Lineup Shuffle Sparks Spartans

FEB 20

Tum Tum Nairn can thank the Illini for his new starting job.

After a debilitating loss to Illinois at the Breslin on February 7, changes needed to be made. With Travis Trice struggling mightily and the offense AWOL, Coach Izzo needed to do something to get his team out of a funk before it was too late.

“Probably not the most disappointed I’ve been, but I’m the maddest I’ve been,” said Izzo after the loss. “I can’t stomach that; I can’t stomach what we went through today, so I understand if people aren’t able to stomach it. We’ll regroup.”

And regroup they did. Tum Tum was inserted into the starting lineup the following game in Evanston and the offense immediately perked up. The Spartans crushed Northwestern 68-44, hitting 13 3-pointers, including four from a rejuvenated Trice. When Tum Tum was running the point, the offense ran much quicker and more efficiently. Nairn is one of the fastest guards in the country and he pushes the ball 100 miles per hour up the court.

In the epic showdown with the Buckeyes (enter Valentine pun here), Izzo stuck with Tum Tum in the starting lineup against a taller and heavier D’Angelo Russell. In the opening possession, Russell backed down Tum Tum with ease, but after that he played tough and scrappy defense. Nairn hit all three of his shots, pulled down five rebounds and dished four assists. Trice only had nine points, but converted a huge driving layup to put MSU up three with 1:16 left.

The cherry on top came in Ann Arbor on Tuesday, when the Spartans steamrolled Michigan 80-67. Trice once again came off the bench and had one of his best performances of the season. The senior went off for 22 points and seven assists. Now MSU is peaking at exactly the right time.

Five games remain on the schedule, including a rematch against Illinois in Champaign on Sunday. If the Spartans want to solidify their chances of dancing in March, they must win this game. Spartan fans, it is ok to take your finger off the panic button (I think I already broke mine) but this team is not out of the woods yet. March is a long ways away.



Free Throw Futility Pushing Spartans to the Bubble

FEB 10

After Michigan State’s latest in a series of disappointing loss, this time at the hands of the Illini, a berth in the NCAA Tournament has become less and less of a certainty. MSU has not been left out of the big dance since 1997, but this could be the year the streak is snapped. This fall from grace can be attributed mainly to atrocious free throw shooting.

Free throws are the easiest way to get points, yet MSU cannot seem to figure out this concept. The Spartans are dead last in the Big Ten in free throw percentage and No. 330 in the nation as of Feb. 7. Teams that struggle from the line tend to struggle in March, plain and simple. If this season-long slump continues, MSU might be accepting a bid in the NIT.

Futility from the charity stripe has lost several key games for the Spartans. In the overtime loss to Notre Dame in South Bend, MSU shot 5-9 from the line. Only nine attempts in a game is absolutely unforgivable. In the embarrassing overtime loss to Texas Southern, MSU went 12-21 on their freebies. In the first Maryland loss in double overtime at home, the Spartans shot 19-28.

In the two-point loss at Nebraska, MSU bricked 10 of their 25 attempts. And finally in the latest loss to the Illini, Tom Izzo’s squad went 7-18 from the stripe, their second worst performance of the season, barely ahead of the 4-13 “effort” in a crushing loss against Maryland. That adds up to five losses that would have been wins in previous years when the lid on the basket wasn’t there.

“We’re just going to have to shoot free throws until people’s hands have blisters on them. It’s ridiculous,” said Izzo after the loss to Illinois on Saturday. “We’ve addressed it and we’ve brought guys in. Sooner or later, you have to be able to step up and shoot a free throw.”

According to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, the Bracketology expert, MSU is projected to earn a 9-seed. CBS Sports’ Bracketology expert, Jerry Palm, has the Spartans in the first four out category. The way this team is playing right now, a 9-seed is a gift from the heavens. The bubble is uncharted territory for the Spartans, but they bricked themselves right onto it.

MSU is currently 6-4 in the conference, three games behind frontrunner Wisconsin with eight games remaining. If the Spartans want to guarantee a berth in the NCAA Tournament, they cannot afford to lose any more bad games.

Trips to Northwestern, Illinois and Michigan are very losable based on how the team is performing right now, and a matchup with Wisconsin at the Kohl Center is virtually unwinnable. If MSU drops any of those games, March Madness will become more like a dream.


