Shorthanded Blue Devils Outlast Spartans

No. 5 Duke (7-1) left the door open for an upset at Cameron Indoor Stadium, but Michigan State (4-4) simply could not capitalize, falling on the road 78-69.

The Spartans hung tough with the heavy favorite Blue Devils in the first half, largely because of the slow start from Grayson Allen. The player of the year candidate was hobbled with a sore toe and nearly missed the game. He shot only 2-10 in the first half and was completely out of rhythm.  The game was tied at 35 going into the break.

Duke started to pull away midway through the second half, ripping off an 11-0 run to extend their lead to 59-48. Allen regained his shooting touch and burned the Spartans from long range. But Duke’s main weakness, their short bench, nearly came back to haunt them. Big man Amile Jefferson picked up his third foul early in the second half and guard Frank Jackson picked up his fourth midway through the second. The Blue Devils only played six players, with freshmen Harry Giles, Marques Bolden and Jayson Tatum all out.

Turnovers plagued the Spartans, as they have been all season. Every time MSU looked like they were going to make a run, a string of turnovers stalled any momentum they had. MSU finished with 18 turnovers. Too many times the Spartans ended possessions without a single shot, killing their comeback chances. Duke put up 11 more shots than MSU as a result.

Jefferson torched the Spartans down low, just as MSU’s opponents have been doing all season. He posted his fourth double-double in his last five games, finishing with 17 points and 13 rebounds. Second-chance points were dominated by Duke 22-4, yet another area the Spartans have struggled in.

The game saw 12 ties and nine lead changes, mostly in the first half and the beginning of the second. Duke took the lead four minutes into the second half and never looked back.

Allen led all scorers with 24 points on an inefficient 7-21 shooting. MSU actually outshot Duke 49 percent to 45 percent and out-rebounded the Blue Devils 39-33. But turnovers, turnovers and more turnovers were just too much for the Spartans to overcome.

Kenny Goins had a surprisingly good game for MSU, considering his awful cold streak. He had been held scoreless in three of his last four games, but scored 10 points against Duke, including a nice jumper from near three-point range and an emphatic dunk that quieted the Cameron Crazies. The Spartans need his energy to stay up like that to have a chance in the paint.

ESPN analyst Jay Williams called Eron Harris Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde because of his inconsistency, and he is spot on. In a big game like this, the Spartans really needed him to step up and take some of the scoring burden off of Miles Bridges’ shoulders. He did not do that on Tuesday. The senior only mustered 14 points and three rebounds in one of the biggest games of the season. He needs to establish himself as the go-to scorer, and he hasn’t done that yet.

Bridges look frustrated throughout the entire game, similar to his Kentucky performance. He missed several huge dunks and got into foul trouble. The freshman phenom eventually fouled out, finishing with 11 points on 4-13 shooting and nine rebounds.

Coach K is now 10-1 against Tom Izzo. Even more impressive, Duke hasn’t lost a non-conference game at home since 200o, when they were defeated by St. John’s 83-82.

The nasty part of the schedule is finally over. Up next for the Spartans is a bit of a reprieve, with a much needed five-game homestand coming up, starting with Oral Roberts on Saturday. Tip-off is set for 4:30 p.m.

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Shockers Comeback Falls Short, Spartans Finish Third in Atlantis

Michigan State (4-3) capped off its trip to the Bahamas with a 77-72 victory over Wichita State (5-2) on Friday to finish third in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament. But the win wasn’t without drama.

Nick Ward’s layup with 11:53 left in the game gave the No. 24 ranked Spartans a commanding 18-point lead. But the scrappy Shockers clamped down on defense and wreaked havoc on the MSU offense. WSU went on a furious 14-0 run a few minutes later to slash the Spartan lead to just one with 4:13 left. MSU gave up eight turnovers in the last 11 minutes of the game, giving the Shockers easy opportunities to come back.

The freshmen came up big down the stretch for Michigan State. Miles Bridges and Cassius Winston each hit clutch threes in the last few minutes of the game to extend the Spartan lead to seven. Winston went to the line with 24 seconds left and Michigan State up by two and split his free throws, giving WSU a chance to tie the game and possibly go to overtime. The Shockers heaved up an ugly three that didn’t go, effectively sealing the win for MSU.

