2013-14 RTC Class Schedule: Michigan State Spartans

Posted by BHayes on September 6th, 2013

Bennet Hayes is an RTC columnist. He can be reached @HoopsTraveler. Periodically throughout the preseason, RTC will take an in-depth look at the schedules of some of the more prominent teams in college basketball.

Watch out for Sparty in 2013-14. Tom Izzo returns nearly every key contributor from his Sweet 16 squad of a year ago, with only bruising big man Derrick Nix since departed. More good news for East Lansing’s finest: the Big Ten shouldn’t prove quite as challenging as it did last season as fellow top-four finishers Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio State all suffered major personnel losses in the offseason. That may mean some turnover at the top, especially with a number of teams in the bottom half of the conference looking improved from a season ago. So, sure – you can expect a little reshuffling at the top of the Big Ten. But with the returns of Keith Appling, Gary Harris, and Adreian Payne (among others) to East Lansing, you should also feel pretty safe in believing that Sparty will be right where they always are come March – in the hunt for a Big Ten title, preparing themselves for a sustained Tournament push.

The Emergence Of Spartan Big Man Adreian Payne Makes Michigan State A Scary Team

The Emergence Of Spartan Big Man Adreian Payne Makes Michigan State A Scary Team (Getty Images)

  • Team Outlook: Despite the arrival of a relatively underwhelming freshmen class – neither center Gavin Schilling nor shooting guard Alvin Ellis has the look of a minute-eating freshman, Tom Izzo’s cupboard is fully stocked. The backcourt features the Spartan’s two top scorers from a year ago in Keith Appling (13.4 PPG, 3.3 APG) and Gary Harris (12.9 PPG, 41% 3PT). Both battled nagging injuries throughout last winter, so an offseason of rest and rehabilitation may have been just what the Spartans needed although Harris appears to have suffered a temporary setback with a sprained ankle that will keep him out until at least the start of practice. With another year under their belt and improved health (knock on wood), there should be an expectation of increased, or at least more efficient, contributions from the duo. The third centerpiece of this Spartan club is center Adreian Payne, who broke out in his sophomore season posting season averages of 10.5 PPG, 7.6 RPG, and 1.3 BPG as the big man even showed an unexpectedly refined touch from deep. After only attempting two three-pointers in his first season in East Lansing, Payne went 16-42 from beyond the stripe last season, giving Izzo (and NBA scouts) hope that he might progress even further here in year three. Branden Dawson (8.9 PPG and 5.9 RPG) is the fourth Spartan returning starter, while versatile sophomore Denzel Valentine (5.0 PPG and 4.1 RPG) would seem like the top candidate to occupy the starting slot left open by the departure of Nix, an insertion that would necessitate a slide to the power forward position for Dawson. Sophomore Travis Trice (4.8 PPG, 1.9 APG) should operate as a capable backup for Appling at the point, but Tom Izzo will have decisions to make in rounding out the bench rotation beyond Trice. Matt Costello and Alex Gauna only averaged about six minutes per game each a season ago, but both could be thrust into larger roles this time around. Junior Russell Byrd and the freshman Schilling may also be options for Izzo in his quest to sort out the frontcourt rotation, as he seeks to at least partially replace the physicality and production that Nix brought to the table last season. Payne and Dawson should take care of plenty of that by themselves, and let’s also remember that this is Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans – if you can’t rebound you don’t see the floor, so expect the old coach to find some tough role players somewhere on the roster. Read the rest of this entry »
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Season In Review: Michigan State Spartans

Posted by jnowak on April 23rd, 2013

What does it say about the state of a program when it makes another Sweet Sixteen — its 11th since 1998 — and the fan base is not all too thrilled? That’s not to say Michigan State fans don’t appreciate the feat (it really is remarkable) but it’s just an indication of how strong this program has grown under Tom Izzo, particularly in March. At times this year, the Spartans looked like a surefire Final Four team and a national title contender after many had discounted them early in the Big Ten race. But they had injuries, inconsistency from Keith Appling and a hell of a draw in the NCAA Tournament standing in their way. To further evaluate Michigan State’s year, let’s take a closer look:

Adreian Payne broke out this year as an all-conference caliber player. Will he return for another season? (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

Adreian Payne broke out this year as an all-conference caliber player. Will he return for another season? (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

