ATB: The More Things Change…

Posted by rtmsf on December 2nd, 2009


The More They Stay the Same… #11 UNC 89, #9 Michigan State 82.  Ok, can we now all just agree that UNC just has Michigan State’s number?  For the fifth straight time, and the third episode within one calendar year, North Carolina made Tom Izzo’s Spartans look like charlatans on the basketball court.  How is this possible?  How can a team like Nevada hang with the Heels a few days ago for most of the game, and a loaded, deep, talented, athletic team like MSU continually get punked and embarrassed by the same squad?  Well, motivation helps.  Ed Davis (22/6) and Larry Drew II (18/6 assts) both had career highs in points, and in watching the game, it seemed as if Carolina could get and make nearly any shot it wanted.  Michigan State, for some reason, seems to think that it can run with Carolina, and as they learned for the third time with the same core of Lucas, Morgan, et al., they cannot.  Why do they try?  The thing about MSU is that they weren’t the second-best team last year, and they surely aren’t this year either — but aren’t we used to this with Izzo’s teams by now?  They typically underachieve in the regular season, only to overachieve in the NCAA Tournament.  The problem is that teams that are routinely blown out do not win national championships.  Granted, Michigan State made a run in this game to get the margin back to a respectable score, but Carolina was never seriously threatened after the first ten minutes of the game.  So what went wrong other than allowing UNC to shoot lights-out again?  How about 2-20 from three (and many of those misses were open looks), a terrible evening from deep for a team that came into this game shooting 37% from distance?  How about allowing point guards Drew and Dexter Strickland to torch the MSU defense for repeated forays to the rim for easy buckets (9-12 FG)?  How about the rough-and-tumble Spartans getting outrebounded (36-34) by the admittedly bigger (but tougher?) Heels?  Honestly, the reason we thought this game would go Carolina’s way was because they were playing at home, but we’re not sure that it would have gone any differently had they played this game on Mars.  Michigan State simply cannot get over on Carolina, and it’s starting to get ridiculous.  At least Raymar Morgan (18/6) looked healthy and played well, right?

Michigan St NCarolina Basketball

ACC/Big Ten Challenge.  We’re deadlocked at 3-3 going into the last day, and yeah, it’s gone exactly as we predicted so far.  Which of course means all five games tomorrow will go crazy — expect all kinds of upset specials.  Seriously, though, we still think it comes down to the BC-Michigan game tomorrow night.  Winner of that one wins the Challenge (our choice: UM).

  • #6 Purdue 69, Wake Forest 58.  Wake played well enough for a half to win this game, but the Deacs don’t have enough offensive threats beyond Al-Farouq Aminu when he has an off game (12/10 on 3-11 FG including 6 TOs) and they turn the ball over like it’s their job.  But we knew that already.  Purdue, on the other hand, is only getting production from their Big Three of Robbie Hummel (11/11 on 3-11 FG), E’Twaun Moore (22/4/3 assts) and JaJuan Johnson (21/9/3 blks) — the rest of the team only scored fifteen points.  That’ll carry the Boilermakers against the lesser teams, especially in Mackey Arena, but we have concerns about when they start playing athletic teams like WFU that also have multiple serious scorers.  Wake played superb defense, holding Purdue to 34% for the game and 1-15 from deep, but their endemic problems with ballhandling and lack of a three-point threat will be problematic all season.
  • Northwestern 65, NC State 53. Northwestern is quickly becoming our second favorite team of this season (behind Portland).  With the injury troubles that they endured to start this season, we would have completely understood if the Wildcats had simply packed it in and hoped for next year.  But they didn’t.  Beating Notre Dame, Iowa State and NC State isn’t exactly equivalent to Michigan State, Purdue and Ohio State, as they’ll face in the Big Ten, but the key is that NW is gaining experience with winning and they’re doing it in environments away from the comforts of home.  Tonight Michael Thompson stepped up with 22/4 and Jeremy Nash also chipped in 12/8/4 assts in the win.  The Wildcats could realistically enter Big Ten play at 10-1 by the end of this month.  Good for them.

