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 espn.com).

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.

Scouting Report: Kentucky Wildcats vs. Michigan State Spartans

Nov 10, 2013

Head Coach: John Calipari (124-26 at Kentucky, 5th season)

Last Season: 21-12, Lost in first round of NIT to Robert Morris

2013-14 record: 2-0

Key Additions: Julius Randle, Andrew Harrison, Dakari Johnson, James Young, Aaron Harrison, Marcus Lee (All in ESPN Top 100 Prospects)

Key Losses: Nerlens Noel, Archie Goodwin

John Calipari worked his recruiting magic once again this year. He landed six five-star recruits this year. That’s unheard of in college basketball (except at Kentucky, they do it just about every year). It’s likely that four of these recruits will make the starting lineup (Randle, Young, Harrison twins), which means that they’re vulnerable early in the season. A lack of experience and team chemistry could outweigh their extreme amount of talent.

It’s tough to gauge how this year’s team will fare because of how different it is from last year’s disappointment. The 2012-13 team entered the season ranked number three in the nation and failed to make the NCAA Tournament. They ended up losing in the first round of the NIT to Robert Morris. Their star big-man Nerlens Noel tore his ACL in February and missed the remainder of the season. After that loss, Kentucky wasn’t the same team.

Willie Cauley-Stein, the only returning player projected to be in the starting lineup, averaged 8.3 points and 6.2 rebounds last year. Alex Poythress will most likely be the first off the bench for the Wildcats this year. The sophomore averaged 11.2 points and 6.0 rebounds per game last season.

The Wildcats are undefeated in their first two games of the season, beating UNC-Asheville 89-57 on Friday and Northern Kentucky 93-63 on Sunday. Julius Randle, arguably the most talented player on the team, is averaging 22.5 points and 14.5 rebounds through the first two games. Marcus Lee added 17 points off the bench in the first game, but only scored five in the second.

How will the Wildcats match up against the Spartans? Lets take a look:

Pos.

Kentucky Projected Starters

Michigan State Projected Starters

C

Willie Cauley-Stein (So, 7’0”, 244 lbs.)

Adreian Payne (Sr, 6’10”, 245 lbs.)

F

Julius Randle (Fr, 6’9”, 250 lbs.)

Matt Costello (So, 6’9”, 240 lbs.)

F/G

James Young (Fr, 6’6”, 215 lbs.)

Branden Dawson (Jr, 6’6”, 225 lbs.)

G

Aaron Harrison (Fr, 6’6”, 218 lbs.)

Keith Appling (Sr, 6’1”, 185 lbs.)

G

Andrew Harrison (Fr, 6’6”, 215 lbs.)

Gary Harris (So, 6’4”, 210 lbs.)

Julius Randle will be a handful for MSU’s frontcourt. He has been on a tear thus far (although against subpar competition). He can score at will and is a beast on the boards. The Harrison twins have a big size advantage over Harris and Appling. Look for them to be physical and take it to the rim against smaller defenders. The Harrisons are averaging a combined 23.5 ppg compared to 31 points for the Harris/Appling combo.

The most intriguing matchup will be Dawson against Young. Both are the same height but Dawson has a 10-pound advantage. Dawson scored 12 points and grabbed 12 rebounds off the bench against McNeese State. Coach Izzo held him out of the starting lineup because he was late to a team meeting. Dawson should return to the lineup on Tuesday. Young is averaging eight points and 2.5 rebounds per game. If Dawson can consistently hit jumpers in the 15-foot range, he could become a nightmare to defend.

The Spartans obviously have a huge advantage when it comes to experience, which could prove to be the difference. Look for MSU to pressure the Wildcats early and try to rattle the young players. With Kentucky being so athletic, MSU has to be careful in transition. If this game goes down to the wire, which it most likely will, MSU will be the cooler team. Kentucky isn’t used to pressure situations. Most of their players have never played in a close college basketball game.

Bottom Line: The Spartans will come away with a hard-fought victory 84-79. The game will come down to free throws, and the Spartans will come up clutch in that department.

The game is on Tuesday, November 12 in Chicago at the United Center. Tipoff is at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN and heard on the Spartan Sports Network.

– Original link to article: http://impact89fm.org/sports/2013/11/10/scouting-report-kentucky-wildcats-vs-michigan-state/#sthash.fNvx1dXB.dpuf

2013-14 MSU Basketball Season Preview

Nov 8, 2013 – McNeese State will kick off the action for the Spartans on Friday before they head to the Windy City to take on John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats. But before the season begins, all of the experts have weighed in on how the Spartans will fare. Here’s a sampling of what they had to say about the green and white.

Bleacher Report recently published a list of the top 100 players in college basketball. They had four out of five of coach Tom Izzo’s starters on the list: Branden Dawson (88), Keith Appling (33), Adreian Payne (22), and Gary Harris (9). They also released their Big Ten predictions, putting MSU at the head of the class and Adreian Payne as the Big Ten Player of the Year. However, they have the Ohio State Buckeyes winning the B1G Tournament in Indy.

ESPN released their annual preseason poll, ranking MSU No. 2, behind Kentucky and in front of defending national champion Louisville. In a separate article, 18 out of 20 experts had the Spartans making the Final Four, with six writers predicting them to cut down the nets in Jerry-World Dallas in April. Three experts said that Tom Izzo would be Coach of the Year, and nobody picked a Spartan for Player of the Year.

CBS Sports released their preseason All-American teams, with Adreian Payne being the only Spartan selected, making the third team. Their top 25 slated Michigan State at No. 3, trading positions with Louisville. Their preseason bracketology gives Michigan State the No. 1 seed in the Midwest region, with Kentucky, Kansas, and Duke claiming the other three No. 1 seeds. For their Big Ten preview, the Spartans are again predicted to finish first. Gary Harris and Adreian Payne made the preseason All-Big Ten team, with Harris also picked as the preseason Player of the Year. Izzo was selected as the Coach of the Year as well. Their top 100 players list included Gary Harris (7), Adreian Payne (15), Branden Dawson (56), and Keith Appling (82).

According to CBS Sports, Las Vegas released their odds on several different categories in college basketball. For the National Championship, they gave MSU 9-1 odds, fifth best in the nation. For Player of the Year, they gave Adreian Payne 14-1 odds (ninth best) and gave Gary Harris 50-1 odds (13th best). They gave MSU 2-1 odds to win the Big Ten, tops in the conference.

Overall, everyone seems to be high on the Spartans this year, as expected. The season would be considered a disappointment if Sparty didn’t make the National Championship game. This is one of the deepest Michigan State teams that Izzo has been fortunate enough to coach in years, with four NBA prospects on the team and experience everywhere.

The Spartans will get a chance to prove themselves early in the season, facing No. 1 ranked Kentucky on Tuesday in Chicago. Izzo also scheduled North Carolina (12th in the AP poll, 11th in the ESPN/USA Today poll) on December 4 at home, and unranked Georgetown on Super Bowl Saturday at Madison Square Garden. This matchup might be the most intriguing because of its timing. Most coaches don’t schedule non-conference games in the middle of conference play, but Izzo isn’t most coaches. The Spartans have never been afraid of stiff competition in their non-conference schedule. Just last year, they played Connecticut, Miami, Texas and Kansas all before they started Big Ten play.

Froling’s Prediction: Michigan State will finish first in the Big Ten during the regular season and will win the tournament. Branden Dawson will be the most improved player, Gary Harris will be the Big Ten Player of the Year and finish in the top-five in the voting for Naismith Player of the Year, along with Adreian Payne, but Creighton’s Doug McDermott will take Player of the Year the honors. The Final Four in Dallas will include MSU, Kansas, Duke, and Ohio State, with MSU losing to Kansas in the Championship Game.

– See more at: http://impact89fm.org/sports/2013/11/08/2013-14-season-preview/#sthash.YTNlVTC0.dpuf

Logjam in Backcourt Hurts KCP, Bynum

Nov 7, 2013 – With the recent return of guards Rodney Stuckey and Brandon Jennings, the Pistons find themselves in a sticky situation. Currently they have five guards on their roster, all of which have performed well when given the opportunity.Stuckey, Jennings, Chauncey Billups, Will Bynum, and rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (KCP) all have had their bright spots this season and look to contend for minutes. But five guards are too many to rotate through in one game. Someone has to sit out or take a significant cut in minutes. So far, the player affected most has been KCP.

In the first two games of the season, KCP averaged over 22 minutes on the court. He scored 13 points in only 18 minutes in a loss to Memphis. He added nine points in 27 minutes in the season opener versus Washington, in which both Stuckey and Jennings were inactive. With the return of both guards, there was just nowhere for coach Maurice Cheeks to place the rookie.

In the last two games against Boston and Indiana, KCP played zero and four minutes, respectively. Barring more injuries, it appears as if this will be a trend for KCP, unless Cheeks decides to give Billups games off for rest. Another option would be to move Pope to the small forward position. At 6-foot-5, it might be a bit of a stretch, but his shooting abilities make him well suited as a wingman.

The other guard that could see his role diminish is Will “The Thrill” Bynum, who started the first three games of the season alongside Billups. In his first two games, Bynum averaged 18.5 points and 5.5 assists. But when Jennings returned to the lineup against Boston, Bynum saw his minutes nearly cut in half.

In the two games Jennings has been active, Bynum only scored a total of nine points. The only way Bynum could see his minutes increase would be if Billups was given a night off or if Cheeks decided to move KCP over to the small forward position for a game.

Chauncey Billups has started every game for the Pistons so far this season. Although he’s seen his minutes slightly diminish in the last two games, it was expected. When he was signed in the offseason, the plan was for Chauncey to come off the bench and play 20-something minutes per game.

With all the injuries in the backcourt, Billups has been thrust into a starting role. Cheeks will likely shuffle the starting rotation as the season goes on, with Stuckey being the most likely to take the starting position from Billups.