New Faces in Spartyland: Basketball Recruiting Update

JAN 27

The 2014-15 campaign may be gloomy, depressing and confusing at times, but fear not fellow Spartans! Recruiting allows us to look ahead to greener pastures with a promising crop of incoming talent on the horizon.

Here’s a report on the top basketball recruits headed, or possibly headed, to East Lansing next year.

Deyonta Davis – Power Forward, 6-9, 210 lbs, 5-stars (Signed)

The earliest commit of the class of 2015 and the most promising, Deyonta Davis is simply a beast. He is ranked by ESPN as the No. 5 power forward in the country, the best player in the state and No. 16 in ESPN’s top-100. He is a bit on the tall, lanky side (think Chris Bosh) who has some range and good speed for a big man.

For a team desperate for an inside presence and losing Branden Dawson next year, Davis could see the starting lineup immediately. His versatility could allow the Spartans to stretch the floor more and run in transition without giving up size down low.

Highlight video:

Matt McQuaid – Shooting Guard, 6-4, 175 lbs, 4-stars (Signed)

Ranked No. 67 in ESPN’s top-100, McQuaid is a straight up shooter. Originally committed to SMU, McQuaid re-opened his options last May. MSU and Creighton emerged as the frontrunners, with the Spartans edging the Blue Jays in September. The Texas native seems out of place at Michigan State, but McQuaid has grandparents who live in Midland.

McQuaid could potentially embody the nickname “baby-faced assassin” as he is deadly from the perimeter and looks like he belongs in the eighth grade. His shooting is certainly ready for the next level, but his defense will have to improve before McQuaid gets a solid chunk of minutes.

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Kyle Ahrens – Shooting Guard, 6-5, 180 lbs, 4-stars (Signed)

Ahrens is a very similar player to McQuaid. He has excellent range but is also explosive off the dribble. Ahrens, who committed to MSU in June, suffered a broken leg in his junior year of high school. Now fully recovered, he will be able to spread the floor at the wing with his shooting and sneaky athleticism.

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Caleb Swanigan – Center, 6-8, 275 lbs, 5-stars (Undeclared)

Here is where things get interesting. Every year it seems MSU is in the running for an elite recruit, only to fall short to Kentucky or Duke or the “highest bidder”. This could be different.

Swanigan is an immovable force in the paint and would immediately bring the Spartans’ front line to the next level. He is the No. 8 ranked recruit in the nation according to ESPN and the No. 3 center. Although MSU is one of 13 schools in the running for the big man, according to ESPN’s “hot board” (Insider required), there is a good chance Swanigan could end up in the green and white.

When paired with Davis, Swanigan could lock down the paint while Davis becomes a stretch-four and spreads the floor. Swanigan could also platoon with Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling, allowing a constant rotation among the three to keep them fresh without losing size.

MSU would most certainly have the most formidable frontcourt in the Big Ten. Other notable teams in the hunt for Swanigan are Kentucky, Arizona, Duke, and Cal. Call me a foolish optimist, but I have a feeling MSU’s luck is about to change.

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Michigan State’s recruiting class is currently ranked No. 14 in the nation by ESPN.


Hot Spartans Demolish Ramblers in Home Opener

East Lansing was frigid on Friday night for the home opener, but nothing could cool down the Spartans. The Loyola (IL) Ramblers were victims of an offensive onslaught led by Marvin Clark, Jr. and Branden Dawson. MSU was firing on all cylinders and rolled to an easy 87-52 win.

From opening tip to the final buzzer, MSU dominated the paint. The undersized Ramblers struggled to guard the taller, bulkier Spartans. Matt Costello posted a double double with 13 points and 11 rebounds and Gavin Schilling added eight points and three rebounds down low.

“Today we (Costello and Schilling) both went at it and it opened things up for everybody else,” Costello said. “And that builds our confidence and our guards’ confidence to throw it to us.”

The Spartans outscored Loyola 46-14 in the paint and outrebounded the Ramblers 40-23.

Michigan State regained their shooting stroke after chucking up a cringe-worthy 5-20 against Duke from three-point land. They shot 63 percent from the field and 50 percent from downtown against the Ramblers. However, free throws continued to be the Achilles heel for MSU, as they only shot 46 percent from the charity stripe.

