takes an outside shot. They played an adequate non-conference schedule, and then had their share of struggles within the Big Ten. And yet, they are also going to be a very dangerous team in the next couple of weeks, no matter what seed they receive. Although they ended up losing in the Big Ten semifinals to Michigan on Saturday, their performance during their three-day stay in this tournament proved as much.

If Shannon Scott builds upon his play in the Big Ten Tournament, Ohio State is infinitely more dangerous. (Andy Manis, AP)

If Shannon Scott builds upon his play in the Big Ten Tournament, Ohio State is infinitely more dangerous. (Andy Manis, AP)

The Buckeyes did not put forth a steady 40-minute performance in any of their three games this week. They had to hang on to beat first round opponent Purdue; needed to come back from an 18-point deficit against Nebraska; and started their game against Michigan down 15-2. What they did show, however, was the fortitude that a veteran team should play with. They competed with a sense of urgency in mounting comebacks that left them with a win over the Cornhuskers and a close loss to potential #1 seed Michigan. When things got bad and they got into a hole, the combination of their outstanding pressure defense coupled with an increasingly active LaQuinton Ross got them back on track.

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Rushed Reactions: #8 Michigan 72, #24 Ohio State 69

Posted by Walker Carey on March 15th, 2014

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Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday afternoon’s Big Ten Tournament semifinal between Michigan and Ohio State in Indianapolis.

Aaron Craft Couldn't Quite Get it Done on Saturday Afternoon

Aaron Craft Couldn’t Quite Get it Done on Saturday Afternoon

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. Michigan’s hot starts to both halves were instrumental to it earning this victory. Michigan started the game in an absolute flurry, as it scored 15 of the game’s first 17 points. Shots were falling from everywhere for the Wolverines, as they made six of their first eight attempts from behind the three-point line. Ohio State was able to gain its composure and go on a 15-4 run over the final 6:02 of the first half to make it a four-point game, but the Michigan offense was once again ready to explode when the second half started. In the first four minutes of the second half, John Beilein‘s squad aggressively ran its lead from four points to 12 points and was once again showing its outside shooting prowess. Like in the first half, Ohio State recovered from this onslaught and turned the game into a hotly-contested affair. Consequently, it can be inferred that if Michigan did not get off to such hot starts in each half, it would not have been able to grab the victory over its archrival.
  2. Ohio State’s fight was admirable. Thad Matta’s squad was down 15-2 not even four minutes into the game, but instead of sulking and letting Michigan continue its thermonuclear start, the Buckeyes found it within themselves to fight back and make it a battle to the very end. Ohio State is not known as an offensive powerhouse, but the Buckeyes used their offense to key their march back into the game. Junior forward LaQuinton Ross and junior guard Shannon Scott led the offensive attack, finishing the afternoon with 19 and 18 points, respectively. The Buckeyes were also able to shore up their defensive effort. After allowing Michigan to shoot a smoldering 64 percent in the first half, Ohio State tightened the screws and held the Wolverines to a 40.9 percent shooting clip in the second half. While Ohio State ultimately only has a loss to show for its performance Saturday afternoon, the toughness and desire it showed are things the team can build on as it moves into the NCAA Tournament. Read the rest of this entry »
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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 All-Tournament Team: Quarterfinal Friday

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 15th, 2014

After the second day of action, the most unpredictable league in the country got kind of predictable. The four semifinalists are the the four teams that we on the microsite picked to finish in the top four of league play this season. It sets up some tremendous match-ups for Saturday, but first, here are five standouts from Friday’s quarterfinals in Indy.

LaQuinton Ross posted another double-double as Ohio State knocked off Nebraska. (Lucy Nicholson, Reuters)

LaQuinton Ross posted another double-double as Ohio State knocked off Nebraska. (Lucy Nicholson, Reuters)

  • LaQuinton Ross, Ohio State: Ross makes an appearance on the honor roll for the second day in a row because he had a double-double for the second day in a row. He shot the ball better yesterday, (9-of-18 from the field), snagged 13 rebounds, and also contributed two steals. He also picked up a technical foul for shoving Walter Pitchford at the 14:58 mark in the second half while his team was down 13 points. He scored 16 of his 26 points from that point forward, almost outscoring Nebraska (21 points) all by himself.
  • Ben Brust, Wisconsin: If someone had told me that Ben Brust scored 29 points in a game, I would have had to assume that he went nuts from behind the three-point line and hit something like six or seven bombs. His scoring last night, however, was a little more diversified. He hit all nine of his free throws, went 4-of-10 from deep, and was able to get to the basket after some nifty shot fakes. Brust also chipped in a trio of steals, doing a nice job pressuring Minnesota’s guards.