Bridges led all scorers with 21 points and added four rebounds, despite sitting out much of the first half with foul trouble. Matt McQuaid knocked down three threes en route to 13 points. Senior Eron Harris recovered nicely from his atrocious 1-9 shooting performance against Baylor with 13 points and four rebounds. Bahamas native Tum Tum Nairn dished out 12 assists in his last game back home.

Though third place wasn’t the outcome MSU had in mind, the Spartans were still able to pick up a quality win against a Shockers team that will be contenders in the Missouri Valley Conference this season.

However, MSU’s lack of size was once again a glaring problem. 6-9 power forward Darral Willis Jr. put up 16 points and six rebounds over the outsized Spartans. Wichita State out-rebounded MSU by one, but dominated the offensive glass. In the three games MSU played in the Battle 4 Atlantis, teams out-rebounded MSU on the offensive boards 32-23. Kenny Goins, a player Coach Izzo is counting on in the post this season, only managed to grab one rebound against Wichita State.

Michigan State hasn’t started a season 4-3 or worse since 2003-04, when they went 5-6 in the non-conference season. That Spartan squad played five ranked teams before getting into conference play, losing all five games.

Is the brutal schedule and travel over for the Spartans yet? Nope. They still have to face off with Coach K and the No. 6 Duke Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Tuesday night at 9:30 p.m. The success of Michigan State will largely depend on if they can shore up their offensive rebounding. If they can’t, it could get ugly.

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Opinion: Battle 4 Atlantis is Must-Win for Spartans

Michigan State is no stranger to big stages and tough competition. That much is clear just looking at the schedule.

The problem for the No. 24 ranked Spartans is simple: they haven’t won any big games, and they might not for the rest of the non-conference season. There’s no points for playing good teams and losing. That’s why they must win the Battle 4 Atlantis.

The selection committee looks at marquee wins in non-conference play to set apart evenly matched teams come March. MSU usually delivers that marquee win. Last year, it was against No. 4 Kansas. The year before, no marquee win, and a 7-seed as a result (yes, I know, that team went to the Final Four). What will the Spartans’ big win be this year? Florida Gulf Coast?

The Big Ten is top-heavy this year, meaning MSU will only have three or four games to pad their conference resume: At No. 3 Indiana, two games vs. No. 17 Purdue and a home game against No. 16 Wisconsin. As of now, only Indiana is elite in that group, making non-conference even more important.

This is a prime opportunity to notch wins against highly-ranked teams. Everyone will be tired and everyone will be far away from home (except for Tum Tum Nairn), so the playing field is level. St. John’s will be MSU’s first opponent, but no bracketologist would consider that a good win. If State gets past the Red Storm, they will have to face the winner of No. 20 Baylor vs. VCU. For resume sake, the Spartans are hoping it will be Baylor.

The Bears come into the tournament 3-0, including a lopsided upset over then-No. 4 Oregon in Waco. Now that’s a marquee win (even though the Ducks were without their best player Dillon Brooks). This would be a phenomenal resume builder for the Spartans on their way to the championship game. But don’t assume it’ll be an easy road past Baylor.

One thing that the Spartans struggle with is experienced post players. FGCU had a 6-foot-9, 250 pound beast in the paint named Antravious Simmons, and he ate up Nick Ward and Kenny Goins. Simmons finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds on the night, and the Eagles as a team crushed the Spartans on the glass 41-29.

Coincidentally, the Eagles also played Baylor this year, losing 81-72. How did Simmons do in that game, you ask? 10 points, one rebound. The Bears out-rebounded FGCU 29-20. Not a good sign for the Spartans. They’ll have to deal with 7-footer Jo Lual-Acuil Jr., who is averaging 10.7 points, 10 rebounds and 5.3 blocks per game. All I have to say to Goins is good luck.

If the Spartans manage to get past Baylor, they’ll find themselves in the championship game, with possible opponents of LSU, Old Dominion, Wichita State and No. 10 Louisville. Let’s take a leap here and say the Cardinals will make the championship game. Again, that’s what the Spartans want for their resume.

Last year’s showdown at the Breslin Center won’t be far from the minds of the Cardinals, who lost that matchup 71-67. This year, Louisville is even better, and so is Jaylen Johnson. The 6-foot-9 forward from Ypsilanti only scored two points in last year’s game, but is on a tear to start this season, averaging 15.3 points and 11.3 boards. Oh, and he’s shooting 70 percent from the field.

Don’t forget about the Cardinals’ other tree, 6-foot-10 Mangok Mathiang, who is averaging 7.7 points and eight rebounds. If Louisville decides to go big and play both Johnson and Mathiang at the same time, it could spell trouble on the defensive end for the Spartans.

The Cardinals do have a weakness though, and that’s their outside shooting. They’re shooting a shade below 32 percent from beyond the arc so far, and that’s against the likes of Evansville, William & Mary and Long Beach State.

After all of this, Coach Izzo’s squad has to make the trek to Cameron Indoor Stadium to face off with the Duke Blue Devils, and marquee wins there are few and far between. Even more reason why the Battle 4 Atlantis is a must-win. The road to the championship won’t be a cakewalk for the Spartans, but it’s certainly doable, and it would greatly aid their lackluster resume.

Spartans Outlast ‘Dunk City’ Eagles Amid Controversial Ending

No one thought Florida Gulf Coast would walk into the Breslin Center and have a chance to win the game, but they did.

Down 78-77 with just over two seconds left, the Eagles (1-3) attempted to inbound the ball. Freshman Miles Bridges swatted the first throw out of bounds, bringing the clock down to 1.6 seconds. The second throw was successful but the Eagles could not get the shot off in time due to the clock starting too soon. By the time Antravious Simmons could catch the ball, the buzzer sounded and No. 13 MSU (2-2) escaped with the win.

“A timing error occurred with 1.6 seconds remaining on the game clock,” said official Bo Boroski. “Since a timing error occurred, we are able to utilize the replay monitor. A stopwatch was used to determine if any time should remain on the game clock. Using a stopwatch, it was determined the ball was caught and released in 1.3 seconds, meaning if the shot would have gone in, it would have counted. After the miss there was no time remaining in the game, therefore ending the game. By rule the possession can not be replayed. Period.”

FGCU big man Simmons was a nightmare down low for the Eagles. Kenny Goins was no match and Nick Ward even struggled defensively. Simmons finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds. FGCU as a team outrebounded MSU 41-29 and had 15 more second-chance points.

“We made Simmons into an All-American tonight,” said Izzo.

With under a minute to play, Bridges broke the tie and gave the Spartans a two-point edge, 75-73. The Izzone was rocking, trying to will MSU to a defensive stop, but Zach Johnson of FGCU threw down a monster dunk to tie the game once again. Coach Izzo called timeout with 22.8 seconds left.

On the ensuing inbounds pass, Brandon Goodwin quickly fouled freshman Cassius Winston and sent him to the line, where the normally perfect shooter split his free throws.

“I really thought I was gonna make both of them,” Winston said. “I stepped to the line with a lot of confidence, I sunk the first one and I thought the second one was good too, missed it. I felt bad, I shouldn’t miss free throws, I shouldn’t miss any of them.”

A mad scrum followed the miss and Winston dove on the ball, and jump ball was called in favor of the Spartans. FGCU had to intentionally foul Bridges with 16.5 seconds left. He drained both from the charity stripe.

Christian Terrell took it to the rack on the next possession with three seconds left, cutting the lead to one, 78-77. FGCU was forced to foul Eron Harris, who had already missed three from the stripe throughout the game. He bricked both and the Eagles corralled the rebound and called timeout with 2.4 seconds left.

“It might have been a little bit of nerves,” said Harris. “But like I said that’s another thing I know I’m good at, that’s why when I missed them I was smiling. Players go through it but that’s no excuse and I’m mad at myself for that.”

Harris dominated the game, particularly in the first half, but had limited help from his teammates. He singlehandedly outscored the Eagles for nearly nine minutes to open the game and finished the half with 17 points. He led all scorers with 31 points on a perfect 6-6 from deep.

“I know what I can do and to be able to actually do it, to get back to myself feels great,” Harris said. “I’m just gonna keep my confidence up right now and let it carry over.”

Bridges struggled to find his rhythm for most of the night. It took him almost 17 minutes to make his first shot of the game, largely because the Eagle defense was zeroed in on him the entire time. He tallied 13 points on 4-12 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds.

Compounding MSU’s struggles inside was the absence of Goins. He played like a ghost, failing to score and only pulling down three rebounds. He also picked up three fouls and only played 17 minutes, forcing Matt Van Dyk into action. The Spartans desperately need Goins to step up in a big way if they want to have any chance in the Bahamas.

This matchup was the first game of the Battle 4 Atlantis. MSU will travel to the Bahamas to play in the tournament starting on Wednesday night, where they will face Chris Mullin’s St. John’s squad.

