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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Rushed Reactions: #7 Connecticut 60, #4 Michigan State 54

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 30th, 2014

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Brian Otskey (@botskey) is RTC’s NCAA East Regional correspondent.

Three key takeaways.

  1. Vintage Connecticut. Kevin Ollie only took over the Connecticut job last season but he has wasted no time in carrying on Jim Calhoun’s legacy of hard-nosed defense. The Huskies limited Michigan State to 39.1 percent shooting and, more importantly, kept them out of the paint and off the free throw line. It was a game of runs with Connecticut jumping out to an early lead, Michigan State firing back and the Huskies eventually closing the door. The Huskies did a great job limiting any dribble penetration by the Spartans and swarmed Adreian Payne any time he touched the ball deep in the post. In the end, it was consistent defense and a great game plan by Kevin Ollie and his players that carried them to the win.
  2. Michigan State couldn’t get anything inside.  For the game, Michigan State was limited to six points in the paint. With Gary Harris (who had a great game) content to shoot jumpers and Keith Appling still bothered by a nagging injury, the Spartans got very little, if any, dribble penetration. When they looked for Payne in the post, he was double or even tripled teamed at times. After a great game against Virginia on Friday night, Branden Dawson (five points) was a non-factor against the physical Huskies. With Michigan State content on shooting jumpers (29 of its 46 shots were three pointers), it also had great difficulty getting to the free throw line. The inability to score inside and get to the line was Michigan State’s downfall in this game.
  3. The free throw line made the difference. Coming into the game, more focus was on the great perimeter shooting both teams featured. That proved not to be the deciding factor in any way as Michigan State was 15 percentage points better than Connecticut from deep. However, it was the free throw line that won this one for the Huskies. Connecticut made 21-of-22 free throws (95.5 percent) while Michigan State only made eight trips to the charity stripe. The Spartans, who entered today’s action ranked an abysmal No. 316 in free throw rate, simply shot too many jumpers and never adjusted to what the Huskies were doing defensively in the paint. With Appling’s injury still being a factor, Michigan State just could not get any dribble penetration and their half court offense looked rather stagnant. Give the Huskies credit for not fouling, too. They recorded only 12 fouls for the game.

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East Region Final Analysis: Michigan State vs. Connecticut

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 30th, 2014

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#4 Michigan State vs. #7 Connecticut – East Regional Final (at New York, NY) – 2:20 PM ET on CBS

Cinderella story Connecticut is on the precipice of its fifth Final Four in school history, but to get there the Huskies will have to get past a focused group of Spartans. Michigan State outlasted Virginia on Friday evening in what was a good old-fashioned slugfest. Should the Spartans get past the Huskies on Sunday afternoon in New York, Tom Izzo’s streak of sending every four-year player he has coached at Michigan State to a Final Four will continue.

Can Izzo Lead The Spartans To Another Final Four?

While Connecticut has rebounded the basketball very well in this tournament, it has to be a concern for Kevin Ollie ahead of this game. The statistics show Michigan State is a much better rebounding team and that will result in crucial bonus possessions for the Spartans if it proves to be the case. As always, Izzo’s teams pride themselves on toughness, defense and rebounding. On the boards, the athletic Spartans have a significant edge. The Huskies will need DeAndre Daniels to have a similar game to the one he had against Iowa State on Friday, although going up against Adreian Payne and company will be much more difficult than an undersized and shorthanded Iowa State group. Offensively, Connecticut must shoot the ball well from the perimeter and get good dribble penetration from Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier. A combination of those two things is the only way the Huskies can open up the floor and break down Michigan State’s defense. Napier, who has been turnover-prone over his career, must take good care of the basketball as to not fuel the lethal Spartans transition game.

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Rushed Reactions: #4 Michigan State 61, #1 Virginia 59

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 28th, 2014

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Brian Otskey is RTC’s NCAA East Regional correspondent.

Three key takeaways.

Adreian Payne and Sparty advanced to Sunday in a hard fought game. (AP Photo/Al Goldis).

Adreian Payne and Sparty advanced to Sunday in a hard fought game. (AP Photo/Al Goldis).