MSU opened the game on a 15-2 run and never looked back from there. Loyola could never get into an offensive rhythm, mostly due to a much-improved Spartan defense. The Ramblers only shot 34.5 percent from the field and 35 percent from 3-PT range.

Loyola did not reach double digits until 4:35 remaining in the first half and could only muster 14 points in the first 20 minutes. That total was the fewest number of points scored by an MSU opponent at halftime since Arkansas-Pine Bluff scored 12 in 2012.

“That was painful,” Loyola head coach Porter Moser said in the post game press conference.

The Spartans played unselfish basketball and their passes were crisp. They assisted on 27 of 36 buckets, with Denzel Valentine, Travis Trice and Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn dishing out seven apiece.

Turnovers plagued MSU in their loss to Duke and they still remained an issue against the lesser Ramblers. The Spartans gave the ball away 15 times, including three from Valentine. He had five against the Blue Devils and struggled with the same problem last year.

Freshman swingman Clark, Jr. was the surprise of the night for Coach Izzo. The lefty exploded for a career-high 15 points while hitting 3-4 threes. He showed some ridiculous upside with that silky jumper, which surprises many opposing defenses.

“I still don’t think people respect me as much, but that’s fine with me,” Clark, Jr. said.

Dawson scored 15 points and ripped down seven boards, and Trice added 13 points of his own. The Spartans take on the Santa Clara Broncos on Monday night at 7 p.m. in the Breslin Center as part of the Orlando Classic.

Okafor, Blue Devils Too Much for Spartans

When Tom Izzo and Mike Krzyzewski get together, you know it is going to be a battle.

Coach K’s ridiculously talented Blue Devils defeated Coach Izzo’s young Spartans in the Champions Classic Tuesday night, 81-71.

Duke came armed with the best recruiting class in the nation, featuring the crown jewel of the group, Jahlil Okafor. He was the top-ranked recruit in the 2014 class and is considered the favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft this summer.

The Spartans came into this showdown shorthanded, with freshman Javon Bess out with a foot injury and sophomore Alvin Ellis III out with a sprained ankle.

With an already thin Spartan frontcourt, Okafor was able to show the world he could live up to the hype. He opened the game scoring eight points in five minutes, finishing with 10 and three boards at the half.

The Blue Devils pulled away to a 10-point lead with just over eight minutes remaining in the first, but MSU roared back. A Bryn Forbes three-pointer cut the lead to three with just over four minutes remaining. That was as close as the Spartans would cut it, as Duke eventually widened the gap to 40-33 at the half.

The Blue Devils shot very efficiently from the floor in the first, going 56 percent from the field and 44 percent from deep. Despite being undersized, MSU held a commanding advantage on the offensive boards, 8-2.

The second half started with both teams trading blows and staying neck and neck. With Duke up 59-51, Okafor picked up his fourth foul with nine minutes remaining. MSU also found themselves in foul trouble, with Denzel Valentine and Marvin Clark Jr. picking up their fourth fouls before the eight-minute mark. Sparty failed to capitalize on the absence of Okafor, and Duke was actually able to extend their lead to 13 at one point.

Trading baskets with Duke in the last five minutes was not good enough for Michigan State to make any kind of comeback, and they eventually fell 81-71.

The Blue Devil effort was led by senior Quinn Cook, who went off for 19 points and dished out six assists. Freshman Tyus Jones also shined down the stretch, scoring all 17 of his points in the second half. Man-child Okafor dominated the Spartans’ bigs in the paint, going for 17 points and pulling down five rebounds.

The Spartans were as cold as your mother-in-law from three-point range, finishing 5-20 behind the stripe. Branden Dawson made up for his lackluster performance against Navy with a stellar 18 points and nine rebounds. Travis Trice picked up right where he left off Friday, scoring 15 and adding eight dimes and six boards. Valentine also chipped in 13 points in the losing effort.

Coach Izzo has to be impressed with the effort his squad showed against the superior Blue Devils. Duke just had too much talent on the court for MSU to try to defend. Michigan State heads back home for a Friday night matchup with Loyola (IL.) at 7 p.m.

