Tag Archives: Michigan State basketball

Big Ten Basketball Woes

Even Tom Izzo had to admit the top of the Big Ten isn’t all that strong. “This year, there’s no question that it’s been Wisconsin and the rest,” he told me yesterday. “Maryland is now proving to be in that class. But the strength at the top isn’t as good as last year or some of the other conferences.” For that reason, the conference as a whole has dipped considerably this season.

For a more in-depth look at the league’s struggles, read my latest for CBS Local.

College Hoops Recap: Butler Buzzer Beater

You can find my column for CBS Charlotte, in which I break down the five most important things that happened in college basketball this past weekend, by clicking the link below:

Five Things: Butler Prevails In Battle Of Bulldogs And The Number 1 Team Goes Down…Again

It was a fantastic Saturday in college hoops, which was fitting because it was the first Saturday without college or pro football this season. I got the sense that casual hoops fans were beginning to turn their attention to the sport, and the sport didn’t disappoint. The highlight of the weekend was Butler’s buzzer-beating victory over Gonzaga.
Continue reading College Hoops Recap: Butler Buzzer Beater

Should Coach K Already Have the Wins Record?

Mike Krzyzewski can set the all-time wins record tonight against Michigan State at Madison Square Garden. Had some of his wins not been credited to someone else, he would have already passed Bob Knight.

Coach K officially has 902 wins, tied with his mentor Knight for the most among Division I basketball coaches. That total includes just nine victories from the 1994-95 season, Krzyzewski’s 15th at Duke. Krzyzewski left the team after its 9-3 start due to exhaustion following back surgery, and assistant coach Pete Gaudet took over as interim coach. Duke went 4-15 the rest of the way to finish with a 13-18 record.

Krzyzewski’s career record reflects the 9-3 start, but not the 4-15 finish during his absence. I’m not sure how I feel about these games not appearing on Coach K’s official record. Other coaches have missed games (Jim Calhoun comes to mind) and those results still appeared on their individual records, but those were just a few games. This was the majority of a season. I understand arguments for both sides.

Coach K (right) is tied with his mentor Bob Knight (left) for career wins. (Credit: John Pellino/DOIM)

What’s interesting is that the NCAA chooses to leave decisions like this to the school, so it was Duke and Krzyzewski that decided how to record the 1994-95 season. However, on a conference call with reporters in 2007, Krzyzewski said, “I think I should have been credited with all the losses…The bottom line is I’m responsible even though I wasn’t there. I wouldn’t want the wins but you could give me the losses.”

That doesn’t make much sense to me. Either all of the final 19 games should be attributed to Krzyzewski or none of them, but not just the losses. Regardless, if Coach K truly felt this way, his career record would be 902-299, not 902-284, as I’m certain the school would change the record books upon his request.

Again, I’ll leave the debate over how that asterisked season should be handled to others. I am only certain of this: Had the entire season been credited to Krzyzewski, the record-setting victory would have come against Hampton in the first round of last year’s NCAA Tournament. But that’s not nearly as fun as it potentially coming in The World’s Most Famous Arena against an elite program with its own outstanding coach.

Jimmy V Classic: Kansas, Michigan State, Syracuse, Memphis

NEW YORK—The field for Tuesday night’s Jimmy V Classic doubleheader at Madison Square Garden was extremely impressive: No. 4 Kansas vs. No. 13 Memphis and No. 7 Michigan State vs. No. 8 Syracuse.

As expected, Kansas didn’t have too much trouble with a young Memphis squad, winning 81-68. The Jayhawks never pushed the lead to blowout territory, but after the game was tied early in the second half Kansas went on a 9-0 run; Memphis never got closer than six again.

Meanwhile, Syracuse “manhandled” (Tom Izzo’s words) the Spartans en route to a 72-58 victory. It was a one-possession game with 13 minutes left but the Orange flexed its muscle and fed off what was essentially a home crowd.

Here are some of the things I learned:

Kansas Jayhawks

The national media stories focused on the impending return of the nation’s top recruit, Josh Selby (Dec. 18 vs. USC) and how he will adjust to his teammates. Kansas is 9-0 and some media folks were suggesting Selby’s return could be a bad thing for the Jayhawks.

This was at least partly based on this postgame comment from Bill Self: “To be honest with you, our other players aren’t doing poorly. So [Selby] needs to be part of it as opposed to the guy. Because he’s not going to be the guy. We don’t have the guy. And I kind of like it that way; we have balance.”

But let’s take a step back and give Self—a two time Coach of the Year and national champion—a little more credit. He has had boatloads of talent since he arrived in Lawrence and hasn’t had too much trouble assembling a cohesive team. And let’s not kid ourselves: Kansas can certainly use Selby. “If you look at our team, who breaks down pressure?” Self said. “Obviously, you need a second guy that can do that. Josh is the only guy in our program that you can run really bad offense and come away with two or three points, and every team needs a guy like that.”