The Good

Right around the time Michigan State beat rival Michigan, 75-52, in a highly-anticipated intrastate rivalry blowout, we got a glimpse of just how good the Spartans could be. Everything came together that night. Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne gave the team a traditional athletic one-two punch inside, and Nix could be the only player leaving after this season if Payne decides to ignore the NBA for one more year. Gary Harris had a team-high 17 points with a 5-of-9 three-point shooting performance that helped earn him Freshman of the Year honors. Keith Appling was steady on both ends, providing excellent man-to-man defense on Michigan’s Trey Burke and finding his way into the lane and finishing. And Branden Dawson gave the Spartans energy around the rim. That game summarized everything that was good about the Spartans’ season — the five different players who could provide the team with a spark on any given night, the defense (seventh in KenPom’s adjusted defense), the rebounding prowess, and the individual talent. There were other high-water marks — wins against other top Big Ten teams, an important non-conference win against Kansas  (the Spartans’ had the nation’s No. 3 strength of schedule), and Izzo’s 11th Sweet Sixteen berth — but that game was the microcosm.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.30.13 Edition

Posted by WCarey on March 30th, 2013

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The NCAA Tournament is here and there’s more news, commentary and analysis than any of us can possibly keep up with. To make things a little easier, we’ll bring you a list of daily links gathered about teams in each of the four regions all the way through the Final Four.

Midwest Region

West Region

  • Wichita State guard Malcolm Armstead transferred from Oregon to join the Shockers without a scholarship and that gamble is paying off as Wichita State preps for a chance to go to the Final Four.
  • Myron Medcalf of ESPN.com writes that Saturday’s game between Ohio State and Wichita State should not be viewed as a “David/Goliath” match-up.
  • Would Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall be the greatest catch of this year’s coaching carousel?
  • Ohio State sophomore forward LaQuinton Ross has matured during his second season in Columbus to become a playmaker for the Buckeyes.
  • Ohio State coach Thad Matta was unhappy with the way Buckeyes guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. performed defensively in the team’s Round of 32 victory over Iowa State, but the junior stepped up his play significantly in Thursday’s victory over Arizona.
  • Ohio State forward Deshaun Thomas has a well-earned reputation as a “bad shot taker and maker” and this moniker has not prevented him from becoming the Buckeyes’ most lethal weapon offensively.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Duke 71, #3 Michigan State 61

Posted by WCarey on March 30th, 2013

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Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Sweet 16 NCAA Tournament game between #2 Duke and #3 Michigan State in Indianapolis.

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Seth Curry caught fire. The senior sharpshooter had a game to remember Friday night. He erupted for 29 points while shooting 6-of-9 from the three-point line. He had many open looks on the night, as Duke’s offense did an admirable job of getting him open. Curry has been an offensive dynamo throughout his collegiate career, but he took it to another level tonight. When you score 23 of your team’s first 41 points, you are making a huge impact on the game and that is what Curry did against Michigan State. Curry’s hot hand was never more evident than when he drained three from deep between the 19:18 and 17:12 marks of the second half. While the Duke lead was just three after that barrage from deep, it really forced the Spartans to put more pressure on Curry, which resulted in the rest of the Duke offense opening up.
  2. Duke’s defense was very impressive. Between the 12:05 and 3:32 mark of the second half, Michigan State did not make a shot from the field. Duke’s defense – anchored in the post by forwards Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly –  did an outstanding job on three of Michigan State’s top four offensive weapons. Forward Adreian Payne was limited to just a 3-of-10 performance from the field. Big man Derrick Nix matched Payne’s 3-of-10 performance. Standout freshman guard Gary Harris had a very frustrating evening, as he only managed six points on a 2-of-11 mark from the field. The Blue Devils have now played excellent defense in two straight games – they held Creighton to just 30.2% shooting in their Round of 32 victory – and if they are able to keep that going against Louisville in Sunday’s regional final, there is a strong possibility that they will be playing in Atlanta next weekend.
  3. Louisville/Duke on Sunday for the Midwest Regional title has the potential to be a classic. Louisville and Duke have already met once this season. The Blue Devils topped the Cardinals, 76-71 in the championship game of the Battle for Atlantis on November 24. The major difference between that game and Sunday’s match-up is that Louisville will have the services of forward Gorgui Dieng, who missed the first contest with a wrist injury. Louisville enters Sunday’s regional final as winners of 13 consecutive games and it has arguably played the best basketball in the country over that period. The Cardinals have a dynamic lineup that is very strong in the backcourt and the frontcourt. It has been evident that Louisville has been much more talented than its first three NCAA Tournament opponents – North Carolina A&T, Colorado State, and Oregon – but the Cardinals will be tested by a similarly talented Duke squad when the two meet for a trip to the Final Four. Considering the plethora of talent on both sides, it is very difficult to make a prediction on what may happen on Sunday afternoon, but it is fair to say that it has all the makings of a classic basketball game.

