Can Michigan State Get to the Final Four Without an Elite Point Guard?

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on April 9th, 2014

About six months ago, when we kicked off RTC’s Big Ten microsite for the 2013-14 season, one of the first articles written was a discussion about Michigan State’s reliance on Keith Appling. “If Appling is effective, then the Spartans are arguably the best in the country, and without him, they lack the leadership to make the Final Four.” Fast-forward six months from that piece, and we saw Appling average two points per game during four games in the NCAA Tournament (that is not a typo). Tom Izzo’s offense looked completely lost during the final 10 minutes of its Elite Eight loss against Connecticut, and they were headed down a similar path against Virginia  before Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson muscled their way to a victory. This particular discussion is not about why Appling was so ineffective because it is likely that he was still hurting from his wrist injury and just could never get back to 100 percent. Instead, the last two weeks proves the importance of Izzo’s dependence on effective point guard play, because every one of his Final Four teams relied heavily on a true point guard who could lead the team during crunch time.

Tom Izzo's teams are at their best with an effective point guard.

Tom Izzo’s teams are at their best with an effective point guard. (Getty)

Let’s start with the late 1990s when Izzo raised Michigan State basketball to a whole new level on the national stage by taking them to three straight Final Fours. There was a guy named Mateen Cleaves who had a pretty good handle on running the point, essentially acting as an extension of Izzo on the court. Even after Cleaves graduated, Charlie Bell handled the point guard duties effectively in the half-court, while the emergence of Jason Richardson on the wing improved the overall offense. Following that three-year stretch of playing on the last weekend, Izzo couldn’t get them back to the Final Four even though he recruited some excellent guards – Chris Hill and Maurice Ager were excellent scorers, but they couldn’t command the offense because of their skill sets better suited for calling their own numbers. Then came Drew Neitzel, a true point guard who was comfortable dishing the ball and letting the talented wings produce the bulk of the offense. Without Neitzel, Hill and Alan Anderson would have been the first set of seniors that would have graduated under Izzo without making a Final Four (until this year of course). Consider the next two Final Four appearances by the Spartans and another effective point guard, Kalin Lucas, dominated on both ends of the floor. Lucas was hurt during the NCAA Tournament for one of those runs, but Korie Lucious was able to step in effectively to cover the point guard position.

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Big Ten M5: 04.03.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on April 3rd, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Frank Kaminsky wasn’t always a star at Wisconsin, so it’s easy to forget that he rarely saw heavy minutes behind a loaded Badgers’ frontcourt in his first two seasons. This year the junior burst on to the scene when he set the school’s single game record with 43 points against North Dakota. His progression into a star didn’t surprise his athletic family that knew it was just a matter of time before he got there. He has now certainly reached their expectations, as he won the West Region’s Most Outstanding Player award last weekend. Kaminsky’s on-court success lies in his ability to play both inside and outside the paint, causing nightmares for opposing teams and representing a big key to Wisconsin’s potential of winning a national championship this weekend.
  2. One of the Big Ten teams facing the most turnover this offseason is Michigan State. Sparty is for sure losing two starting seniors in Adreian Payne and Keith Appling, and is likely to also lose Gary Harris to the NBA. Add in the potential of Branden Dawson also going league and the Spartans could be looking at four new starters next season. This makes starting lineup projections interesting, with Travis Trice, Denzel Valentine, Kenny Kaminski, Matt Costello and probably Javon Bess or a three-guard lineup if Dawson leaves. Michigan State will be a very interesting team next season, having lost a great amount of talent and on paper appearing to be a middle of the pack conference team. Then again, while all the injuries hurt Tom Izzo’s team this season, it gave these reserves minutes that they wouldn’t have otherwise gotten.
  3. Another team facing plenty of questions right now is the other major school sharing the state. Michigan has three potential guys who could bolt to the NBA this spring, which creates quite a distinguishable best and worst case scenario for next season for the Wolverines. If Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary all return, John Beilein’s team won’t just be a favorite to win the Big Ten, but also a national title favorite. If all three leave school, Michigan will still be solid and likely to battle for a top four spot in the conference standings, but its national contender status would certainly be very different barring huge jumps from the remaining players.
  4. The Big Ten had three players in the McDonald’s All-American Game last night. With this in mind the Big Ten Network‘s Shawn Merriman evaluated the top former Big Ten players who participated in the game. Players were rated solely based on their collegiate careers and the winner is none too surprising. Not only is Michigan State’s Magic Johnson the best former Big Ten McDonald’s All-American to play in the game, but he could easily be argued as the best Big Ten player of all-time. Others on the list include plenty of big names like Purdue’s Glenn Robinson and Indiana’s Isiah Thomas and then some college stars like Michigan State’s Mateen Cleaves and Illinois’ Dee Brown. Will any of this year’s three participants have careers similar to what these guys accomplished? Probably not, but you never know until they show up on campus.
  5. Northwestern may have not gotten to play in the postseason again this year, but senior Drew Crawford still has another game to go. Crawford will play for the West in the Reese’s Division I College All-Star Game in Dallas this week. He is one of two Big Ten players invited to the game along with Indiana‘s Will Sheehey, who will play for the East. It is a solid career-ending honor for two seniors who were major contributors for their teams this season. Neither may have made the NCAA or NIT this season, but getting one more game will be good for them to showcase their skills.
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Previewing Michigan State vs. Virginia in the Sweet Sixteen