Opinion: Best-Case/Worst-Case Scenarios for Men’s Basketball’s “Big Three”

A new men’s basketball season is finally upon us, and with it comes the endless speculation by fans and experts alike. The success or struggles of Travis Trice, Denzel Valentine and Branden Dawson will determine the success or struggles of the Michigan State Spartans as a whole.

Here are the best-case and worst-case scenarios for the Spartans’ “Big Three.”

Denzel Valentine – 8.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 3.8 APG last season

Best-case scenario – Valentine turns into the team leader that Coach Izzo has dreamed he could become. The junior steps up as the team’s primary scorer with Gary Harris and Adreian Payne now gone. He has all the tools to be this team’s best player and is already its most well rounded.

Last season, he was fifth on the team in scoring, third in rebounding and second in assists. He is versatile enough to play three positions on the court and will be a matchup nightmare for opposing teams. Valentine will average 15 points, six rebounds and five assists per game and make first-team All-Big Ten.

Worst-case scenario – The turnover problem that put Valentine in Izzo’s doghouse on more than one occasion will come back in the worst situations. He plays out of control and loses the confidence of his team and coaches. He forces shots and tries to make plays for himself that just are not there.

By February, Valentine will be pulled out of the starting lineup in favor of a budding freshman like Javon Bess or sophomore Alvin Ellis III, who is itching to prove himself. He will average nine points and five rebounds per game.

Prediction – Valentine will fill the leadership role on this team and shoulder most of the scoring load. Stat line: 14 points, six rebounds and three assists per game.

Travis Trice – 7.3 PPG, 2.3 APG, 48 percent 3-PT in Big Ten games (second in the conference)

Best-case scenario – For the first time ever, Trice goes an entire season avoiding the strange injuries that have plagued him throughout his career at Michigan State. He starts every game at point guard and plays the role of facilitator that is also a threat to score. He will not take over games, but will be deadly from beyond the arc as he was last year.

Trice will also become a more vocal leader on and off the court while providing guidance for younger players like Lourawls ‘Tum Tum’ Nairn Jr. and Ellis. Averages 10 points and seven assists per game, while shooting 45 percent from the field and beyond the arc.

Worst-case scenario – The odd injury bug once again bites Trice. He only plays in 10-15 games in the season and is ineffective when he is actually on the floor. He becomes too passive with the ball in his hands and loses his shooting stroke. His leadership role is vastly diminished because of his extended absence.

This leads to more playing time for an inexperienced Tum Tum, who looks like a deer in the headlights against the big opponents MSU has to face on the road, and becomes a turnover machine. Averages five points and two assists per game in 15 appearances.

Prediction – Trice starts nearly every game for the Spartans and thrives with the expanded role. Stat line: Nine points and five assists per game, shoots 46 percent from the field and 40 percent from deep.

Branden Dawson – 11.2 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 61.3 percent shooting last season

Best-case scenario – Dawson has the highest ceiling of anyone on the roster. Fans saw glimpses last season of how dominant he can be when he wants to. After forgoing the NBA for his senior year, he is out to prove he can be a solid first-round pick after this season. His motor will cease to be a question mark after proving himself the first few games.

Dawson’s jump shot will start to become respectable. He will be able to shoot over defenders that sag off him and blow by defenders that play up tight. BJ’s freakish athleticism will allow him to comfortably play power forward despite being only 6-foot-6. He will average 15 points and 10 rebounds per game and earn All-American honors.

Worst-case scenario – The motor will be spotty at times and could earn him a trip to the bench on more than one occasion. Dawson’s jump shot will remain a handicap and defenses will simply clog the paint when he gets the ball.

The smaller lineup that the Spartans will be forced to use will hurt them on defense and Dawson will not be much help against Big Ten centers. He will average 11 points and seven rebounds per game.

Prediction – Dawson will shrug off all questions about his motor, but his jump shot will be spotty at best. Stat line: 13 points and nine rebounds.

Izzo Rocks Michigan State Madness

On an unseasonably warm October night, Spartan fans from around the state packed in to the Breslin Center to witness the spectacle that is Michigan State Madness (formerly known as Midnight Madness). Lines wrapped all the way around the stadium, one even stretching from the Magic Johnson statue to Shaw Lane.