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NCAA Regional Reset: Midwest Region

Posted by BHayes on March 25th, 2013

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Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) is the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Region correspondent.

The Midwest Regional begins Friday night in Indianapolis with Louisville vs. Oregon followed by Duke vs. Michigan State. The East Region Reset and West Region Reset published earlier today, and be sure to look out for the South Region Reset later this afternoon. Also make sure to follow RTCMWRegion for news and analysis from Indy throughout the week.

New Favorite: #1 Louisville. When you are the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, win your first two games by a total of 57 points, and now have to travel just 115 miles to the regional site, you aren’t going to lose your pole position. The Cardinals are still the team to beat in Indianapolis.

Lucas Oil Stadium Is Where The Midwest Will Be Won

Lucas Oil Stadium Is Where The Midwest Will Be Won

Horse of Darkness: #12 Oregon. It’d be hard enough to make a case for a #1, #2, or #3 seed as a dark horse, and harder yet when the programs occupying those seed-lines are Louisville, Duke, and Michigan State. So while Oregon certainly fits the bill here, they also are winners by default. We knew the Ducks were underseeded and dangerous on that #12 line, and they went out and played like it last week. At this point, nobody would blink an eye if the seed next to the Ducks’ name was a #4 instead.  Louisville would be advised to view Dana Altman’s team through that lens, because Oregon is talented enough to knock off the Cardinals, even in their own backyard.

Biggest Surprise (1st Weekend): #4 Saint Louis. Clearly, this wasn’t the good kind of surprise. Saint Louis entered this NCAA Tournament as a legitimate Final Four sleeper. They played along with the hype in the Second Round, where they clinically dispatched New Mexico State in winning by 20. At that point, a deep run still felt very possible and at least one more win a near-certainty, which made the resounding defeat they suffered at the hands of Oregon a bit of a shock. Let’s keep in mind that this was a Saint Louis team that had lost just once in regulation since November, and the 17-point margin of defeat to the Ducks was the Billikens’ largest of the season. 2012-13 was a proud, inspiring season for SLU, but few could have predicted the abruptness with which it would end.

Completely Expected (1st Weekend): #3 Michigan State. Chalk prevailed almost across the board in this region (thank god for Oregon!), so take your pick here, but I’ll go with the Spartans. Armed with a virtual home court advantage in Auburn Hills, Tom Izzo’s crew made quick work of Valparaiso before dismantling Memphis in the Third Round. These wins were completely expected not only because it’s Sparty playing March basketball in its home state, but also because both their opponents loomed as favorable match-ups for this Michigan State team. As expected, Valpo was outmanned and Memphis not tough enough. The result, equally anticipated, is another Spartans visit to the Sweet Sixteen.

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Michigan State 70, #6 Memphis 48

Posted by Will Tucker on March 23rd, 2013

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Will Tucker is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Round of 32 NCAA Tournament game between #3 Michigan State and #6 Memphis from Auburn Hills. You can also find him on Twitter @blrdswag.

Three Key Takeaways:

Michigan State Ran Away From Memphis This Afternoon

Michigan State Ran Away From Memphis This Afternoon

  1. Michigan State’s brute force in the interior was too much for Memphis to handle. As athletic as the Tigers are, they don’t have enough size to defend the post against 6’9: Derrick Nix and 6’10: Adreian Payne, who weigh a cumulative 510 pounds. The Spartans’ imposing duo combined for 27 points and 18 rebounds, while Payne recorded five blocks. Tarik Black and Shaq Goodwin are the only players in Josh Pastner’s trusted rotation who measure at least 6’8″ and 240 pounds, and the two combined for 4 points and 6 rebounds. Despite his size, Goodwin went scoreless and played with the tentativeness of a freshman in his first huge college game, and Black played much of the second half with 4 fouls. Pastner afterward called MSU “probably the best in the country at offensive rebounding,” but it was on the defensive end that the Spartans established their +20 rebound margin, courtesy of Memphis shooting 30% from the field.
  2. Free throw shooting finally caught up with the Tigers. Inability to cash in at the charity stripe nearly derailed Memphis against Saint Mary’s on Thursday, when they shot 9-18. Down 12 with 5:13 remaining, Tarik Black went to the line after a Flagrant 1 was assessed to Derrick Nix. Moments after Geron Johnson had drilled a three, with an opportunity to turn the momentum and stage a final push, Black unceremoniously missed both free throws. Michigan State would go on a 12-2 run to close the game, despite losing Keith Appling to a shoulder injury. The Tigers finished at 66% on the season after shooting 5-10 from the line today.
  3. The Spartans’ backcourt depth is suspect. While their starting five is undeniably one of the best in the country, today’s game illustrated the dearth of talented depth behind Gary Harris and Keith Appling. Harris had a huge first half, heading to the break with 16 points and 4 threes, but only played 8 minutes after halftime once saddled with four fouls. Keith Appling didn’t show up on the box score, ending with 2 points and 2 assists, but he managed the game well until aggravating his right shoulder and leaving the game with 8:35 remaining. At that point Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine were left to orchestrate things, and while they combined for 9 points and 7 assists as MSU pulled away, there was a substantial drop-off in explosiveness in the Spartans’ backcourt. It wasn’t an issue in this game, but it could portend problems in a closer contest against potential regional opponents Duke or Louisville.

Star of the Game. Adreian Payne left his mark on every portion of the court with 14 points, 10 rebounds and 5 blocks. The junior seems to be shedding his mercurial reputation, and turned in an MVP performance after apologizing to his teammates for a disappointing showing in Thursday’s Valparaiso win. Gary Harris also deserves to be acknowledged for his career-high 23 points in only 25 minutes on 6-9 shooting. Tom Izzo noted after the game that the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Year seemed to thrive on the big stage in front of a sellout crowd of 21,723.

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Rushed Reactions: #6 Memphis 54, #11 Saint Mary’s 52

Posted by Will Tucker on March 21st, 2013

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Will Tucker is a RTC correspondent. Will is covering the Auburn Hills pod of the Midwest Region. You can also find him on Twitter @blrdswag.

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Memphis is always a threat to get out and run. Even against the fifth-most efficient offense in the country, the Tigers found ways to capitalize on missed shots by getting out in transition and exploiting their athleticism. Outlet passes to a streaking Joe Jackson on blocks and defensive boards routinely led to points, as the shifty point guard would set up easy baskets for Tarik Black, D.J. Stephens and others. That advantage became less apparent as the Gaels’ cold shooting subsided, making fewer defensive rebounds available in the second half. But as St. Mary’s clawed back into the game, Memphis responded by turning up the defensive intensity, creating 19 points off turnovers with dunks and transition threes.

    It wasn't easy, but Joe Jackson and Memphis advanced to the third round. (Getty)

    It wasn’t easy, but Joe Jackson and Memphis advanced to the third round. (Getty)

  2. Simply put, Shaq Goodwin needs to foul less. Goodwin sat for most of the first half after accumulating two fouls in the first three minutes, in yet another installment of his well-documented issues with personals. His 3.3 fouls per game ranks top 40 in the country, despite only playing 21 points per game. Which is exactly the issue, because Josh Pastner needs the powerful 6’9″ freshman on the court if the Tigers are going to take down Michigan State’s frontcourt. The abusive tandem of Derrick Nix (6’9″, 270) and Adreian Payne (6’10″, 240) already demonstrated earlier in the day how productive they can be when they get anywhere near the offensive glass. Memphis has a plethora of athletes, but outside of Goodwin and Tarik Black, they don’t have the bulk to contain Michigan State’s big men in the style of play Tom Izzo will try to dictate on Saturday.
  3. Defensive rebounding and free throw shooting remain question marks for this club. Josh Pastner prioritized both after the Tigers shot 33% from the line and gave up an absurd number of second-chance opportunities in a loss to Xavier. The Tigers seemed to have reformed themselves since giving up 41.5% of available offensive boards to the Musketeers, but they allowed the Gaels to grab 15 offensive boards and score 17 second chance points today. They also shot 50% from the charity stripe, and made only 4-of-10 in the final three minutes, which left the door open for the Gaels to attempt a game-winning three at the buzzer that missed long.

