Thursday, March 29, 2012

Spartan Football Springs up this Week


Well, they're baaaaack!

The Michigan State Spartan football teams takes their first step towards preparation for the upcoming 2012 season. The first step towards a championship season for all football programs around the country is spring practice. It is a time for the Spartan players to work on conditioning and develop within the program. Also, the MSU coaching staff will be able to establishing what kind of depth they have on their roster. This is especially an important time for inexperienced players coming in.

All eyes will be on new starting QB red shirt junior Andrew Maxwell as he takes over for three year starter Kirk Cousins. It will be a point of emphasis for Maxwell to build rapport with his receiver core. Although the Spartans are not short on talent from the wide receiver position they are sorely lacking in game experience. Losing 3 senior wide receivers will be a tall order but the current potential replacements may have even more talent then the guys they are replacing. Although Spartan fans will have to wait until the summer to see freshman receivers Aaron Burbridge, Monty Madaris, and Macgarrett Kings Jr. It will be interesting to observe how well Maxwell and transfer WR DeAnthony Arnett mesh together as they will most likely be the 1-2 combo punch in the passing attack this season.

The defense will look to replace key starters DE Jerel Worthy and and SS Trenton Robinson who will both be drafted in the NFL this April. The defensive line was one of the deeper positions for the Spartans last year. However in addition to the loss of Worthy, the Spartans also lost two senior DT, Kevin Pickelman and Johnathan Strayhorn. Look for DT Anthony Rashad White to step up his role in what will be his senior year. He is the only defensive tackle on the current roster who saw significant action. Head coach Mark Dantonio and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi will be looking to evaluate who will be able to fit in to starting roles. Finding out what kind of depth they have at the defensive tackle and safety positions will be key.

Look for more spring practice updates and player profiles in the coming weeks. 


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Final thoughts on MSU Basketball '11 - '12


The clock ran out on the Michigan State Spartan basketball team last Thursday as they bowed out of the NCAA tournament losing to the Louisville Cardinals 57-44. The journey to the sweet 16 was supposed to be a pit stop on the path to what would have been Tom Izzo's 7th Final Four appearance. But as we have learned time and time again in the NCAA tournament anything that can happen will happen. Perhaps it was just an unlucky draw playing a hot team in Louisville or maybe it was the Branden Dawson injury that left the Spartans more then just a player short. Whatever the reason, we will never see this team reach its potential in the tournament. Which is a shame based on what kind of regular season Coach Izzo and his team put together.

MSU basketball had a great season that did not end up with a Final Four or national title. That is a strange thing to say considering Spartan fans are used to up and down regular seasons that end with deep tournament runs. Without reaching the Final Four, the Spartans still earned their share of hardware. The Big Ten regular season and tournament championships represented the return of Michigan State basketball after taking last year off. Taking in to consideration the Big Ten conference was the best basketball conference in America really proves what kind of team Michigan State really was.

To me the most impressive part of the year was the schedule they played. For an entire season it seemed like the Spartans were playing tournament-type games regularly. The big road wins and the winning streaks all added up to a season full of memorable moments. Credit Izzo for playing a great non-conference and which got his team ready to play a brutal Big Ten regular season schedule. The way the team responded to adversity to pulled out big games especially on the road proven that this team was for real. The young Spartans returned to playing 'Izzo ball', which is tough rebounding and playing tenacious defense. More importantly they returned to playing championship basketball in the Big Ten.

As great as the NCAA tournament is, some times we as fans only look at tournament results to represent success. Fair or unfair, it is how most Spartan fans have been gauging good and bad years. Just looking at the way the season ended for Michigan State without a Final Four would not be doing this year's team any justice.

Nothing was given to the 2011-2012 Michigan State Spartan basketball team as they earned everything they got. A 29 win season. Co-Big Ten regular season champs. Big Ten Tournament champions. A #1 seed and sweet 16 birth in the NCAA tournament. All of this adds up to successful season but more importantly it represents a huge step in the right direction with a still fairly young team that returns most of their core next season. If this year was truly a learning experience then the Big Ten and the rest of college basketball better enjoy the Spartans watching the Final Four on TV this year. If the returning Spartans take their games to the next level with experience, and continue to play with toughness and togetherness the schools 3rd national title could be right around the corner in Atlanta next April. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Scouting the Spartans March to NOLA



Scouting observations from the Spartans first two NCAA tournament games.

1.) The Michigan State depth makes them a contender. In both NCAA tournament games the Spartans had four players score in double figures. As teams will begin to key in on stopping Draymond Green the production of the other key players will be heavily relied on. This team proved over this current 5 game winning streak that they can overcome a lack luster shooting performance from their senior leader.  If the Spartans can continue to get consistent scoring options at multiple positions they might end up being the hardest team to game plan for. Tom Izzo will consistently play 9 or 10 players a game. Productively is simply not just tied to scoring with this team, it's the defensive effort and rebounding that each Spartan taking the floor is expected to excel at. Being able to bring those two elements along with energy makes each substitution just as valuable as the other. After two tournament games key role players, Andreian Payne (10.0) and Derrick Nix (14.0), are averaging double figures. Add in Draymond Green who is averaging 20 points per game and Keith Appling at 14.5 and you start to see the scoring can come from anywhere. (Didn't even mention Brandon Wood who is average 8.5ppg in case you were wondering.)


2.) Keith Appling is going to have to hit his jumper with more consistency if MSU wants a national title. For some time now Appling has been unable to hit open jump shots mainly from 3 point. Granted he did lead MSU in scoring with 19 points off of 7 of 14 shooting on Sunday against Saint Louis. It was laughable how much the Saint Louis defense sagged on Appling in last Sunday's 2nd round match up. They were basically daring him to shoot the ball. Much to Appling's credit he did not deviant from Izzo's offense, but he was within his rights to jack the ball up every time they gave him what seemed like 10 feet of space. Saint Louis coach Rick Majerus was not trying to disrespect Appling or MSU, if anything he put his defender in a position where Appling's speed would not hurt them. The message that sent from the Billikens coach was that 'your point guard is fast and we're not going to be beat off the dribble...oh by the way he can't shoot so we're going to leave him open every time.' Well maybe not that extreme, but certainly it was a defensive strategy that was not used on MSU this year. Look for Louisville and any other upcoming MSU opponent to deploy a similar strategy to take away Appling's speed and penetration. Defenses maybe willing to give up a 3 point attempt to sag an extra defender closer to the paint. When given an open look Appling must make the defense pay. He must overcome the urge to drive to the basket every time which some times creates a even more difficult shot. The Spartan point guard does have a unique ability to score the ball, but his jumper maybe the key to MSU cutting the nets.