Coach Tom Izzo has built quite the reputation for flashy entrances, and spectators were clueless as to what he might do this time. In recent years, Izzo rode in on a horse, came in dressed as Iron Man and even had a little help from a real-life Spartan, Gerard Butler. Last year, he faked out everyone in the building (myself included) when he pretended to get shot out of a giant cannon.

Even the radio broadcast team of Matt Steigenga and former coach Gus Ganakas said they had no idea how Coach Izzo would come out.

“I honestly have no idea. Maybe he’ll be a part of a cover band or something,” said Steigenga, who pointed to a drum set and amplifiers behind one of the baskets.

“They don’t tell me anything,” replied Ganakas.

Spectators were entertained before the event with the replaying of last year’s football game against Michigan on the video board above the court. Players from both the men’s and women’s teams were available to sign posters, balls, shirts and other MSU paraphernalia for eager Spartan fans.

The MSU marching band kicked off Michigan State Madness with an always-stellar rendition of the fight song. After the drumline pounded my ears into submission, it was time for one of my favorite events: musical chairs. This event always gives me the opportunity to harshly judge the lack of skill exhibited by the contestants while giving my self-esteem a healthy boost.

The women’s team was introduced next and displayed some impressive dance moves. Then came time for head coach Suzy Merchant’s grand entrance. It was somewhat disappointing, as she appeared on a stage dressed as Beyonce and proceeded to dance with the cheer team. But her outfit was spot on, and she defied the odds by pulling off complicated dance moves while wearing incredibly high heels.

As usual, Coach Izzo blew everyone away. Fans were treated to a video of Izzo and his family talking about what he would do if he were not a coach. They then “flashed back” to 1974 to a dorm room with Izzo and Steve Mariucci. Finally a Kiss cover band accompanied by a fully dressed Izzo and an accordion played “Rock and Roll All Nite” and “Detroit Rock City”.

What followed was a confusing and poorly organized game featuring a current men’s and women’s player, a former men’s player and a fan. No one even knew who won the first game, but we did learn that Drew Neitzel can still outshoot everyone in the building and Branden Dawson has better form on his half court shots than his 15-foot jumpers.

The 20-minute scrimmage was begging me to jump to wild conclusions about the team and the newcomers, but when the band starts to play during the game, all credibility goes out the window. Defense was spotty and no one was afraid to shoot. The only conclusion I am certain of: Keenan Wetzel’s hair is already in midseason form.

The conclusion of another Michigan State Madness means that another Spartan basketball season is upon us, and hope springs eternal. The first preseason game is on November 3 against “The Legend” Russell Byrd and The Masters College at 7 p.m. at the Breslin Center.

Opinion: Lack of Star Power Nothing New for MSU

On the surface, it appears as though Tom Izzo has a recruiting crisis on his hands.

The Spartans missed out on yet another top-tier recruit in guard Jalen Brunson, who committed to Villanova University earlier in September. Brunson is the latest in a long line of missed five-star recruits in the past several years (recruiting rankings based on

Maybe the reason for the sudden panic is the increased scrutiny and publicity of the recruiting process. Anyone who is anyone has a press conference these days to announce where they will play basketball for the foreseeable future. The Spartan hat has been left on the table on several occasions while the country watched (see Jabari Parker), and people are beginning to doubt the almighty Izzo.

A lack of star power is nothing new to Izzo. In the last two years, Michigan State has offered scholarships to nine five-star recruits, all of whom chose other schools. In fact, Izzo has only landed six five-star recruits since 2003 (Gary Harris in 2012, Branden Dawson in 2011, Adreian Payne in 2010, Delvon Roe in 2008, Marquise Gray in 2004 and Shannon Brown in 2003).

Coach Izzo has always been much better at developing players into superstars rather than wining and dining the flashy high school talent. Looking back at the most successful players of the past 10 years at MSU, virtually none of them were five-star recruits. Draymond Green arrived in East Lansing as a four-star recruit and so did Kalin Lucas in 2007. Keith Appling was overlooked for the five-star label, but he is currently on an NBA roster.

Izzo’s coaching style might not be conducive to superstars. He does not give preferential treatment and keeps players on a short leash discipline-wise (see Kenny Kaminski). Most of the players in the MSU program are built to last, which has been crucial to the team’s sustained success over the years. One-and-dones are not a part of Izzo’s ideology.

