Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Spartans named to All-Big Ten Teams

Yesterday the All-Big Ten Coaches and Media selections were announced. Gary Harris was honored with a All-Big Ten first team selection by the Coaches and Media. Harris also was selected to the Big Ten All-Defensive team.

Adreian Payne was selected to the All-Big Ten second team by the Coaches and Media. Had Payne not missed seven games he surely would have been a first team selection. Odds are that AP will be carrying a huge chip on his shoulder during this week's conference tournament. Let's hope for a Wisconsin-Michigan State Semifinal game. The Payne v. Frank Kaminsky match up will be interesting. In their lone match up both Payne dominated the Badgers scoring 24 points in a buzzer beat loss.

Keith Appling and Denzel Valentine were named All-Big Ten honorable mention. A disappointing selection for Appling who had first team aspirations at the start of conference play. The wrist injury played a role in affecting the way Appling played the 2nd half of the season.

Had Michigan State won the Big Ten regular season conference title Gary Harris would surely have been selected as Big Ten Player of the Year. As is stands the award tends to sway towards the conference champ. I would argue that there is no player as talented and complete as the Spartan's Harris. Michigan's Nik Stauskas is a great player in his own right, but does not have the ability to affect the game offensively and defensively that way Harris does.

The All-Big Ten selections are below:

All-Big Ten first team (Coaches and Media): Roy Devyn Marble, Iowa; Nik Stauskas, Michigan; Gary Harris, Michigan State; Terran Petteway, Nebraska; Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin.
All-Big Ten second team (Media): Yogi Ferrell, Indiana; Caris LeVert, Michigan; Adreian Payne, Michigan State; Aaron Craft, Ohio State; D.J. Newbill, Penn State.
All-Big Ten second team (Coaches): Yogi Ferrell, Indiana; Caris LeVert, Michigan; Adreian Payne, Michigan State; D.J. Newbill, Penn State; Sam Dekker, Wisconsin.
All-Big Ten third team (Coaches): Noah Vonleh, Indiana; Aaron White, Iowa; Aaron Craft, Ohio State; LaQuinton Ross, Ohio State; Tim Frazier, Penn State.
Honorable Mention All-Big Ten (Coaches): Rayvonte Rice, Illinois;
Glenn Robinson III, Michigan; Keith Appling, Michigan State; Denzel Valentine, Michigan State; Andre Hollins, Minnesota; Shavon Shields, Nebraska; Drew Crawford, Northwestern A.J. Hammons, Purdue; Ben Brust, Wisconsin.
All-Defensive team (Coaches): Gary Harris, Michigan State; Aaron Craft, Ohio State; Shannon Scott, Ohio State; A.J. Hammons, Purdue; Josh Gasser, Wisconsin.
All-Big Ten freshman team (Coaches): Kendrick Nunn, Illinois; Noah Vonleh, Indiana; Derrick Walton, Jr., Michigan; Kendall Stephens, Purdue; Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin.
Player of the Year: Nik Stauskas, Michigan
Coach of the Year (Coaches): Tim Miles, Nebraska
Coach of the Year (Media): John Beilein, Michigan
Freshman of the Year: Noah Vonleh, Indiana
Defensive Player of the Year: Aaron Craft, Ohio State
Sixth Man of the Year (Coaches): Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin

Monday, March 10, 2014

Spartans Tripped up on the Road

Craft gets it done against Appling on Senior Day (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

If Gary Harris buries a last second 17 foot jumper to force overtime on the road against Ohio State we would be telling a much different story. In the aftermath of losing a tough game against the Buckeyes on their Senior Day, the Spartans are left wondering how they could have let the game slip.

After an impressive win against Iowa at home last Thursday, the Michigan State Spartan Basketball team had plenty of confidence going in to Sunday's match up against Ohio State in Columbus.

The Spartans looked fresh to start the game, but it was quite clear after the 1st half that Aaron Craft and the Buckeyes were not going to back down. MSU showed their strength as a shooting team by hitting 6 of their 10 three pointers in the 1st half. OSU scored most of their points in the paint and seemed to beat MSU to the ball especially on offensive rebounds.