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MSU Back On Track With Romp of Delta Devils

Friday night was a time of healing and redemption for Michigan State.

The Spartans (1-2) returned to East Lansing with their tails between their legs after a drubbing at the hands of the Kentucky Wildcats. Throw in a last-second loss to Arizona in Hawaii, and you have a worst-case scenario start to the 2016-17 season. Mississippi Valley State (0-4) was the unfortunate recipient of Miles Bridges’ pent up aggression as the Spartans rolled all over the Delta Devils 100-53.

Bridges dominated the game, especially in the first half, a departure from his head-scratching performance at Madison Square Garden. The freshman phenom finished with 24 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and several highlight reel dunks.

“That first half performance was as good as any I’d seen here in a long time for a half,” Coach Izzo said after the game. “Kind of like Denzel (Valentine)’s in Chicago last year, only Miles did it for a half. Just did some phenomenal things.”

But former MSU great and Golden State Warriors forward Draymond is never satisfied with the freshman, especially after the first two games of the season.

“Yeah whatever Day-Day (Green) says is really blunt so he was like ‘you suck,’” Bridges said. “I know what that means, Day Day is a good role model for me.”

The game started out about as ugly as it could possibly be, with both teams combining to miss the first 12 shots. The Delta Devils only trailed by five with seven minutes to play in the first half before MSU turned on the jets, closing out the half on a 29-9 run.

Eron Harris also shook off his slow start, hitting three three-pointers in the first half en route to 19 points. A main reason why the MSU offense was out of sorts in the first two games was because of Harris. He should be the team’s go-to scorer and can take the pressure off of Bridges. But when his shots weren’t falling, it seemed to start a chain reaction against Arizona and Kentucky.

“When more of us just impact the game, you can’t put the burden on one person,” Harris said. “Everybody just has to attack. We have to keep encouraging each other to attack and the coaches are doing great for encouraging us.”

Coach Izzo put all four freshmen into the game early on and the halfcourt offense looked like a mess. Two alley-oops late in the shot clock salvaged a couple possessions, but it looked like something was off. MSU can’t rely on pure athleticism and raw talent to get them out of bad possessions like that once they get into Big Ten play.

Shooting woes seem to be in the rearview mirror for MSU (for now). The Spartans were en fuego from beyond the arc, thanks in large part to back-to-back-to-back threes from Matt McQuaid in the second half. The sophomore came into the game shooting 28.6 percent from deep and went 5-8 on Friday. The team finished with 16 threes on the night, more than they made in the first two games combined.

Freshman Nick Ward was a perfect 8-8 from the field for 18 points and eight rebounds, while his frontcourt mate Kenny Goins pitched in a quiet two points and seven rebounds.

Don’t think that just because the Spartans blew out Mississippi Valley State that all their problems are magically gone. MSU still has the Battle 4 Atlantis, where they could face teams like Louisville and Baylor, as well as the showdown with Duke.

“We took a step in the right direction,” said Izzo. “We did not conquer Rome or anything but we took a step in the right direction tonight.”

Turnovers were a major problem for the Spartans against Arizona and Kentucky, giving the ball away a combined 38 times. Tonight MSU cut its turnover total to 14, and most of those were within the flow of the game.

“The turnovers can’t compare to what I had against Kentucky and the turnovers we had against Arizona,” said Bridges. “They were all unforced, some of these were forced.”

The Spartans will take on “Dunk City” Florida Gulf Coast next on Sunday night at 7 p.m. at the Breslin Center.

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Three Takeaways from Exhibition Play

After months without meaningful basketball, the Spartans finally returned to the hardwood for preseason action. Sure, the games don’t count, but that doesn’t stop journalists like us from overanalyzing them.

Michigan State defeated Northwood 93-69 on Oct. 27 and Saginaw Valley State 87-77 on Wednesday. Let’s take a look at some takeaways from preseason action.

Leading scorers:

Miles Bridges – 26.5 ppg, 70% FG, 78% 3PT

Cassius Winston – 13.5 ppg, 60% FG, 50% 3PT

Nick Ward – 12.5 ppg, 56% FG, 41% FT

Eron Harris – 10.5 ppg, 43% FG, 28.5% 3 PT

Leading rebounders:

Eron Harris – 8 RPG

Miles Bridges – 7.5 RPG

Nick Ward – 5 RPG

Kenny Goins – 5 RPG

1. Cassius Winston outperformed Tum Tum Nairn

There were whispers in the offseason of the new point guard possibly being good enough to one day this season take Nairn’s spot in the starting lineup. Winston certainly performed well enough to make those whispers a bit louder in the preseason.

Narin averaged five points and 2.5 assists in the preseason, while Winston scored 13.5 per game and dished out 7.5 assists. The chemistry with Winston on the floor was much better than anticipated, and he ran the offense calmly and efficiently. Nairn pushed the ball a bit more, but his shooting woes are still hurting the offense.

Saginaw Valley State coach Randy Baruth summed up the situation perfectly:

“We really tried to play off [Nairn] honestly,” said Baruth. “If we were gonna play Michigan State again there’s no question we’d be doubling the post off of [Nairn] and just say [Nairn] take jump shots and beat us. If you make four or five threes and beat us then God bless you.

“So [Winston] is a guy you can’t play off of but he’s not a guy you can really pressure and get him to turn it over either. But with [Nairn] we would’ve just done a lot more doubling and been way heavier off of him and our help and no disrespect to [Narin] but that’s just what we would’ve done differently if we played again.”

2. Quick whistles, slow games

The NCAA has new “points of emphasis” for this season, focusing on play in the paint, block/charge calls and travelling. As a result, fouls spiked in the first two games. This could be a major problem for the Spartans with their lack of depth in the frontcourt. If Goins, Bridges or Ward get in foul trouble, MSU will have to rely on 6-5 Matt Van Dyk or even Kyle Ahrens to man the post.

“For some reason, somebody wants freedom of movement, and as I told one of the NFL officials that was there tonight, it’s like nobody wants to play defense anymore,” said Izzo after the game.

There were 91 fouls called in both games combined. That’s 1.13 fouls per minute, for those of you keeping score from home. Coach Izzo took notice of those numbers.

“I said it two years ago, I said it last year. Some think they’re making the game better, I think they’re ruining the game,” said Izzo.

Baruth also pointed out how points of emphasis are usually less emphasized during conference play, and the games become a “bloodbath.”

“The first four or five games of the year are going to be called tight,” said Baruth. “Then once league comes, it’s gonna be a bloodbath, and there will be not one call.”

3. Defense, turnovers hold MSU back

If Michigan State wants to have any chance of coming close to Arizona, the defense needs to be much better. The fact that the Spartans only won by 10 to Saginaw Valley State should be cause for concern. Even Northwood hung around for much longer than they should have, and that’s because of the spotty defense.

“Our defense was real good, then real bad,” said Izzo. “I thought the other night our defense was very average. I thought tonight we had some real, real good and some real, real bad and the sustainability of that is what we have to do a better job of.”

Turnovers were also a main problem in the SVSU game, where the Spartans had 18. Against a team like Arizona or Kentucky, that can be the difference between winning and getting blown out.

“I think we had moments of this game where we played awfully poor and inconsistent and had a lack of sustainability,” said Izzo. “I was very disappointed. We had a great start and a lot of energy, but we had six turnovers in a row and we only turned the ball over 10 times in the last game. 18 turnovers is just ridiculous, so that part was disappointing.”

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What to Look For in Exhibition Opener

Michigan State finally returns to the hardwood for real (sort of) Thursday night with an exhibition game against Northwood University.

Unlike most years, there is a level of uncertainty surrounding the team with the rash of injuries and addition of new players. How will MSU replace Gavin Schilling? How many freshmen will start? Who is the go-to scorer? While all of these questions probably won’t be answered in one exhibition game, fans will at least get to see a glimpse of what’s to come for the new-look Spartans. Here are some things to watch for Thursday night.

Think Small

Much has been made of the injuries to forwards Ben Carter and Gavin Schilling, the two biggest players (literally) on Michigan State’s roster. Coach Izzo will be forced to use a combination of different smaller lineups, perhaps smaller than ever before in his tenure at MSU

Izzo said after practice on Tuesday that the tentative starting lineup for the game would be Tum Tum Nairn, Eron Harris, Matt McQuaid, Miles Bridges and Kenny Goins. Forget who is playing shooting guard or small forward or power forward. There will be a point guard, three wings and a center. Izzo hopes to use the athleticism of his team to move players around and play “positionless basketball.” This is usually another word for small ball. How small? “Center” Kenny Goins is only 6-foot-6. Yeah, that small.