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on March 28th, 2014

It’s been an enigmatic season for Michigan State due to a host of injuries and resulting inconsistent play. For seniors Keith Appling and Adreian Payne, it’s been four years without a Final Four, a relative disappointment. Stress the word “relative” here, because compiling a record of 103-40 over four years would be roundly successful in 99 percent of other programs. But in East Lansing, a team that starts the season ranked #2 and ends up as a #4 seed in the NCAA Tournament is viewed as disappointing. As for those seniors — despite two Elite Eight and one Sweet Sixteen appearance — failure to make the Final Four this year would earn this group the distinction of being the only class in the Tom Izzo era without a trip to the NCAA Tournament’s final weekend. Tonight Sparty looks to remove that monkey off its back as it meets Virginia in the Sweet Sixteen.

Adreian Payne has made his presence known in the NCAA Tournament thus far. Virginia stands in his way as he vies for a trip to the Final Four. (AP Photo/Al Goldis).

Virginia stands in Adreian Payne’s way as he vies for a trip to the Final Four. (AP Photo/Al Goldis).

The Cavaliers are not regulars in the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend; it’s the school’s first appearance in the Sweet Sixteen since 1995. This run marks the culmination of all that was expected of head coach Tony Bennett when he was hired from Washington State five years ago. While he had only made one NCAA Tournament appearance in the previous four seasons, a trip back to the Big Dance and a top four finish in the ACC was expected from this squad due to its top five scorers returning. Bennett’s team far surpassed expectations by sweeping the ACC regular season and tournament, which garnered the Cavaliers a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. What may be most shocking is that Bennett accomplished all of this with a system traditionally more tailored for the Big Ten than the up-and-down ACC (although in some ways that is changing there too). Their slow-paced – averaging 61 possessions per game, near the very bottom nationally — and defensive-focused system has stifled some high-powered offenses in that league.

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Bracket Prep: Florida, Virginia, Michigan State

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 17th, 2014

Championship Week has found its close, but here are a few final short reviews of each of the automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket this week. None of these titans really needed the “automatic bid” portion of their Tournament title gift package, of course, but with each figuring to play a key role in the weeks ahead, here’s what you need to know about a trio of Championship Week’s final victors.

Florida

Billy Donovan And The Gators Are SEC Champions Twice Over, But Florida Has Their Sights Set On A Greater Prize

Billy Donovan And The Gators Are SEC Champions Twice Over, But Florida Has Their Sights Set On A Greater Prize

  • SEC Champion (32-2, 21-0)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #2/#3/#3
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +16.1
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #1