After controlling much of the 2nd half the Spartans were unable to build a large lead despite the Buckeyes going on a long FG drought. With under 4 minutes remaining the Spartans were finally undone. The score was tied 67 - 67 with 3:48 left in the game. MSU would not make another basket as both teams struggled to the finish. In the last two minutes MSU turned the ball over 3 times. Keith Appling dribbled the ball off of his foot, Adreian Payne lost the ball in traffic on a post up and Denzel Valentine turned in over on a ill-advised drive to the basket.  Despite those turnovers, the Spartans were kept a live by poor free throw shooting by OSU who went 2 for 6 in the final 37 seconds.  However, the two made free throws by Amir Williams and Aaron Craft would prove to be the difference. The officiating was wildly inconsistent with the Buckeyes shooting 21 more free throws, but it was the 16 turnovers that doomed MSU. You just can not win on the road in the Big Ten turning it over that much. 

This is another frustrating lose for MSU players, coaches and fans. The talent seems to be there, but the ability to close teams out has been lost. Keith Appling seems to be deferring to his teammates a lot more especially at Ohio State. As much as he is trying to get others going, he must regain the offensive aggressiveness he had had prior to the wrist injury. Coach Izzo explained last week that it was more about Applings mental state then his wrist injury. Ohio State marked a step back in his progress.

With post season play starting this week, there are more questions then answers and for the Spartans time is not on their side.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Spartan Basketball Back on Track

Photo courtesy of www.facebook.com/MSUathletics
Spartan Nation was in a frenzy after a brief two game losing streak, but that all changed Thursday night when the Michigan State Spartans finally returned to their pre-injury form. 

On Senior Night the Spartans were able to send off Keith Appling, Adreian Payne and Dan Chapman in style with a 86-76 victory over the 24th ranked Iowa Hawkeyes.

The shooting in the first half was on full display for both teams as they traded baskets. Iowa's Roy Devyn Marble was brilliant in the 1st half hitting step back jumpers with ease. Marble's 16 points were the main reason Iowa was able to take a 2 point lead in to the half. The other reason for the Spartans not having a lead after shooting 54% in the 1st half was 9 costly turnovers. Denzel Valentine led the way for the Spartans in the 1st half with 10 points, 7 assists and 5 rebounds.

Going in to the 2nd half the team that played the best defense was going to win the game. In vintage fashion the Spartan defense finally showed up. MSU did not allow a basket until the 15:49 mark after they had built a 7 point lead. Iowa would continue to battle back, but the Spartans answered ever Iowa basket with a scoring run and defensive stops.

Trice hit 3 of 4 from downtown
Photo courtesy of www.facebook.com/MSUathletics
It was truly a sight to see the Spartans playing together on defense and offense. The 2nd half stars were Travis Trice and Keith Appling. Both looked in control and made perfect decisions with the shot clock running down late in the game. Trice would score 14 of his 17 points in the 2nd half. Appling who put up a doughnut in the 1st half finally realized it was Senior Night and returned to his attacking style of offense scoring 12 points and more importantly hit two 3 pointers. 

Branden Dawson had an impactful game with 8 points, 7 rebounds, 5 steals and 3 blocks. This is the type of performance they have been missing for 10 games. Kenny Kaminski hit two timely threes and Gary Harris was very solid scoring 12 points on 5 of 8 shooting.

Dawson block party
Photo courtesy of www.facebook.com/MSUathletics

Adreian Payne found his shooting touch on Senior Night hitting multiple mid-range jumpers which included one 3 pointer. He finished with 14 points and 4 rebounds.

On a nationally televised game the Michigan State Spartans showed the country what kind of team they can be when they are healthy and playing together. The Spartans nearly had 6 players score in double figures. The 28 made field goals came off of 20 assists. This is the kind of cohesive play Tom Izzo has been looking for. With a road game against Ohio State on Sunday and the Big Ten Tournament upcoming there is still plenty of time and games left for MSU to relearn how elite they can be.

