Make Your Case: Michigan Wolverines

Posted by jstevrtc on March 13th, 2011

Around this time of year we like to yield the soapbox to representatives of bubble teams and give them the opportunity to explain to the hooping nation why their team should be granted admission into the NCAA Tournament. We encourage them to be as irrational and nonpartisan as they want. As always, feel free to tell us how you think they did in the comments section. If you’d like to make the case for your school, send us an e-mail at JStevRTC@gmail.com and we’ll hear your preliminary arguments.

Joe Stapleton of The Michigan Daily now makes the case for the Michigan Wolverines.

So, this is an interesting place we Wolverines find ourselves. In January, Michigan lost to Minnesota at home — badly — after dropping two ugly road losses in a row against Indiana and Northwestern. It appeared the team was dead in the water. It seemed this season would go how the majority of Wolverine nation thought it would from the beginning, given the team’s youth and inexperience: not very well. The idea that they would win their next game — Michigan State in East Lansing — was laughable.

Then they did it. They downed the Spartans and absolutely took off. After beating Michigan State at the Breslin Center, the Wolverines won eight of their last 11 games (their only losses being at Ohio State, at Illinois and Wisconsin at home) to enter the Big Ten Tournament as one of the hottest teams in the field.

Do Beilein's Boys Deserve a Spot?

And as it stands now, the Big Ten Tournament appears to offer them a golden chance to make the NCAA Tournament field of 68. After poring over projections from Crashing the Dance, Bracketology 101, Joe Lunardi and all the rest, it appears there is a consensus: if Michigan would have lost its first-round game to Illinois, it still would have been 50-50 (bordering on unlikely) that the Wolverines made the Tournament. If they beat the Illini, they’re in. They beat the Illini.

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Checking in On… The Big Ten

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 11th, 2011

John Templon of Chicago College Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten conference.

RTC is interested in learning how to improve our Checking In On… series in each conference.  Let us know in the below poll where we can improve this weekly piece (feel free to add specific comments).  Thanks.

A Look Back

  • The Big Ten powers continued to dominate this week, as Illinois, Purdue and Ohio State are a combined 10-0 in conference. The other teams though are starting to look very vulnerable. Michigan State’s loss at Penn State revealed some problems with the Spartans’ attack, while Minnesota doesn’t seem to have the firepower to hang with the top teams in the conference. And where is Wisconsin going to be when this all shakes out? The Badgers are the conference’s biggest enigma.
  • Oh and Northwestern’s NCAA Tournament hopes? They were probably dealt their deathblow on national television at Assembly Hall in Champaign, Illinois. Matt Norlander wrote a lovely obituary over on CBS’ new college basketball blog. That said, maybe life support is the better analogy as the Wildcats did beat a reeling Indiana team on Sunday night.
  • Team of the Week: Purdue – Two blowouts over inferior opponents get the Boilermakers the team of the week award this week. If Saturday showed us anything it’s that winning on the road in conference isn’t easy and Purdue won at Penn State, where Michigan State went on to lose, and also blew out Iowa at home. This team is really coming together and looks to be a dangerous NCAA Tournament style squad.
  • Player of the Week: Rhyne Smith, G, Purdue: Smith scored a team-high 18 points on 6’9 three-point shooting in Purdue’s victory over Iowa. He also was leading scorer in the Boilermakers’ victory over Penn State with 20 points on 5-5 three-point shooting and 5-7 free throw shooting. He’s a catch-and-shoot scorer who thrives off the open looks that come from playing with two All-Americans.
  • Newcomer of the Week: Melsahn Basabe, F, Iowa – Basabe went for 22 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks on Tuesday against Ohio State. He was held to eight points, with four turnovers, against Purdue.