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. In the final minutes of basketball before the 2014 NCAA Tournament bracket was unveiled, Florida survived Kentucky to claim the SEC crown, complete their 21-game conference sweep, and keep alive a 26-game win streak. Quite a tidy going away package for the Gators, who will enter the Tournament as a #1 seed and among the two or three favorites to cut down the nets in Dallas. The one-point victory Sunday was only the fifth time this season that the Gators have won by three points or less – a testament to the workmanlike attitude that has extended this win streak time and time again.
  2. The Gators led the SEC in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Defensive weaknesses are hard to spot with the Gators, but despite the high overall level of offensive efficiency, there is a weak spot or two that opponents will seek to exploit. Florida’s free throw shooting is shaky (66.2% as a team, 295th nationally), and even primary ballhandlers Scotty Wilbekin (72%), Casey Prather (68%) and Kasey Hill (63%) are anything but sure things at the charity stripe. Three-point shooting isn’t a concern for Florida at first glance – they shoot 37% as a team, 73rd best in the country – but Wilbekin (58 3PM, 40%) and Michael Frazier (107 3PM, 46%) have combined to make over 70% of the team’s three-point field goals. The rest of the team shot just 27% from distance, so if an opponent can find a way to take away looks from either Wilbekin or Frazier – especially the latter, who is strictly a perimeter shooter – things could get pretty one-dimensional for the Gator offense.
  3. Florida is the perfect example of a team that used the entire season to grow into an elite squad. For much of November and December, Billy Donovan was just trying to keep proverbial head above water with his team, as pieces shifted in and out of the Gator lineup. Wilbekin, Prather, Dorian Finney-Smith, Kasey Hill, and Chris Walker all missed time for various reasons, but save for road losses at Wisconsin and Connecticut (and no shame in those, either), the Gators kept on winning. Prather grew into an unlikely All-American candidate, Wilbekin has staked his claim as the best point guard in America, and Frazier is now second to none when it comes to perimeter shooters. None of these things happen without one of the best coaches in the game pressing all the right buttons from the sideline, but Donovan has spent the last four months constructing a team poised for even greater things in the NCAA Tournament. And after winning 26 games in a row en route to a sweep of the SEC titles, that, my friends, is saying something.

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Rushed Reactions: #22 Michigan State 83, #12 Wisconsin 75

Posted by Walker Carey on March 15th, 2014

rushedreactions

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

Wisconsin Couldn't Complete the Comeback Attempt Today in Indy

Wisconsin Couldn’t Complete the Comeback Attempt Against Michigan State Today in Indy

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. Michigan State showed how dangerous its offense can be. The Spartans really made their offensive abilities known in this victory. Six Spartans finished in double-figures, led by senior big man Adreian Payne, who finished the game with 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting in only 17 minutes. The Spartans, as a team, were a hot shooting squad throughout the victory. They finished the afternoon at 56.9 percent from the field after shooting a sizzling 65.4 percent in the first half. Dangerous teams in the postseason receive great play from the point guard position and Michigan State received tremendous support from that position on Saturday. Starter Keith Appling and reserve Travis Trice combined for 21 points and 10 assists, while only committing one turnover. There has been a lot of talk all season about how that once Michigan State gets healthy, it will be a contender to cut down the nets in North Texas in early April. If the Spartans can string together several more offensive performances like Saturday, all that talk may have ultimately been warranted.
  2. Branden Dawson continues to impress in his return from injury. Dawson had a big night in Friday evening’s quarterfinal victory over Northwestern, as he finished with 16 points and nine rebounds. That strong performance carried over to Saturday afternoon, as the junior finished with 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting to go along with seven rebounds. Dawson had missed nine games due to a broken hand in the meat of the Big Ten schedule, but since his return at the beginning of the month, he has emerged as a very important player for the Spartans.
  3. Wisconsin’s inconsistent defense is troubling. In the Badgers’ 26-point victory over Minnesota on Friday night, their defense was terrific. Minnesota was held to just 57 total points on 32.8 percent shooting from the field. Bo Ryan‘s squad guarded with great intensity the other night and that was a major reason why it earned such a lopsided victory. Saturday against Michigan State was a different story though, as the Spartans were given open looks for much of the game and had very good success in converting those looks. The Spartans were able to build a 17-point halftime lead due to its scorching 65.4 percent shooting from the field in the opening 20 minutes. While its shooting percentage went down to 48 percent in the second half, Michigan State still was given many opportunities to increase its lead with little resistance from the Badger defense. To advance in the NCAA Tournament, you need to be consistently good on both ends of the court. That being said, Wisconsin is going to need to find a way to string together a stretch of solid defensive performances if it wants to advance far in the bracket.