  1. A heavyweight fight. It was a shame that one of these teams had to go home. This game seemed more like a national semifinal than a regional semifinal when you combine the quality of play and the atmosphere in the arena. The defense from both sides was incredible as neither team took a single play off. It was a great battle between two coaches who have instilled heart, toughness and a commitment to defense into their respective programs. The Spartans were down a possession or two most of the early part of the second half but never once packed it in. They kept going to what was working and that was Branden Dawson in the paint. This relentless attitude was also on display when looking at Virginia. All in all, what a tremendous regional semifinal this was. The Spartans earned this victory.
  2. Michigan State discovered the low post. In a game packed with bruising defense on both sides, the Spartans out-toughed the Cavaliers on the low block. Dawson and Adreian Payne in particular were phenomenal and threw down some thunderous dunks in the process. A second half 13-2 MSU run sparked the comeback and the Spartans guards found their forwards with terrific penetration and interior passing to boot. Sparty scored 30 points in the paint to Virginia’s 22.Tom Izzo’s team had the look of a determined team from the beginning of this game and came up big in a terrific 40-minute effort that looked like the vintage Izzo teams of the past.
  3. Defense is the name of the game in March. Countless times we have seen mediocre defensive teams get bounced out of the NCAA tournament early, including Creighton and Duke this season. There is a reason that, in the Ken Pomeroy advanced statistics era, elite defensive teams win the national championship. Both teams fit that bill tonight but Michigan State was just a little bit better for all 40 minutes. While Michigan State entered the game with an adjusted defensive efficiency ranked No. 40 nationally, the effort tonight shows that if the Spartans are to lose, it likely will not be because of failings on the defensive end.

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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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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen, Friday Night

Posted by Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) & Brian Otskey (@botskey) on March 28th, 2014

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Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Region correspondent, and Brian Otskey (@botskey) is the NCAA Tournament’s East Region correspondent. Make sure to also follow @RTCMidwestRegion and @RTCEastRegion for news and analysis from Indianapolis and New York City throughout the weekend.

#2 Michigan vs. #11 Tennessee – Midwest Region Sweet 16 (from Indianapolis, IN) – at 7:15 PM EST on CBS

Tennessee was not supposed to be in this position. It barely found its way into the NCAA Tournament. In fact, the Volunteers had to travel to Dayton last Wednesday to take on Iowa to even advance to the round of 64. Tennessee got by the Hawkeyes in overtime and that was only the beginning of its winning ways. In Raleigh, Cuonzo Martin’s squad was able to throttle Massachusetts and take advantage of Duke’s stunning loss to Mercer by dismantling Bob Hoffman’s Bears in the round of 32 to advance to the Sweet 16. Leading the way thus far for Tennessee has been the spectacular play of forward Jarnell Stokes. The junior has been nothing short of dominant in the team’s recent run, as he is averaging 20.3 points and 15 rebounds in his last three games. The Volunteers have also received a lift from guard Josh Richardson. The junior, who averaged 10.1 points per game in the regular season, has stepped up his play in the tournament, as he is averaging 19.3 points per contest. As a team, the Volunteers’ performance on the rebounding glass has aided tremendously in taking them to the Sweet 16. Tennessee has been an excellent rebounding team all season and its rebounding prowess was never more on display than in Sunday’s victory over Mercer. The Volunteers had a sensational 41-19 rebounding advantage over the Bears in the winning effort.

Expect plenty of fireworks between these two guys Friday night. (Getty & USA TODAY Sports)

Expect plenty of fireworks between these two guys Friday night. (Getty & USA TODAY Sports)

Michigan will take the court in Indianapolis after a relatively easy first weekend in Milwaukee. The Wolverines cruised to a 17-point victory in the round of 64 over an undermanned Wofford squad before wearing down Texas in a 14-point victory. John Beilein’s team has been an outstanding perimeter shooting offense and that has carried over into the postseason. The Wolverines hit a combined 21 three-pointers in the two victories. Big Ten Player of the Year Nik Stauskas hit seven of those 21 triples an was the team’s leading scorer in each victory. Michigan’s frontcourt has been seen as a concern since sophomore big man Mitch McGary was lost to a back injury in late December, but forward Jordan Morgan showed he is a capable post presence with his performances in Milwaukee. The senior averaged 12.5 points and 10 rebounds against Wofford and Texas, while living up to his reputation as a solid interior defender. In Friday’s game, it should be expected that both teams will play to their strengths. Tennessee will try to use its size advantage to the dominate the interior and Michigan will attempt to get its perimeter shooting going early and often. Texas had a great advantage over Michigan in size too, but the Wolverines were able to wear the Longhorn bigs down through a terrific transition effort and solid offensive spacing. It would be wise to expect Michigan to do the same Friday. Tennessee will keep close throughout much of the game, but the shot-making ability of Stauskas, Caris LeVert, and Glenn Robinson III will ultimately be too much for the Volunteers to overcome. Two-seed Michigan will win the game to advance to its second straight Elite Eight.