Power Rankings

  1. Ohio State (16-0, 3-0) – The Buckeyes are showing a disturbing trend of letting teams back into games. Iowa and Minnesota both played them close before falling late. This could come back to haunt Thad Matta’s team at some point. Jared Sullinger had a double-double in both games this week with 24 and 12 against Iowa and 15 and 12 against Minnesota. The first team to stop him is going to have a legitimate chance to knock off the Buckeyes.
  2. Purdue (15-1, 4-0) – Check out the player of the week section about Ryne Smith. Players like Smith, Lewis Jackson and Terone Johnson are starting to step up for Purdue and are making this team even harder to beat.
  3. Illinois (13-3, 3-0) – If the Illini continue to shoot as well as they have in Big Ten play, they’re going to be unbeatable. Northwestern got shellacked at Assembly Hall as Illinois shot 70.5 percent from the field. The one weakness for Bruce Weber’s squad is that they turn the ball over too much. Even in the 25-point victory, it was evident, as the Illini turned it over 22 times. Of course, Mike Davis and Demetri McCamey both had seven assists on the way to a team total of 25.
  4. Wisconsin (12-3, 2-1) – Jon Leuer gets a lot of the press, but Jordan Taylor is the guy that drives the Badgers’ offense. He’s in the mold of other Wisconsin point guards like Devin Harris and Trevon Hughes where he just gets his points. Taylor scored 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds in Wisconsin’s 66-50 victory over Michigan. That’s 66 points in 54 possessions, by the way. This offense is absolutely deadly.
  5. Michigan State (10-5, 2-1) – It’s time to accept that this Michigan State team isn’t that good right now. The Spartans barely escaped at Northwestern and then lost to Penn State. Kalin Lucas had an okay week scoring the basketball, but the assists aren’t there right now. If he doesn’t have more games like the one against Minnesota where he had seven assists and two turnovers, the Spartans are going to struggle in league play.
  6. Minnesota (12-4, 1-3) – While a three-point loss to Ohio State isn’t a big deal, the Golden Golphers suffered a bigger loss off the court when Devoe Joseph, who started 25 of 76 games in his Minnesota career, was granted his release by the team on Wednesday. Joseph clashed with head coach Tubby Smith. The versatile guard had averaged 11.2 points per game this season and his departure will prove to be a big loss moving forward. The team needs a lot of depth to play Smith’s system and doesn’t really have it right now. One player benefitting is freshman Maverick Ahanminsi, who had a total of 25 minutes of time in the games versus Indiana and Ohio State after just three total minutes in the games against Wisconsin and Michigan State.
  7. Michigan (11-5, 1-2) – Man are the Wolverines going to be wishing they beat Kansas come Selection Sunday, but still, a 67-60 overtime loss to the No. 3 team in the country isn’t bad. Zack Novak played a strong game with 12 points and 11 boards to follow up on a 15-point performance in the loss to Wisconsin earlier in the week.
  8. Penn State (9-6, 2-2) – Penn State seems to be a dangerous team in league play. The Nittany Lions really struggled in the non-conference, but they’re slowly getting better. Even though Talor Battle didn’t have his best game against Michigan State, Penn State still won because Jeff Brooks stepped up with 17 points and 12 boards. Of course, Battle eventually hit the clutch shots down the stretch that allowed Ed DeChellis to get a big league win. Big Ten teams are locking in on Battle, who shot 6-22 against Purdue and 3-14 against Michigan State, so someone else will have to continue to step up for the Nittany Lions.
  9. Northwestern (10-4, 1-3) – John Shurna’s ankle is still bothering him, but he did manage to drop 24 on Indiana. I’m sure all the Wildcats want to forget the game against Illinois, but freshman JerShon Cobb did score 18 points in that game and followed it up with 11, on 3-4 three-point shooting, against the Hoosiers.
  10. Iowa (7-8, 0-3) – While the Hawkeyes can be dangerous at home, they’re going to struggle on the road, especially when teams like Purdue can shut down Matt Gatens and force other players to score points. Before Penn State’s victory over Michigan State, Iowa near miss, 73-68, against Ohio State was the most shocking score of the week.
  11. Indiana (9-8, 0-4) – Not much is going right for Indiana right now. The Hoosiers were down big to Northwestern before making the margin more respectable. Freshman Will Sheehey played well against the Wildcats with nine points and another freshman Victor Oladipo started and scored 13, but it’s hard to win Big Ten conference games relying on freshmen. The game against Northwestern was Oladipo’s fifth in a row in double-figures.