3.) Appling, Wood and Trice will be the reason why MSU wins or loses on Thursday against Louisville.  Tom Izzo gave a three guard look with Appling, Brandon Wood and Travis Trice during the 2nd half of the Saint Louis game. It was a smaller look that gave MSU an extra ball handler and jumper shooter. Not sure if Izzo was experimenting knowing that he would be facing Louisville in the next round. I do know that Louisville will pressure the ball full court and set up half court traps against MSU. The Billikens were able to turn the Spartans over so Izzo will need to emphasis the importance of taking care of the ball on Thursday. Louisville is not a great offensive team. They need extra possessions that they get off their defense to make up for a inefficient offense. KemPom.com has the Cardinals rated as the 2nd best team in adjusted defensive efficiency (84.90) but offensively they are rated 116th (104.2). The Spartans are number 3 in adjusted defensive efficient (85.6) and number 8 in adjusted offensive efficiency (116.9). The numbers in parentheses are the number of points scored or allowed per 100 possessions. Basically that means for every 100 possessions Louisville is holding their opponents to about 85 points per 100 possessions and on the flip side MSU is scoring 116 points every 100 possessions. Somethings gotta give right?

The three guard line up of Appling, Wood and Trice will give the Spartans enough ball handling and play making ability to break the Louisville pressure and capitalize in transition. I believe the Spartans will try to play a high scoring game knowing that the Cardinals struggle from the outside shooting 42.5% from the field and only average 68.8 points per game. The Spartans guards should give the offense a potent look that will look to make Louisville pay for over pursuit of the basketball. However, if the Cardinals are able to apply pressure successfully and capitalize on MSU turnovers it's going to be an uphill climb for MSU. Louisville is not an impossible opponent, but it will require a perfect performance from all three Spartan guards to advance to the Elite 8.

4.) Defensive mismatch problems. For the first time since Branden Dawson has been out MSU really needed him on Sunday. Saint Louis forward Dwayne Evans was causing a match up problem down low with Michigan State defenders. The more athletic Evans was able to post up Austin Thornton and Brandon Wood getting easy scores and drawing fouls. When Dawson was on the floor he was clearly the most athletic player on the court. Missing his presence on the defensive end against other athletic 6'6" small forwards could be a major issue going forward. Hopefully there are some adjustments in place like quick double teams and fronting with help defense. Should MSU win on Thursday it sets up possible up coming match ups against Marquette with Jae Crowder (6'6" 235) or Kentucky in the Final Four with Terrance  Jones (6'9" 252) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (6'7" 232). 

5.) Izzo may need to shorten his bench. After the first two games MSU has played 9 or more players. In Sunday's win against Saint Louis Tom Izzo played basically 8 players most of the game. Russell Byrd was sent in the game for a quick minute before being taken out of the game. The importance of having depth has played a key factor in Michigan State's success (see #1). The depth has helped the Spartans recently overcome the huge loss of Branden Dawson to injury. It has helped them development young players and develop continuity with multiple lines ups. Last game Izzo had it about right shortening his rotation to 8 players. It is important for his players to find their rhythm within the chaotic pace of an NCAA tournament game. Keeping players who are in rhythm offensively for extended minutes will be important. Izzo must fight the urge to make substitutions because the clock says it's time. Allowing a rotation of 8 players maybe enough for MSU to get by barring any injuries. 

6.) The free throw shooting might cost MSU a game. This year's Spartan team is not great at shooting free throws. As a team they shoot 70% from the line which is below average by typical standards. Most coaches would like to see their teams above 75%. There have been a hand full of games where MSU has had an opportunity to either close out or stay in a game and poor free throw shooting has prevented both from happening. The game against Saint Louis is a good example of what happens when free throws are missed down the stretch. The Billikans were able to close the gap late in the game with made shots from the outside and MSU missed free throws in one and one bonus situations. Appling, Green and Austin Thornton all missed free throws inside of a minute. Those 3 players are the Spartans best from the line. As the Sweet 16 begins every possession and point will matter. Missed free throws might be a weakness for MSU in a tight game. Through two NCAA tournament games MSU is shooting 17 for 26 from the line, good for 65% which will not get it done. 

7.) Draymond Green is a super star that will be a first round pick in the NBA. A month ago no one was putting Green in the first round of this year's NBA draft. The way Green has stepped up with production and leadership are rare qualities that only a few elite players have. Green looks like someone who can fit in with a young or veteran group and provide leadership. He did it as a freshman and continues to lead as a senior. His versatility on offense removes any question whether or not be can thrive in the NBA. Green's skill set contains all the tools needed to be successful, and he does not have to score to effect a game which is rare. What has really impressed me is his improved ability to hit pull up jumpers from just about anywhere on the floor. Green improved not just over the summer but during the year to develop a consistent jump shot he knew the team needed. That development alone shows a guy willing to get better every day despite receiving accolades and recognition all season long. Green has displayed a will to win that has carried his team in the regular and post season. The triple doubles and double doubles speak for themselves. NBA teams looking to upgrade their small forward spot will be calling this June.  

All photos courtesy of http://www.facebook.com/MSUathletics


Monday, March 19, 2012

Recap: Spartans grind to win the weekend

Photo courtesy of http://www.facebook.com/MSUathletics
The journey started in Columbus, OH and after two NCAA tournament victories in the 2nd and 3rd rounds the Michigan State Spartans advanced to the Sweet 16. It is their 10th second weekend appearance in the past 15 years.

