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: 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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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 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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Big Ten Tournament Preview

Posted by Henry Bushnell & Bennet Hayes on March 11th, 2015

Henry Bushnell and Bennet Hayes will be in Chicago all week delivering coverage of the Big Ten tournament. In advance of the action tipping off Wednesday night, they sat down to tackle a few questions on the week that lies ahead.

Wisconsin is the clear favorite, but could an upset be in the works for the Badgers?

Wisconsin is the clear favorite, but could an upset be in the works for the Badgers?

Wisconsin enters the Big Ten Tournament as a heavy favorite. Which team besides the Badgers has the best shot at winning it all this week

  • Bennet: Michigan State‘s regular season was no exemplar of consistency, but with Branden Dawson expected to return to the lineup for Friday’s quarterfinal game, they’ve officially made it to March in one piece. Betting against Tom Izzo this month is always a dicey operation — particularly with the experienced Valentine/Trice/Dawson core once again intact. Furthermore, snagging the #3 seed and delaying a potential rematch with Wisconsin until the championship game is another nice coup. The double-bye should also minimize the impact of depth issues that have at times proved troublesome. Michigan State never got the Badgers on its home floor this season; here’s guessing Sparty wouldn’t mind a crack at them in neutral territory. Izzo’s bunch has the chops to win three games in Chicago this week.
  • Henry: I like the Sparty pick, but I’ll take Ohio State. I know a lot of people will be scared off by the beatdown Wisconsin put on the Buckeyes in Columbus in the regular season finale, but that result was a lot more about the Badgers than Ohio State. Thad Matta still has a very talented team, and one that on a per-possession basis has far outperformed its record. And if there’s one player in this tournament who can take over a game and engineer an upset of Wisconsin in the final, it’s D’Angelo Russell.
D'Angelo Russell And Ohio State Could Make A Run In Chicago This Week

D’Angelo Russell And Ohio State Could Make A Run This Week In Chicago. (USA TODAY Sports)

Which player are you most looking forward to watching?

  • Henry: I can’t wait to see Branden Dawson. I know he’s had an up-and-down year with some recent injury issues, but he should be ready to go on Friday. He’s one of those players where a television screen simply doesn’t do his game justice. I’ve seen him play live twice this year from the upper levels and he wowed me both times with his athleticism and sheer power. At the United Center, we should have a front row seat, and I expect his game up close to be even more eye-popping.

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What’s Trending: Championship Week Begins

Posted by Griffin Wong on March 9th, 2015

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Griffin Wong (@griffwong90) is your weekly host.

Indiana Fans Getting Impatient

After getting handled by Iowa and versus Michigan State in Bloomington over the last week, Indiana has now lost four of their last five games. The Hoosiers are hanging by a thread and another misstep in the Big Ten Tournament could cost them an NCAA Tournament bid. For some Indiana fans, their anger toward head coach Tom Crean is growing.

A nice idea in theory, but $12 million is quite the sum.

Izzo’s Wild Saturday

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Big Ten M5: 01.21.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 21st, 2015

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  1. Freshmen have made much more of an impact this season than last year. Because of this, it’s difficult to truly pick an All-Freshman Team. BTN’s Shon Morris took a stab at it anyway, as he named five guards to his list. Wooden Award Semi-Finalists Melo Trimble and D’Angelo Russell made the cut, along with Indiana guard James Blackmon Jr, Northwestern guard Bryant McIntosh, and Minnesota’s Nate Mason. If there was anything to quibble with here, it would potentially be the exclusion of Purdue first-year players Vince Edwards and Isaac Haas. Both have kind of tailed off as of late in terms of production however, as the quintet of guards have had more of an impact in conference play.
  2. Indiana coach Tom Crean doesn’t necessarily have many fans in the media, and articles written about him are usually slanted toward the negative. Things weren’t helped by the train wreck of a 2013-14 season, and the turmoil that surrounded the team before this season even started. The Hoosiers have exceeded expectations in starting 14-4, and Crean deserves a good deal of credit for the way his squad has performed. Indianan has a rough stretch of games coming up, but finishing in the top five in the league and making the NCAA Tournament should not only enable Crean to not have to worry about his job, but also could put him in contention for Big Ten Coach of the Year.
  3. Purdue can pick up another conference win tonight when they take on Illinois in West Lafayette. After a sluggish start against Penn State that took a miraculous shot to force overtime, the Boilermakers are trying to figure out how to get off to better starts. They’ve trailed in each Big Ten game so far, and the catalysts for the poor starts have been a lack of communication on defense and too many turnovers. With Illinois desperate to stay in the hunt until Rayvonte Rice returns, Purdue can’t afford to let Illinois shoot the lights out in the first stanza like they did against Indiana. Locking down on defense for 40 minutes like Purdue teams of old will determine how far this team can go.
  4. Michigan State has struggled at times this season, and whether or not they turn things around by March remains to be seen. That doesn’t mean that fans of the green and white should get too upset according to Graham Couch of the Lansing State-Journal. Being upset at this non-top 25 unit shows just how good the program has been under Tom Izzo. There’s been some recruiting misses of the highly-publicized variety (Jahlil Okafor, Cliff Alexander, Tyus Jones), and lesser-hyped players that have become really good (Monte Morris, Tyler Ulis). But the fact that this year’s team could still turn things around, combined with a 2015-16 team that has a chance to be really solid should be enough for fans to tolerate the struggles of this team.
  5. College Basketball Talk listed some of the surprises and disappointments so far this season, and B1G teams made the cut on both lists. Maryland made an appearance as one of bigger surprises, with Coach Mark Turgeon being mentioned as a possible National Coach of the Year candidate. As far as disappointments, both Michigan and Nebraska were considered. Both teams won last night, and have a combined 8-5 mark in conference play right now. But they both started the season in the top 25, losing that distinction by playing poorly in the early going. The B1G as a whole has been disappointing, and the dip from both of these squads has played a large role in its demise.
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On Branden’s Dawson’s Importance to Michigan State