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Rushed Reactions: #24 Ohio State 71, Nebraska 67

Posted by Walker Carey on March 14th, 2014

rushedreactions

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Thursday afternoon’s Big Ten Tournament action between Nebraska and Ohio State in Indianapolis.

LaQuinton Ross Keyed Ohio State's Comeback Friday Afternoon

LaQuinton Ross Keyed Ohio State’s Comeback Friday Afternoon

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Nebraska’s collapse was monumental. How did Nebraska lose a game it was leading by 18 with fewer than 14 minutes to play? First answer: Ohio State outscored the Cornhuskers 41-19 from the 13:45 mark to the end of the game. Nebraska had built its 18-point lead through playing high IQ basketball and making great decisions when it came to shot selection. All of that changed from that point on, as the offense continuously sputtered due to poor decisions and poor execution. Second answer: Nebraska had no idea how to handle Ohio State’s pressure. During the period where it was outscored 41-19, Tim Miles’ squad turned the ball over seven times and five of those giveaways were charged to the team’s two top playmakers, guards Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields. It has been a long time since Nebraska played in a string of important games in March and that inexperience was on prime display during Friday afternoon’s collapse.
  2. Ohio State deserves a ton of credit. Nebraska certainly deserves a hefty load of blame for its sputtering down the stretch, but Ohio State stepped up and made plays when it could have wilted away and accepted defeat. Junior forward LaQuinton Ross was extremely productive in the second half, as he tallied 18 points and collected eight rebounds. Senior guard Aaron Craft fulfilled his leadership role admirably, as he keyed the Buckeyes’ attack on both ends of the court. This season’s Ohio State squad has not been the most talented offensively, but it showed again Friday that it can defend anyone in the country.
  3. Nebraska should still earn an NCAA Tournament bid. Yes, a win over Ohio State would have likely locked the Cornuskers in the field of 68, but Nebraska’s résumé entering the Big Ten Tournament should have already had Tim Miles’ squad locked into the Big Dance. The Cornhuskers finished the regular season with an impressive 11-7 record in Big Ten play. They won home games over NCAA Tournament locks Ohio State and Wisconsin, and in addition, they went on the road and beat Michigan State in East Lansing. Even with Friday’s loss, Nebraska has still won eight of its last 10 games in the treacherous and that is an accomplishment that should be appropriately rewarded.

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Big Ten All-Tournament Team: First Round Thursday

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 14th, 2014

There were some extraordinary performances during the first day of action in the Big Ten Tournament. There are still seven games left to be played, and many more outstanding games are likely going to be put forth. Here, however, is a brief look at the five tournament standouts from day one.

Tracy Abrams played with a renewed confidence in Illinois' first-round win over Indiana.  (B.Tse)

Tracy Abrams played with a renewed confidence in Illinois’ first-round win over Indiana. (B.Tse)

  • Tracy Abrams, Illinois: Abrams went for a season-high 25 points and also tied for a team-high seven rebounds. He was active defensively, and showed tremendous poise and leadership by only turning the ball over once as the primary ball-handler. This was the best game he’s played in quite some time after going through a horrible stretch where he only averaged 6.6 PPG and shot 23.2 percent from the field. This was the Abrams that Illinois needs to keep playing.
  • LaQuinton Ross, Ohio State: This was a slightly different version of the normally smooth forward with a lethal mid-range game. Ross instead was a monster on the boards, as he ended up with 15 (six offensive) caroms. He struggled to make shots out of his normal repertoire, but made up for it by being hyper-aggressive in retrieving his misses. He also added 19 points and two blocks on the afternoon. The junior is not always known for his toughness, but he earned his points in this one.

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Big Ten Tournament X-Factors for Round One

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 13th, 2014

Without going into full-fledged preview mode for all four games set to tip off on Thursday in Indianapolis, here are some under-the-radar players to keep an eye on in round one. Some are more obscure than others, but all the players I’m highlighting were not named to any of the All-Conference teams on Monday. They all have a specific skill set, however, that can be used to exploit a weak spot on the team they are playing against in the first round.

Tracy Abrams' ability to get steals will go a long way toward determining if Illinois can beat Indiana on Thursday. (Stephen Haas, Lee News Service)

Tracy Abrams’ ability to get steals will go a long way toward determining if Illinois can beat Indiana on Thursday. (Stephen Haas/Lee News Service)

Illinois: Tracy Abrams — Indiana turns the ball over 21.7% of the time, and Abrams averages 1.2 pilfers a game. Abrams had 5 steals in the two teams previous games, and if he can be the defensive catalyst that leads to 23 Indiana turnovers — like what happened on December 31 when the Illini beat the Hoosiers in overtime — Illinois will move on to the second round.