Now with Harris, Appling and Payne all departed, the cabinet seems a bit empty for this season. But this just gives Izzo the opportunity to groom and mold his young players so they can take the reins and lead the Spartans to the Promised Land. So while things seem less than ideal right now, do not fret, Izzo’s got it under control.

Spartans’ Draft Stocks after NCAA Tournament

APRIL 4 – After a disappointing loss to UConn in the Elite Eight, four Spartans now have time to think about their NBA futures.

Adreian PayneKeith ApplingGary Harris and Branden Dawson are all targets of NBA scouts and general managers. Their draft stocks have gone up and down throughout the season, especially in the tournament. Here is where each player’s draft stock stands.

* * *

Adreian Payne’s Draft Stock: UP

Payne had the best season of his college career and is peaking at the right time. He averaged 16.4 points and 7.3 rebounds per game while shooting just over 50 percent from the field and over 42 percent from beyond the arc.

Payne really developed his outside game this season, hitting 27 more three-pointers than his first three years combined. At 6-foot-10 and 245 pounds, he has an NBA-ready body that would be perfect for a power forward. His inside-out game has high value, but his post game needs a little work to be effective against the giants in the Association.

Payne projects to be a mid-first round pick just outside of the lottery. At age 23, he is mature enough to be a plug-and-play guy and could contribute right away in his rookie year.

A contender would like to have someone like Payne on their roster to be a role player that can handle the bright lights of the NBA.

* * *

Keith Appling’s Draft Stock: DOWN

Through the first seven games of the season, Appling was in the conversation for best point guard in the NCAA. He averaged 16.9 points and 5.6 assists per game, shot 59 percent from the floor and 52 percent from long range. Those were All-American numbers.

In the eighth game of the season against North Carolina, Appling took a nasty spill and injured his right wrist. No one really knew the severity of the injury, and he played through the pain for 14 more games. His shooting numbers declined, but his overall production only diminished slightly.

Then, Appling missed three games in the middle of the Big Ten season. The idea was to let him fully heal and be ready for the final stretch. That is when things really went downhill.

For the rest of the season, he averaged 4.7 points and 3.7 assists per game, shot 45 percent from the field and only made two three-pointers. It seemed as if his injury became more of a mental problem than a physical one towards the end.

Appling is small for the NBA at 6-foot-1 (and that is a very generous measurement). He is lightning quick and is great at taking the ball to the hole, but might struggle with the trees down low when trying to drive. NBA scouts saw Appling’s true potential at the beginning of the season as a great shooter and an even better defender.

Appling is projected to go in the late second round or undrafted. He could be a solid backup point guard for a team that has a star guard already. He likely would not play much, if at all, right away, but is worth the gamble for a team late in the draft.

* * *

Gary Harris’ Draft Stock: UP

Harris could have left after his freshman campaign, but shocked many MSU fans by staying another year. This decision worked in his favor, as he led the team in scoring and ranked sixth in the Big Ten.

However, his shooting numbers did go down from last year and he really struggled at times. Harris’ field goal percentage dropped to 42.9 percent, down from 45.6 percent last year. His three-point numbers dropped even more. He shot 35.2 percent this year and 41.1 percent last year. This drop off is due to Harris having to take over the majority of the scoring load with Payne, Appling and Dawson missing significant time.

Harris is projected to be a lottery pick in this year’s draft. He is a bit small for a shooting guard in the NBA at 6-foot-4, but has huge scoring potential. His outside shooting numbers will have to improve for him to make a huge impact with his new team right away. As a role player who could come off the bench, he could quickly develop into a top-tier two-guard.

Based on where he is projected to be drafted, he will get a good amount of minutes right away. Harris plays lock-down defense, but might struggle initially trying to guard bigger two-guards. Given time and developed properly, he could have All-Star potential down the road.

* * *

Branden Dawson’s Draft Stock: UNCHANGED

Dawson’s future at MSU is uncertain, but odds are he will stay in school for his senior season. He has not made an official decision yet, but making the leap right now would be a mistake. His draft stock is unchanged because he was not ready for the NBA coming into this season and is not ready now.