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RTC Team of the Week: Florida

Posted by nvr1983 on November 30th, 2009

This week’s selection for RTC Team of the Week was not as easy as last week’s as you will see when you look at our honorable mentions, which we didn’t even bother to do last week when we selected Syracuse as our inaugural team of the week. We had several potential choices, but when it was time to pick a team there was one school that stood above the rest —  the #1 team in the country and the defending national champions (in football), the Florida Gators.

Coming into the season, we were not that high on Billy Donovan‘s crew, who had failed to make the NCAA tournament in consecutive years after winning back-to-back titles. To further compound matters, they had lost heralded recruit Jai Lucas and their best player last year, Nick Calathes, decided to forgo his senior year to go play in Greece, which is a decision that still has us scratching our heads. After opening the season with three wins against Stetson, Georgia Southern, and Troy that could only be described as big in margin if not significance, the Gators had a significantly more difficult schedule with their annual rivalry game against Florida State and then headed to Atlantic City for the Legends Classic where they would open against #2 Michigan State.

We're as surprised as you are Billy
We’re as surprised as you are Billy

The Gators traded baskets early with the Seminoles and were tied at 10 with 12:30 left in the 1st half before going on a 31-9 run that stretched into the 2nd half giving them a 41-19 lead. The Seminoles, who are still trying to find their identity without Toney Douglas, cut the lead to 5 at 43-38 with 12 minutes left. The Gators managed to stretch out the final margin to 16 behind a balanced scoring attack with 13 points apiece from Kenny Boynton, Erving Walker, and Alex Tyus. That win certainly boosted our respect for the Gators, but it was against a FSU team that didn’t have Douglas and it certainly wasn’t Tom Izzo‘s Spartans that they would be facing in Atlantic City.

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ATB: Tired Yet?

Posted by zhayes9 on November 18th, 2009


An After the Buzzer recap for your liking as you catch up on some much-needed sleep…

What We Learned.  It’s very simple.  Often we get all jazzed over those little numbers we put in front of each team’s name, but the line between top-ranked teams like Kansas/Michigan State and Memphis/Gonzaga is finer than any of us would like to admit.  Teams are good; teams have players; and teams can perform.  There’s no dominant team in college basketball, and we shouldn’t be surprised if we see a steady rotation of #1s throughout the year, just like last season.

Game of the Marathon. #2 Michigan State 75, Gonzaga 71. You rarely see such intensity, tenaciousness and pure effort this early in the season, but the battle between Michigan State and Gonzaga surely provided all three and more. Tom Izzo has to be pleased after his team showed toughness and poise coming back from double digits in the second half against a Gonzaga squad that should be ranked in the Top 25 next Monday. Durrell Summers and Kalin Lucas were the stars – Summers going for 21/11 on 8-9 shooting (plenty of foot-on-the-line long shots) and hitting the biggest three of the game to give the Spartans the lead with just over three minutes to play, and Lucas displaying his usual leadership throughout the second half, finishing with 19 points and five assists in a solid all-around effort. Raymar Morgan sunk 10-11 from the stripe and appeared to come back at 100% later in the game after rolling his right ankle and writhing in pain on the floor. Concern for Tom Izzo: the success in the paint for Gonzaga forwards Robert Sacre and Elias Harris. Lack of post production both offensively and defensively (Delvon Roe was a no-show last night) could be their downfall. Even in defeat, Mark Few has to be thrilled. Sacre (17 pts, 7-12 FG) looks incredibly improved, Elias Harris (17/9 on 6-16 FG) is a future star with a great inside/outside game and they nearly knocked off the #2 team in the nation on the road in November with plenty of overhaul on the roster and their starting point guard, Demetri Goodson, laying an egg. This was a thrilling game to watch from start to finish.

RTC Live (or Co-Game of the Marathon).