A Look Ahead

While every game is big in conference play, here are the key match-ups to keep an eye on in the upcoming week (all times EST). It also includes one special non-conference CBS Sunday afternoon treat.

  • 1/11 – Wisconsin at Michigan State, 7 p.m., ESPN
  • 1/12 – Ohio State at Michigan, 6:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 1/12 – Northwestern at Iowa, 8:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 1/13 – Purdue at Minnesota, 7 p.m., ESPN
  • 1/15 – Illinois at Wisconsin, 3 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 1/15 – Michigan at Indiana, 8 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 1/16 – Purdue at West Virginia, 1:30 p.m., CBS

Fun with Efficiency Margin and KenPom: Three teams, Purdue (0.27), Illinois (0.18) and Ohio State (0.13) have efficiency margins greater than 0.10 during conference play. That’s very impressive.  Of course, those numbers will come down once they start playing each other, but each has been dominant thus far. The Boilermakers are just tearing things up on a per possession level.  On the other end of the spectrum are three teams: Indiana (-0.17), Michigan (-0.18) and Iowa (-0.19), all below -0.10 per possession. Michigan is at the level even with a win because of two blowout losses. The Wolverines’ game against Wisconsin is especially troublesome because the 16-point loss came in just 54 possessions as the offense disappeared in the second half. Michigan has shown in non-conference play that it can be very competitive against elite teams, so maybe this is a hiccup that will be corrected as the conference plays some more games and things even out.

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Set Your Tivo: 12.28.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 28th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Monday was a good night for Pennsylvania as Pittsburgh handed Connecticut its first loss and Penn State knocked off Indiana on the road. Conference play rolls on today with two key Big Ten matchups in the upper Midwest. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#11 Purdue @ Michigan – 2 pm on Big Ten Network (***)

Purdue Handled Michigan Last Season (Mich Daily/T. Sharman)

This Tuesday matinee is a great opportunity for Michigan to put itself back on the Big Ten map. The Wolverines are 9-2 against D1 competition and had a very close loss to a top five Syracuse squad. This game pits two guard heavy teams against one another, though Purdue has JaJuan Johnson in the paint. Michigan is vulnerable inside making Jordan Morgan and Evan Smotrycz important players for John Beilein this afternoon. They have to defend Johnson well but more importantly they must grab rebounds. Purdue is not a tremendous rebounding team and neither team shoots all that well so there are going to be plenty of chances for the Wolverines to pick up extra possessions. Michigan is #210 in offensive rebounding percentage and they’ll have to do a much better job than that in order to score inside. As was the case with his West Virginia teams, Beilein loves the three ball. Michigan launches an average of 24 treys per game but connects on just a third of them. Still, the three pointer is the great equalizer in college basketball and when you shoot that often, a lot of shots are going to go through the net. The problem for Michigan is that Purdue ranks #4 in the nation in three point defense and third in defensive efficiency. It’s going to be difficult for the Wolverines to score but Darius Morris will try to make things happen. Michigan’s dynamic guard is averaging 16 PPG and almost eight assists as well while shooting over 50% from the floor. He needs to have a good game and set the table for others like Tim Hardaway Jr. and Zack Novak, a tremendous rebounder for his position and size. Hardaway is shooting just 30% from deep and must get going for Michigan to take the next step up and into the middle of the Big Ten pack. For Purdue, Matt Painter has hinted he’d like to go big but expect a lot of four guard sets with Lewis Jackson and E’Twaun Moore running the show. Outside of Johnson, Purdue’s bigs have averaged just over four PPG and six RPG in 25 minutes of play combined, clearly not getting it done. In order to win, Michigan has to shoot the ball well, control the boards and play solid defense. Beilein loves his 1-3-1 zone and it can work wonders against a team that doesn’t see it often. Expect him to use it in this game and adjust if Johnson does damage underneath the basket. Smotrycz is a key player because he can pull Johnson away from the basket, possessing the capability of knocking down a triple here and there. If the Wolverines can get Johnson into foul trouble early, they’ll have a great chance to pull the upset at home. Purdue is the better team but this should be a very close game today in Ann Arbor.