It’s not unreasonable to think Selby might press early on, which could lead to even more media scrutiny. But if he is able to settle down he should thrive, as should Kansas. “Expectations will be a little ridiculous for him, starting out, just because everybody’s been waiting and questioning,” Self said. “Our USC home game will be as anticipated a home game as we’ve had maybe in years.”

Memphis Tigers

It’s pretty amazing that Josh Pastner assembled what many experts believe to be the No. 2 recruiting class in the country before he even coached a collegiate game. His talented freshmen were on display Tuesday night, as two rookies led the Tigers in scoring. Will Barton scored 16, though it took him 17 shots to get there, and Chris Crawford dropped 15.

I was most impressed with Crawford, a 6’4 guard who showed a nice outside touch and a willingness to drive to the basket. This is a Memphis team that should definitely improve as the season progresses. I think Pastner will have them back in the Big Dance after a one-year hiatus.

“I told the guys I don’t want to hear about being young,” Pastner said. “I am not going to allow them to have that as an excuse.” Pastner, 33, is the youngest head coach in Division I, but you know he won’t let himself use it as excuse either.

Syracuse Orange

Jim Boeheim always seems to be unhappy with his team, yet the Orange always seem to be in the top 15 and a dangerous team in the NCAA Tournament. But I think Boeheim’s philosophy—to tell anyone who will listen that his team stinks—is accurate to a certain extent: All good teams expect to be a lot better come March.

I’m sure this has been said before, but against the Spartans it was as if Syracuse’s 2-3 zone featured six players. Michigan State started its offense from well beyond the three-point line and couldn’t get anything going early on.

Meanwhile, offensively, it looked like a lay-up line as Cuse jumped out to a 25-13 lead. The Orange only hit two three-pointers, but got 42 points in the paint, many off of seemingly uncontested lay-ups and dunks.

There’s no doubt Syracuse is going to have to find its touch from outside and hope some of the freshmen can develop as the season progresses, but there’s no reason to think this team can’t earn another high seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Michigan State

Where to begin? How about with Tom Izzo calling out junior forward Delvon Roe. “I don’t know if Delvon’s frustrated with that. Tom’s frustrated with Delvon, OK? Their guy took it at him, same size—one guy went up tough, one guy didn’t. So Delvon’s got to grow up. He’s healthy. I was not pleased with his play. Not very often am I calling out players; I usually call out a team. But our inside guys need some work. We are just not very tough in there. That has been a trademark of our team and our program, and we’ll get that back.”

Izzo was visibly frustrated after his team was embarrassed for stretches against Syracuse to drop its third game of this young season. He isn’t worried about the losses, but rather the reason behind them. “We’re a pretty boy team now, not a smash-mouth team,” he said.

When he hinted it was an unprecedented defeat for his program, a reporter asked if he could remember how long it had been since he’d lost in such a fashion. “A long time, to be honest with you,” Izzo said. “I’m not proud to say that either. I say we’ve gotten beat, I’ve said we played bad. But it’s been a long time since I thought we totally got manhandled.”

Keep in mind the Spartans were within two points seven minutes into the second half. Also remember they were blown out, twice, by North Carolina two seasons ago. Especially considering one of those games was the national championship, you have to assume Izzo wasn’t forgetting those defeats. Yet he still felt this was worse.

Part of Sparty’s struggles have to be attributed to the brutal schedule—not just tough opponents, but a lot of travel as well—but Michigan State is also getting outrebounded, which is not a good sign. Izzo’s squad has led the nation in rebounding margin the last two seasons and four of the last 11 years. But Syracuse had a 38-30 advantage on the boards and was the fourth opponent the Spartans have failed to outrebound this season. Other teams that have outrebounded Michigan State include South Carolina and Division II Chaminade.

“We all go through the same problems this time of year,” Izzo said. “Some people don’t play hard, some people don’t go up enough, some people feel sorry for themselves. It’s a man’s game, and when you play a schedule like this you’ve got to be ready to play every night.” Regardless of Michigan State’s struggles so far, we all know no coach gets his team prepared for March basketball like Izzo.

Final Four 2010: Duke, Michigan State, West Virginia, Butler

Shouldn’t we have seen this coming? I mean, it’s not like there’s a George Mason in this bunch. It’s been a wild Tournament with a lot of upsets, sure, but to call this year’s Final Four unpredictable, crazy, a fluke — now that’s taking it too far. You may not have seen Cornell reaching the Sweet 16, Northern Iowa beating Kansas, or Tennessee going to the regional final, but you should be ashamed of yourself for not having a perfect Final Four. Here’s why.

Duke
Do I really need to waste Internet ink on the Blue Devils? They were a one seed, they’d been to 14 Final Fours before this trip, and they get all the calls. Seriously though, do you know anyone who didn’t have Duke in at least the Elite Eight? The committee paved a very smooth road for Duke to reach the regional final, where it likely would be matched up with either Villanova or Baylor. It was the latter, and the Bears were a formidable foe. But come on, Baylor? This was not the team that was going to knock off mighty Duke. This was an obvious pick, so I’m sure you had it.

West Virginia
The Big East has been regarded as the top conference in college hoops the past few years. You had to expect one Big East team to reach Indianapolis, and why not the conference tournament champ? Like Duke, WVU had a fairly easy path to the regional final. As it turned out, it was even easier than most thought, as the Mountaineers faced a 15, 10, and 11 seed before toppling Kentucky.

The Wildcats are very talented, but also very young. WVU has its own star in Da’Sean Butler, and he’s an experienced senior. Upperclassmen top youngsters in March, didn’t you know that? Sure you did, so you probably had WVU, too.

Michigan State
What’s that you say? That you had Duke and West Virginia, but the left side of the bracket was just too crazy? Wrong. How could you overlook a team that had gone to five Final Fours in the past 11 years? This is practically the same Spartan squad that danced all the way to the title game last season. Sure, the top three seeds getting bounced before Michigan State had to play them helped, but Tom Izzo would have found a way to get his team to the Final Four regardless.

I don’t want to hear about Kansas. Kansas always chokes; you should know this. Michigan State never chokes. Did you think you were going to go the entire Tournament without seeing Magic Johnson? Shame on you if you took any other team in the Midwest region, no matter how loaded it was.

Butler
OK, you convinced me about Michigan State, but you’re not going to tell me Butler was an obvious choice, too, you say. Guess what, bracket braniac, I am. Butler was a preseason top 10 team. Better yet, in the last poll before the Tournament, it was ranked eighth. The top seven teams all received one and two seeds. The Bulldogs, inexplicably, got a five seed.

But surely you recognized this was no typical five seed. While some of your friends foolishly took UTEP as an upset in the first round, you knew Butler, with all that Tournament experience, would coast to the Sweet 16. That’s where top-seeded Syracuse awaited, a team that seemed too big, too athletic, too good for a lowly Horizon League team, at least to some. But not to you. You valued defense, team chemistry, timely three-point shooting, and a desire to “go home,” to Indianapolis, that propelled this team to the Final Four.

There you have it. Four different paths, but all of them equally predictable: a perennial favorite, the best of the best, the top Tourney coach, and the hometown kids. Shame on you for whiffing on all of them, yet alone one of them.

My Final Four? Baylor, Kentucky, Kansas, and BYU.

Big Ten-ACC Challenge 2009

The Big Ten/ACC Challenge tips off tomorrow night, and I had intended to write about how this was the year. How after 10 straight losses — the entire history of the Challenge — the Big Ten was finally going to win. Then I looked at the match-ups. I’m no longer very confident.

I’m a fan of Big Ten athletics but I don’t claim it’s the best conference every year, in football or basketball. I did, however, enter this hoops season believing the Big Ten was the best conference in the country. It has a couple of really good teams (Michigan State and Purdue) and aside from its two worst (Indiana and Iowa), is very strong top to bottom. Most of the teams in the consensus three through nine (Michigan, Ohio State, Illinois) are very good.

The ACC, on the other hand, appears to be in a bit of a down year. North Carolina, despite its high preseason ranking, has a ton of young, unproven players. Duke should be strong again, but overall the conference simply doesn’t have the depth of the Big Ten. The Big Ten takes a lot of flack for whatever reason, and its winless streak in the Challenge was not helping matters. Yet it seemed to be in great position to end that streak this year.

So why am I less certain now than I was before I knew the match-ups? Let’s take a look:

Penn State at Virginia
Wake Forest at Purdue
Maryland at Indiana
Northwestern at North Carolina State
Michigan State at North Carolina
Virginia Tech at Iowa
Illinois at Clemson
Boston College at Michigan
Minnesota at Miami
Duke at Wisconsin
Florida State at Ohio State

The Challenge sets up favorably for the ACC. Two teams that are likely going to lose no matter what, Indiana and Iowa, are “wastes” of home teams. In some of the more balanced match-ups, the ACC has home court advantage (North Carolina, Clemson, North Carolina State).

But these just sound like excuses for the Big Ten, which has had 10 previous attempts to win the Challenge and failed each time. So, although I wasn’t as confident as I once was, I’m still going to say that this is the year for the Big Ten. It should certainly grab wins with Ohio State, Michigan, and Purdue. Virginia Tech and Maryland will most likely prevail for the ACC. Other than those, it’s difficult to project winners, but I think the Big Ten will get the requisite six victories to win the Challenge.

Just for the heck of it, here are my projected winners.
Big Ten: Penn State, Purdue, Northwestern, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State
ACC: Maryland, Virginia Tech, Duke, North Carolina, Clemson

Do you agree that the Big Ten will end its drought or will the ACC win its eleventh straight? Share your opinions in the comments section.