Thank You Seniors!
Photo courtesy of www.facebook.com/MSUathletics

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Spartan Nation Bids Farewell to Appling & Payne

Photo courtesy of www.facebook.com/MSUathletics

Senior night at the Breslin Center has always meant something to the Michigan State Basketball team and their fans. For the past 15 years Tom Izzo has had to say good-bye to some prominent seniors in his time. The foundation of this program has been built by senior classes led by players like Antonio Smith, Mateen Cleaves, Morris Peterson, Charlie Bell, Andre Hutson, Alan Anderson, Drew Nitzel, Kalin Lucas, Durrell Summers and Draymond Green.

In today's current college landscape Michigan State is a unique basketball powerhouse in that they rely on senior players and leadership in order to be successful. In the era where 5-star one and done talent is the norm for success, Tom Izzo has built a program based on player patience and growth. No two players have exemplified this like Keith Appling and Adreian Payne.

Keith Appling came to MSU as an accomplished high school player. As a junior he led his Detroit Pershing High School team to a Michigan High School Athletic Association Class A State Championship and set a single game scoring record in the championship game by netting 49 points. Appling was named Mr. Basketball as a senior and later was selected to 2010 McDonald's All-American team.

Former 5-star recruit Adreian Payne was perhaps one of Coach Izzo's most sought after recruits. Despite hard pushes from Kentucky, Arizona and West Virginia Payne announced his commitment to the Spartans on ESPNU. As a high school senior Payne led his Jefferson High School team in Dayton, OH to a Division IV state title. At the end of his senior season he was named first team All-Area in Dayton.

As a freshman Appling earned playing time right way because of his defensive abilities. Playing behind Kalin Lucas and Korie Lucious relieved Appling of the pressures that a lot highly touted recruits face. In his debut Appling scored 14 points and dished out 3 assists. Keith would go on to crack the starting line-up that season where he shined in conference play scoring 19 points against Northwestern and 18 against Iowa both in winning efforts. The tough defense and double digit scoring outputs showed the potential Appling possessed. He finished his freshman year averaging 6.4 points, 2.8 rebounds and shot 41% from three. Appling's sophomore season was filled with high expectations. Because of the Korie Lucious dismissal, Appling was thrust in to the starting point guard role. At his size it appeared to be an easy transition, but the reality was that Appling played off the ball most of his freshman year and his natural position was shooting guard. The transition was tough and the growing pains were apparent. The turnovers and lack of understanding of the point guard position drew plenty of media and fan criticism.

The freshman season for Adreian Payne was a different story. As hyped as high school he was, Payne struggled to find his way on the court. His lack of conditioning and general understanding of the offense and defense led to a lack of minutes. During that year Payne played no more then 17 minutes and scored in double digits just twice. Adreian finished the year averaging an unimpressive 2.5 points and 2.4 rebounds a game. What many failed to realize was that Payne suffered a dislocated shoulder before his freshman season and was unable to build his strength and conditioning during the off season. Despite the injury many wondered what type of player Payne would become.

The first full season for Appling and Payne was quite a learning experience. They joined a team that was coming off of back to back Final Fours and was ranked #2 in the preseason polls. Despite all of the returning talent and experience the Spartans faltered in to a mediocre season finishing the regular season 19-14. As a 10 seed the Spartans were ousted in the first round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament by 7th seeded UCLA. It quite a waking up moment for both players as well as the entire team. They experienced dealing with expectations and taking every teams best shot.

After almost three full seasons Keith Appling and Adreian Payne have become household college basketball names and All-American candidates.  The improvement they showed year after year is a testament of how staying in college can actually improve you as a player and a person. Appling has finally become the vocal point guard and leader Izzo urged him to be. While Payne has become one of the most versatile and dominant forwards in the country. Even more impressive then what he has done on the court, Payne became a Big Ten Academic All American despite being diagnosed with ADHD (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WRmUB_OwJS4). Both seniors have showed ability to take over games and lead which is a long from where they were at in 2010. Appling stayed patient in his game and Payne grew in to an NBA power forward.

As freshman Appling and Payne watched Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers end their senior year in  failure. Appling and Payne are seeking to follow the legacy of every four year player reaching a Final Four in the Izzo era. After making back to back Sweet Sixteens the pressure is definitely on for them and their team. 

When watching the game tonight versus Iowa take a minute to think about the hard work Adreian Payne and Keith Appling have put in not only to better themselves but to best represent Spartans everywhere.