Freshmen Phenoms

Did you know that Michigan State had one of the highest-rated recruiting classes in 2016? Oh, you did? MSU’s freshmen are perhaps the most hyped players to ever don the green and white in the last 20 years. Now it’s time to see what they’re made of.

“We have to play like juniors and seniors,” said Bridges. “We can’t play like freshmen because there’s a lot of people out and we have to mature fast.”

Izzo said guard Cassius Winston has the potential to become the best passer in the state since Magic Johnson. He will provide a change of pace for the offense when he takes over for Nairn.

“He (Nairn) just brings that intensity out of everybody, he brings out another side of everybody, and he just wants us to go hard every play,” said Bridges. “Cassius is more calm, more smooth.”

Josh Langford might be the most underrated player in the class, even though he was a five-star recruit. Langford is quick and has a mean midrange game, which Bridges said reminds him of Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan.

Nick Ward is a “poor poor poor poor man’s Zach Randolph,” according to Izzo. Kind of a backhanded compliment. Ward is a force in the post with not much of an outside game. He lost over 20 pounds over the summer and looks much stronger and quicker than in high school.

Bridges is the crown jewel of the class. The likely one-and-done phenom is possibly one of the most athletic players in the Big Ten. His electrifying dunks will excite the crowd, but his game is much more than that. He can take defenders off the dribble, shoot the three and work in the post. He can even play the point at times if needed.

Tip-off at the Breslin Center is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday night. Michigan State plays one more exhibition game on Nov. 2 before heading to Hawaii for their season opener against Arizona.

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Harris, Bridges Ranked Among CBS Top 101 Players

Eron Harris and Miles Bridges were ranked in CBS Sports’ annual Top 101 players in college basketball list this year.

Bridges came in at No. 26 in the nation and was the fourth-highest ranked player in the Big Ten, behind Maryland’s Melo Trimble (14), Indiana’s Thomas Bryant (17) and Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes (19).

Here’s what Matt Norlander had to say about the freshman:

“Bridges’ talent and power is fantastic. He’ll get thrown into the fire right away, but I don’t see him failing. You can see how much we value this freshman class given how many incoming players we’ve put in our top 27. Bridges will have a chance to put up numbers that match any other freshman in the nation.”

Harris came later in the list at No. 49. Here’s what Gary Parrish had to say about the senior:

“Harris averaged 9.3 points last season, which makes him Michigan State’s leading returning scorer. Remember, the 6-3 guard averaged 17.2 points three seasons ago at West Virginia. So he’s capable of scoring big and probably will now that Denzel Valentine and Bryn Forbes are in the NBA.”


Bridges’ spot seems to be pretty accurate. He clearly has some of the biggest upside of any player in the nation, but has yet to prove anything. Harris seems to be a bit underrated right now. Maybe it’s because of the diminished role he had in the offense last year. Harris will have the opportunity to become one of the most lethal scorers in the Big Ten this year and will almost certainly move up the list come March.

I’m a little surprised freshman Josh Langford was left off the list. He was another highly-touted prospect that could have played anywhere in the country and has a game similar to Kobe Bryant. He could turn some heads this year with his deadly midrange game.

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Big Ten Power Rankings: Preseason

Basketball season is just around the corner and the Big Ten is set to be one of the toughest conferences in the nation. Regular season champions Indiana will be in position to defend their title and tournament champions Michigan State could be in trouble with early injuries. Let’s take a look at where everyone stands heading into the season.

1. Wisconsin

Last season: 22-13, 12-6 B1G, loss in Sweet 16

Key players: F Nigel Hayes, G Bronson Koenig

Key losses: none

The Badgers are the most experienced team not only in the Big Ten, but in the entire nation, returning every player that averaged at least four minutes per game last season. Coach Greg Gard took over from retiring Bo Ryan in Dec. 15 after the Badgers stumbled to a 7-5 start and led his team to a 15-8 mark for the rest of the year. Now in his first full year, he’s in an ideal position to take over the Big Ten.

Nigel Hayes was one of the best players in the Big Ten last year but decided to forgo the NBA draft for his senior season. The outspoken forward led the team with 15.7 points per game and added 5.8 rebounds. He is a leading candidate for conference player of the year along with senior guard Bronson Koenig.

Experience and depth will carry this Badger squad to the Big Ten title, and possibly a deep run in March.