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Key Questions For Michigan State at Ohio State Today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Key Questions for Michigan State at Wisconsin

Posted by Alex Moscoso and Brendan Brody on February 9th, 2014

Michigan State‘s visit to Wisconsin today might have been a possible match-up of the top two Big Ten teams a few weeks ago. Now, it’s a tale of two different teams. While the Spartans sit atop the league standings, the Badgers has lost five of their last seven and are hoping to avoid dipping below .500 in the conference. Big Ten microsite writers Alex Moscoso and Brendan Brody ask each other questions about this match-up in order to preview what may happen when they take the court.

Sam Dekker and the Badgers have need a big win against Michigan State to stop the bleeding. (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

Sam Dekker and the Badgers need a big win to stop the bleeding. (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

AM: The Spartan’s offense stalled against Georgetown without Adreian Payne and Brandon Dawsen. On Sunday, Dawsen will be out, but Payne will be back in. Will the return of Payne be enough to get this offense back on track and put numbers up against the Badgers?

BB: It’s gotten to the point now where we really don’t know what roster the Spartans will have on a game-by-game basis. Just when they get Payne back, they decide to sit Keith Appling on Thursday night because of his nagging wrist injury. Even without their floor general, they still shot 12-23 from behind the arc against Penn State. Regardless of whether or not Appling plays Sunday, there’s no indication that Sparty won’t put points on the board against Wisconsin. The three-point shooting won’t be there like that every game obviously, but Payne and Matt Costello will be able to get plenty of points in the paint against a Badger unit that struggles to guard inside. In their last seven games, Wisconsin has allowed 51.5 % shooting on two-pointers. Payne will get more comfortable in his second game back, and Appling or Travis Trice should be able to get in the lane like a lot of point guards have been able to do recently against the Badgers.

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Three Keys for Michigan State’s Trip to Texas Today

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 21st, 2013

In what many thought would be a mismatch coming into the season, Michigan State will travel to Texas today in a game that has turned into an interesting battle of one-loss teams. In beating North Carolina in Chapel Hill Wednesday night, the basketball discourse surrounding Texas has taken a turn from the topic of when will Rick Barnes get fired to one more reasonably assessing the legitimacy of the group that he has assembled in Austin this year. That said, the Longhorns have only beaten one other top 100 team (Stephen F. Austin), so this game will give us an inkling as to whether Texas should be taken seriously. Michigan State has a good deal of question marks itself due to health problems and that the Spartans have come back to earth after strong start to the season. What follows are three keys for Michigan State to come away with the win later today (4:00 PM EST, CBS).

Tom Izzo might have this same look on his face on Saturday if Michigan State doesn't beat Texas(AP)

Tom Izzo might have this same look on his face on Saturday if Michigan State doesn’t beat Texas(AP)

  1. Take advantage of Texas’ Perimeter Defense. This will much easier if Gary Harris comes back strong from his ankle injury, as he will probably be the biggest key if he’s in the lineup. Right now, Michigan State really does not have much in the way of depth, so the return of one of the best players in the B1G obviously adds to that. It’s also important because Texas doesn’t do a great job in defending the three. The Longhorns are ranked 250th in the country in three-point defense, so with Harris back in action they’ll be able to find more spots to take advantage of this. Keith Appling has shot the ball really well this year too, but Travis Trice could play a huge role. He’s shooting 39.4 percent from deep, and if he gets some open looks with Texas paying more attention to Appling and/or Harris, he has a chance to blow up his 7.0 PPG average. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten M5: 12.19.13 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on December 19th, 2013

morning5_bigten

  1. Most people have been surprised with exactly how strong of a start Wisconsin has had this season. It’s even has some wonder if this could be the best Bo Ryan-led squad to ever come out of Madison. Well, this team’s adaptability certainly makes it a strong candidate to go further than any other one. It’s normal for Ryan’s Wisconsin teams to win in low-scoring, grind-it-out type of games, but this year’s Badgers are winning those and high-scoring affairs. Wisconsin has won while scoring in the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 100s (note to other teams: force a game in the 90s apparently). With a group of players that can play all over the floor, this team certainly has the talent level and ability to match-up with anyone and potentially make a deep run in March.
  2. Iowa was on a lot of people’s radars as a team to watch this season in the Big Ten, but it hasn’t just been its slew of starters that are making that come to fruition. It’s been Iowa’s bench and depth that have really been a difference maker for the team. It’s reserves are ranked third nationally in scoring and blocked shots and first in rebounding. It’s impressive stats for the back-ups that the Hawkeyes will need to continue to be successful in Big Ten play. Some of the top teams (read: Michigan State) are relatively thin so Iowa will have an advantage in terms of depth where it can potentially wear teams down.
  3. Tom Izzo has had plenty of worries these past few weeks. Namely, the injury report and who to play. Travis Trice and Gary Harris have both been held out this week with injuries, with no exact timetable for their returns. This has put a lot of pressure on Izzo to tinker and come up with varying line-ups that can be successful. Most stressful for the Spartans is that its lack of depth puts a bigger impetus on getting the starters and key reserves back quickly. With a match-up against Texas and the Big Ten season looming, how quickly they return will be critical to the team’s success.
  4. It’s tough to knock an undefeated team, but sometimes context needs to come into play. For Ohio State, its non-conference schedule has it ranked in the bottom third for toughness, so the question arises if the Buckeyes are that good or simply a byproduct of a weak schedule? The team did have what appeared to be a challenging road game at Marquette, but the Golden Eagles have fallen quickly since the early part of the season. Still, it’s tough to knock Ohio State when it’s won every game dominantly. It can only play the team’s on its schedule and it is handling them well. For those still doubting Ohio State, the conference season is just around the corner, where everyone will find out if its early record is because of a weak schedule or a talented team.
  5. With a week between games, Michigan coach John Beilein took a visit to a high-priority recruit this week. He ventured to Ohio to check on Luke Kennard, a 6′ 5″ shooting guard who is averaging just more than 40 points a game this high school season. Michigan made an offer to the five-star prospect this summer, the first for a Class of 2015 player from the Wolverines. Kennard is obviously a high-volume scorer and a top priority for Beilein and his staff. Being involved early in his recruitment certainly helps, too, as Kennard also has offers from Duke, North Carolina and just about every other Big Ten school.
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Michigan State’s Loss to North Carolina: Three Questions Sparty Must Answer

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 5th, 2013

Michigan State’s run as the number one team in the land is likely over after losing convincingly to North Carolina in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge Wednesday night. The Spartans went down 79-65 in a game in which they were outrebounded, outhustled, and just generally beaten down by the enigmatic Tar Heels. While not an excuse, the Spartans’ three best players all suffered some sort of ailment in the contest, as Gary Harris tweaked his injured ankle, Keith Appling suffered a hip pointer from a nasty spill, and Adreian Payne had a muscle cramp that he couldn’t shake. But nobody else stepped up, as the team shot only 35.9 percent from the field, allowed the Tar Heels to score 1.09 points per possession, and were whipped on the defensive glass (UNC grabbed 39 percent of its offensive rebounding opportunities). None of this will happen to Tom Izzo’s team very often as the season plays out. To answer the titular question, though, the loss isn’t all that meaningful in that it was to a team that very well may spend a good portion of the season in the Top 25. But questions remain that Michigan State will have to answer if it is really to prove that it is a serious national title contender. Here are three in particular.

Roy Williams got the last laugh Wednesday night against Tom Izzo and Michigan State

Roy Williams got the last laugh Wednesday night against Tom Izzo and Michigan State

  1. Does Michigan State have the depth it needs to contend for a national title? This game would have been the perfect opportunity for someone like Branden Dawson, Travis Trice, or Denzel Valentine to take over, but it didn’t happen. Dawson was silent to the tune of scoring only two points and more importantly grabbing only three rebounds. Trice had five steals, but along with only two assists and four turnovers. Valentine shot 1-of-4 from the field and didn’t do anything else to make an impact. If your three best players are struggling with injuries or just off nights, someone else has to come through and none of these likely candidates stepped up. This team is built on the big three of Harris, Payne and Appling, a trio that might be the best group in terms of combined talent and experience of any team in the country, but the others will have to contribute more consistently if Sparty is to reach the final weekend of the season. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten M5: 11.13.13 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 13th, 2013