#13 Minnesota @ #14 Wisconsin – 7 pm on ESPN2 (****)

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Checking in on… the Big Ten

Posted by jstevrtc on January 23rd, 2010

Jason Prziborowski is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference.

Three things from the past week:

  • Purdue’s slide stops – After getting knocked off by Wisconsin on the road, Ohio State at home, and Northwestern on the road, Purdue stops the slide against Illinois on the road. It was Illinois’ first loss at home on the road. The big key in the victory was JaJuan Johnson, who poured in a 24/12 game against Illinois after struggling in their previous losses. Will Purdue continue its ascent in the Big Ten?
  • The Buckeyes  are back – The main reason why the Buckeyes are back isn’t only due to them knocking off Purdue, Wisconsin, and Northwestern in successive games, but more with the way they won. True, it was the Evan Turner show against Purdue, but with him in foul trouble against Wisconsin, the rest of the team stepped up in his absence to win the game. That’s why they are not only back, but I believe they are better than before Turner went down.
  • Iowa gets first win in the Big Ten – I was giving Iowa a bit of a hard time scheduling Tennessee State in the middle of Big Ten play, but it looks like it paid off. They not only won a close one at home against Tennessee State, but then they captured their first victory in the Big Ten against Penn State, both nail biters. I will talk more about that game when I talk about each team.

Now four Big Ten teams are in the top 25: Michigan State #6, Purdue #13, Wisconsin #18, and Ohio State #21.

Power Rankings

  1. Michigan State                  16-3, 6-0
  2. Purdue                                 15-4, 3-3
  3. Wisconsin                           15-4, 5-2
  4. Minnesota                          12-6, 3-3
  5. Ohio State                          14-5, 4-3
  6. Illinois                                  12-7, 4-2
  7. Northwestern                   13-5, 2-4
  8. Michigan                             10-8, 3-3
  9. Indiana                                  9-9, 3-3
  10. Iowa                                      7-12, 1-5
  11. Penn State                          8-10, 0-6

Coming Up

  • Michigan State @ Minnesota – January 23rd – 12:00 ET – CBS – The scheduling gods don’t have much of a sense of humor for Minnesota, as they just played Michigan State on the road last week, and lost by seven. Minnesota suffered another bruise against Indiana on the road, but Minnesota is tough at home, and I think they will give the Spartans a run for their money in this one. The Spartans are still undefeated in conference and playing very well, but the Gophers might be able to catch them off guard. Big game for both teams for different reasons. Plus it’s the first of a Big Ten double header on CBS, so how much better can this get?
  • Ohio State @ West Virginia – January 23rd – 2:00 ET – CBS – OK, so this isn’t totally a Big Ten double header on CBS, but both games feature at least one Big Ten team. That counts right? West Virginia just lost a nail biter to Syracuse at home, so you know their fans are going to be hungry to take down a Big Ten opponent, especially after losing to Purdue on the road earlier in the season. Evan Turner wants to show just how well the Buckeyes are playing right now, and this will be a great game to show it. This is assuming that Ohio State takes care of Northwestern prior to this game.