Star of the GameJoe Jackson, who posted team-highs of 14 points, 7 assists, and 6 rebounds, as well as orchestrating a beautiful transition offense that never let its foot off the gas. Discounting a crucial turnover at the end of the game, Jackson generally had a good awareness of time and situation, and helped hold Steve Holt and Matthew Dellavedova to a combined 4-of-23 from the field. (Co-star: Josh Pastner, who won his first NCAA Tournament game as a head coach.)

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Michigan State 65, #14 Valparaiso 54

Posted by Will Tucker on March 21st, 2013

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Will Tucker is a RTC correspondent. Will is covering the Auburn Hills pod of the Midwest Region. You can also find him on Twitter @blrdswag.

 Denzel Valentine #45 of the Michigan State Spartans reacts in the first half against the Valparaiso Crusaders. (Getty)

Denzel Valentine of the Michigan State Spartans reacts in the first half against the Valparaiso Crusaders. (Getty)

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. Michigan State can make huge runs with its defense. The Spartans sleepwalked for the first 13 minutes, which underscored the sense that they don’t have elite offensive efficiency, but they do have the ability to make dramatic runs quickly with defense and the transition shooting of Gary Harris and Keith Appling.
  2. Gary Harris has the poise and temperament of an upperclassman. He struggled shooting the ball for most of the game and suffered a 14-minute shooting drought on either side of halftime. But Harris contributed in other ways, adding a game-high four assists and team-high two steals to accompany his 10 points and four rebounds. More importantly, he showed the patience and judgment of an upperclassman, and helped energize his team after a lethargic opening performance. Plus, the MSU crowd absolutely loves him. “Freshman of the year, right there!” a fan screamed proudly after the Big Ten FOY drained his second gorgeous three in the first half.
  3. Derrick Nix is going to be hard for anyone in the bottom half of the Midwest Region to stop after the way he played today. While Memphis has incredible athleticism at every position, they’ve shown vulnerabilities on the glass against big teams like Southern Miss. St. Mary’s presents a much tougher matchup with their depth and size in the front court, so Michigan State fans might be inclined to root for the Tigers to knock off the Gaels today.

Star of the GameDerrick Nix (23 points, 15 rebounds) was a man possessed against a team with decent size that entered today ranked #34 in the country in defensive rebounding percentage. With nine offensive boards, he helped the Spartans build a +23 rebounding margin and score 14 second chance points.

Quotable. ”Not every player at this tournament gets to play in their home state. Make your state proud.” — Tom Izzo before the game.

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Rushed Reactions: Ohio State 61, Michigan State 58

Posted by Chris Johnson on March 16th, 2013

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Another patented physical Big Ten tussle in the league’s second Tournament semifinal fell in Ohio State’s favor after a predictably even-matched run of play broke open late in the second half. Aaron Craft led the Buckeyes with 20 points and nine assists. Michigan State forward Derrick Nix finished with 17 points and nine rebounds.

Chris Johnson is a Big Ten correspondent and RTC columnist. He filed this report after Saturday’s Big Ten semifinal matchup between Ohio State and Michigan State. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

Three Key Takeaways:

Sunday's title matchup should feature another hard-fought game between two defense-oriented Big Ten stalwarts (AP Photo).

Sunday’s title matchup should feature another hard-fought game between two defense-oriented Big Ten stalwarts (AP Photo).