morning5_bigten

  1. Indiana‘s Tom Crean may have been on to something when he questioned the consistency of his extremely young team shortly before the team barely escaped LIU-Brooklyn, 73-72, on Tuesday night. Crean believes that the Hoosiers are far from a finished product, but that he likes how the early-season schedule sets up as they play seven games in 19 days early on. Indiana is extremely long and athletic, but some of the younger players seem as though they will be prone to slumps and growing pains early on as they figure out their respective roles. Expect moments of brilliance combined with head-scratchers like Tuesday night from this extremely young squad.
  2. On a team filled with potential All-Americans and others who have been starters and been in the spotlight for a couple of years, Travis Trice often goes overlooked. That’s why news of the mysterious illness he was dealing with in the summer of 2012 never really made it into the national consciousness. It’s pretty amazing how he’s come back from not only that, but suffering two concussions and a broken nose last season as well. With Trice fully healthy again, Michigan State will be in great hands at the point guard spot with either Trice or Keith Appling on the court.
  3. Michigan has a decent sized leadership void to fill with Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. moving on to the NBA. They decided on Tuesday to try and fill their player leadership roles for 2013-14 with three players being named tri-captains: Jordan Morgan, Jon Horford, and Glenn Robinson III. On a team loaded with freshmen and sophomores, it makes sense that Horford and Morgan were given this honor since they’re the only upperclassmen they have. Robinson seems to be a little bit more of a reserved type who doesn’t get overly excited on the floor, so it remains to be seen whether he can handle this responsibility and both lead verbally and by example.
  4. A.J.Hammons was arguably the most talked about Purdue player in the buildup to the season tipping off. News of his suspension for the Boilermakers’ home opener was kind of glossed over, as it was assumed Purdue would handle Northern Kentucky with or without the burly center. Hammons felt like he let the team down as they struggled to pull out a win last Friday, however, and vows to come back and get on the same page with his teammates. Hammons being out was felt mainly on the glass, as Northern Kentucky matched Purdue’s 35 rebounds and generally played more physical. The suspension could really lead to Hammons coming back better than ever if he’s properly motivated from the benching.
  5. The preseason watch list for the John Wooden Award was released on Tuesday, and it included ten players from the B1G. This year was the first time that freshmen and transfers could appear on the preseason list, and Indiana’s highly-publicized Noah Vonleh made the cut. Other players from the league included players from Michigan State (Keith Appling, Gary Harris, and Adreian Payne), Ohio State (Aaron Craft and LaQuinton Ross), Michigan (Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III), Minnesota (Andre Hollins), Wisconsin (Sam Dekker), and Vonleh. One notable omission is Penn State’s senior guard Tim Frazier. Players can still get added to the watch list during the season, and Frazier made a claim to be one of these mid-season additions with his 25-point, 10-rebound effort in Penn State’s opening game victory against Wagner.
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Three Takeaways from Michigan State’s Champions Classic Performance

Posted by Max Jakubowski on November 13th, 2013

Youth or experience? It was the key question posed going into Tuesday night’s showdown between Michigan State and Kentucky, and the Spartans’ experience won out after holding on for a 78-74 win over Kentucky. The Spartans will presumably be the new #1 in the polls next week, but before that, here are a few takeaways from the huge Michigan State win:

Gary Harris knows his Spartans are the new number one.

Gary Harris knows his Spartans are the new number one.

  • Michigan State will only go as far as its point guard play this season, and boy, did Keith Appling silence the critics with an incredible stat line of 22 points, seven assists, seven rebounds, four steals, and only three turnovers. Appling has been known to have turnover issues and a showing like last night will go a long way to raising the senior ‘s confidence with the ball and running the team effectively. Appling’s backcourt mate Gary Harris also contributed a huge 15-point first half performance. Along with the combined 42 points from the two Michigan State guards, both were active in intercepting the passing lanes of Kentucky and causing a total of 17 turnovers. After Kentucky had tied the game with 4:48 left, Appling hit a huge three from the corner and then Harris stole the ball and finished with a layup to put MSU up for good. Guard play in March wins championships, and if Appling and Harris can continue to make major plays like those, Tom Izzo’s squad has as good a chance as any team to make it to Dallas for the Final Four.

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