The two wins included a 89-67 victory over the 16th seeded LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds and a 65-61 grinder against the 9th seeded Saint Louis Billikens. In both games the Spartans were tested early and often. Even after holding double digit leads their opponents were able to battle back. Being a number 1 seed has it's advantages when it comes to making a Final Four run, but the pressure and prestige go hand in hand. Each team that comes in front of the Spartans in this year's NCAA tournament will have an opportunity to make history and be remembered forever. Michigan State earned the target on their back, but it's something they have become accustom to playing with ever since Tom Izzo took over the reigns.

The NCAA tournament started late for Michigan State as their game was one of the last to play out last Friday. They had to refocus their attention to the LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds after watching multiple upsets take place, notably two 15 seeds taking out number 2 seeds in earlier 2nd round match ups. As first game began Michigan State dominated the inside play where they had a sizable advantage against LIU. However, the Blackbirds played surprisingly well in the first half as the Spartans clung to a 5 point lead. It wasn't until the 13 minute mark of the 2nd half when MSU finally found their grove and pulled away. The first game of the tournament is always the trickiest but once again this Spartan team takes their opponents' best punch and answers right back. The Spartan front court put on one of their best performances of the season. Draymond Green, Andreian Payne and Derrick Nix totaled for 58 of the 89 points against LIU. Green put in a historic performance against LIU where he recorded his 2nd triple double in an NCAA tournament game. Green had 24 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists and no turnovers in 35 minutes. Now only Oscar Robinson (4), Magic Johnson (2), and Green (2) are the only players to have multiple games with a triple double in the NCAA tournament. The Spartans did not start the game playing like a 1 seed, but they sure ended the game playing like one.

Yesterday's game against the Saint Louis Billikens was a true Big Ten grind it out type of game. Going in to the game the plan for the Rick Majerus led squad was simple, control tempo and "muck up" the game as much as possible. If MSU was going to win it was going to be ugly. The Spartans had plenty of experience with a team like Saint Louis by going up against the Wisconsin Badgers three times earlier this year. The game did start ugly for both teams as they struggled to score against one another. The Spartans were able to lead most of the half but never had a lead larger then 7 points. The 2nd half was more of the same as baskets were trade back and forth. It wasn't until the 12 minute mark when it looked like the Spartan would take control as they build an 11 point lead. However, once again the Billikens fought back to get the score back to single digits with good free throw and three point shooting. With under 3 minutes left Green made a key 18 foot jumper to increase the lead to 4 (55-51) and then on the very next play out of a time out he hit Keith Appling cross court for a 3 point shot that game MSU a 7 point lead. Green's play down the stretch was good enough to essentially seal the game with 1:37 left on the clock.

The Spartans won a close ugly game, but it doesn't have to always be pretty in March. After the Saint Louis game there were no celebrations or jumping around. The Spartans came to Columbus to win two games and move on.

"It's about surviving and advancing," Green said. "That's what we did."

At the beginning of the year making the Sweet 16 may have been  seen as an accomplishment for this young Spartan squad, however the tremendous success of this year's team has changed expectations. Now Michigan State and their fans base is thinking National Championship or bust.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Spartans resume lands #1 seed out West

(Photo courtesy of www.facebook.com/MSUathletics)
After a gritty win yesterday against Ohio State 68-64, the Michigan State Spartans secured a # 1 seed that a week ago seemed to be something they had given up after losing their last 2 regular season Big Ten games.

As fate would have it, everything fell in to place for the Spartans as they advanced to the Big Ten tournament final on Sunday. The winner between the Michigan State and Ohio State final would claim the last remaining #1 seed as Kentucky, Syracuse and North Carolina locked up their #1 seeds securely going in to Selection Sunday.

In looking at the Michigan State resume it becomes evident that playing the toughest schedule in the toughest conference gave them an edge over many teams in that regard. A piece of the Big Ten regular season title was a great resume builder but it was their run to claim the Big Ten tournament championship that essentially put them over the top.

Michigan State ends the regular season ranked #4 in the Coaches Poll and # 5 in the AP. For final polls go to: college basketball rankings

The Spartans also finished #4 in the ESPN College Basketball BPI rankings:
Rk Team Conference D-I W-LBPI Net Pts vs Avg BPI SOS
1KentuckySEC32-2 91.519.067
2SyracuseBig East31-2 89.717.337
3Ohio StateBig Ten27-7 88.115.944
4Michigan StateBig Ten26-7 87.815.713
5North CarolinaACC29-5 87.615.651
6KansasBig 1227-6 87.115.319
7MissouriBig 1230-4 85.013.977
8DukeACC27-6 84.613.64
9Wichita StateMissouri Valley26-5 83.512.982
10MemphisC-USA26-8 83.312.846

For the final BPI rankings go to: ESPN BPI

The final CBSSports.com RPI rankings had the Spartans moved up to #3. Their strength of scheduled held true to being the toughest schedule in America. For the full rankings go to: cbssports.com

CBSSports.com RPI
Rk.SchoolWLRPISOS RankSOS
1Syracuse3120.6667220.5742
2Kentucky3220.6652250.5716
3Michigan State2670.659610.6147
4North Carolina2950.657650.5945
5Duke2760.648920.6031
6Kansas2760.6417110.5858
7Ohio State2770.637970.5890
8Baylor2670.6331100.5861
9Marquette2570.6330170.5778
10Missouri3040.6298690.5424
11Florida State2490.625940.5947
12Wichita State2650.6220560.5527
13Louisville2690.620780.5880
14Michigan2390.6204130.5823
15Georgetown2280.6201140.5809
16Memphis2680.6196200.5762
17Indiana2580.6176310.5676
18Temple2470.6159540.5537
19UNLV2480.6158400.5607
20Vanderbilt24100.615660.5943
21Southern Miss2380.6138470.5563
22Murray State2710.61191580.4988
23Wisconsin2490.6094160.5785
24Creighton2850.60801020.5268
25Gonzaga2560.6078780.5391

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Spartans Counterpunch Badgers for Title Bout

Spartans soar to the B1G title game (Brian Spurlock/U.S. PRESSWIRE)
Michigan State advances to their first Big Ten title game since 2000 with a 65-52 victory over rival Wisconsin Badgers. They defeated the Badgers for the third straight time this season.

The game could not have started worse. Michigan State found themselves down 9-0 after 4 minutes in the first half. The Spartans could not finish near the basket as the Wisconsin Badgers started out hot, shooting over 60% to start the game. The worst and best moments were when the Spartans were down 20-9. Worst, obviously because of the score but the best because after that moment MSU never looked back. They seized control of the game behind the sharp shooting of senior guard Austin Thornton who went 3 for 3 scoring 9 points in three straight possessions that put the Spartans right back in it. The last 10 minutes of the first half were what eventually put the Spartans over the top. They made 10 straight shots to build a double digit lead, not allowing a Wisconsin made field goal in the final 10 minutes of the first. It was as amazing of a  defense performance as you will ever see. The Spartan defense closed the lanes and pressured the shooters in to desperation attempts from three. Again, they did not allow the ball to go through the hoop for 10 minutes! WOW!

This Spartan team again showed the ability to respond after being down double digits. In the second half the Spartans lead by as many at 19 when the Badgers responded with a 13-0 run, cutting the lead to 6. However, after a timeout Draymond Green came up with a big 'and one' bucket, increasing the lead back to 9. From that point on the Spartans went on a 10-0 run of their own essentially putting the Badgers away. The main take away from the game for me is the resiliency of this Michigan State team. All year long they have been the kind of team that can take a punch and then come up a bigger response. The are built to endure because of the tough mentality that these players have taken on from Coach Tom Izzo.

Brandon Wood  (Michael Conroy/AP)
There is no doubt that they have adjusted their game play with loss of key freshman forward Branden Dawson. Even so, they are still playing with the same attitude and poise. The great Michigan State depth again played a huge role in today's victory. They ended with 3 players in double figures along with two players who scored 9. They again were lead by All-American Draymond Green who scored 14 points and grabbed 16 rebounds. Green also became 2nd all-time in Michigan State history in rebounding passing "Jumping" Johnny Green. Day-Day did have his first half struggles where he was held scoreless. It was the inside play of Derrick Nix (9 pts, 5 reb) that fueled the Spartan comeback as he scored the first 7 Spartan points. Thornton had a big day scoring 12 points going 4 of 4 from three. Keith Appling and Brandon Wood again were great in the back court. Appling controlled the game with his speed and disruptive defensive on Badger star Jordan Taylor. Appling scored 12 points and dished out 5 assists only committing one turnover. Wood was aggressive on the offensive side as well going 4 of 8 from the field scoring 9 points.

As great of a win as that was for Michigan State they have even more on the line tomorrow when they face off with Ohio State for the third time. The Buckeyes put a way Michigan easily 77-55 to earn their 3rd straight title game appearance. Just last Sunday these two squads squared off in East Lansing where the Buckeyes squeezed out a win on a late jumper by William Buford. A lot was on the line last Sunday and even more is at stake this Sunday. Izzo and his team still have fresh memories of the disappointment that was caused on Senior Day. However, Michigan State has to feel confident going against Ohio State again since they basically dominated them for the better parts of both games. Again, the biggest factor for MSU will be how much they can wear down the Buckeye starters with their superior depth.

As these two teams meet, the winner of tomorrow's championship game will be considered the overall Big Ten champ in the eyes of the NCAA tournament committee. After the Kansas Jayhawks lost early in the Big 12 tournament they are being moved off that #1 seed line. It seems the winner of MSU vs. OSU tomorrow will be slotted in that the #1 seed spot. The strength of the conference will make it impossible for a Big Ten team not to be a #1 seed. Could we have asked for a better scenario after two straight losses?


Friday, March 9, 2012

Spartans Stepping their Game Up


Michigan State took care of business earlier today with a 92-75 victory over the NIT bound Iowa Hawkeyes. The Spartans looked sharp especially shooting the ball where they shot 58% overall which included 21 of 30 (70%) shooting in the first half. 

Michigan State once again showed how incredible their team depth really is. The Spartans had 4 players score in double figures and had 30 points off the bench. Draymond Green had a ridiculously efficient game scoring 21 points on 8 of 13 shooting to go along with 10 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 blocks. The questions about the Spartans mental state after two straight losses was answered today. They are still the same tough minded team that attacks with physicality and athleticism.

Many felt Andreian Payne was one of the Spartans who had to step his game up the most with the season-ending injury to Branden Dawson. Payne responded with a career high 16 points to go along with 7 rebounds. Keith Appling and Brandon Wood showed signs of an elite back court with their controlled and aggressive play on offense and defense. If both guys continue to score in double figures the Spartans may very well be on their way to a third Final Four in four years. 

Spartan coach Tom Izzo was able to get more minutes for his younger players like Travis Trice, Brandan Kearney and Russell Bryd. All three players will be counted on to produce at a higher level because of the loss of Dawson. Trice showed a lot of grit playing 24 minutes on a bad ankle, scoring 9 points which included 3 of 4 shooting from 3pt. 

The real test comes tomorrow afternoon for the Spartans. They will face off with the Wisconsin Badgers for the third time this year. The Spartans swept the regular season series this year, something that had not been done since 2000 when they defeated Bucky 4 times in a row on their way to the National Championship game. This will be a difficult game simply because they are playing a 3rd time. Anyone thinking that the Spartans will come in over confident is dead wrong. After being humbled by Indiana and Ohio State the Spartans will be looking to make a statement and get some of their February mojo back. The Badgers are coming off a tough win against Indiana where they hit a Big Ten record 13 three points. Expect the Spartans to take the three point line away and force the Badgers to attempt to get their points inside where the Spartans have a tremendous advantage.

Draymond Green photo: Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE    
Keith Appling photo: Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE




Spartans v. Hawkeyes a Vegas Preview


AP photo
The Iowa Hawkeyes and the Michigan State Spartans face off today in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Game time is scheduled for 12:00pm EST.

Michigan State is favored by 12 points with the over/under 134.

In their last action, Iowa was a 64-61 winner at home against Illinois. They covered the 2-point spread as underdogs.
Michigan State was a 72-70 loser in their most recent game at home against Ohio State. They failed to cover the 2.5-point spread as favorites.
Michigan State at a glace:
Team record: 24-7 SU, 19-10 ATS
Current streak: lost 2 straight games.
Current Spartan betting trends:
MSU is 8-1 SU in its last 9 games when playing Iowa
MSU is 20-5 SU in its last 25 games 
When playing on Friday MSU is 7-3 and after playing Ohio State are 8-2
After a loss the Spartans are 6-4
Iowa at a glance:
Team record: 17-15 SU, 15-12 ATS 
Current Hawkeye betting trends:
When playing on Friday are 2-8
After playing Illinois are 4-6
After a win are 4-6

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Keeping up with potential Spartan Jabari Parker



So what's up with Jabari Parker these days?

Well first off the 6'8" #1 rated junior forward is leading his Simeon Academy (Chicago, IL) team in the state playoffs looking for a third straight title. Simeon has had a great year so far with a record of 29-1. A week ago Parker posted a triple double (20 points,10 rebounds, and 12 blocks) over Vocational in the Oak Lawn Class 4A regional championship.

Last Tuesday (3/6), Parker lead the way to a victory over rival Whitney Young, 52-42 in the Argo 4A Sectional semifinal. Tom Izzo and Mike Krzyzewski were in the crowd watching Parker and Whitney Young star Jahlil Okafor on Tuesday as well. Parker posted a line of 18 points and 6 rebounds. For the complete game recap go to: chicagotribune.com.

It seems Parker has opened up his list of schools that he is interested in. Notably Kentucky, North Carolina, Louisville, DePaul and Ohio State have jumped in the mix with offers. You can go to ESPNU and rivals.com and see different schools listed with varying levels of interest.

Remember Parker's original top 5 schools were Michigan State, Duke, Kansas, Illinois and Washington.

Today ESPN posted a article today about how the Parker family is watching the Illinois situation unfold with Bruce Weber. Apparently over the years Weber has developed a good relationship with Jarbari and his family. Sonny Parker, father of Jabari, spoke about the relationship.
"It's going to very difficult to have a relationship right now," Sonny said if Illinois brings in a new coach. "This has been a 2-3 year process. Anybody they bring in, that's going to be very difficult to pick up where they left off in terms of where coach Weber was in recruiting. But you never know. You don't know who they're going to bring in."
You can read the entire article here: ESPN Chicago

With Illinois set to let Weber go after the season, they most likely drop out of the list of schools Parker is looking at. The best competition for Parker to compete in, if he stays in the Midwest is the Big Ten. With Illinois possibly out of the mix, it only enhances a program like Michigan State who is currently the national power in Big Ten country. As the Big Ten teams showed this year, big-time basketball can be played within the conference.

It has been speculated that Duke and Michigan State were the early favorites, but as Jabari Parker's name grows the interest and offers will only intensify. Athletic directors from all big-time basketball programs will be asking their coaches why they are not pursuing him. Which is why I believe the scholarship offers have grown. What do these school have to lose by giving him a standing scholarship offer?

Still it is early in the recruiting process, but Izzo and his staff are very focused on bringing Parker to Michigan State. A nice NCAA tournament run this year would go a long way in getting Parker's attention. Stay tuned, as the recruiting process continues to play out.

So how good is Jabari Parker? His high school coach at Simeon, Robert Smith offered these words to csnchicago.com:

"Parker is a better high school player at the same stage of their careers," said Coach Smith. "Derrick (Rose) didn't understand how good he was until his junior and senior years. Jabari knew it as a freshman. He can play all five positions. He is a better all-around player.

"Sure, it is a hard comparison because they play two different positions. But Jabari had a better understanding of the game at an early age, when to score, how to score. Derrick was more of a passer. He didn't become a shooter until last year (in the NBA)."

Smith pointed out that Rose wasn't a dominant scorer in high school. "But he could have been. In his junior year, we had to make a rule for him. If he didn't take at least 10 shots in a game, the other players had to run in practice. Guys on the bench counted his shots. We wanted him to be more of a scorer. They had to run twice that season," he said." - csnchicago.com

Big Ten Tournament all or nothing for MSU

Photo: www.btn.com
Michigan State needs to win the Big Ten tournament this week. Not only just for the accolades but they badly need to regain the championship momentum that was generated from the previous 7 game winning streak before the past two losses. In fact the Spartans looked so good during that streak they are sort of getting a pass nationally after losing two games in a row. They are still a top 10 team (#8 AP/Coaches) and projected a solid #2 seed in the NCAA tournament. What has made this Michigan State team great is their toughness and confidence. After a rough week you have to wonder what the team is feeling mentally.

In the past Tom Izzo led teams do not go all out in the Big Ten tournament. This is evident in the fact that Izzo has not won a Big Ten tournament title since 2000. The fan base gladly takes Final Fours over Big Ten tournament trophies. We shrug our shoulders when the Spartans lose to a 'Penn State' or a 'Minnesota' in early round games. Izzo has just not put a huge emphasis on having success in the conference tournament, his record is 15-12 (0.556) all time compared to his stellar NCAA tournament record of 35-13 (0.729). You get where his priority is. He suspended one of his best players Chris Allen back in 2010 for the first game of the Big Ten tournament and they lost. I guarantee he thinks twice about doing that in a 1st or 2nd round game of the NCAA tournament. 

This year however there has to be a much more serious approach. Michigan State is really risking a potential collapse if they can not get back to their winning ways. After the two loses last week you can see the pressure of winning the Big Ten outright was wearing on this team. There actually might have been a sense of relief when the week was finally over. Remember this is still a young team, they looked rattled at Indiana and shell shocked after Ohio State. This season they have recovered from back to back loses on two separate occasions, but we won't really know how this team will respond until Friday. They will play either Illinois or Iowa. Assuming they get by their first game to the semi-finals they will face either Indiana or Wisconsin. Win that game and the finals could be Michigan or Ohio State. The point is there are plenty of challenging tests left for Izzo & Co to take seriously. Each opponent that MSU will face represents an opportunity. Those opportunities are to gain back the winning momentum they worked so hard to gain in February.

What's equally as important is that Michigan State get in as many games as they can before the NCAA tournament begins. With the season-ending knee injury to Branden Dawson, Izzo will need to adjust his rotation and spread extra minutes around. Being able to play three games in three days will be the perfect way for Izzo implement his changes and get his younger players valuable elimination game experience.

There were great signs that the Spartans showed during the Ohio State game, and not just in the first half either. I was more impressed with their responses offensively in the 2nd half when the Buckeyes were trying to seize control. It showed that this team still has a lot of heart and fight in it.

The Spartans may feels like they let themselves down, BUT they were champions before the 0-2 finish and they still are the #1 seed in the Big Ten tournament. The hope is that the team did not peak too early.

The best way to get back on track is simple...win it all this week!


Monday, March 5, 2012

Spartans are still top 10 with the #1 SOS

After a disappointing 0-2 week for Michigan State both polls still kept the Spartans in the top 10 rankings. The latest AP and coaches polls both have the Spartans ranked #8.

The latest ESPN bracketology projection by Joe Lunardi has MSU in the field as a #2 seed in the Midwest bracket. Obviously the two losses last week hurt their bid for a #1 seed. Lunardi still projects 7 teams from the Big Ten in the field. For the entire projected NCAA tournament field go to: ESPN bracketology

This week's CBSSports.com RPI ranking has Michigan State down to 5th. Last week the Spartans came in with the 2nd best RPI ranking in the country. MSU still boasts the nations toughest schedule with the #1 rated strength of schedule.

RPI rankings are below. Only games against D-I opponents are exhibited on team records. Big Ten teams are in bold and MSU non-conference opponents in italics. 
Rk.SchoolWLRPISOS RankSOS
1Syracuse3010.6738260.5726
2Kentucky3010.6677360.5647
3North Carolina2740.661150.5925
4Duke2650.655720.6067
5Michigan State2370.655210.6129
6Kansas2650.652080.5878
7Marquette2560.6399170.5767
8Ohio State2560.6376100.5840
9Baylor2460.6288190.5764
10Georgetown2170.628290.5847
11Indiana2470.6267270.5723
12Michigan2280.6259110.5831
13UNLV2370.6245460.5586
14Temple2460.6244520.5556
15Wichita State2650.6235550.5547
16Missouri2740.6230800.5374
17Southern Miss2270.6194510.5559
18Memphis2380.6158180.5766
19Gonzaga2550.6120870.5337
20Murray State2710.61191560.4987
21Creighton2850.60971010.5290
22Wisconsin2380.6094220.5738
23Florida State2190.6084120.5827
24Colorado State18100.608170.5886
25San Diego State2260.6064640.5475
For the entire CBSSports RPI ranking go to: http://www.cbssports.com/collegebasketball/rankings/rpi/index1

Spartan Perspective in a 2nd Straight Loss

Last home game huddle up for the Spartan Seniors (Photo: www.facebook.com/MSUathletics)
Senior Day in East Lansing was supposed to be a joyous day which was going to end with the Spartans claiming the Big Ten regular season championship outright. Ohio State had other plans for revenge and topped Michigan State 72-70, in a back and forth 2nd half which featured 10 ties and 10 lead changes. The Buckeyes withstood a Spartan explosion in the first half as they found themselves down by as much as 15.

The loss takes away an outright conference championship. Along with it goes the potential #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. As big as those two accolades are, both are insignificant in comparison to what happened to one of Michigan State's most explosive and important players. Early in the first half Branden Dawson suffered a left knee injury when his knee was bumped and then landed awkwardly. Dawson needed help getting of the court and did not return. An MRI was done at the Breslin Center which revealed what everyone feared - a torn ACL.

"No excuses," Spartans coach Tom Izzo said after the game. "We just didn't get it done." However the Spartans did have an excuse as to why they let victory slip away. The injury to Dawson was a big part of why Michigan State lost. His ability defend and match the athleticism of William Buford and Deshaun Thomas was missed especially down the stretch. The Spartans had 6'2" point guard Keith Appling guarding the 6'6" Buford at the end of the game during crucial positions where he simply shot over the smaller guard. Buford torched the Spartans in the 2nd half and finished with 25 points to lead OSU. Another legitimate beef MSU has is with the officiating. The refs missed a big-time call when a 4th foul was not called on Buckeye center Jared Sullinger who bumped Derrick Nix on a 3 point play. They instead gave the foul to Thomas who was nowhere near the foul. This non-call played a huge role because on the next Spartan possession Sullinger committed another foul on Nix for a 2nd straight 3 point play. The 4th foul sent him to the bench which should have been his 5th taking him out of the game. The officials had an opportunity to look at the play again and still came away with the incorrect call.

Despite the home loss, there were some positives that came out of the game. First I believe Brandon Wood will be a major factor in the next few weeks for MSU. He really came out aggressive offensively off the bench especially in the first half where he played a major role in generating a double digit lead. With Dawson out for the rest of the year Wood will be elevated to the starting line which will give MSU a three guard look. They have had success in the past with this kind of line up with the last being Kalin Lucas, Durrell Summers and Chris Allen. 

Another player who was big off the bench was Derrick Nix, who came up with great baskets down low with quick post moves. Nix took control in the paint when Green had to go to the bench with 4 fouls. He was a major reason why the Spartans stayed in the game late after he was able to respond on the offensive end after every Buckeye basket. In total the Wood and Nix combined for 26 points off the bench. Compare that to Ohio State who had a total of only 7 bench points. Michigan State did end with 4 players in double figures, Green scored 19 and grabbed 12 rebounds, Appling had 11 points. The strength of this team is the depth and it will be what needs to hold this team together going forward.

In the end the game could have gone either way. Ohio State clawed their way back in it and made plays at the end. Make no mistake Ohio State is a good team and there is no shame losing by a last second shot to a team of that caliber. Michigan State to their credit also countered back with stops and buckets of their own. It came down to who was going to come up with an empty possession first and that happened to be the Spartans when Draymond Green missed on a fade away jumper inside of 30 seconds left with the game tied 70-70. On the next possession for the Buckeyes, Buford hit a 19 foot jumper with 1 second left, cold! Buford stared down the Spartan crowd in what became the biggest shot of his career. The Spartans suffered a tragic defeated that was dragged out in a slow death like manner with the delays from the time outs and referee meetings that took place before Green's final heave at the basket that missed with 0.7 seconds left.

The loss of Dawson will be what concerns Izzo the most. As far as the loss he knows his guys battled but has to be disappointed that under the circumstances they could not have had a perfect Big Ten home finale. However, it was just only the final regular season game. MSU may have split the conference championship but they still are the #1 seed in the Big Ten tournament this week. There is still plenty of basketball left and no time to hang heads. Losing key players is a big deal, but having a coach like Tom Izzo can give us all a sense of calm knowing that the team will adjust and move on. They always do!

Spartan motto: Players play, tough players win! (www.facebook.com/MSUathletics)

Final Big Ten Conference Standings

TEAMCONF W-LTOTAL W-L
#11 Ohio State13-525-6
#5 Michigan State13-524-7
#16 Michigan13-523-8
#15 Wisconsin12-623-8
#20 Indiana11-724-7
Purdue10-820-11
Northwestern8-1018-12
Iowa8-1016-15
Minnesota6-1218-13
Illinois6-1217-14
Nebraska4-1412-17
Penn State4-1412-19







Saturday, March 3, 2012

Spartan Senior Day

Image courtesy of Michigan State Athletics
Sunday March 4, 2012 - Senior Day in East Lansing. Michigan State takes on the Ohio State Buckeyes in a rematch from the February 11 Spartan beat down in Columbus.

There are plenty of story lines going in to this game as Spartans fans say good-bye to seniors Draymond Green, Austin Thornton, Brandon Wood and Anthony Ianni. An interesting side story that has developed in the last few days has been the possibility of having former Spartan senior Delvon Roe suit up for one more home game. However, despite the rumors and twitter support (#LetDelvonPlay) ESPN reported that it was not possible due to NCAA compliance issues (http://espn.go.com/blog/collegebasketballnation/post/_/id/50764/delvon-roes-nostalgic-return-not-possible). Michigan State still plans on honoring Roe along with the other 4 seniors in some other fashion. Thinking of Roe possibly re-joining the Spartans one more gave me fond memories of a player so committed to his team and school that he truly left it all on the court.

There should be plenty of raw emotions going in this game. Especially for Coach Tom Izzo who has always stressed the importance of seniors to his program. The relationship Izzo builds with each player is one that is bonding in nature. After the hard-nosed coaching and constant pushing to make his players great, all of Izzo's players come away with a sense that Izzo and his coaching staff only want what's best for them and the program. Be assured that the emotions will be flowing at game's end.

Being a part of two Final Fours and now three Big Ten regular season championships is the legacy that this senior class leaves behind. With post-season play set to begin there is still plenty left before this senior class finally leaves their stamp on the program.

The magnitude of the game should refocus this team quickly after the pre-game senior recognition ceremony. The Spartans will be motivated to win for their seniors but even more so to lift the banner and trophy symbolizing an outright Big Ten championship. The Breslin will be rockin'!







Friday, March 2, 2012

Spartans in another high-stakes match up

POY candidates Green and Sullinger lock up in a rematch (Terry Gilliam/AP)
I wrote back in February after the Ohio State game that the rematch on March 4th would decide the Big Ten title (http://www.spartanstate.com/2012/02/b1g-championship-will-be-decided-march.html). Since then the Buckeyes have fallen a bit losing 3 of their last 6 games which led to the Spartans earning at least a share of their 7th Big Ten title under Tom Izzo's regime.

Izzo has been preaching to his team about the importance of finishing strong and how the new challenge now is winning the Big Ten title outright.
“It’s kind of weird when you are at a practice and you find out that you’ve at least shared part of a Big Ten Championship because we cherish those,” Izzo said. “I would admit that this year it wasn’t the first goal because we thought getting better every day was needed to even have a chance at a Big Ten Championship. And then when we got where we’re in the hunt, we reassessed our goals and started moving forward. So I won’t lie – we’re excited and proud of what’s been accomplished so far, but it’s miniscule compared to what we have a chance to accomplish down the road. And we’re going to keep working for our ultimate goals, which as we reassess, are now to win the Big Ten outright, to be playing our best basketball at the end of the year, to go into the Big Ten Tournament feeling good about ourselves, to try to get the highest seed we can get which will help us in the NCAA Tournament.” 

Despite having a share of the Big Ten title locked up, the Spartans still find themselves in another high-stakes show down this Sunday. Michigan State squandered their opportunity to be the outright regular season champs last Tuesday after their 70-55 loss at Indiana. Another Spartan loss opens the door for a 3-way tie atop the Big Ten standings giving MSU, OSU and the Michigan Wolverines all a piece of the crown.

Also at stake is a possible #1 seed for both MSU and OSU in the NCAA tournament. Both would have to run the table starting this Sunday through the Big Ten tournament, but doing so would warrant enough for a #1 seed for either squad, who both sit at 24-6 overall for the season. The different between a #1 and #2 seed is significant in my opinion since the brackets are set up for the #1 seeds to breeze in to the Sweet 16.

More important then anything else is the positive momentum this Michigan State team has built all year long. Proving that they can come back from a bad road loss by beating a top 10 team for a second straight time will go a long way for this team in March.

Current Big Ten Standings

TEAMCONFGBOVR
#5 Michigan State13-4--24-6
#11 Ohio State12-5124-6
#16 Michigan12-5122-8
#15 Wisconsin11-6222-8
#20 Indiana10-7323-7
Purdue10-7320-10
Iowa8-9516-14
Northwestern7-10617-12
Illinois6-11717-13
Minnesota5-12817-13
Nebraska4-13912-16
Penn State4-13912-18

Spartans drop to #6 in latest ESPN BPI

College Basketball Power Index (BPI)

NCAA BPI Ratings

Created by the ESPN Stats & Information group, the College Basketball Power Index (BPI) is a team rating that accounts for all team scores in every Division I game, whether they were at home, on the road, or on a neutral court, whether they won, the pace of the game, the strength of their opponent, and whether any of their top five players (by minutes per game) was missing.

Rk Team Conference D-I W-L BPI Net Pts vs Avg BPI SOS
1KentuckySEC 28-1 92.319.877
2SyracuseBig East 29-1 90.317.948
3KansasBig 12 25-5 87.915.818
4Ohio StateBig Ten 24-6 87.715.752
5North CarolinaACC 26-4 87.415.562
6Michigan StateBig Ten 23-6 87.415.522
7DukeACC 26-4 86.314.77
8MissouriBig 12 26-4 84.113.367
9Wichita StateMissouri Valley 25-4 84.113.375
10BaylorBig 12 24-5 82.912.614
11MemphisC-USA 22-8 81.812.034
12WisconsinBig Ten 22-8 81.511.937
13Saint LouisA-10 22-6 81.511.8105
14IndianaBig Ten 23-7 81.311.851
15GeorgetownBig East 21-6 81.111.628
16FloridaSEC 22-8 81.011.654
17MarquetteBig East 24-6 80.511.340
18LouisvilleBig East 22-8 80.411.310
19VanderbiltSEC 21-9 79.210.715
20GonzagaWCC 24-5 78.710.4108
21Kansas StateBig 12 20-9 78.610.49
22AlabamaSEC 20-9 78.610.424
23CaliforniaPac-12 23-7 78.510.391
24TexasBig 12 19-11 78.210.25
25VirginiaACC 21-7 77.710.087 

BPI: The College Basketball Power Index (BPI), from 0 to 100
Net Pts vs Avg: The BPI on the basis of points. Expected scoring margin versus an average opponent in an average pace game on a neutral court.
BPI SOS: Rank of Strength of Schedule as calculated by BPI

For the entire ESPN BPI rankings go to: http://espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/story/_/id/7633369/bpi-march-1-college-basketball-power-index-rankings

 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Poll: '09 Spartans vs. '12 Spartans

2011- 2012 Spartans (AP Photo)
2008 - 2009 Spartans (AP Photo)
After the Michigan State Spartans beat the Ohio State Buckeyes in Columbus many fans and MSU sports writers began making comparisons to the 2009 Michigan State team that played in the National Championship game. Even Coach Tom Izzo acknowledged that his team's preparation before the Ohio State game on February 11th, reminded him of the 2009 squad's focus before the Louisville game in the Midwest Regional Finals. In both cases the Spartans were able to handily beat a team that on paper looked significantly more talented. As this year's Spartan team distanced themselves from the rest of the B1G conference the expectations and predictions only grew bigger. Many wondered if this team could actually win a National Championship, a feat that the '09 team came up one game short on. 

The 2009 Spartans basketball team won the B1G  regular season conference title. That team was lead by vocal senior Travis Walton and B1G Player of the Year, Sophomore Kalin Lucas. Much like the '09 Spartans, this year's team has so far won at least a share of the B1G title and is also lead by a vocal senior leader in Draymond Green, who is almost assured to win the B1G Player of Year.

On paper the '09 teams looks more loaded. Along with Walton and Lucas, there was plenty of young talent and experience. The youth on the team being Lucas, Durrell Summers, Chris Allen, Delvon Roe, Draymond Green and Korie Lucious. The experience being junior forward Raymar Morgan, senior guard Walton and senior center Goran Suton. Like this year's team the '09 Spartans were able to overachieve and defy expectations.

The current Spartans team has a similar make-up to '09 team. Obviously there is senior Draymond Green, but outside of him the rest of the team was very inexperienced without multiple upperclassman in the starting line up going in the season. Sophomore point guard Keith Appling may not be as polished as Lucas, but he is a better defender. Andreian Payne and Dawson have more athleticism then Morgan and Suton. The ball skills and play making ability may be the advantage of the '09 team, but the defense and rebounding advantage that Izzo built the Spartans program on is with this current team.

When asked about how the talent compares to the '09 team and others from the past Green is quick to remind everyone how talented this year's team is.
"Last year, the year before, we had Kalin, we had Durrell, we had Raymar, guys who had proven themselves and everybody knew they had talent," Green said. "This year we have a bunch of guys who have talent, it just hasn't been proven. People are starting to see."
However, Green does see the similarities. "The teams are kind of similar if you actually break it down and look at it. We may be better at one position and not another, but it's pretty similar. I know for sure it's the best team in my four years here. Just the way we bond and click together, I think our defense is one of the things that speaks for that. Guys are always helping each other."
Izzo was also asked how this team compares to seasons past and he spoke to its toughness and unity.
"I don't know where we are talent-wise," Izzo said. "If I looked at the last 12 years, I definitely don't think we are in the upper echelon of what we've had. But team-wise, I'd say we are right up there in the top one or two. I don’t think we’re better than a lot of teams (in the nation this season). But I’m not afraid of just about anybody. I’ve had good teams that have been afraid of some teams."

Here is a comparison of both line ups:

SPARTANS: 2009 vs. 2012
2009
Starters

PG Kalin Lucas, so. -- 14.7 ppg, 176 asts
SG Travis Walton, sr. -- 5.1 ppg, 56 steals
SF Raymar Morgan, jr. -- 10.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg
PF Delvon Roe, fr. -- 5.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 29 blocks
C Goran Suton, sr. -- 10.4 rpg, 8.4 rpg,

Bench
SG Durrell Summers, so. -- 8.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg
SG Chris Allen, so. -- 8.4 ppg, 52 3-pointers
PF Draymond Green, fr. -- 3.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg
PG Korie Lucious, fr.-- 3.2 ppg, 29 3-pointers

2012
Starters

PG Keith Appling, so. -- 11.5 ppg, 3.8 asts
SG Austin Thornton, sr. -- 5.2 ppg, .431 3PT%
SF Branden Dawson, fr. -- 8.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg
PF Draymond Green, sr. -- 16.1 ppg, 10.2 rpg 
C Adreian Payne, so. -- 6.6 ppg, 4.0 rpg

Bench
SG Brandon Wood, sr. -- 8.0 ppg, 34 3-pointers
C Derrick Nix, jr. -- 7.7 ppg, 3.8 rpg
PG Travis Trice, fr. -- 5.1 ppg, 26 3-pointers
SG Brandan Kearney -- 1.1 ppg, 8.6 min. per game

Which team is better? Guess we won't know until April 2nd. In the mean time feel free to voice your opinion in the Spartan State poll at the top of the page.