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 6th, 2015

Michigan State crushed Indiana on Monday night and there’s really no other way to describe it. The Spartans – in desperate need of something positive after closing out 2014 with losses to Texas Southern and Maryland – controlled nearly every aspect of the contest, out-rebounding the Hoosiers 50-28 (17-11 offensive), holding the visitors to 0.82 points per possession (their lowest of the season) and pushing the lead to as many as 30 in the second half. Can Tom Izzo’s club be this dominant on regular basis? Probably not. Indiana experienced one of its worst efforts of the season and opponents as offensively skilled as the Hoosiers won’t often shoot 5-of-24 from behind the arc and 28 percent from the field. But Michigan State’s formula for success in the blowout – using strong defense and rebounding to create transition offense – did help further confirm something we already suspected about the Spartans: Branden Dawson is by far the team’s most important player, and his week-to-week level of intensity on both ends of the court will dictate Sparty’s ceiling in the Big Ten.

Branden Dawson (right) had a huge hand in Michigan State's 70-50 win over Indiana on Monday. (Amanda Ray | MLive.com)

Branden Dawson (right) had a huge hand in the Spartans’ 70-50 win over Indiana on Monday. (Amanda Ray | MLive.com)

Michigan State likes to get out and run this year as much as any Izzo squad in recent memory, so the match-up with Indiana, one of the nation’s fastest and most transition-oriented teams, suited it just fine. What enabled the Spartans to open up such a wide margin, however, was not merely their ability to run-and-gun with the Hoosiers; it was their ability to stop them – Indiana was held to its lowest point total and fewest points per possession yet this season. And why couldn’t the Big Ten’s second most efficient offense find its groove? Because Dawson was as defensively aggressive as he’s been all season. The 6’6’’ senior blocked two shots, recorded a pair of steals, defended all five positions at various points in the night and took Indiana forward Troy Williams completely out of the game (zero points in 17 minutes). “We did a pretty good job on [Williams] and he’s been playing off the charts,” Izzo said afterwards. “It really helps when Dawson plays like he did. The rebounding, the running of the court.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Three Takeaways from Maryland’s Huge Win Over Michigan State

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on December 31st, 2014

Despite entering its conference opener against Michigan State with a 12-1 record, Vegas listed Maryland as a six-point underdog in its Big Ten debut. A potential reason for this could have been that Tom Izzo had never lost a Big Ten opener at the Breslin Center and Mark Turgeon’s squad was expected to struggle against a defensive-minded team such as Michigan State. Despite these doubts, the Terps pulled out a gutsy win in double-overtime — a victory cementing the notion that Maryland can survive a tough Big Ten schedule and potentially challenge Wisconsin for the conference title. Here are three key takeaways that explain some of what happened in last night’s game:

Dez Wells led the Terps to a huge win over the Spartans on Tuesday.  (Charlie DeBoyace/The Diamondback)

Dez Wells led the Terps to a huge win over the Spartans on Tuesday. (Charlie DeBoyace/The Diamondback)

  1. Maryland outrebounded Michigan State by 16 boards. Mark Turgeon’s squad is generally considered weak on the rebounding front because the Terps have a bunch of stretch forwards attempting to hold their own on the glass. Jake Layman and Evan Smotrycz weren’t expected to outdo Michigan State’s more durable big men like Branden Dawson and Gavin Schilling, but the pair came up with 17 boards, same as their Michigan State counterparts. The small-ball lineup could hurt the Terps in the long run, but its versatility helped them in East Lansing: Dez Wells and Richaud Pack combined for 12 rebounds from the wings and they came up with a number of key offensive boards during overtime. If they can depend on Smotycz for outside shooting and still rely on Layman or Wells to crash the boards, that gives Turgeon plenty of options. Damonte Dodd also did an excellent job neutralizing Dawson in the final minutes of the game — a key substitution that worked out well. Read the rest of this entry »
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Dear Santa: Conference Season is Beginning, Please Bring Help