  1. DeShaun Thomas Still Needs Help.  We’ve said this all season long, and with only intermittent evidence to the contrary, the same problem still holds true as Ohio State prepares for a deep NCAA Tournament run. The Buckeyes can guard; no one’s doubting the Buckeyes’ defensive prowess — this is the same group that, less than two weeks ago, short-circuited the nation’s most explosive offense (Indiana) in one of the most brazen, gutsiest, perception-changing road wins of the season. Finding ways to score points outside of DeShaun Thomas iso sets and late shot-clock jumpers, and doing so in a consistent context, is where OSU will run into real problems in an NCAA Tournament setting. When Ohio State comes across a strong defense, and its offense stalls out, working around a potential Thomas blockade — and rest assured, whatever higher seed Ohio State crosses paths with in the early rounds will make sure to lock down Thomas — could be the difference between advancing and a disappointing early exit. If Aaron Craft can be the offensive safety valve the Buckeyes need, then great. I’m just not convinced, even after today’s offensive brilliance, that he can for four or five straight do-or-die Tournament games over the next couple weeks. His career offensive work to date says otherwise.
  2. Ohio State and Michigan State are Sweet Sixteen Locks. Book it. There are a handful of traits that distinguish a seasoned NCAA Tournament team. Strong guard play is a big help. Coordinated team-oriented defense is as effective and portable as any group characteristic. Ohio State and Michigan State have both in spades, but that’s not all that makes the Buckeyes and Spartans two of the more dangerous low-seeds in this year’s field. What about coaching? Tom Izzo and Thad Matta tighten the screws March like few other sideline bosses around the country. Leadership? Aaron Craft marshals his charges, on both ends of the floor, better than most floor leaders on any team in the country; Keith Appling and Derrick Nix are an extension of Izzo’s composed toughness. Not only do these teams have all the obvious physical and tactical marks of championship contenders, the intangible credentials are plainly evident. For all the momentum and crowd advantages afforded to home teams in the Big Ten this season, make no mistake: MSU and OSU’s prowess is just as devastating on neutral courts. All of which makes the above claim not only credible but extremely hard to impugn. With the acknowledged anonymity of seeding and matchups, on their own merits OSU and MSU are teams you won’t regret reserving more than a couple spots for in your office pool bracket.
  3. I can’t Wait For Sunday. The first semifinal of the day continued Wisconsin’s remarkable 12-game winning streak against Indiana, and if you caught a glimpse of the Badgers’ clinical dismantling of the Hoosiers’ top-ranked effeiciency offense, you saw a Wisconsin team playing its best basketball of the season at the perfect time. Wisconsin is, inarguably, peaking in March — which is pretty much what every team would like to be able to say with at least some measure of honesty at this point of this season. And for as unassailable as Mike Brueswitz and Ben Brust and Ryan Evans look right now, Ohio State enters Sunday’s final only barely trailing Wisconsin’s imposing form. Craft will counter Badgers point guard Traevon Jackson at the point of attack. Evans will batter Thomas on the block, on offense and defense, in equal doses. Bo Ryan will crouch on the sideline, deadpanning, almost incredulously, as his team’s esteemed yet aesthetically-opposed system clogs Ohio State’s offense and installs a slow, shotclock-milking, industrious style of play. To their credit, the Buckeyes are just as capable of bringing home the conference tournament crown. For one, Ohio State’s defensive strength and apparent perimeter scoring complement, Aaron Craft, will test Wisconsin in ways Michigan and Indiana could not. The Buckeyes are slowly, if only minimally, attempting to reduce their reliance on Thomas. But maybe the biggest reason this game shapes up to be one of the most entertaining in a conference that’s produced tantalizing contests all season is the Buckeyes’ defense. Few teams are locking down opponents like Ohio State right now, and with a league tournament title in the balance, that defensive strength will clash with Wisconsin’s foolproof D to conjure up a delectable Big Ten showdown.

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The Four-Year Evolution of Derrick Nix

Posted by jnowak on March 7th, 2013

Tom Izzo said something interesting this week, which is neither strange nor rare, but it caught my attention as it pertains to Michigan State and the end of this season. As teams around the country get set to play their final home games of the year and bid farewell to their seniors, the only Spartan to be honored on Sunday afternoon after the Northwestern game will be center Derrick Nix. This means two things. First, it means the Spartans will return plenty of talent next year, and should be a contender to reach the Final Four and fight for the Big Ten title after playing a bit better than most expected this year. (Granted, there’s a chance — albeit a small one — that it could be the last home game for junior Adreian Payne and/or freshman Gary Harris, but that’s a different conversation for a different time.) Second, it means Nix’s time in green and white is drawing to a close. ”You realize you get to this point of time and for the first time think, ‘What am I gonna do?’” Izzo said of what his lone senior is going through as his college career ends. It was an eventful four years for Nix, from Shaq-like free throws to being suspended to being a captain his senior year and his postgame tweets. It was nothing if not colorful.

Derrick Nix will be the only Michigan State player honored on Senior Day on Sunday against Northwestern. (

Derrick Nix will be the only Michigan State player honored on Senior Day on Sunday against Northwestern.