Senior Night is about appreciation. It's about completion. It's about reflection. It's about number 11 and number 5 taking the court at the Breslin Center for the last time.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Don't Bury These Spartans

Photo courtesy of www.facebook.com/MSUathletics
The goal of a Big Ten Regular Season Championship is gone. Worse yet the team from Ann Arbor will be hoisting a Big Ten Champions banner in a year when expectations for the Spartans were at an all-time high.

The inconsistent month of February has bruised the confidence of players and fans. Losing 6 out of the last 10 games has sent the Spartans in to a unfamiliar position that they have not been in since the disastrous 2010 - 2011 season. Remember that season started off with the Spartans ranked #2 as well.

Unlike the 2010 - 2011 Spartan Basketball team, these current Spartans are not going away. As a matter of fact there are still believers in Michigan State winning it all, especially in Las Vegas where the Spartans are currently 8 to 1 to win the NCAA Tournament. They have the 4th best odds only trailing Florida (9/2), Kansas (6/1) and Arizona (7/1). If Vegas believes, so should you!

There are many excuses that Coach Tom Izzo can make about why this regular season has gone terribly wrong. The injuries, missed practices and the 17 different starting lineups. In fairness to this team, they have not played together since early January. Losing almost two months of playing together as a whole unit has had a very negative effect, even with a team as talented and experienced as Michigan State.

So why still believe that Michigan State will cut down the nets in Arlington, TX?

1.) When 100% healthy there is no team in the country as talented and as deep as MSU.

Gary Harris and Adreian Payne will be first round draft picks in the NBA this June. Keith Appling has a chance to get drafted and at the very least get a summer league tryout. Branden Dawson perhaps the most NBA looking of the bunch needs improvement in his overall skills set, but the intangibles he brings on offense and defense are as valuable as a sharpshooting 3 point specialist. With those four core players Izzo has the luxury of rotating a 5th starter in and out based on match ups which will be very valuable come tournament time.

The one positive that came out from the rash of injuries the Spartans have endured is that other guys have stepped up like Denzel Valentine, Travis Trice and Matt Costello. True freshman Gavin Schilling and Alvin Ellis who might not have gotten a lot of minutes gained valuable experience in Big Ten play. However, the Spartans did have all of their players suited up against Illinois and still lost at home. As painful as that was for those players to experience it was a much needed lesson. Just showing up against a unranked opponent will not simply cause you to win. It takes togetherness and cohesion to win in the Big Ten and especially in the NCAA Tournament.

2.) This is the best shooting team Tom Izzo has ever had.

As much as Coach Izzo would prefer to be a rebounding and inside scoring team he knows that is not his teams strength. There are six legitimate three point threats on offense.  The game at Purdue showed that this team is capable of extraordinary things when the ball goes in from three. If you have watched this team the whole season you will realize this is a jump shooting team with very good athletes on the perimeter.

Being a jump shoot first team is a risky proposition for success. However, I'd argue that the Spartans have won more games because of shooting. They have been able to overcome deficiencies rebounding and scoring inside with great three point shooting. The tournament is built for teams that can shoot it from three. As Michigan and Louisville showed last year, three point shooting can keep you in games but it can also crush your competition.

If the Spartans can regain their consistency from the outside and couple that with tough defense there is no one in the country that will want to see them in their bracket (do you hear me Wichita State!).

3.) The pressure of winning the Big Ten is off their shoulders early.

With two games left against quality opponents (Iowa and Ohio State) they can truly focus on getting better as a team without worrying about what other teams are doing to impact the conference title. The embarrassment of losing homes games to Nebraska and Illinois and bowing to the Wolverines twice should provide enough chips on everyone's shoulder to finally play angry. These player understand that there is plenty of opportunity to regain traction this season.

4.) The last Michigan State team to make the Final Four lost 8 games.

In 2010 the Spartans finished 24-8 and were bounced out of the Big Ten Tournament in the quarterfinals by Minnesota. So we have seen this kind of season play out before. A few struggles going in to March with the media and fans questioning the quality of Michigan State Basketball. The Spartans are currently 22-7 and if my math is right that means they will finish somewhere near that 24-8 mark.

5.) Hope this image below gives everyone a little more reason to believe: