The Champions Classic Lesson

Posted by Bennet Hayes on November 18th, 2015

Let’s get it out there: Kentucky and Michigan State collected MAJOR wins at the Champions Classic on Tuesday night. If Kansas and Duke turn out to be anything close to the top five teams that they are expected to be, these are the type of victories that can separate #1 seeds from #2 seeds come March. For teams closer to peril (not that either Kentucky or Michigan State is likely to fall into this category), wins like these can redirect NIT-bound seasons into the field of 68. Nevermind that it’s only November, or that all four of these teams will evolve dramatically over the course of the season: These results will still matter in March. But with that note out of the way, we can also admit something that all four coaches seemed to know last night: These games don’t matter all THAT much. There’s no realistic way that last night’s results will define any of these team’s seasons, and all four coaches, given a chance to improve over the next five months, trust their own ability to mold a team — no matter how dysfunctional they may appear in November.    

Denzel Valentine Was Tuesday Night's Show-Stopper (Photo: The Sporting News)

Denzel Valentine Was Tuesday Night’s Show-Stopper (Photo: The Sporting News)

But that isn’t to say that any of these four teams looked especially bad last night. Duke’s leading scorer, sophomore Grayson Allen, did look bad, but expectations should have been restrained in his first take in a starring role against elite competition. Allen and the other young Blue Devils — Brandon Ingram (1-of-6 from the field, four turnovers, four fouls), Derryck Thornton (3-of-7 FG, four turnovers) and Luke Kennard (0-of-5 FG) — are all good bets to steadily improve in the months to come. Kansas was the other team that left the United Center a loser last night, but Bill Self’s team displayed no signs of panic in the aftermath of Michigan State’s victory. Jayhawks junior Wayne Selden admitted that early season struggles had worried him in years past, but he said the more experienced composition of his current team quelled any such concerns this time around. Kansas handed away a game they held complete control of for 33 minutes — Bill Self admitted as much afterward — and the ball screen defense (or lack thereof) that enabled Denzel Valentine (29 points, 12 rebounds, 12 assists) to repeatedly break Kansas down will need significant revisions. However, the Jayhawks have the talent, experience and coaching to cure their November ills, not to mention plenty of time in which to do so.

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Rushed Reactions: #13 Michigan State 79, #4 Kansas 73

Posted by Bennet Hayes on November 18th, 2015

RTC National Columnist Bennet Hayes was in Chicago for the Champion’s Classic.

Three Key Takeaways: 

Denzel Valentine Stole The Champion's Classic Show Tuesday Night (Photo: Spartan Avenue)

Denzel Valentine Stole The Champion’s Classic Show Tuesday Night (Photo: Spartan Avenue)

  1. Denzel Valentine Is Really Good. The Spartan senior delivered the individual performance of this young college basketball season, producing a 29 point, 12 rebound, 12 assist triple-double. Valentine had the ball in his hands in the crucial moments of almost every Spartan possession, particularly in the second half. His final shooting numbers don’t dazzle (10-23 from the field), but you can’t underemphasize Michigan State’s reliance on their do-it-all senior leader. Tom Izzo completely abandoned his offense down the stretch to give Valentine the ball and run him off of ball screen after ball screen, a strategy that paid massive dividends on this night. Demanding this much out of Valentine may prove sketchy as a long-term offensive solution, but for now, Michigan State is 2-0 and has Valentine to thank for it.
  2. Kansas’ Champion’s Classic Struggles Continue. If Bill Self wants to look on the bright side, the Jayhawks are probably leaving Chicago feeling better about themselves than they were this time last year. And really, a neutral site loss to a team likely to be very relevant come March will hardly cripple the Jayhawks’ season. Still though, Tuesday night’s result has to be extremely disappointing. Kansas had this game under control for the better part of 35 minutes and lost largely out of an inability to control one player on the other side. Redemption for Champion’s Classic failures of years past was well within reach. Once again, KU fell short.
  3. Michigan State Controls Backboards. With Spartan forward/center Gavin Schilling out again Tuesday night with turf toe, Kansas’ talented corps of big men had to enter the United Center with designs on dominating the glass. If they did have that plan, it didn’t come to fruition. Tom Izzo called his team’s first half performance “very soft”, but Michigan State had collected 10 more rebounds than the Jayhawks by the time the final buzzer sounded. Kansas must be tougher – and has the personnel to do so – moving forward. On the Michigan State side, continued success on the backboards, perhaps paired with a heavy dose of Valentine, could be a nice recipe for success moving forward.

Star of the Game: Denzel Valentine, Michigan State. No surprise here, as Valentine delivered a personal masterpiece that may not be topped anytime soon in 2015-16. One statistic that may be lost in the recounting of his heroics: Valentine finished with just one turnover. It may be the most telling statistic of any, as Valentine seemed to control nearly every second of the last ten minutes.

Quotable:

  • “I didn’t think he was going to hit them. He showed some nuts on that one.” –Valentine on freshman forward Deyonta Davis knocking down two key free throws with 23 seconds to play
  • “I felt stupid at halftime for telling everyone this was one of the better shooting teams I’ve had, shooting 33 percent. Of course that may be true, we’ve shot 28 percent some years.” –Izzo on his teams’ opening half offense
  • “He is like Draymond. There’s a million things he’s not good enough at, but winning he is good enough at.” –Izzo, comparing Valentine to former Spartan star Draymond Green
  • “We did some good things to get control of the game the first 33 minutes or so, then they made a ton of plays late.” –Bill Self
  • “I always thought he was a good player. Tonight I think he proved to everyone that he is an exceptional player.” –Self on Valentine 

Sights and Sounds: Things quieted down a bit for the second game of the Champion’s Classic, but the United Center stayed noisy throughout. Kansas fans impressively invaded Big Ten country, with Jayhawk supporters outnumbering their Spartan counterparts. Still, Valentine’s second half heroics kept a healthy back-and-forth going between fan bases. November did a very good March impersonation in Chicago tonight.

What’s Next: The Jayhawks get six days off before their next contest, a first round game in the Maui Invitational against host Chaminade. The Silverswords should offer KU little resistance, but tricky matchups could arrive on the following two days. Either UCLA or UNLV will be the Jayhawks’ opponent in game two, while possible finals opponents include Vanderbilt and Indiana. Michigan State will also be making a journey west for an in-season tournament, but not before a quick stop in East Lansing for home dates against Arkansas Pine Bluff and Eastern Michigan. The Spartans open the Wooden Classic with Boston College on Thanksgiving; probable opponents in later rounds of the event include Boise State and either Arizona or Providence (on Friday and Sunday, respectively).

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Michigan State vs. Kansas: Four Things to Know

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 17th, 2015

Tonight the fifth annual Champions Classic will tip off at the United Center in Chicago where Michigan State will face Kansas in the late game. The Spartans and Jayhawks — both ranked in the top 15 — bring the usual lofty season expectations each program is accustomed to. Bill Self and Tom Izzo have built the type of rosters that seem to be the recipe for success in today’s college game: a healthy mix of experienced upperclassmen along with some talented freshmen. In order to prepare you for tonight’s game and get you familiar with some of the new faces, here are four things you need to know before you tune in to watch.

Deyonta Davis will need to keep dominating inside against Kansas. (Rey De Rio/Getty Images)

Deyonta Davis faces his first major challenge in the paint against Kansas. (Rey De Rio/Getty Images)

  1. Deyonta Down Low. Michigan State lost a lot of its muscle in the post when Branden Dawson graduated but Izzo seems to have found a more-than-suitable replacement in four-star freshman Deyonta Davis. The Muskegon, Michigan, native didn’t let his youth and inexperience make him reticent in his inaugural outing on Friday, as evidenced by his stat line of 13 points on 14 shots (team-high), 11 rebounds, and five blocks against Florida Atlantic. But his head coach might have to calm his budding star down a bit tonight because Davis won’t be able to physically bully the Jayhawks in the paint like he did against the Owls. Read the rest of this entry »
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Kansas Seeking Redemption at the Champions Classic

Posted by Chris Stone on November 17th, 2015

Kansas hasn’t had much luck in the Champions Classic. Since the event began in 2011, the Jayhawks have won just once in four tries — a 94-83 victory against Duke at the United Center in 2013. This year, Bill Self‘s squad returns to Chicago looking for redemption after last season’s embarrassing 72-40 defeat to Kentucky. Kansas isn’t looking to fall so hard again. “We have no plans of having anything like that happen again,” junior Landen Lucas recently said. “That was not something that is OK with us. For the people that were here last year, that is not acceptable, no matter how early in the season it is.”

The last time Kansas won in the Champions Classic, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker were on the floor. (Getty Images)

The last time Kansas won in the Champions Classic, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker were on the floor. (Getty Images)

To avoid another loss, the Jayhawks will look to take advantage of a depleted Michigan State frontcourt. For the second straight game, the Spartans will be without 6’9″ forward Gavin Schillingwho will miss the contest with turf toe. Schilling is one of only three players that size on Tom Izzo‘s roster so Kansas should have plenty of opportunities to challenge the Spartans inside with senior forward Perry Ellis. Although Ellis made only 47 percent of his two-point field goals last season, his ability to draw fouls (5.1 per 40 minutes a year ago) makes him a dangerous matchup against an already thin frontline. Kansas, meanwhile, has one of the deepest groups of big men in the country. Ellis is flanked by a talented corps of bigs that includes Carlton BraggJamari Traylor, Landen Lucas and Hunter Mickelson. The burden will be on Michigan State’s Matt Costello and Deyonta Davis to defend the Jayhawks’ plethora of post options without fouling them. Limited minutes for either could expose that thin Spartans’ front line. Read the rest of this entry »

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RTC Big Ten Preview: The Top Tier (#7 – #1)

Posted by Alex Moscoso on November 11th, 2015

We continue our Big Ten microsite predictions and superlatives with the second half of our preseason standings. We presented our preseason standings with teams #14 – #8 on the microsite yesterday; today, we unveil the top half. These are the teams that we as a group believe will finish near or atop the league when all the dust settles and will result in the likely conference representatives in the NCAA Tournament.  Enjoy!

It's Jarrod Uthoff's turn to lead the Hawkeyes to another NCAA Tournament.

It’s Jarrod Uthoff’s turn to lead the Hawkeyes to another NCAA Tournament.

  • 7. Iowa: With Aaron White now graduated, all eyes turn to senior Jarrod Uthoff to take the baton and lead the Hawkeyes to a third consecutive NCAA Tournament— something this program hasn’t accomplished since the early 1990s. With players like Adam Woodbury, Peter Jok and an experienced backcourt to work with, Uthoff will have a supporting cast with enough talent to get it done.
  • 6. Michigan: The Wolverines are a talent-laden team with a number of players similar to Caris LeVert who fit perfectly into John Beilein’s prolific three-point offense. Both he and Derrick Walton were sidelined with injuries for the majority of last season, which gave the rest of the young roster experience to draw from this year. Now fully healthy, Michigan is set up for a comeback campaign pushing toward the top of the Big Ten.

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Is Michigan State Being Overlooked?

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 9th, 2015

It was supposed to happen with the group led by Adreian Payne, Gary Harris, and Keith Appling two seasons ago — that was the team that was supposed to end Tom Izzo‘s four-year Final Four ‘drought.’ Instead, that Michigan State squad lost to Connecticut in the Elite Eight and it was his follow-up group — led by leftovers like Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice — that recovered from a shocking early home loss to Texas Southern to play in the season’s final weekend. Most of that team returns this season, and some high-impact newcomers are also on board. Shouldn’t Izzo’s Spartans be ranked higher to start the season? Isn’t another March run a distinct possibility?

Denzel Valentine will look to lead Michigan State to bigger and better things in his senior season (Getty).

Denzel Valentine will look to lead Michigan State to bigger and better things in his senior season (Getty).

Sparty begins the season ranked #13 in both major polls. It returns eight of its top 10 scorers from last season and adds West Virginia transfer Eron Harris (17.2 PPG in 2013-14) to the mix. The freshman class includes McDonald’s All-American Devonta Davis along with a couple more knockdown shooters in Kyle Ahrens and Matt McQuaid. Perimeter shooting definitely appears to be a major positive for this team. Multiple shooters could hit close to 40 percent from deep, as Valentine, Bryn Forbes and Harris have all reached that benchmark in recent seasons. Sharing the ball is another positive aspect of what should be an elite offense. Michigan State logged the seventh best team assist rate in the nation last year, assisting on 63.7 percent of its field goals. Valentine in particular has shown an ability to find the open man as a point forward, ranking eighth in the Big Ten in assist rate (26.9 percent) last year and cutting down his turnover rate by two percent despite much higher usage. Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn also notched an assist rate above 20 percent, and that number should increase if he gets added minutes with the departure of Trice. This could be an elite Spartans’ offense once the season gets rolling. Read the rest of this entry »

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Where 2015-16 Happens: Reason #8 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on November 6th, 2015

Here we go… headfirst into another season heralded by our 2015-16 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball, our annual compendium of YouTube clips from the previous season completely guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on Friday, November 13. We’ve captured what we believe were the 30 most compelling moments from last season, some of which will bring back goosebumps and others of which will leave you shaking your head in astonishment. You can find all of this year’s released posts here.

#8 – Where You Got Izzo’d Happens.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-122012-132013-14 and 2014-15 preseasons.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Duke 81, #7 Michigan State 61

Posted by Naveen Reddy on April 4th, 2015

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

Talk about a bounce back performance - Jahlil Okafor was outstanding against the Spartans. (AP Photo/Chris Steppig, Pool)

Talk about a bounce back performance – Jahlil Okafor was outstanding against the Spartans. (AP Photo/Chris Steppig, Pool)

  1. Michigan State was simply overmatched. We don’t want to take away anything from the Spartans’ remarkable run. They went from a team that at times this season made us wonder if they would make the NCAA Tournament to one that made the Final Four. The truth is they were not anywhere near the level of the other three teams here. The fact that they got here is a testament to just how good of a coach Tom Izzo is and how tough this team was, but they just didn’t have the talent to compete. Their early hot start (going 5-of-7 from the field including 4-of-4 from three) made things interesting when they jumped out to a 14-6 lead, but then they regressed the mean and reality set in. They proceeded to hit just 3 of their next 20 shots and go 0-of-5 from three to end the half to fall behind 36-25. Denzel Valentine (19 points and 9 rebounds), Branden Dawson (12 points and 7 rebounds), and Travis Trice (16 points and 5 assists) all had solid performances, but it wasn’t enough. While an 11-point lead at halftime is far from insurmountable, when you are this overmatched it essentially is. Once Michigan State cooled off, you knew this one was over.
  2. Duke just took care of business. Nobody on Duke played out of their mind, but everybody chipped in from Jahlil Okafor (18 points and 6 rebounds) to Grayson Allen (9 points including an emphatic dunk in the second half that served as an exclamation mark even if it was early in the second half). It was a total team effort from Duke in a victory that was never in doubt. Coming into tonight we didn’t really see a way that Michigan State could win, but a lot of people have lost a lot of money over the years betting against Tom Izzo in such situations. Justice Winslow was simply dominant and while we is too good and consistent to be considered an X-factor when he is truly “on” he takes them to another level. While Duke is far from a one-man team, he will need to be at his best on Monday night if they are going to win especially against Kentucky.
  3. Monday night is going to be crazy. We normally save this for the last section of these posts, but honestly we can barely contain ourselves right now. We know that Duke-Kentucky is the game that every CBS executive wants (ok, it’s not just them), but Duke-Wisconsin wold be fascinating in its own right with Okafor facing Frank Kaminsky in what essentially will be a head-to-head workout that every NBA executive with a top-5 pick will be keeping track of. On the perimeter, you could potentially have Winslow and Sam Dekker (potentially two of the top perimeter picks in this year’s NBA Draft if they decided to leave) going against each other. If it ends up being Duke-Kentucky, you would have lottery picks all over the court (and for Kentucky some coming off the bench) in a game that might be the most highly anticipated game in college basketball history (we aren’t exaggerating).