Nix arrived on campus fresh off a Class A state championship (alongside Keith Appling) and with Michigan Mr. Basketball honors. He also was not fit for the program he was entering. Nix topped out near 340 pounds in high school and arrived on campus with a body fat percentage of nearly 25 percent. He struggled to get up and down the floor, didn’t have much leaping ability and in watching his high school highlight tapes, you wondered how he would be able to run with the Spartans. At the time of Nix’s senior year at Detroit Pershing, Michigan State’s big men were far taller than they were wide — Tom Herzog and Idong Ibok made Goran Suton look like a bowling ball — and Delvon Roe was a freshman with plenty of athletic potential. Nix was set to be the odd man out. Read the rest of this entry »

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Ten Tuesday (or Wednesday!) Scribbles: On Scoring, Rule Changes, Syracuse and More…

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 27th, 2013

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Brian Otskey is an RTC columnist. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey

  1. Much has been made about the decline in scoring in college basketball over the last decade. These days, it is very common to see games played in the 60s, 50s or even 40s in some instances. It is true that scoring has decreased substantially over the last 10 years and the numbers bear it out. In the 2002-03 season, 172 teams averaged at least 70.0 PPG. That number has steadily declined, falling to 145 five seasons ago and 111 this year. With the advent of advanced statistics, one in particular stands out. Ten years ago, 123 teams averaged an adjusted tempo of 70.0 possessions per game. That was cut in half by 2007-08 (62 teams) and the number has continued to decline even since then. This season, only 28 of America’s 347 Division I teams play at that pace or greater. Why is this happening? Pace is certainly a factor but there are other issues at play here. With the proliferation of television coverage and video based scouting programs such as Synergy Sports Technology, scouting and video material is more available than ever. Head coaches and their staffs know everything about an opponent and that makes a huge difference for a lot of teams on the defensive end. A lot of teams run the same sets and it’s simply easier to prepare when you see the same thing over and over again. The elephant in the room, however, is the talent level in college basketball. Most of us probably wouldn’t like to admit it but the talent level has noticeably dipped in our sport over the last decade. I’m not talking about a once in 20 years type of player like Kevin Durant but the overall depth of talent in the game. There’s a reason a lot of people are saying this year’s NBA Draft class could be the weakest ever. That’s because it is. Until college basketball gets a much-needed infusion of talent, low scoring games will remain the norm.
  2. A lot of people would like to see the so-called “one-and-done” rule fade to black and that got me thinking about some much-needed rule changes in college basketball. I’m not going to discuss the one-and-done here, I’m talking about changes that need to be made during the actual games. If I had the power, the first thing I’d do is shorten the shot clock to 30 seconds. Five seconds may not sound like a lot but since there are roughly 66 to 67 possessions in an average Division I game, that would translate into another 10 possessions per game. Immediately you’d see an increase in scoring which makes the game more attractive to fans. One thing that annoys me is the amount of timeouts and stoppages in the game. There are already four mandated media timeouts every half and each team gets a total of five timeouts per game. In an era when coaches rarely leave timeouts on the table, there are 18 different timeouts in a typical college game, an average of one every two minutes and 13 seconds. It hurts the flow of a game in a big way and my proposal would be to reduce the number of timeouts to three per team and no extras in overtime. The end of every college basketball game these days seems to include a multitude of timeouts, fouls and official reviews. Officials reviewing plays has helped many sports get calls right, including college basketball. However, officials are abusing the monitor more than ever before. A big reason why is the NCAA rule change a few years ago regarding flagrant fouls and elbows thrown. I get why this rule was implemented (player safety) but there is no evidence this rule acts as a deterrent. Players have been taught from a young age to clear space with your elbows when being pressured by a defender. Now, a loose elbow can be deemed a flagrant foul even if there was no intent to injure by the offending player. This has to change. I have absolutely no problem with calling a flagrant foul for a malicious elbow or other physical contact. But calling a flagrant for an innocent or accidental elbow is wrong and is another thing that contributes to college games that lack an entertaining flow. A couple other changes I’d make include not resetting the 10-second count in the backcourt after a timeout, not being able to inbound the ball into the backcourt (it’s a bailout move for a team without a quality inbounds play) and starting the 1-and-1 bonus at nine fouls instead of seven. What are your thoughts on some of these proposals?

    Tubby Smith, Minnesota

    Tubby Smith has Minnesota pointed in the right direction

  3. This time of year, bubble talk dominates the discussion. My way of looking at bubble teams is simple: Did you beat quality opponents and what have you done away from home? This approach is one Jay Bilas mentions on television every year, something I wholeheartedly agree with. I remember years ago when Bilas went on ESPN and said something like, “Bubble teams have all proven they can lose. The question is, who did you beat and where did you beat them?” Truer words have never been spoken. You can’t dismiss all losses but when we’re talking about bubble teams, we’re usually looking at teams that have lost anywhere from 9 to 12 games, sometimes more. When I look at this year’s group of bubble teams, a few stand out. Minnesota is only 7-8 in Big Ten play but has multiple quality wins over Memphis (neutral), Illinois (away), Wisconsin (home), Michigan State (home) and last night’s massive upset of Indiana at the Barn on its resume. All of that trumps Minnesota’s loss to Northwestern and should get the Golden Gophers into the Big Dance.  Staying in the Big Ten, Illinois is in the same boat and I believe the Illini have done enough to warrant a bid at this point. Villanova is an interesting team. The Wildcats have a high number of losses (11) but wins at Connecticut and home versus Louisville and Syracuse have them in the NCAA discussion. I think Villanova is an NCAA-worthy team but the Wildcats need to do more to earn a bid because a pair of bad losses on their resume hurt the cause. Teams like St. Mary’s are harder to quantify. The Gaels have just one top 50 win (home vs. Creighton) on their resume and a pair of bad losses to Pacific and Georgia Tech. When a team wins a number of games against poor competition as St. Mary’s has, it’s very hard to determine if they’re NCAA-worthy. I think the Gaels are, but their resume leaves a lot to be desired. Beating Gonzaga in the WCC Tournament would prove to everyone that they deserve a spot. Read the rest of this entry »
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Can Cody Zeller Continue to Stay Out of Foul Trouble?

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on February 26th, 2013

Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.

After 27 games which include just three losses, you begin to wonder if the Hoosiers have any glaring weaknesses that can be exploited during the postseason. At the beginning of the year, especially after Derek Elston’s injury, I wasn’t sure if they would have enough interior depth to beat elite teams in case Cody Zeller picked up a couple of quick fouls in the first half. Because if Zeller is forced to sit, Tom Crean would would have to go with a smaller lineup of Christian Watford, Will Sheehey or (gulp) freshman Hanner Perea in the frontcourt. Although Watford and Sheehey are capable of defending a 6’8” power forward, they wouldn’t be as effective on the offensive end if forced to exert so much energy on defense. But looking back at the Hoosiers’ season so far, Zeller has somehow managed to stay out of foul trouble, a very impressive feat considering that the Hoosiers have already played Minnesota and Michigan State. He has picked up four fouls in just three games: against Jacksonville, Penn State, and Georgetown. Opposing coaches can clearly see that with Zeller on the bench, the inside is open, but they haven’t yet succeeded in exploiting that weakness. Let’s examine how he has managed to stay out of foul trouble and if it could be an issue in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

ody Zeller has shown that he is a smart player on defense. (Photo credit: Sandra Dukes/US Presswire)

Cody Zeller has shown that he is a smart player on defense. (Photo credit: Sandra Dukes/US Presswire)

Crean has done an effective job of putting Zeller in comfortable positions on the defensive end of the floor. By using the zone against good offenses for certain stretches of the game, Zeller is not asked to face off against the opposition’s best forward. Let’s take both of the games against Michigan State to illustrate this game plan:

Spartan forwards Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne have the size and the footwork in the paint to get Zeller into foul trouble, but neither was successful in either of their attempts this season. Zeller covered the paint as part of the zone during the first game in Bloomington and even though it opened up some opportunities for Payne to attack through the backdoor (resulting in a couple of highlight dunks), it kept Zeller from picking up easy fouls. The zone helps “hide” the sophomore forward for a decent portion of the game. When forced to play man, Crean opted not to put Zeller on Nix, but used Watford there instead. At first glance, asking Watford to guard Nix seems like a terrible idea, but Zeller was quick to double-team the MSU big man and force him to pick up his dribble. Very rarely do big men in college possess a great ability to pass the ball out of a double team, especially if a seven-footer with quick hands is trying to swat the ball from behind. Nix scored just eight points in each of the two games against Indiana. The zone combined with smart defensive positioning has helped Zeller stay out of foul trouble and this strategy could be used against any other team that has a similarly versatile forward in the low post.

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