Breaking It Down

  • The Spartans take control in the Big Ten. The Spartans are sitting atop the Big Ten conference with a 6-0 record, and have been able to win both at home and on the game, a rarity in this conference. In watching the Illinois game, it was clear that even though Illinois started off hot, once the Spartans gained momentum they never let go, and didn’t let Illinois back in the game. Kalin Lucas led the team with a 20/4 assts game, but had quite the supporting cast, with Raymar Morgan coming off the bench for a 14/10/4 assts game. I was impressed with the unselfishness and physical play of the Spartans. They completely shut down Mike Tisdale like I thought they would. They get to feast on Iowa before traveling to Minnesota, which should be a battle.
  • Purdue starting to turn it around. I have already talked about Purdue’s woes earlier, so I won’t focus too much on it here. I guess the most surprising thing is the rebounding, though. Purdue is getting outrebounded by a margin of six in the Big Ten, and the Northwestern game had a 19-board differential. Rebounding is purely heart and effort, so that’s not a good sign for Purdue. They turned it around against Illinois, so I look forward to seeing if it continues. If you want to check out more on the Northwestern game, RTC was there: RTC Live: Purdue @ Northwestern
  • Wisconsin missing Leuer – Wisconsin stumbled a bit last week losing to a much improved Ohio State team. Wisconsin thrashed them at home earlier in the year without Evan Turner, but not this time. Both teams are different. Wisconsin is no longer at full strength and they’re without an inside presence, whereas Ohio State is a full strength. The reason why Wisconsin is missing Jon Leuer so much is because of what he does for the Badgers inside. They only shot five free throws against the Buckeyes, making four. Contrast that to their Duke game earlier in the season, when they shot 19 free throws and made 13. Jon Leuer shot eight of those free throws. Wisconsin did turn it around against Michigan, but still had troubles on the inside.
  • Ohio State has a huge week. This past week was supposed to be the week that took down Ohio State. Instead, this was the week that will most likely define the turning point in their season. The task of taking on Purdue at Mackey Arena is more than most teams could handle, but the Buckeyes staged a late rally that Purdue couldn’t stop. Wisconsin at home is more realistic than at the Kohl Center, but put Evan Turner in foul trouble and that would spell a loss. Not this time. Evan Turner decided to go for another triple-double against Northwestern, and came up just a bit short with 20/13/8 assts.
  • Minnesota stumbles on the road. It’s no secret that Minnesota would rather play at home, especially in the Big Ten, as they stumbled on the road this week against Michigan State and Indiana. The Michigan State game was expected to be close, but I am not sure many people expected Indiana to lead through much of regulation before staging a very late comeback to win in OT. Lawrence Westbrook and Blake Hoffarber weren’t even a factor in the Indiana game, so they will need to step up if Minnesota should reach their potential. This is a super-talented team that just isn’t quite getting it done. I expect that Tubby Smith will have a heart-to-heart with his team, and they will give Michigan State a run for their money on Saturday after a tough week of practice. If you want to see more about the Minnesota – Indiana game,  RTC was at the game (shameless plug alert): RTC Live: Minnesota @ Indiana
  • Illinois runs into the Spartans, literally. I talked a little bit about Illinois when mentioning the Spartans, so I will try to keep it a little brief here. Illinois apparently loves being on national TV, as they got off to a hot start against Michigan State, but couldn’t hold on once the momentum shifted. I kind of laughed when the announcers were wondering why Mike Tisdale wasn’t a factor in the game, because he was averaging 20 PPG in the Big Ten. He wasn’t a factor because he has done well against Big Ten teams without height in Indiana and Penn State, and once he finally had to muscle up against some true big men in the Spartans, he just got pushed out of the way. The same thing happened against Purdue. If Illinois wants to win against physical teams they are going to have to get it from someone other than Tisdale. The big bright spot for Illinois is Demetri McCamey, who had a 28/9 assts game against Purdue.
  • Northwestern gets board heavy. The big story for Northwestern was how they dominated the boards against Purdue, so it will be interesting to see if they can keep it up. Purdue has some physical and tough big guys like JaJuan Johnson, so I think they should do well against Illinois on the boards. Northwestern got manhandled by Ohio State, down by 21 points at half. They will have to keep from thinking about that game too much, or they will have recurring nightmares throughout the rest of the season.
  • Michigan takes two, and knocks out UConn. The great story for Michigan really is knocking UConn out of the Top 25, and finding a third player beyond DeShawn Sims and Manny Harris. They introduced the national television audience to Zack Novak, who made his only trey at a very crucial time. This was actually the first game I have seen where Sims and Harris didn’t lead the team in scoring. The same couldn’t be duplicated against Wisconsin, who held off the Wolverines’ late charge.
  • Indiana has a down then up week. Watching the Michigan game was disappointing, as everything that could be done wrong late in the game was done. The Hoosiers threw away the basketball at will, and turned what was a semi-close game into a 20+ point blowout. That was the ‘down’ part…now for the ‘up’ part. Indiana did a ton of maturing between the Michigan and Minnesota game. They continued to build on that maturity by winning their first road game of the season against Penn State. Indiana was lights-out in the first half, and then, unlike past games, they didn’t fade midway through the 2nd half. They took it to OT, and even when they started down six, they battled back and forced Minnesota to take a three with seconds remaining to tie. Verdell Jones stepped up with a career high 23 point effort, with Devan Dumes and Christian Watford rounding out the scoring. The usual suspects carried the load for Indiana as of late: Jones, Dumes, and Watford. If you want to see a more in-depth view of the Indiana-Minnesota game, RTC was there: RTC Live: Minnesota @ Indiana
  • Iowa’s scheduling pays off.  Aaron Fuller had a career night against Tennessee State that got him ready for a big game against Penn State. He was good for a 24/10 night against Tennessee State and a 20/10 night against the Nittany Lions. Things are looking up for the sophomore, and for Iowa. Both games were nail biters, so if they get another W this year, expect it to be close. They are in  for a rough haul though, with upcoming road games against Michigan State and Indiana.
  • Penn State is still winless. I feel bad for Talor Battle because he continues to put up big numbers, and almost all of their losses have been close, but they just can’t seem to finish one out. Battle had a 31/7 game against Iowa and a slight disappointing 9/4 game against Illinois in a low-scoring close one. Unfortunately for Penn State, their comeback came up short against Indiana. They will have to keep up their confidence at this point, or else it will be a long road ahead.
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RTC 2009-10 Top 65 Games: January