The RTC Certified Pick: Michigan

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Which Big Ten Program Needs The Final Four More This Season?

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on March 27th, 2014

We know about the statistic that no Michigan State senior has left East Lansing without making it to the Final Four under Tom Izzo, which makes this weekend extremely crucial for Keith Appling and Adreian Payne. We also know that Bo Ryan hasn’t made an Elite Eight since 2005 and hasn’t had great success in the postseason, so this high-powered Wisconsin offense has a decent chance to make it to the Final Four. Nobody expected Michigan to be here after Mitch McGary’s injury, but we have learned not to doubt the Wolverines’ explosive offense because they could beat anybody on a given night. As we head into the next round of games, let’s try to understand which coach and program really needs the Final Four. Note that this is not a discussion about which coach would be on the “hot seat” if they don’t make the Final Four because Tom Izzo, Bo Ryan and John Beilein’s seat is as cold as it can get based on the credibility they have earned with their respective programs.

Tom Izzo's roster doesn't look great next year and the opportunity to make the Final Four may not come around for a couple more years.

Tom Izzo’s roster doesn’t look great next year and the opportunity to make the Final Four may not come around for a couple more years. (AP)

  • Michigan State: On the outset, an appearance in the Sweet 16 seems to be perfectly enough for Izzo because his program continues to uphold its reputation of being excellent in the postseason. But digging deeper and understanding his roster’s composition over the next two seasons emphasizes the importance of this weekend. Under the assumption that Gary Harris is headed to the NBA draft and considering that two key seniors graduate next year, the Spartans don’t really have a go-to scorer left on the roster. Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice are capable of possibly averaging 12 points per game next season but neither of them have proved that they can take over a game when needed. The freshman class isn’t great either because it doesn’t even rank in the top 30 according to Rivals. Izzo will still find a way to compete for the Big Ten title but he may not have enough horsepower to compete for a Final Four — at least not for another two seasons. This weekend is their chance to make an impact and get ahead before they take a step back at least for another year as they rebuild. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten M5: 03.27.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on March 27th, 2014

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  1. Wisconsin is certainly used to the Sweet Sixteen and plenty of success under Bo Ryan. Part of the reason for that is how Ryan instills the “method of deception” into his players from the moment they arrive on campus. For a team that is often talked about as athletically outmatched, the idea of Ryan preaching the use of ball fakes and shot fakes during every practice makes sense. This could be important in creating opportunities against Baylor’s zone tonight. The Badgers may also use these fakes to get Isaiah Austin into the air and create foul trouble for the athletic big man. If Wisconsin can remove Austin from the center of that zone, their chances of finding open shots everywhere on the floor improves substantially.
  2. Nik Stauskas certainly was one of the biggest surprises this season in the Big Ten. After he was named first team All-America by the National Association of Basketball Coaches this week, you can add that he is one of the nation’s biggest surprises as well. Stauskas was certainly a good player as a freshman last season but expecting him to be one of the five best players in America this year was on nobody’s radar. With this award, he has put himself in elite company at Michigan, becoming just the 13th Wolverine to be named to at least one All-America team in program history. Now the question is whether he, like last year’s Michigan All-American Trey Burke, can lead his team to a Final Four?
  3. Michigan State has played plenty of big games in almost all the major venues across the country. Tom Izzo has taken the Spartans around the world and even played a game on an aircraft carrier. For all of this talent and history of success, the one place that Izzo’s Spartans have struggled is exactly where they are headed this weekend: Madison Square Garden. When Michigan State takes on Virginia in New York City Friday night, it does so with a 2-10 all-time record there (2-6 under Izzo). Sparty hasn’t won at MSG since 2006 and already lost there once this year to Georgetown. While it is obviously foolish to think the arena itself is causing losses, it is an interesting trend to think about. Izzo says he isn’t superstitious but if the losses keep piling up at MSG maybe he will avoid the arena the best he can in the future.
  4. With three Big Ten teams left in the NCAA Tournament it is easy to forget that Minnesota is still playing basketball as well. The Golden Gophers are headed to New York next Tuesday night where they will take on Florida State in the NIT semifinals, thanks in large part to a massive game from Austin Hollins. For a team playing in the NIT rather than the NCAAs, they are still plenty focused on the games ahead and getting to 25 wins this season. While there is no guaranteed correlation between NIT success and the next season, Richard Pitino’s Gophers are playing well and could easily take home some postseason hardware by the end of the season.
  5. It is easy to forget that Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan has never reached the final weekend in college basketball despite everything he has accomplished while at Wisconsin. Having never reached the Final Four gives him the dubious honor of being named the Athlon Sports Top Coach Without a Final Four Appearance. He wasn’t the lone representative from the conference, either. Iowa’s Fran McCaffery came in 11th, Purdue’s Matt Painter at 14th and even Nebraska’s Tim Miles cracked the top 20 at #17. This is certainly not a list any coach wants to reside on and Ryan has a great opportunity to leave it in his wake this weekend.
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Big Ten Teams in the Sweet Sixteen: Three Key Match-ups