  • #1 Kansas 57, Memphis 55. ESPN got a perfect prime-time matchup to crescendo its 24 hours of hoops coverage tonight.  Although Kansas never trailed after Memphis led 7-6 in the early moments of the game, the Jayhawks could never quite put the Tigers away either.  After literally scratching and clawing and biting its way back to within one possession in the waning minutes, Memphis caught a break when the usually-reliable Sherron Collins (80% last year) missed one of two at the line to leave the door open with a 2-pt KU lead.  Josh Pastner told his team to go for the win, and the Duke transfer/soon-to-be star of Memphis Elliot Williams (21/6) took a contested three on the wing that looked pretty good in the air but ultimately missed, meaning that there would be no Elliot Miracle as a slight payback for Kansas’ heartbreaker in 2008.  In the media interviews afterwards, Bill Self was clearly not happy with his team’s performance, especially on the offensive end, where it seemed the only play they ran was to try to throw the ball into Cole Aldrich (18/11/5 blks) and let him go to work.  Twenty-one turnovers, many of the careless variety, seemed to really chafe Self’s craw.  Josh Pastner, on the other hand, seemed happy with his team’s performance, and why not?  Memphis took the nation’s #1 team to the wire on a night where they didn’t shoot the ball well (35% FG, 24% 3FG) and in the process, probably gave his team more confidence than a string of wins over UALR and the like ever would.  Our final thought on this game is that Elliot Williams is a lot better than anyone seems to have known – he didn’t shoot lights-out tonight (6-18 FG, 3-11 3FG), but he seemed comfortable with the role of becoming the Tiger go-to guy, and several of his shots and finishes were nothing short of spectacular.
  • #22 Louisville 96, Arkansas 66. This game was a game of runs; it’s just that Louisville seemed to be the team that had all of them.  That’s not completely true, of course, but depending on who you ask, this was an expected result.  Rick Pitino said that Arkansas’ suspensions have left them shorthanded (true), and that they wore down in the second half because they simply didn’t  have enough bodies (questionable).  John Pelphrey said that his team simply didn’t compete at a high enough level that you must do so to beat a team like Louisville (possibly).  Here’s what we saw.  We saw an Arkansas team that competed in the first half.  The Cards got hot from three in the last several minutes of the half to run out to a 48-31 lead, but Arkansas then countered after the half with significant energy and movement to go on a 13-0 run of their own to cut the lead down to six.  Then Louisville got hot again (especially Reginald Delk, who had 20/5), drained a bunch more threes (15 for the game) and Arkansas began to noticeably lose its motivation.  By the last five minutes of the game, we actually wondered where all this “compete” stuff that we kept hearing about was coming from.  Because we weren’t seeing it.  The Cards placed six players in double figures, and Peyton Siva looked like a keeper with some of his defensive intensity and drives to the hole.  Arkansas was led by Rotnei Clarke, who cooled off from 51 to only 16 this time around.

Bruce Pearl’s 100th win at UT unforgettable. #11 Tennessee 124, UNC-Asheville 49. Where do I start recapping this otherworldly performance for the Volunteers against a Division-I opponent? Tennessee set a school record for points (124), held Asheville to two field goals in the first half (2-26 FG, 7.7%) and 16:50 without a field goal, scored 49 points off 29 Asheville turnovers, started the game on a 20-0 run and finished with a 66-14 one and led at one point, 119-39. I’m not a math major, but I believe that’s an 80-point Tennessee lead! The Vols shot 60% as a team with sophomore Scotty Hopson notching his most impressive game in orange with 25/4/5 on 8-11 FG and 6-7 3pt. Someone hose down Rocky Top.

Big East Powers Narrowly Avoid Upsets.

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RTC 2009-10 Impact Players – Wrap-Up

Posted by rtmsf on November 8th, 2009

impactplayersOver the course of the last ten weeks we’ve broken down sixty players from around the country whom we expect will have the biggest impact on college basketball this season.  We performed this exercise geographically, choosing five high-major and one mid-major player from each of the somewhat arbitrary ten regions of the country.  If you’d like to read through the individual regions (and we highly encourage that), you can check all ten here.


If you don’t have the time or inclination to read through all of the previous posts, we’ll summarize here for you by rating the strongest to the weakest regions.

(ed. note: we started this so long ago that Binghamton still had a promising basketball program, and DJ Rivera still had a place to play)

1.  Lower Midwest Region (OH, IN, IL, IA, NE, KS)

lower mw summary

Overview. This seemed pretty clear just at a first glance.  Aldrich, Collins and Harangody are three of the 1st team AAs on the RTC preseason list, and Brackins and Turner are on the 2d team.  This group has unbelievable scoring ability, size and experience.  The only weak link is the mid-major inclusion of Eldridge, who is a fine player, but not in the class of the rest of these superstars.  The nation’s heartland is the epicenter of college basketball talent this year.

Best Players Left Out. Where to start?  The depth in this region is incredible.  Gordon Hayward and Matt Howard at Butler, Robbie Hummell and E’Twaun Moore at Purdue, even Lance Stephenson at Cincinnati.  The #6-10 players in this region would probably be better than all but a few of the other regions.

2.  Mid-South Region (KY, TN, MO, AR, OK)

mid-south summary

Overview.  It was a very close call between this region and the South Atlantic, but we felt that the guard play of Warren and Wall with Anderson on the wing would compensate for what this team gives up in size.  And it doesn’t give up much, considering Patterson, Smith and Jordan are all exceptional inside.  Tough call, but Wall is the likely #1 pick, so he’s the x-factor.

Best Players Left Out.  Plenty of raw size here, including Samardo Samuels at Louisville, Michael Washington at Arkansas and DeMarcus Cousins at Kentucky.  Throw in the skilled size of AJ Ogilvy at Vanderbilt and Wayne Chism at Tennessee and this area will punish you on the interior.

3.  South Atlantic Region (DC, VA, NC, SC, GA)

s.atlantic summary

Overview.  This is the third region that’s chock full of NBA talent – each of the rest below have smatterings of it, but not nearly as much.  Aminu, Booker and Singler all define skilled versatility, while Monroe could end up the best big in the entire country if he wants it enough.  Sanders is a little undersized but relentless as well.

Best Players Left OutEd Davis at UNC was a lighting rod topic, as some felt that he’d be an all-american this year with his length and skill set.  Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal are two others.  A good argument could be made that this region had the best players left out, but it sorta depends on how this year plays out due to their relative youth and inexperience.

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RTC 2009-10 Impact Players: Upper Midwest Region

Posted by rtmsf on October 21st, 2009


Ed. Note: the previous posts in this series (Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Atlantic South, Deep South, Mid-South and Lower Midwest) are located here.

It’s time for the seventh installment of our RTC 2009-10 Impact Players series, the group of very cold, very northern states that we’re calling the Upper Midwest.   Each week we’ll pick a geographic area of the country and break down the five players who we feel will have the most impact on their teams (and by the transitive property, college basketball) this season.  Our criteria is once again subjective – there are so many good players in every region of the country that it’s difficult to narrow them down to only five  in each – but we feel at the end of this exercise that we’ll have discussed nearly every player of major impact in the nation.  Just to be fair and to make this not too high-major-centric, we’re also going to pick a mid-major impact player in each region as our sixth man.  We welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments where we left players off.  The only request is that you provide an argument – why will your choice be more influential this season than those we chose?

Upper Midwest Region (MI, WI, MN, SD, ND)