Posted by zhayes9 on October 22nd, 2009

seasonpreview

Last Monday we broke down the top games of November and December as part of our season preview here at Rush the Court. As we examine the best games of the month of January, keep in mind what games during this crucial portion of the season usually represent: separating the contenders from the pretenders. With conference play heating up, the true top-seed players emerge from the pack and leap up their conference standings, while teams that may have overachieved or floated along on a cupcake-filled slate during the first two months begin to fall apart. Here are the games of great importance to circle on your calendar for January:

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

January 1- West Virginia at Purdue (#7 overall)- The top game in the entire month of January will be played on the first day of 2010. You won’t find a more bruising, rugged and intense contest played all year with Bob Huggins and Matt Painter’s teams battling it out in East Lafayette. West Virginia is led by the shooting ability of Da’Sean Butler, the super-athletic Devin Ebanks, the two headed point-guard combo of Joe Mazzulla and Darryl Bryant and impact JC transfer Casey Mitchell. Purdue will be entering their third full season with the core of E’Twaun Moore, Robbie Hummel, JaJuan Johnson and Keaton Grant intact.

January 2- Louisville at Kentucky (#23 overall)- This game has been circled for fans of Big Blue since the details emerged of Rick Pitino’s affair and subsequent extortion mess. They’ll be on Pitino relentlessly for these transgressions because they know their ultra-talented Wildcats can back up the berating on the court. Kentucky fans will also be eager for revenge after Edgar Sosa’s stunning game-winning three a season ago crushed Kentucky in Freedom Hall. Sosa will have to handle sensational freshman John Wall this time around.

781090314285_Syracuse_v_Louisville[1]

January 9- Kansas at Tennessee (#12 overall)- If Tennessee gets into an offensive rhythm, they can hang with the Jayhawks. Look for Tyler Smith and Wayne Chism to utilize their versatility to move Cole Aldrich, Marcus Morris, Thomas Robinson and other Kansas bigs away from the basket while allowing their wings — Scotty Hopson, J.P. Prince -- to penetrate inside and draw fouls while Kansas has to recover. This could be an electric, high-scoring affair that may be decided at the foul line.

January 9- West Virginia at Notre Dame (#24 overall)- How about four top-25 games to kick off the month of January? This Big East clash is one of West Virginia’s toughest road tests in their quest of a conference title. Notre Dame recently had a long home court winning streak and the West Virginia forwards Devin Ebanks, Wellington Smith and Deniz Kilici have to deal with the likely BE POY Luke Harangody. Whether the Irish can receive production from their guards is the key.

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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:

4390903142044_Ohio_St_v_Michigan_St[1]

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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