After missing nine games with a broken hand, Dawson’s scoring output greatly increased. He finished the year averaging 11.2 points and a team-high 8.9 rebounds per game. He shot over 61 percent just because he never left the paint.

At 6-foot-6, he is vastly undersized as a power forward and would never be able to play the same role he does at State, which is to swallow rebounds and make layups. Dawson does have springs for legs and is a freakish athlete, but athleticism only carries you so far in the NBA. He has absolutely no jump shot and needs to refine his ball-handling skills.

If Dawson stays a Spartan for one more year, he could develop a jump shot and use the season to prove to NBA scouts he can consistently score outside of the paint. He is basically the opposite of Kenny Kaminski, who is a big man that cannot score inside. The majority of NBA experts either do not think Dawson will go pro or think he will go undrafted.

An NBA team could take a chance on him based on his pure athleticism in the hopes that next-level coaching could help him with his jumper.

He is entertaining to watch and has tremendous upside, but is just not ready for the Association.

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Top Sleeper Teams for the NCAA Tournament

MAR 19 – Every year during March Madness, as I look over my bracket on the first day of the tournament, I feel pretty confident with my picks. All it takes is about four hours of basketball for my hopes and dreams to be crushed by the ‘Little Sisters of the Poor’ knocking off my Goliath that I picked to go to the Final Four. So before you make the mistake of looking past the lower seeds, here are some potential sleeper teams that could ruin everybody’s bracket.

South Region: No. 12 Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks (31-2)

Matchups against No. 5 seeds and No. 12 seeds are always ripe with upsets, and this game is no exception. SFA has not lost a game since November 23 and ran away with the Southland Conference. They have a favorable matchup with VCU, who lost in the Atlantic 10 final to St. Joseph’s. In March, the best teams are not always the ones that move on. The hottest teams have the most success historically and no team is hotter than SFA. The Lumberjacks score nearly 77 points per game and have nine wins by 20 or more points, albeit against subpar competition. However, VCU has one of the toughest defenses in the nation, and it will be SFA’s first real test since they lost to Texas over four months ago.

West Region: No. 6 Baylor Bears (24-11)

After starting 12-1, Baylor imploded and lost seven of their next eight games, dropping them to 2-8 in the Big 12 and putting them on the wrong side of the bubble. Then the Bears caught fire and resurrected their season, finishing on a 10-2 run and losing in the Big 12 championship game to Iowa State. Cory Jefferson is the team leader, averaging 13.5 points with over eight rebounds per game. Sophomore center Isaiah Austin will be a nightmare for anyone who dares to put up a shot at the rim. Standing at 7-1, he guards the basket like a momma bear guards her cubs. Brady Heslip is a deadeye shooter who will make you pay if you give him an inch of space, but struggles defensively. The key to beating Baylor is shooting well from outside to bust their zone defense.

East Region: No. 12 Harvard (26-4)

The Crimson are not new to the sleeper role. Last year they upset No. 3 New Mexico in the first round of the NCAA tournament, and Tommy Amaker’s squad is even better this year. They have six players that average more than nine points per game and they have the 13th best defense in the nation. Their opponent, No. 5 Cincinnati, struggles mightily on offense, ranking No. 237 in the nation in scoring. But the Bearcats’ defense is even better than Harvard’s, coming in at No. 6 in the nation. Harvard has an RPI of 46 and although they do not have any RPI top-50 wins, they did defeat Green Bay by 12 and only lost to Connecticut by five. Watch out for the Crimson to ruin your bracket, again.

Midwest Region: No. 12 North Carolina State Wolfpack (22-13)

When talking about the Wolfpack, the one name you must remember is T.J. Warren. The ACC Player of the Year leads NC State in points and rebounds. In their last five games, Warren is averaging 28 points per game, including a 42-point outburst against Boston College. He is one of the best players in the NCAA tournament and put in a strong showing in the First Four matchup with Xavier. NC State’s first matchup is a soft No. 5 seed in Saint Louis. They stumbled in the final stretch of their season, losing four of their last five games. The Wolfpack had to scratch and claw their way into March Madness by winning four games in a row, including beating Syracuse in the ACC tournament. Now they are poised to pull the upset once again.

Blake Froling is the co-host of Impact Izzone for Impact Sports.

Photo: NCAA

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