2. Indiana

Last season: 27-8, 15-3 B1G, loss in Sweet 16

Key players: OG Anunoby, Thomas Bryant

Key losses: Yogi Ferrell, Troy Williams

The reigning Big Ten champs lose two of their top three scorers from last year in Yogi Ferrell and Troy Williams, but that shouldn’t stop them from leading the pack once again. Rising star OG Anunoby is poised to have a breakout sophomore season after averaging 4.9 points per game and shooting 45 percent from beyond the arc last year. He was also named to the Julius Erving Award watch list for the nation’s best small forward.

The Hoosiers also return center Thomas Bryant, one of the top recruits from last year’s class. He could have easily been a first round pick in the NBA draft but decided to return for another season. Bryant led the Big Ten in field goal percentage and will be one of, if not the best center in the conference.

If prolific scorer James Blackmon Jr. can stay healthy and improve his woeful defense, this Hoosier team will be tough to slow down on both ends of the court.

3. Purdue

Last season: 26-9, 12-6 B1G, loss in first round

Key players: Caleb Swanigan, Isaac Haas, Vince Edwards

Key losses: A.J. Hammons, Rapheal Davis

In an era of small ball and four-guard offenses, Purdue stands alone as one of the biggest teams in the conference. Even with the loss of seven-footer A.J. Hammons, the Boilermakers still have Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan manning the post.

Swanigan was another player that could have made the jump to the NBA but elected to stay in West Lafayette. If he can improve his outside shooting, he could become a lethal stretch four. Forward Vince Edwards, arguably the conference’s most underrated player, also made an appearance on the Erving Award watch list.

The addition of graduate transfer Spike Albrecht shores up a thin backcourt, something that hurt the Boilermakers in recent years. If they can survive an early test against national champion Villanova, Purdue could quickly become one of the nation’s top teams.

4. Michigan State

Last season: 29-6, 13-5, loss in first round

Key players: Eron Harris, Tum Tum Nairn, Miles Bridges

Key losses: Denzel Valentine, Bryn Forbes, Matt Costello

The Spartans underwent some of the most drastic roster turnover in recent memory, losing seven players and gaining five. The heralded freshman class gave MSU fans hope for a season without Mr. Everything Denzel Valentine. But with the knee injuries to forwards Ben Carter and Gavin Schilling, MSU is woefully thin in the frontcourt. Coach Izzo will need to rely on freshman Nick Ward to be the starting center, with 6-foot-6 Kenny Goins and 6-foot-5 Matt Van Dyk filling in the gaps.

But don’t count the Spartans out just yet. Their brutal non-conference schedule will give Izzo a good idea of what his team is made of. A slow start could lead to a hot streak in Big Ten play once the freshmen get some experience. Senior Eron Harris will return to his role as go-to scorer for the Spartans and a healthy Tum Tum Nairn will lead a smaller but possibly quicker MSU squad.

5. Ohio State

Last season: 21-14, 11-7, loss in second round of NIT

Key players: Jae’Sean Tate, Marc Loving, Keita Bates-Diop

Key losses: none

One of the most experienced teams in the nation had an odd season last year. The Buckeyes got off to a horrible 2-4 start, then went on to win nine of their next ten games, including a major upset of then-No. 4 Kentucky. But the Buckeyes were never able to really click and injuries certainly didn’t help.

Now the Buckeyes have a solid core in place and are fully healthy. This is another team that could pull a few upsets if they can reach the NCAA Tournament. Look for Jae’Sean Tate to make a big jump and become one of the best players in the Big Ten.

6. Michigan

Last season: 23-13, 10-8, loss in first round

Key players: Zak Irvin, Derrick Walton Jr., Duncan Robinson

Key losses: Caris LeVert

There’s a huge gap in talent between positions 1-4 and the rest of the league. Michigan, Ohio State and Maryland are all just about even with plenty of question marks.

Michigan was without Caris LeVert for most of last season so his loss isn’t as devastating as it could be. Guard play will be a strength of the Wolverines, but it could be their big men that decide how far this team can go. Mark Donnal is the team’s leading forward, having a sneaky good Big Ten season last year. Sophomore Moritz Wagner will be called upon more this season as well. Right now, Michigan is a just above being a bubble team, but if they stay healthy they could surprise some people come March.


7. Maryland

Last season: 27-9, 12-6, loss in Sweet 16

Key players: Melo Trimble

Key losses: Jake Layman, Diamond Stone, Robert Carter, Rasheed Sulaimon

It’s the Melo Trimble show in College Park. The junior point guard, once thought to be a one-and-done, is the only returning player to average double digit points last season. He will be relied on to not only facilitate the offense, which he improved on immensely last year, but to also be the go-to scorer. Look for the Terrapins to take a huge step back from a year ago.