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 26th, 2014

Considering Wisconsin and Michigan State both had tough match-ups in the round of 32, the Big Ten advancing three teams into the Sweet Sixteen is an accomplishment. In case you are keeping tabs, the Big Ten has done relatively well with its draw — #11 seeds Iowa and Nebraska weren’t expected to do much, and really only #6 Ohio State’s loss to Dayton was disappointing. Keeping in mind that only one ACC team is still alive (Virginia) and the Pac-12 and SEC also sent three teams to the second weekend, the Big Ten is in solid position right now. Now, each of the three teams remaining — Michigan, Michigan State, and Wisconsin — have very tough opponents in the next round, so the wheels could come off and the league could end it season with a mediocre 6-6 record; or, each of the three has a reasonable shot to make a run at the Final Four this weekend.

Let’s take a look at these three match-ups that are key to each team winning its next game.

Adreian Payne will be key inside for the Spartans as they meet the Virginia Cavaliers in the next round. (AP Photo/Al Goldis).

Adreian Payne will be key inside for the Spartans as they meet Virginia in the next round. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

  1. Adreian Payne vs. Virginia’s big guys: The blueprint for the Cavaliers is fairly clear: Everything starts with their excellent defense, as indicated by opponents averaging just 43.1% eFG against them during ACC play. They will try to smother Gary Harris and Keith Appling from the outside, forcing the Spartans to earn a win from inside the arc. That’s where Adreian Payne needs to help out Tom Izzo. He needs to abstain from using his jumper in favor of leveraging his post moves in the paint. Shooting jumpers off the pick-and-roll will be tough because Virginia’s wings — Malcolm Brogdon and Joe Harris — will be quick enough to cover those, so Payne needs to play well with his back to the basket. Payne has shown signs of brilliance with his moves in the paint at times, but he’ll have to provide some breathing room for his guards by picking up the offense early; otherwise, the game could be a defensive grind that favors the Cavaliers. Read the rest of this entry »
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NCAA Regional Reset: East Region

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 26th, 2014

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Brian Otskey (@botskey) is the NCAA Tournament’s East Region correspondent, which begins Friday night at Madison Square Garden in New York City with Iowa State vs. Connecticut followed by Virginia vs. Michigan State. The South Regional Reset and the West Regional Reset published yesterday, and the Midwest Regional Reset earlier today. Make sure to also follow @RTCEastRegion for news and analysis from New York throughout the weekend.

Madison Square Garden will host the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1961.

Madison Square Garden will host the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1961.

New Favorite: #1 Virginia. You can conceivably make an argument for any of the four teams to come out of this region and advance to Arlington but I picked Virginia as the favorite when the brackets came out so there is no reason I should change at this point. Could the Cavaliers lose to Michigan State? Of course they could. But they have been the better team this year and earned that #1 seed for a reason. The Wahoos got the top seed jitters out of their system in a closer-than-expected opening round encounter with Coastal Carolina and proceeded to dispatch Memphis in methodical yet impressive fashion on Sunday night. With a stifling defense and an offense better than most observers give it credit for, top-seeded Virginia remains the team to beat in this region.