Indiana: Devin Davis The Illini are only mediocre at getting their own misses (165th nationally), and Davis has been productive with increased minutes recently. He’s gotten 20 MPG in his last two games, and has a robust 21.6% defensive rebound rate in limited minutes for the season. That would be good for 6th in the conference had he played enough minutes to qualify, and if Crean gives him the playing time in this game, he’ll prevent Illinois from getting any second chance buckets. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten M5: 03.13.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on March 13th, 2014

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  1. The Big Ten Tournament starting today certainly has the focus of everyone following the conference’s basketball scene except for one head coach. Iowa‘s Fran McCaffery announced in a statement that his son has a tumor on his thyroid. Thirteen-year-old Patrick discovered the tumor last week and will undergo surgery next Wednesday, the day before he turns 14. While we may all have our focus set to basketball and brackets this weekend, McCaffery’s certainly could be elsewhere.
  2. There are plenty of tournament predictions out there and Ken Pomeroy released his log5 thoughts yesterday. He gives the top two seeds the most respect in Michigan and Wisconsin while dropping the Cornhuskers plenty with only a 5 percent chance to win the whole thing. That chance is closer to least-probable Northwestern’s chances than it is to Iowa’s, which is one step above Nebraska. Beyond that the prediction is pretty straight forward in nearly following the seed lines. Some teams may be a tad bit high or low for everyone’s thoughts, but with how this conference season has went, it makes sense to not have any heavy favorites.
  3. The season may not be over for any Big Ten teams this morning, but that doesn’t mean the coaching searches haven’t started for programs that are finished. With this in mind, Sports Illustrated’s Brian Hamilton took a look at the top assistants in the country that could be looking to take their first head coaching job. The Big Ten has three names on the list: Ohio State‘s Jeff Boals, Wisconsin‘s Greg Gard, and Michigan‘s LaVall Jordan. All of the names are solid considerations and have been linked to jobs the past few seasons and certainly could be headed out soon. There was one name that we were surprised not to see – Michigan State‘s Dwayne Stephens. Some may expect him to eventually succeed Tom Izzo, but if Gard’s name is coming up, certainly Stephens should, too. This is a guy who has developed big men Adreian Payne and Draymond Green and been named a top 15 recruiter and assistant coach in the past two years. Really, though, there are plenty of assistant and associate head coaches in the Big Ten that could find head coaching gigs in the near future.
  4. Ohio State got back to winning ways against Michigan State, but that didn’t mean an easy week of practice. The Buckeyes have prepped for the Big Ten Tournament with a challenging week, despite it being the first time they will play on Thursday in the BTT since 2005. This tournament has plenty of intrigue for Ohio State who drew a Purdue team it swept to open the tournament. The games will be important to determining exactly where the Buckeyes end up in the seeding line of the NCAA Tournament, win a few games and a five or six seed is possible, loss to Purdue and it could fall to the dreaded 8-9 game.
  5. The Big Ten Tournament has never treated Indiana well. It has lost in the quarterfinals or first round 11 times in its 16 years of existence. The Hoosiers only have one championship game appearance and have never won the whole thing. That doesn’t matter to this year’s team, who just wants to focus on its first game against Illinois today. Still, this Indiana team needs history to change (and make history in itself by being hte lowest seed to win the tournament) if it wants to play in the NCAA Tournament. Indiana is likely only going if it wins the whole thing, so either history is changing or the Hoosiers are going to start paying close attention to NBA Draft announcements regarding Noah Vonleh.
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RTC Top 25: Regular Season FINAL Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on March 10th, 2014

With apologies to Penn and Princeton, the college basketball regular season came to a satisfying end on Sunday. This regular season was defined by unexpected results and uncertainty near the top of the rankings, but #1 Florida, #2 Wichita State, and #3 Arizona end the regular season as the consensus top three teams in America among our pollsters. The Gators capped off their 29-2 overall and 18-0 conference record with blowout wins over South Carolina and Kentucky. Will they or won’t they? That has been the question all season long about the second-ranked Shockers and their pursuit of perfection entering the NCAA Tournament. Gregg Marshall’s squad confidently answered that question over the weekend with a fairly easy stroll to the Missouri Valley Tournament title and a perfect 34-0 record. While Florida and Wichita State used the final week of the season to showcase their excellence, Arizona experienced its third setback of the season in a loss at Oregon on Saturday. However, the Wildcats still possess a sterling 28-3 overall record, which our pollsters fully agreed was good enough for the third spot in our final regular season poll. The quick n’ dirty analysis of this week’s poll is after the jump.

rtc25 reg season FINAL

Quick n’ Dirty Analysis.