8. Illinois

Last season: 15-19, 5-13, N/A

Key players: Malcolm Hill, Tracy Abrams

Key losses: Kendrick Nunn

Can Malcolm Hill stay out of trouble? That’s the main question for the Illini. He is one of the Big Ten’s best players and averaged over 18 points per game last season. Getting Tracy Abrams back from injury should boost Illinois’ offensive attack as well, even with the loss of Kendrick Nunn.

9. Iowa

Last season: 22-11, 12-6, loss in second round

Key players: Peter Jok

Key losses: Jarrod Uthoff, Anthony Clemmons, Mike Gesell, Adam Woodbury

Iowa was the cream of the Big Ten crop for most of the season last year before their collapse. The Hawkeyes lost four of their last five and got crushed by Villanova in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Now only Peter Jok is left from that fantastic core Iowa had for so long, and there’s not much talent around him.

10. Penn State

Last season: 16-16, 7-11, N/A

Key players: Shep Garner, Payton Banks

Key losses: Brandon Taylor

Coach Pat Chambers has this team on the upswing. It seems like Penn State is usually a doormat, but the Nittany Lions actually have a solid recruiting class this year with three 4-star players according to ESPN. This team could finally reach its potential next year, but for this season, don’t expect much.

11. Northwestern

Last season: 20-12, 8-10, N/A

Key players: Bryant McIntosh, Vic Law

Key losses: Tre Demps, Alex Olah

After what seemed like 10 years, Tre Demps and Alex Olah have finally graduated from Northwestern. Demps was one of the most heavily used players in the Big Ten, averaging 37 minutes per game. Getting Vic Law back from injury will certainly help, but the historic tournament drought won’t end this year.

12. Nebraska

Last season: 16-18, 6-12, N/A

Key players: Tai Webster, Anton Gill

Key losses: Shavon Shields, Andrew White

Nebraska is in somewhat of a holding pattern. After coach Tim Miles resurrected Nebrasketball in 2013-14, the Cornhuskers have lost 18 games in back to back seasons. Their best player Shavon Shields graduated and Andrew White transferred to Syracuse, which means Nebraska will be missing 33.4 points and 11 rebounds per game. The Louisville transfer Anton Gill will help stop the bleeding, but it could be another dismal year in Lincoln.

13. Minnesota

Last season: 8-23, 2-16, N/A

Key players: Nate Mason, Jordan Murphy

Key losses: Joey King

Coach Richard Pitino was one of the rising stars of the Big Ten a few years ago. Now his seat might be the hottest in the conference. Luckily his two best players are back this year, but it might not help. This team lost 14 (!) games in a row last season, then went and beat then-No. 6 Maryland. The only role Minnesota can hope to play is bracket buster, because they aren’t going anywhere.

14. Rutgers

Last season: 7-25, 1-17, N/A

Key players: Corey Sanders

Key losses: Deshawn Freeman

Rutgers fired Eddie Jordan, but will that put out the dumpster fire that is Scarlet Knights basketball? Probably not. On the bright side, the only direction they can go from here is up.

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BREAKING: Schilling Injures Knee, No Timetable for Return

Senior forward Gavin Schilling injured his right knee during practice on Friday, according to a press release from Michigan State.

Similar to graduate transfer Ben Carter, Schilling injured it on a non-contact play. He will have surgery and there is no timetable for his return.

“This is certainly an unfortunate setback for Gavin, as he had been practicing very well,” said MSU coach Tom Izzo in a statement. “He had an incredible summer and was in excellent shape as he was ready to make his senior season his best one yet.”

Losing Schilling for any period of time is something that MSU definitely could not afford after the loss of Carter. Now the only true center on the team is 6-foot-9 freshman Nick Ward. Fellow freshman Miles Bridges can play power forward, as can redshirt sophomore Kenny Goins. An already depleted front line just got thinner.

Schilling averaged 3.8 points and 3.1 rebounds per game last season playing behind Matt Costello and Deyonta Davis. This was supposed to be his “breakout year,” but that looks to be put on hold as of right now.

Until a timetable is determined for his return, we won’t know for sure how long the Spartans will be thin on big men, or if their Final Four hopes will be in jeopardy.

Original article –