How Does Tom Izzo, Michigan State Focus on Basketball?

Michigan State rallied back from a double digit deficit on the road against Maryland Sunday afternoon. After a sluggish start, and trailing the entire first half, the Spartans poured in 50 in the final 20 minutes to top Maryland, 74-68. The win moved Michigan State to 8-2 in the conference, and kept them within striking distance of Ohio State and Purdue. That was really the only positive news for the Michigan State basketball program over the weekend.

It’s been hard to ignore Michigan State in the headlines over the past few days, for reasons outside sports. Last week, Larry Nassar, who was a former Team USA Gymnastics coach, as well as a team doctor as Michigan State, was sentenced to 40-175 years in prison for sexual abuse of over 150 women. The trial included four days of testimonies from victims speaking directly to Nassar about his horrific actions.

Larry Nassar is going to jail for a long, long time. Most likely for the rest of his life. What he has done however, is leave a cookie crumb trail leading back to Michigan State. A trail that will be dissected for the foreseeable future. On Wednesday of last week, University President, Lou Anna Simon resigned. She was the first, but far from the last.

Two days later, MSU athletic director Mark Hollis announced his retirement as well. As Sports Illustrated reported, in his statement, Hollis said he is not running from anything, rather, running towards something. “Comfort, compassion and understanding for the survivors and our community; togetherness, time and love for my family.” Hollis said.

Reports also circulated Friday that head football coach Mark Dantonio and head basketball coach Tom Izzo were stepping down soon as well. Both coaches denied such reports and said they have no intentions of retiring. On Sunday though, Tom Izzo was grilled by an Outside the Lines reporter after the game in College Park. Following the Nassar trial, OTL reported cases of sexual assault within the men’s basketball program. You can see the uncomfortable back and forth in the video recorded by Josh Stirn of 247Sports below.

The press conference leaves a lot to still be answered. You can see the constant questioning wear on Izzo. Many people want immediate action to be taken, and that’s fair. In a case of this magnitude, people need to be held accountable. As mentioned early, Larry Nassar’s case opened up a can of worms within the University. I expect Tom Izzo will eventually talk about the reports from Outside the Lines, but it will only come when he and the school are ready. You can be sure all avenues will be investigated and he will be questioned every step of the way. For now though, how does Michigan State, and Izzo focus on basketball? Is it even possible?

Many will say they shouldn’t. There can absolutely be a case that Izzo should remove himself from coaching in the midst of some of this. But at the same time, it’s innocent until proven guilty and not the other way around. Izzo said he has no plans of stepping down or retiring. Until he talks however, basketball will continue to be the second biggest thing surrounding the Michigan State basketball team. A top ten team in the country will be playing with an enormous cloud over their heads.

While it seems unfair to make his team bear the weight of this lingering allegation or accusation, it appears that is what is going to happen. As a result, you can expect every Michigan State game to be emotional, and followed with many post game questions that do not pertain to the game. Just look at the post game reaction Sunday. It was more than a January road win. It was a sigh of relief. Short, but relief nonetheless.

 

What Happened This Weekend in College Basketball

It was a wild weekend in the college basketball world. Championships were won and lost all week. Some teams showed us they can be better than expected, others the opposite. Here’s your College Basketball weekend recap.

Villanova Wins Battle 4 Atlantis

In a tournament where Purdue and Arizona played in the last place game, it was Villanova who cruised to a championship in the Bahamas. The Wildcats look like a well-oiled machine with a top six that is as good as any in the nation. Donte DiVincenzo looks like the sixth man of the year and Jalen Brunson has looked like Big East Player of the Year. It should not come as a surprise, but Villanova will live within the Top 5 in the Polls for most of the year.

Arizona State Appears a Year Ahead of Schedule

Bobby Hurley is building something at Arizona State. Anyone who has kept an eye on the program would be able to tell you that. After edging Kansas State on Thanksgiving, the Sun Devils dominated number 15 Xavier on Saturday night to move to 6-0. Hurley’s top two returnees, Tra Holder and Shannon Evans, have been great so far. Holder erupted for 40 against Xavier, and has another 30+ points game on the young season. Freshman Romello White has already showed why he was highly touted, and contributing for ASU. With a couple key rotation players still missing, Arizona State could compete in the Pac-12 sooner than later.

Alabama Played 3 on 5

In the category of “Something You Don’t See Everyday,” Alabama played the last 10 minutes of their game against Minnesota with three players. The Tide lost their entire bench in the second half for leaving the bench area in the midst of an on court scuffle. They then saw one player foul out, and another leave with injury, leaving Avery Johnson with three eligible players for over 10 minutes. All that said, they still lost to a ranked team by just five points. While there are no morale victories, that’s impressive. The story here is Colin Sexton. The freshman found shined in the loss, going off for 40 points on 55% shooting. He showed why he is one of the most exciting players in the country.

Trae Young Outscored Oregon

That’s not a typo. Trae Young has been as good as advertised thus far in Norman. Young has upped his scoring in all five games this season, and capped the weekend off with a 43 put outburst against Oregon, who only managed 42 points as a team. This outburst comes just two days after he dropped 33 on Portland. Young has been nothing short of sensational thus far, averaging 28.2 points and 8.6 assists for Lon Kruger. I’ve mentioned before that Young could be the best freshman in the Big 12 since Kevin Durant, and he’s supporting that statement five games in.

Michigan State, Duke Win PK80

In a tournament that lived up to the hype, we saw Michigan State and Duke walk out of the PK80 with championships. For Michigan State, they dominated early and often against North Carolina. They completely shut down the Tar Heels’ offense and got 23 points from Josh Langford. It showed how scary the Spartans can be, winning handily against a top 10 team without huge performances from Jaren Jackson or Miles Bridges. The story was the defense however, as Tom Izzo’s squad held UNC to 25% shooting, the lowest total in program history.

Duke’s path to victory was very different. The Blue Devils were punched in the mouth early by a sizzling hot Florida club. They trailed by as many as 17 before mounting their championship comeback. Like the rest of the PK80, this championship game was just another national stage for Marvin Bagley to shine on. The freshman phenom poured in 30 and recorded 15 rebounds on his way to a MVP performance. Teams are not entirely put together during most of these early season tournaments (i.e. Arizona) but that’s scary for college basketball because it shows how high Duke’s ceiling can be.

Marvin Bagley Looks Like a Top Pick

Coming off the tough news concerning Michael Porter Jr, Marvin Bagley showed us why he is worthy of the number one pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. Bagley’s talent is much more than his scoring. Sure he put in 34 against Texas and had another dominant game against Florida, but what makes Bagley so special is he’s always moving. He is always around the rim, getting numerous tip ins and second chance points and he’s a man on the boards. He’s definitely got NBA scouts salivating.

The SEC is Far From Just Kentucky

Florida made it to the Finals of the PK80 Motion Bracket. Texas A&M beat number 10 USC in California. Missouri made it to the Finals of the Advocare Invitational and almost took down number 23 West Virginia. Even Tennessee and Georgia beat ranked teams in Purdue and St. Mary’s this weekend. Add in a full strength Alabama team that went toe to toe with Minnesota, and the SEC could be the second best conference in college basketball this year. Of course time will tell, but don’t be surprised if Kentucky is not at the top of the SEC standings by end of year.

Breaking Down the PK80: Victory Bracket

In honor of Nike founder Phil Knight, ESPN will be airing the PK80 tournament over Thanksgiving weekend. Consisting of 16 teams and two brackets, this four day tournament will be must watch. NCAA Tournament teams, dazzling freshman and of course, fresh uniforms. Let’s take a look at both brackets. First, we’ll focus on the Victory Bracket. Here’s what you need to know.

First Round Match-Ups:

Portland vs UNC – Thursday, November 23rd 2:30 PM EST

Arkansas vs Oklahoma – Thursday, November 23rd 5 PM EST

UConn vs Oregon – Thursday, November 23rd 9 PM EST

DePaul vs Michigan State – Thursday, November 23rd 11:30 PM EST

What to Look For:

UConn’s First Real Test

Connecticut comes into this without a real test in the first week and a half into the season. The Huskies have won the games they were supposed to, but not in a convincing fashion. Their first test will be against an Oregon team that is not nearly the team they were last year, but still pose a challenge. For one, though it’s not officially a home game, it will be played in Portland. The match-up here will be UConn’s Jalen Brown versus Oregon’s Troy Brown. Jalen Brown was the leading scorer for the Huskies last season. He will need a big game for UConn to pull out a win.

Potential NCAA Tournament Rematch

Ask Roy Williams and North Carolina how tenacious Arkansas’ defense is. The Tar Heels got all they could handle from the Razorbacks last season in the second round of the NCAA tournament, and just barely survived. Luckily for UNC, they would have Joel Berry, who returned last week from a hand injury, to help handle some of this Arkansas pressure. You can’t overlook Oklahoma, but you can bet Arkansas is chomping at the bit for revenge.

Joel Berry’s Health

Going off the previous point, Joel Berry’s health will determine if UNC can advance, or win, the Victory Bracket. Berry is the nucleus for the Tar Heels. Whether UNC plays Arkansas or Oklahoma, Berry will need to at or at least near full health. We mentioned the problems Arkansas can cause, but the other option is a match up with Oklahoma’s star freshman, Trae Young. Averaging 18.5 points and 11.5 assists in two games, Young would be the type of match up a senior leader needs to take on.

Michigan State’s Bounce Back

The Spartans stock might have dropped some after the loss to Duke, but no one is writing them off as championship contenders yet. Nonetheless, Tom Izzo and company need a few strong non-conference wins to add to their resume and this is the time to do it. Michigan State has arguably the two best players in the entire Victory bracket in Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson. Three wins in the PK80 will go a long way to forgetting the loss to Duke.

Meet the Diaper Dandies

The Victory bracket has multiple one-and-done caliber players, as well as others who will have sustainable collegiate careers. Get to know the names Trae Young (Oklahoma), Jaren Jackson (Michigan State) and Troy Brown (Oregon). Young and Brown are the leading scorers for their teams on the young season, and Jackson solidified his status as a highly touted prospect by scoring 19 points in 24 minutes against Duke in the Champions Classic. Don’t be surprised to hear all three players’ names called in next Spring’s NBA Draft.

 

Best Championship Game: North Carolina vs Michigan State

The defending National Champs versus a popular pick to be this year’s National Champion. Michigan State is definitely the favorite in this bracket, but they showed weaknesses against Duke. They showed they can be turned over and their zone offense is suspect. Arkansas and their defense could cause the Spartans fits, but UNC is the best match up 1 through 5. Michigan State has the advantage inside and more depth than the Tar Heels, but UNC has the edge at point guard. Joel Berry is better than both Casius Winston and Tum Tum Nairn.

This game, along with the PK80 as a whole, will go a long way to telling us how good UNC can be this year. Will Joel Berry get any support? Is Luke Maye’s 23 PPG in two games legit or just stat padding against low level teams? This is a great early season test for Roy Williams and company.

What We Learned From the Champions Classic

photo via Chicago Tribune

Last night had a lot of hype to it. It was the highest ranking for all four teams competing in the Champions Classic. All four teams were ranked in the top five in the preseason poll. While all four teams are far from mid-season form, it’s easy to see the potential they all have. Let’s take a look at one thing we learned from each team last night.

Grayson Allen is Duke’s Unquestioned Leader

Marvin Bagley received a lot of attention after Duke’s first two games. It was well warranted when you looked at the freshman’s numbers, but Tuesday night it was all Grayson Allen. Allen erupted for 37 points, shooting 7-11 from three point land. He is now 17-26 from three in the first three games of the year. Don’t expect Allen to shoot that well all season long, but do expect him to have maybe the best shooting numbers of his Duke career. The reason? Trevon Duval. Even Allen acknowledged after the game that many of his looks came off Duval’s creation. With a true point guard alongside him, Allen will get the clutch looks all year long

Depth Won’t Save Michigan State from Turnovers

Michigan State struggled last season to take care of the ball. Cassius Winston was just a green freshman and Tum Tum Nairn wasn’t good enough to keep his job over Winston. This year, Michigan State has a lot of things going in their favor, but the turnover battle can keep them from making a deep run in March. Winston did have 11 assists, but turned the ball over 5 times. Bridges had 5 turnovers as well, and freshman Jaren Jackson had 4. Compare that to Duke’s point guard, Trevon Duval, who only had 3 turnovers and 10 assists. Michigan State won’t cut down the nets if they turn the ball over 17 times a game.

Billy Preston Needs to Get On the Court

Kansas has a strong back court with Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk, Malik Newman and LeGerald Vick. Up front they are not so strong. To Bill Self’s credit he has adjusted to a four guard line up very well, but Kansas still needs some support down low. Udoka Azubuike looks to be the main man at center, but Mitch Lightfoot doesn’t look ready for major minutes. Freshman Billy Preston was expected to be in that front court rotation, but has missed the first two games for two separate incidents. That left Kansas with just seven scholarship players last night. Preston needs to figure out his off the court issues, because he team needs him on the court if they want to go deep into March.

Kevin Knox will be Kentucky’s Go To Guy

Kentucky has a very talented group of freshman, and I do think Hamidou Diallo will be a big contributor for the Wildcats this year. But I think Kevin Knox will emerge as the player John Calipari goes to when he needs a bucket. You saw it last night on various occasions, and you heard Dickie V scream “Give it to Knox!” numerous times. He was the only Kentucky player to hit a three, scored from all areas of the floor and had his name called late, though his floated rimmed out. Expect his number to be called more as the season progresses.

It’s very early in the season. All four coaches will tell you they have a lot to work on, and are far from a finished product. Then again, I think they would say that at anytime of the year. Regardless of the results, all fours teams showed why they were the favorites to win their respective conferences. Hang on, college basketball has just begun.

Best Match Ups During Opening Week of College Basketball


College Basketball begins tonight, but the first week can often be over-hyped, as it consists of many lopsided affairs. A lot of fans look forward to seeing new talent beat up on lesser opponents, but outside that the excitement begins with the championship games of the more prominent preseason tournaments. Don’t sleep on the first week this year however. There are a lot of good games between teams who should be playing come March. Here are eleven games to check out during week one.

Texas A&M vs West Virginia – Friday, November 10th

The season starts off with a Top 25 match up between the SEC and Big 12. Neither team will be at full strength due to suspensions. A&M will be missing future pro Robert Williams and JJ Caldwell and the Mountaineers will be without Esa Ahmad. West Virginia does have Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jevon Carter and Bob Huggins’s defense is always fun to watch. For A&M, you will see a lot of Admon Gilder, DJ Hogg and Paul Davis – their top three scorers from last year. Williams and Ahmad will be huge pieces for their teams this season, but there is plenty of talent without them.

Georgia Tech vs UCLA – Friday, November 10th

This game gained a little traction with the news of three UCLA players caught shoplifting while in China. This game would be great if Josh Okogie wasn’t suspended for Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets still have All-ACC second team Ben Lammers, who should have another strong year. For UCLA, you will get your first look at new freshman Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes. Both players are replacing pretty highly touted freshman in their own right. This is a chance for Georgia Tech to get a resume boosting win on day one.

Yale vs Wisconsin – Sunday, November 12th

Yes, I’m including Yale in a best match up blog. Yale will be talented this year. The Bulldogs were a tournament team just two years ago, and could have been one last year if Makai Mason had not injured his foot early in the year. Yale now returns Mason, and three of their top four scorers from last year. Wisconsin will struggle some, but they still have All-American Ethan Happ. Expect this to be close and don’t be surprised if Yale wins.

Minnesota vs Providence – Monday, November 13th

Two of the most under-appreciated coaches in the country. Ed Cooley and Richard Pitino have built two strong teams. Minnesota, ranked 15th in the country, broke onto the scene last season, and return their two best players, Nate Mason and Amir Coffey. The addition of good recruiting class has the Gopher’s sights set on another NCAA tournament bid. The same can be said for Providence. The Friars return All-Big East player Rodney Bullock and are a seasoned club. Just like Minnesota, they have a very talented freshman to add to a deep team in Makai Ashton-Langford. Expect both these teams to be playing in March.

Butler vs Maryland – Tuesday, November 14th

This is another match up between two teams who will compete in the top half of their respective conferences. Butler returns their best player in Kelan Martin, and will have Kamar Baldwin back as well as supporting cast. The Bulldogs have a nice freshman guard in Aaron Thompson who will get his first real taste of college action against a tough Maryland team. For Maryland, they will experience life without Melo Trimble. Get to know their sophomore trio of Justin Jackson, Kevin Huerter and Anthony Cowan. These three will make this team go this year.

Indiana vs Seton Hall – Tuesday, November 14th

The Archie Miller era begins in Indiana this year. It will be a tough first year, as IU loses a lot from last year’s team. Look for Josh Newkirk and Juwan Morgan to become the go to guys this season. I also think Curtis Jones will give the Hoosiers so balance at the point guard position. For Seton Hall, this is a big year. The once heralded recruiting class of Desi Rodriguez, Angel Delgado and Kadeen Carrington have not reached senior year. Delgado is one of the best bigs in the country. He’s a double-double machine, plain and simple. The Pirates also have sharpshooter Myles Powell and a nice group of freshman to add to their veteran group. Expectations are high in Jersey.

Xavier vs Wisconsin – Wednesday, November 15th

We talked about Wisconsin earlier. If Yale isn’t a test for them, Xavier definitely will be. The Muskateers have one of the best guards in the country in Trevon Bluiett, and J.P. Macura is back for his senior season. The Big East has been Villanova’s conference to lose, but Xavier will look to have a say about that. New faces like Paul Scruggs and Naji Marshall will only add more weapons to a dangerous Big East team.

Virginia Tech vs St. Louis – Thursday, November 16th

This match up would be awesome next year; That’s not taking away from the one we have this year. Both teams have a lot of young talent and will use this year to gain some much needed experience in their conferences. Saint Louis has senior Davell Roby to lead their group of sophomore and freshman. Billiken fans will enjoy watching Jermaine Bishop for an entire season after medically redshirting, and will be introduced to freshman Jordan Goodwin. For Virginia Tech, they welcome freshman Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Wabissa Bede. The two will join returning players such as Chris Clarke and Ahmed Hill, who both averaged 11 points a game last year.

Virginia vs VCU – Friday, November 17th

Tipping at 4P EST on Friday, this is the last game before first rounds of many opening tournaments start. Virginia got hit by the transfer bug, while VCU will have some nice transfer pieces eligible this year. You can always count on Tony Bennett’s team to be stout defensively, and a back court of Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome will be fun to watch for the Cavaliers. VCU loses a lot of scoring, but Justin Tillman and Jonathan Williams are reliable scorers. Transfers Kris Lane and Isaac  Vann both transferred from smaller programs, but will be contributors for VCU as well this season.

Champions Classic – Tuesday, November 14th

This needs it’s own section. It’s one of, if not the biggest non-conference event of the year. Four of college basketball’s blue bloods and four of the top five teams in the country this year. The 2017 Champions Classic has a little bit of everything.

Duke vs Michigan State – 7PM

Bagley vs Bridges. Krzyzewksi vs Izzo. Duke vs Michigan State. This match up features a deep and primed Spartan team versus a NBA bound Duke club. The Blue Devils are led by highly touted freshman Marvin Bagley, Trevon Duval and Wendell Carter. Oh, and who could forget Grayson Allen. Duke doesn’t have the deepest of teams, but their starting five is as good as it gets. Michigan State is the opposite. The Spartans have depth upon depth. They return a team that went through growing pains and injuries last season. They have future lottery pick Miles Bridges, they have great depth in the post and the have Tom Izzo. These are two teams expected to play deep into March.

Kentucky vs Kansas – 10:30 PM

Game two features Big Blue Nation and Rock Chalk. New year, same script for Kentucky, as they will lean on numerous McDonald All-American freshman to lead them through SEC play and into the NCAA Tournament. Different than most UK teams, John Calipari really doesn’t have an upperclassmen to lead his young team. As a result, don’t be surprised if it takes a little for Kentucky to click. Once they do though, players like Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo will be household names, if they somehow aren’t already. Kansas, like last year, will again rely on their guard play in 17-18. A small ball line up of Devonte’ Graham, Malik Newman, Svi Mykhailiuk and LeGerald Vick will be utilized a lot. They have question marks upfront, but KU appears to be the favorite once again in the Big 12.

So there it is, a schedule to get you through week one of the college season. After these games, preseason tournaments will begin and there will be some great championship battles to look forward to. Just don’t look ahead too soon, or you may miss a couple of great games.