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Final Four Previews: Duke/Michigan State Will Win If…

Posted by Bennet Hayes & Tommy Lemoine on April 4th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

The time has finally come for all the hand-wringing, all the expectations, all the anticipation, and all the office pools between Jim from accounting and Bonnie the receptionist to be decided. In what undoubtedly has evolved into one of the more intriguing Final Fours in recent memory, the story lines bleeding out of Indianapolis this week has been plentiful. Will Coach Cal and the ‘Cats finish off The Perfect Season? Will Wisconsin play spoiler? Will the traditional power in blue once again reign supreme? Will the boys from East Lansing show that a team can win a ‘ship without a boatload of McDonald All-Americans? We’ll all find out soon. In the meantime…

Duke Will Win If…

Tom Izzo’s team has done things this March that Tom Izzo’s teams seem to do every March. One Michigan State postseason streak, however, has yet to continue. In each of the last 14 seasons, Tom Izzo’s Spartans have lost an NCAA Tournament game.

Duke's Leading Trio Of Freshmen (Pictured With Matt Jones, #13) Are The Reason Duke Will Advance To Championship Monday. (The Charlotte Observer)

Duke’s Leading Trio Of Freshmen (Justise Winslow, Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor) Are The Reason Duke Will Advance To Championship Monday. (The Charlotte Observer)

Expect that streak to continue Saturday. In a battle of teams with elite coaches and similarly thin benches, Duke’s star power and defense will prove to be difference-makers. By most accounts, Jahlil Okafor has been the second-best player in America this season. He was neither the best nor the second-best player in Houston last weekend, but Okafor is poised for a rebound (or 15) against an undersized Michigan State squad, which has only two regulars taller than 6’6” (Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling). The consensus two best players in that South regional – fellow Blue Devil freshmen Justise Winslow and South Region MOP Tyus Jones – will also feature prominently this weekend. Winslow’s profile has risen as much as any player’s this NCAA Tournament, and with mostly good reason. The enigmatic forward has saved his best basketball of the season for March, averaging 14 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.8 blocks per game in the Tournament. Throw in Jones, the steady hand guiding the leash on this explosive Duke offense, and the case could easily be made that Duke will have the three best players on the floor in this game. Read the rest of this entry »

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Final Four Storylines: Michigan State Edition

Posted by Henry Bushnell on April 4th, 2015

The Final Four is set. This week we’ll continue our NCAA Tournament Storylines series focused on each of the remaining four teams. We’ve already covered the three top seeds, Kentucky, Wisconsin and Duke. Finally, here’s Michigan State.

Tom Izzo (USA Today Images)

Is Tom Izzo’s Group a Team of Destiny? (USA Today Images)

What a turnaround. There are so many specific December and January days to which to point. Think back to December 20 and the stunning loss to Texas Southern. Recall January 24 and the defeat at Nebraska that resulted in a 13-7 (4-3 Big Ten) record. Consider February 7 and the ugly loss at home to Illinois. All of those days tell the same story: Michigan State just wasn’t very good. It’s that simple. The Spartans didn’t look at all like a Tom Izzo-coached team. They lacked talent, cohesiveness and an identity. But more than anything else, cohesiveness and an identity is exactly what they’ve found, and it’s what has enabled this run. Michigan State isn’t stocked with NBA prospects or McDonald’s All-Americans, but every contributing player has learned over the course of the season to excel in his role, and that’s why Sparty is here.

Izzo in March. Frankly, it has ascended to the level of an indisputable phenomenon. Tom Izzo just wins in March — there’s no two ways about it. And not only is the idea firmly entrenched in the minds of fans, and not only does it appear on any show or in any article that discusses Michigan State, it is also backed up by numbers. Izzo’s teams consistently outperform their seed in the NCAA Tournament, more so than any other program in the modern era. What makes the success even more impressive is that Izzo has done it as both a favorite and an underdog. Michigan State reached the Final Four three straight years as a 1-seed from 1999-2001, and then twice got there as a 5-seed in 2005 and 2010. This year, Izzo is back as a 7-seed. Now, technically it’s not March anymore. But in the college basketball world, it’s still March through Monday. And it’s still Izzo in March. And it’s going to take an exceedingly good performance to disrupt the Spartans’ record of postseason success.’

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