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 25th, 2014

The man in the red suit is a busy guy right about now, but more than a few college basketball teams should be hoping Santa has time to swing by campus before his work is done. No milk and cookies were left fireside in Lexington, KY, or Durham, NC (reinforcements not needed), and some programs need seek only a stocking stuffer or two (hey there, Virginia and Wisconsin). But most teams have wish lists that stretch far longer. Conference play is here, and the blissful ignorance of the non-conference season? Long gone. In its place arrive true days of reckoning – grinding tests against peers that won’t allow deficiencies to go unpunished any longer. With conference season looming, we take a look at a handful of college basketball teams in desperate need of a gift this Christmas.

Which College Basketball Teams Will Receive A Visit From Santa This Year? (Photo Credit: AP)

Which College Basketball Teams Will Receive A Visit From Santa This Year? (Photo Credit: AP)

Iowa: Last Season’s Shooting Touch

Shoddy defense destroyed the Hawkeye’s promising start a season ago, but things have changed this winter. The defense has been much improved (22nd nationally in defensive efficiency), but a sputtering offense has left Iowa just 9-4 heading into conference play. All eight of the Hawkeye returnees have seen their three-point percentage drop this year (team: 259th nationally in three-point percentage), while only Gabriel Olaseni has improved upon his 2013-14 two-point field goal percentage (team: 232nd nationally in two-point percentage). The widespread nature of the shooting epidemic would seem to indicate some sort of systemic explanation. No Roy Devyn Marble? A lack of comfort with a quicker tempo? A coaching staff that has lost its players? Any or all of these questions could be a dig at the root cause, but even if they are, expecting some reversion to the more efficient levels of 2013-14 is entirely fair. The defense has been there; can Santa bring back the Hawkeyes’ shooting strokes?

Arkansas: Road Victories

For most of Mike Anderson’s tenure at Arkansas, the New Year (and conference play) has brought two things in bunches: home wins, and road losses. The Razorbacks are well positioned to earn their first Tournament appearance under Anderson after a 9-2 start, even if old habits die hard. The Hogs are undefeated on the home hardwood (8-0) and less perfect on the road: Both of the Hogs’ losses (Iowa State and Clemson) have come in enemy arenas. A November win at SMU should not be overlooked, but Arkansas needs to prove they can win games away from Bud Walton Arena in 2015. A depleted SEC should play the role of enabler.

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Denzel Valentine Contributing More than Intangibles for Michigan State

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on December 12th, 2014

After a month of watching non-conference games and nodding our heads at the sloppiness of the action, it is time to evaluate whether certain players will have a significant impact through the remainder of the season. We knew that Michigan State would need to find a leader on the offensive end, but after the departures of Adreian Payne, Gary Harris and Keith Appling, there were no clear candidates for that role. And while Branden Dawson is a monster on the glass, his jumpers are still cringe-worthy. Travis Trice, on the other hand, has a nice jumper but has trouble create space off the dribble to create his own shot. Denzel Valentine’s name, though, was mostly buried within all the preseason analysis because it was tough to view him as anything more than a glue guy. There was no doubt that he would play a key role for the Spartans this season, but his impact was supposed to be felt with the intangibles — things like hustle, grit and defense. But after averaging 14.6 PPG, 5.6 RPG and 4.0 APG through Michigan State’s first 10 games, Valentine has shown that he’s capable of more than being just a nice defender and occasional spot-up shooter. Rather, he is the best scoring option Tom Izzo has, and his burgeoning offensive game could turn the Spartans into a legitimate contender to win the conference.

It is more than clear that Michigan State's main scoring option is Denzel Valentine. (Eric Gay, AP)

It is more than clear that Michigan State’s main scoring option is Denzel Valentine. (Eric Gay, AP)

While it might be surprising that the junior has been more offensively assertive this season, there were signs over his first two years that he always had the ability to step up. Every Spartan fan will recall Appling’s more than occasional disappearing act during key games, and when he folded, Valentine was the off-guard who usually picked up the pieces by handling the ball during key possessions. Between the departed trio’s shot rates (19-29%), Valentine wasn’t likely to get many looks, but the floodgates have opened this year. The combo guard scored 25 points against both Marquette and Notre Dame, as his shot rate has increased from 17% to over 23% of available looks while he’s on the floor. No other Spartan seemed to want to take a shot during the second half against the Irish, and Valentine obliged by seemingly pulling the trigger on every possession. This is not to say that those were forced shots, either; they were good shots coming off screens, pulling up from from the elbow as he moved to the right.  Read the rest of this entry »

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