  • Manny Harris – G, Jr – Michigan. The mastermind behind the turnaround of Michigan’s basketball program may be John Beilein and his 1-3-1 zone defense, but the catalyst has to be Beilein’s explosive 6’5 scoring guard/forward, Manny Harris. The lone bright spot in a 10-22 campaign in 2007-08 was the freshman Harris and his 16.1 PPG, strong enough to garner All-Big Ten Second team honors. Much like Beilein’s other reclamation projects, the Wolverines, and Harris, improved drastically in their second season under the former West Virginia head man. While his scoring average didn’t even jump a full point, it was Harris’ all-around production and on-court leadership that propelled Michigan to a 13-3 start, respectable Big Ten record and second-round NCAA tournament appearance, their first in 11 seasons. 6.8 RPG for a 6’5 guard is an accomplishment that cannot be overstated, a mark that tied forward DeShawn Sims for the team lead. Harris led Michigan in assists by a wide margin at 4.4 APG, upped his FG% from 38% to 42% and played nearly 33 MPG to lead the Wolverines. Harris has also become a much more efficient playmaker for Beilein, increasing his assist and scoring rates (even while attempting and making over 20% of Michigan’s shots) while his turnovers have dipped. One area where Harris must improve is outside shooting, which jumped from 32% to 33% behind the arc a year ago. With Harris’ tremendous penetration ability and explosiveness to the rim, making opposing defenses respect his outside shot will only enhance an already lethal game. The All-Big Ten first teamer is the straw that stirs the Michigan drink, having started 67 games in a row for Beilein. Should he improve his defense, Harris’ draft stock will shoot up in a season that could be full of accolades, and, for the first time since the Steve Fisher era of the 90s, a legitimate chance to lead Michigan deep into March.
  • Lazar Hayward – F, Sr – Marquette. Lazar Hayward’s role on this year’s Marquette squad should not be understated. Three guards and team leaders through the Tom Crean and Buzz Williams eras – Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews – saw their illustrious college careers end in the second round last March, leaving the program in the hands of Williams’ outstanding recruiting efforts off the court and Hayward’s all-around play on the court. The 6’6 multi-dimensional forward is now the face of a proud basketball school that may take a step back this season with the losses of those three guards that starred for four full seasons in Milwaukee. But it’s unlikely that Hayward will take a step back. Often overshadowed and underappreciated, Lazar averaged 16.3 PPG and 8.6 RPG as a junior last season while shooting 36% from three and 82% from the line, offering another outside threat to go along with McNeal and Matthews. In fact, Hayward finished in the top ten in a historic Big East in scoring, rebounding and free throw percentage last year. He even refined his game on an international stage over the summer, averaging 9.3 PPG and 5.6 RPG on the bronze medal-winning USA team at the World University Games. Hayward is now the face of the Marquette program for his senior season. While the Golden Eagles could struggle, Hayward must step into the departed guards’ shoes as team leader for the junior college and freshman influx headed to the Bradley Center in 2009-10, not only to facilitate success this season, but also for the future.

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RTC 2009-10 Top 65 Games: November/December

Posted by zhayes9 on October 18th, 2009


To get our readers excited for the endless possibilities of 2009-10, I’ve compiled an extensive list of the top 65 college basketball games of the upcoming season. Any true college hoops fan knows why we selected the number 65. Splitting up this season preview feature into three posts the next three Mondays (November/December, January and February/March), hopefully this list will provide you with the most vital of dates to circle on your calendar. Coaches are realizing more and more the importance of compiling a respectable non-conference slate to boost RPI/SOS numbers and provide their team adequate experience and preparation for the grind of conference play. Let’s lead off with the first batch of potentially memorable meetings during the first two months of the season:

Ed. Note: we are not including projected matchups from the preseason tournaments in these 65 games because those will be analyzed separately.

November 17- Gonzaga at Michigan State (#59 overall)– The featured game in ESPN’s 24-hour hoops marathon pits a backcourt-laden Gonzaga squad in the first of many difficult road tests against a top-five Michigan State team. The State backcourt of Kalin Lucas, Durrell Summers, Chris Allen and Korie Lucious will be given a true test from the Bulldogs trio of scoring senior Matt Bouldin, deep marksman junior Stephen Gray and emerging sophomore Demetri Goodson.


November 17- Memphis vs. Kansas in St. Louis (#64 overall)– A young and largely inexperienced Memphis team will receive a stiff test right away with the likely #1 team in the nation- Kansas. Guards Doneal Mack and Roburt Sallie must shoot well from deep for the Tigers to stay competitive. Former JUCO standout Will Coleman and burly senior Pierre Henderson-Niles will have their hands full down low with likely All-American Cole Aldrich.

November 19- North Carolina vs. Ohio State in NYC (#39 overall)– November and December means one thing: plenty of electrifying non-conference action at Madison Square Garden. This semifinal matchup could prove the best. Ohio State has their entire team returning besides the underwhelming B.J. Mullens and return defensive stalwart David Lighty from injury. They could definitely surprise the inexperienced Heels, who should have a distinct frontcourt advantage with Dallas Lauderdale sidelined.

December 1- Michigan State at North Carolina (#10 overall)– The Spartans and Heels meet in a rematch of the national title game that once again headlines this year’s ACC/Big Ten challenge. State may be able to avenge those two harsh defeats a year ago by taking advantage of the point guard mismatch. With Ty Lawson no longer around, Kalin Lucas could dominate against Larry Drew or Dexter Strickland. On the flip side, Draymond Green should have his hands full with a loaded UNC frontline.

December 5- North Carolina at Kentucky (#8 overall)– Notice a trend with this list so far? Roy Williams has challenged his team with an extremely difficult non-conference schedule, and this early season matchup in Lexington should be one of the best on the early season. There will be loads of projected lottery picks on the floor in this one, from North Carolina’s Ed Davis to Kentucky’s John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins.

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RTC Class Schedule 2009-10: Purdue Boilermakers

Posted by zhayes9 on September 7th, 2009

seasonpreview 09-10

Ed. Note: for all of the posts in the RTC 09-10 Class Schedule series, click here.

The Final Four in Indianapolis sets up a dream scenario for Purdue coach Matt Painter. Much like Michigan State last season, who cruised through Minneapolis, Indianapolis and Detroit en route to the national title game, Purdue has the potential to set a goal of playing in front of their Indiana faithful at Lucas Oil Stadium for Final Four 2010. With a first/second round site in Milwaukee and the Midwest Regional located in St. Louis, Purdue could go the route of their Big Ten rivals a year ago by garnering a #1 seed on Selection Sunday.

Does Purdue have the tools to reach such lofty goals? Absolutely. For the second straight season, the core of the Boilermakers return to try and make the next step in March after falling in the second round in 2008 and in the Sweet 16 in 2009. You know the names by now- 6’10 forward JaJuan Johnson, whose numbers improved drastically from his rookie campaign, Chicago scoring guard E’Twaun Moore, team leader and potential Big Ten POY Robbie Hummel, defensive stalwart Chris Kramer and the emerging young point Lewis Jackson to compliment Keaton Grant. In addition, Painter lured in four talented Indiana recruits.


In order to reach Indianapolis, the Boilermakers must trek through this challenging schedule:

Non-Conference Schedule Rank: 7.5. The non-conference schedule is fairly demanding for the Boilermakers. One of the best non-conference games of the year takes place on New Year’s Day between two of the most rugged teams in the nation- Purdue and West Virginia. The Mountaineers return Devin Ebanks, Da’Sean Butler and Darryl Bryant for a team that could contend for a Big East crown.  Purdue also plays in the Wooden Tradition on December 19 against an unknown opponent (it’s getting late, kids) and takes on Wake Forest at home in the ACC/Big Ten challenge a year after Duke entered West Lafayette and dominated. Painter and Co. must also travel to Tuscaloosa to take on new coach Anthony Grant and Alabama. The real tests could come in November at the Paradise Jam.

Cupcake City: Not too many cupcakes for Matt Painter this non-conference season which makes sense given his team’s talent level. Purdue faces Memphis’ favorite team, Cal State Northridge, to open the campaign with an easy first round Paradise Jam game and Central Michigan rounding out November. Ball State, Valparaiso and SIU-Edwardsville rounds out the cupcake list.

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RTC 09-10 Class Schedule: Michigan State Spartans

Posted by zhayes9 on August 20th, 2009

seasonpreview 09-10

Ed. Note: for all of the posts in the RTC 09-10 Class Schedule series, click here.

As we continue our ongoing feature RTC’s Class Schedule for the upcoming 2009-10 season, let’s delve into the slate for the national runner-up of a season ago out of the Big 10: Michigan State. The Spartans entered last season with expectations to win their first regular season conference title since 2000-01 and accomplished said feat with a 15-3 Big 10 record, overcoming two stunning losses at home to Penn State and Northwestern along the way. The Spartans entered the tournament with high hopes as a #2 seed and, after dodging two bullets from USC and Kansas, smoked #1 seed Louisville and edged past Connecticut in the national semifinals before running into the buzzsaw known as North Carolina. With 2008-09’s successful season in the past, Tom Izzo is moving on with his point guard (Kalin Lucas), sharpshooter (Durrell Summers), enigma (Raymar Morgan), sophomore stud (Delvon Roe) and emerging big man (Draymond Green) all in the fray. Michigan State fans will accept nothing less than Tom Izzo’s sixth Final Four appearance this season in East Lansing.

Let’s take an in-depth look at the game-by-game journey Michigan State will have to endure if they wish to meet such lofty expectations. The official schedule can be found here:


Non-Conference Schedule Rank: 9.5. Tom Izzo never backs down from a challenge. Last season, Izzo traveled to the loaded Old Spice Classic, a trip halted by a stunning defeat at the hands of Maryland. He also faced Texas in Houston and North Carolina at Ford Field for the ACC/Big Ten challenge. Both the latter contests will also be featured in the 2009-10 edition of Michigan State’s non-conference slate, but this time as true road games rather than semi-neutral floors. That’s right, on December 1 the Spartans will play UNC in Chapel Hill and, on December 22, Texas in Austin. Rarely do you see a team with the status of Michigan State play such challenging road contests in non-conference play. Victories in either venue will provide Izzo with a significant quality win to tout during arguments for top seeds in March. Izzo also signed up his Spartans for the Legends Classic in November in Atlantic City where he’ll face Florida and either Rutgers or Massachusetts in the final (you’d think it would be Florida-Michigan State in the final, but I digress). Another program with a perennially loaded non-conference slate is Gonzaga. Mark Few’s team will travel to East Lansing for one of the top November contests, even with Austin Daye, Jeremy Pargo and Josh Heytvelt departed.

Cupcake City: In between the two road games in North Carolina and Texas, Michigan State packed in some much-deserved cupcakes. The challengers will be Wofford, The Citadel (that game being played in Charleston, oddly enough), Oakland and IPFW. While The Citadel had a surprising 20-win campaign last year, the only team that may be able to stay on the floor with Michigan State is Oakland, a 23-13 squad from a year ago that nearly toppled North Dakota State in the Summit final. Michigan State will also face Florida Gulf Coast and Texas-Arlington at home.

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NCAA Title Preview: Meet the Real Team of Destiny…

Posted by rtmsf on April 6th, 2009

Much of what has been written in the last 36 hours about tonight’s UNC-Michigan St. showdown in the national title game has applied liberally the use of the word “destiny.”  And on the surface, we can understand some of the hyperbole.  Detroit, in fact the entire state of Michigan, is going through hard times.  Harder than the rest of us, at least.  MSU, personified by its tough-as-nails coach who also happens to be one of the very best preparation NCAA coaches of all-time, has gutted and clawed its way back from multiple injuries this year to put together a Big Ten regular season championship season and two straight victories over #1 seeds from the very talented Big East Conference.  The game is 92 miles from their campus, and roughly 80% of the available 75,000 seats are expected to be filled with green-and-white clad Spartan fans.   Their opponent, UNC, was the prohibitive favorite prior to the season and came into the Tournament as the prohibitive favorite once again (both in the pools and in Vegas).   When the two teams played in this same venue 126 days ago, Carolina looked like it possibly could become the greatest team in the history of history, as it eviscerated, immolated and annihilated Sparty by a score of 98-63.  Despite MSU’s 27-4 record since that point (not dissimilar than UNC’s 25-4 in the same interim), there’s a perception that this is still a team of underdogs, fighting for their town, their neighbors, their state. 

So the narrative seems clear: the NCAA Tournament, the most magical postseason event in all of sports, filled with glorious upsets that have become de riguer in the national consciousness, will once again work its sorcery tonight in Detroit.  Michigan State’s gutty bunch of tough guys who happen to play a little ball will bring home the golden crystal trophy in front of its adoring fans, sorely in need of a caffeinated jolt of good fortune to rally around. 