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Key Questions For Michigan State at Ohio State Today

Posted by Alex Moscoso & Brendan Brody on March 9th, 2014

It’s the final weekend of the regular season and teams are either jockeying for seeding or trying to get on the right side of the bubble. Later this afternoon, Michigan State will travel to Ohio State and, with both teams clearly in the NCAA Tournament field already, this game will be about building momentum for the Big Ten Tournament and beyond. Once again, RTC Big Ten writers Alex Moscoso and Brendan Brody preview the game as they each ask one another a question about the today’s match-up.

Keith Appling and the Spartans' offense try to keep the momentum going against Ohio State on Sunday. (Leon Halip/Getty Images North America)

Keith Appling and the Spartans’ offense try to keep the momentum going against Ohio State on Sunday. (Leon Halip/Getty Images North America)

AM: In its last two games, Ohio State’s defense (#2 in KenPom) has underperformed against two inferior teams (Indiana and Penn State). Meanwhile, Michigan State’s offense (#18 in KenPom) has been inconsistent since the beginning of February. In the match-up between the Buckeyes’ defense vs the Spartans’ offense today, which comes out on top, and why?

BB: It’s hard to say whether Michigan State’s performance Thursday night against Iowa was simply the result of Iowa’s porous defense or a sign that the Spartans are once again fully healthy and clicking on all cylinders. Numbers like 1.26 points per possession, 58.3 percent shooting from the field, and 20 assists on 28 made fields goals, aren’t anything to take lightly, whether they were accomplished against the league’s third-worst defense in conference play or otherwise. Part of the problem for Ohio State in its two losses is that the Buckeyes let their opponents shoot 38.7 percent from three even though they forced an average of 17 turnovers. The Spartans hit 11 threes the first time these two teams played, and after witnessing Thursday’s offensive clinic, I think they’re going to get the best of the Ohio State defense. Thad Matta’s team wins on defense by eliminating the three, but Michigan State is a bad match-up because of the way they share the ball (11th in the country in assist rate), and how they can spread things out in transition with multiple shooters that can burn you. Kenny Kaminski, Travis Trice, Adreian Payne and Appling all shoot over 40 percent from distance for the season, and Gary Harris is 16-of-33 in his last four games from that distance. I think the Iowa game showed what everyone thought at the beginning of the season. Michigan State is about to go on a run, and Ohio State won’t stop them this afternoon.

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Is Keith Appling Back, and With Him, Michigan State?

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 8th, 2014

When Keith Appling nailed his first three-pointer against Iowa on Thursday night, a sense of reserved joy and nervous hope emanated from the Breslin Center crowd. After all, the beleaguered Spartan point guard hadn’t hit one since suffering a wrist injury in February that sidelined him for three games, not to mention stunted his offensive production — no one knew if this was a blind squirrel finding a nut, or a sign of positive things to come. But when Appling sunk his second triple, capping off a 12-point scoring explosion that marked his best output since January? The arena sounded much more confident this time around, booming with an optimism that not even a senior night victory could manufacture alone. Instead, the cathartic roar acknowledged a greater possibility: If Appling is once again a viable a weapon on the offensive end, Michigan State is once again a Final Four threat.

If Keith Appling is truly back, the Spartans could be set for another March run. (Leon Halip/Getty Images North America)

If Keith Appling is truly back, the Spartans could be set for another March run. (Leon Halip/Getty Images North America)

Entering Thursday, Michigan State had lost three of its previous four games and Appling looked completely inept when it came to putting the ball in the basket. He scored two points in the home loss to Nebraska, one point against Purdue, and combined for 11 in back-to-back defeats to Michigan and Illinois. But while the 6’1’’ senior’s inability to score was troubling enough, his inability to even threaten to score was a much larger problem. Pre-injury Appling was a skilled shooter and an aggressive attacker, both skills that (in addition to his role as facilitator) took pressure off of and opened up shots for shooting guard Gary Harris, the Spartans’ most dynamic offensive player. Whether it was a waning shot clock or a team-wide offensive funk, the ability for Harris or Appling to penetrate-and-kick, finish at the rim, or get to the free throw line, enabled Michigan State to generate points in difficult circumstances. When the point guard hurt his wrist, sapping him of confidence and causing him to continuously defer, much of the burden was placed on Harris’ shoulders — and defenses knew it. Down the stretch against Illinois, for example, the team looked lost as the sophomore tried, time after time, to create his own shot to little avail. “For a long time, Gary had to do everything,” Tom Izzo mentioned after Thursday’s game.

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