Horse of Darkness: #7 Connecticut. The Huskies survived St. Joe’s and dismantled Villanova in the second half on Saturday night thanks in large part to the Shabazz Napier Show (25 points). Connecticut is back at Madison Square Garden for the first time since winning the 2KSports Classic this past November, a place where it has been highly successful over previous years in the Big East. This team may very well have the biggest fan presence of the four teams in this region given the school’s proximity to New York and history of success in the building. It is never wise to count out a team with a star player and intangibles going in its favor, despite being the lowest seeded team remaining in the region.

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Michigan State Appears Back on Track: Delaware Its Latest Test

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on March 20th, 2014

If you had said you were tired of hearing one phrase in the Big Ten this season, it likely would have revolved around Michigan State. It was repeated nearly every game: “When Michigan State is healthy, the Spartans are one of the best teams in the country.” Well, after an injury-plagued regular season, we finally got the chance to see what the Spartans can do at full strength in last weekend’s Big Ten Tournament. Two wins later over teams that came into Indianapolis in the conversations as potential No. 1 seeds, America was fully back on board with the Spartans. As of this writing, Michigan State is considered the favorite to make it to the Final Four out of the East region and one of a handful of teams considered likeliest to win it all. Even President Obama is picking the Spartans. The question, of course, is whether the Big Ten Tournament revealed the true answer to that original statement, and whether Sparty’s opening round game against Delaware today is just the first step on its way to Arlington.

The Spartans may finally be healthy but Michigan State needs Keith Appling to play back to his pre-injury level for a deep March run. (Leon Halip/Getty Images North America)

The Spartans may finally be healthy but Michigan State needs Keith Appling to play back to his pre-injury level for a deep March run. (Leon Halip/Getty Images North America)

Perhaps the best sign that Michigan State is back to an elite level is that it seemed to get better as the Big Ten Tournament went along. Over the Spartans’ three games, it appeared that they were slowly but surely getting back on track. In its first game against Northwestern, it methodically took care of business against an outmatched Wildcats team. In the semifinal against Wisconsin, Michigan State showed its offensive flair by shooting 53.8 percent from three and 56.9 percent overall. Most notably was its performance in the championship game against Michigan, as Sparty held the one of the nation’s best offenses to 31 percent shooting and 26 percent from three-point range. This is a sea change for a team that had been struggling defensively prior to the return of Dawson.

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Keeping Up Appearances: This Postseason is Important For the Big Ten

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on March 20th, 2014

What a difference a year can make. On the morning of the opening of the 2013 NCAA Tournament there was considerable discussion about potentially seeing two or maybe even three Big Ten teams in the Final Four. There was plenty of buzz about the chances of several conference contenders like Michigan, Indiana and Michigan State making a deep run into April. Future lottery picks such as Trey Burke, Mitch McGary, Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller were household names. This year, on the same morning of the opening of the 2014 NCAA Tournament, the league is in a different place. Except for Michigan State, a team that finally appears to be healthy, Big Ten teams aren’t being touted very highly. The rest of the squads have the appearance of, at best, second weekend teams, and at worst, early upset victims. All of this leads to one question heading into the Round of 64: What are the reasonable expectations for Big Ten teams, and will the overall reputation of the conference be damaged with a poor performance over the next two weeks?

Tom Izzo's team will need to carry the Big Ten's image this March. (Justin Wan/The State News)

Tom Izzo’s team will need to carry the Big Ten’s image this March. (Justin Wan/The State News)

On paper, three teams – Wisconsin, Michigan, and Michigan State – appear to have a shot to make the Final Four. But let’s be honest here; each of these have exhibited their flaws throughout the regular season, and none have consistently proved  that they have the talent to compete for the national title. Neither the Badgers nor the Wolverines have great interior defense, a major weakness that will hurt them against bigger teams such as Arizona or Kansas. The Spartans have the requisite size to compete with those teams, but their sometimes lackadaisical attitude could lead to their demise against a team that just plays harder for 40 minutes. While Tom Izzo deserves the benefit of the doubt because of his multiple-Final Four track record, it remains quite possible that Sparty could fall short. If Michigan State and the other two teams fall short of the Final Four as well, an oh-fer will be a significant blow to the brand of Big Ten basketball.

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