The problem is… it’s not gonna happen. 


If there’s a Team of Destiny in this year’s Tournament, it’s the team residing in a state that has also gotten hit fairly hard by the downswing of the textile, banking and tobacco industries.  More contextually, Carolina’s destiny was secured on June 6, 2008, when Ty Lawson, who at the time was leaning toward staying in the NBA Draft, was picked up by Chapel Hill police for ‘drinking while driving,’ a head-scratching offense that may have put just enough doubt in Lawson’s mind about his being a certain first-rounder on draft day. 

So he came back to Carolina, and like dominoes, so did Wayne Ellington and Danny Green.  Tyler Hansbrough wasn’t ever leaving, and suddenly Roy Williams enjoyed a fortuitous situation where a majority of his Final Four team was returning while every other major contender (Kansas, Memphis, UCLA) was getting parceled up like an auction for engine parts.  It’s not just the players who returned, mind you, it’s also how they’ve improved as this season (which could have been their rookie years)has progressed. 

Lawson, Green & Ellington: There's Your Destiny (photo credit: AP/Haraz Ghanbari)

Lawson, Green & Ellington: There's Your Destiny (photo credit: AP/Haraz Ghanbari)

For the fake Team of Destiny to defeat the real Team of Destiny tonight, three things ALL have to happen.  If any one of these three things doesn’t happen, Carolina assuredly will cut down the nets.  The likelihood of any one thing happening is good; of two things happening is not-so-good; and all three, damn near impossible.  Still, these are the three things…

1) Travis Walton must get into Ty Lawson’s head.  Good luck with that.  Lawson is generally unflappable, having committed a ridiculously low six turnovers in 128 minutes of play over four NCAA Tournament games.  Granted, four of those were against Villanova, but he also dished out eight assists and had 22 pts in that game.  Walton, who has harassed AJ Price (5-20) and Terrence Williams (1-7) into terrible games the last two outings, will this time be at a quickness disadvantage.  If he (and by proxy, Izzo) can figure out a way to slow down the mercurial Lawson, then the Spartans will have a chance.  In three of Carolina’s four losses this season, Lawson shot the ball poorly (~33%) and he turned the ball over at least four times per game. 

2) MSU must dominate the boards.  Where MSU excels, they must continue to do so.  Izzo’s Spartans are the #1 reb% team in America, securing 58% of all caroms.  In the game against UNC in December, the Heels actually won the battle of the boards in addition to the score (40-39).  But in the Spartans’ most recent two games, they dominated Louisville and played even with the super-sized UConn frontline through hustle and aggressiveness.  Michigan St. will need a +10 rebounding margin with multiple second-shot opportunities to win this game. 

3) The Spartans Need Others to Step Up.  Against Louisville, it was Goran Suton’s 19/10; against UConn, it was Korie Lucious’ three treys off the bench in the first half.  The Spartans will need someone unexpected to provide offensive punch against a team that is going to score 70+ points against them.   Tom Izzo has a multitude of options, including Draymond Green, Durrell Summers, Chris Allen and Marquise Gray, but he’s going to absolutely have to have one or more of these players contributing points for his team to have a fighting chance tonight. 


Assuming Michigan St. accomplishes all three of these things, they’ll have a chance to win tonight’s title game.  Three of UNC’s four losses were one-possession Ls, so it’s impossible extremely unlikely the Heels will lay an egg and get blown out tonight, no matter what happens.  But like we said above, the odds of all three of these occurrences happening simultaneously tonight are not good.  MSU should feel great about its accomplishments this season, but the ony Team of Destiny for 2009 is going to take another trophy back to the party on Franklin Street tonight. 

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04.06.09 Fast Breaks: Monday Night Edition

Posted by rtmsf on April 6th, 2009

Well, here we are.  There are two teams left.  We’ll have our Monday Night Preview up by mid-afternoon, but for now you can browse around the blogosphere to see what others have to say about Michigan St vs. UNC for todos las marbles.

And yeah, just wanted to show this again…

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