The logjam at the guard position is a problem, but one that Coach Cheeks doesn’t mind having. This team is one of the deepest Pistons squads in years, and it will help in the dog days of the season. Players will be fresh, but not rusty. Being a former player himself, Cheeks knows how to handle the rotation, especially at the guard position.

For the remainder of the season, look for Jennings and Stuckey to get the bulk of the playing time in the backcourt, with Billups first off the bench. KCP will continue to get DNP’s next to his name, but could also sporadically see significant minutes to give someone rest. Bynum will see about 20 minutes of action per night, and will start a handful of games going forward.

– Original link to article: http://impact89fm.org/sports/2013/11/07/logjam-in-backcourt-hurts-kcp-bynum/#sthash.MaAljruJ.dpuf

Opinion: Branden Dawson is the Spartans’ X-Factor

Branden Dawson’s freshman season ended during the final regular season game of the year versus Ohio State, when he tore his left anterior cruciate ligament. That injury changed the trajectory of Dawson’s career. Instead of spending the summer of his sophomore year developing his game or possibly preparing for his rookie season in the NBA, he was forced to rehab his knee.

 Dawson saw his production drop in his sophomore campaign, going from 16.4 points per 40 minutes pace adjusted to 13.7. Although he was healthy, the mental aspect of recovering from such a serious injury still lingered.

“The mental aspect was hard. When I came back from my ACL injury, there were times where I was thinking too much, and there were times where I went in for a dunk and I just went in and just laid it up. The mental aspect, it was very tough on me. I was going out there, and I was thinking a lot,” Dawson said in an interview with Spartan Nation Radio.

This prevented Dawson from having the breakout season everyone expected from him. If he hadn’t injured his knee, he would probably be in the NBA right now, but a slight letdown of a season made Dawson think twice about making the leap to the pros.

Now entering his junior year, Dawson says he is “100 percent now,” and is due for that breakout year. This is why he will be the Spartans’ x-factor. Without having to worry about his knee, Dawson was able to spend his summer working on his game, especially his jump shot. Although he shot 53% from the field last year, that number was down four percent from his freshman campaign. Branden Dawson has not made a three point shot in a Michigan State uniform, but this year looks to be different. He is so proud of his new jump shot that he posted a video on his instagram account of him shooting.

http://instagram.com/p/cfAR1LGiRj/

Dawson has improved so much over the summer that coach Tom Izzo had this to say about the junior in an interview with Spartan Nation Radio:

“This summer he’s improved his shot. He’s improved his body. I think he’s had the best summer of his life, and I think he’ll be ready for hopefully a breakout junior year.”

Everybody can talk about how important Adreian Payne, Gary Harris, and Keith Appling will be for Michigan State this year, but Branden Dawson might be the player that could carry the team from very good to the best in the nation. With an improved jumper and better ball-handling skills on the wing, Dawson could spread out opposing defenses and open up driving lanes for the guards. Assistant coach Dan Fife said this about Dawson in an MLive article:

“Branden’s got huge hands, but one thing that when he came in, he was a good ball-handler,” Fife said. “He really was. I think he’s working to become a great one.”

The 6’6” junior is one of the best defenders on the team. Dawson led the Spartans in steals last season with 57. His defensive rating was the sixth best in the Big Ten according to sports-reference.com. He had 1.4 blocks per 40 minutes last season, which was second among all wing players in the nation according to draftexpress.com. Dawson was also named the Big Ten’s Most Entertaining Player and a preseason third-team All-Big Ten selection by Lindy’s College Basketball Magazine.

This season, draftexpress.com has Dawson as the sixth best junior in the nation. He’s on the second best team in the nation according to the coaches poll. If Michigan State wants to make it past the Sweet 16 this year, they will need a better Branden Dawson. He had a disappointing showing in the NCAA Tournament, averaging four points and 4.7 rebounds per game. This was another big factor in Dawson’s decision not to go to the NBA. His poor performance in the postseason hurt his draft stock.

Michigan State’s roster is star-studded, with three players almost guaranteed to make the NBA, not including Dawson. With so much talent on the court with him, he could fly under the radar of opposing defenses and explode for huge nights. Don’t be surprised to see Dawson post a couple double-doubles this season.

This year, there will be a new Branden Dawson. He’s hungry to prove that he is ready for the next level.  He wants to prove that he’s back. The knee injury is just a thing of the past. This will be a more confident, high-flying Branden Dawson who will dunk on you without a second thought. He is Michigan State’s X-factor.

-Original link to article: http://impact89fm.org/sports/2013/11/02/opinion-branden-dawson-is-the-spartans-x-factor/#sthash.fxGeapUx.dpuf

Game 1 Preview: Wizards vs. Pistons

 Oct 30, 2013 – Pistons fans have waited 196 days for tonight’s game. It’s a new beginning for a new-look franchise. With promising off-season upgrades and solid draft picks, this year’s team will be entertaining to say the least. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s focus on tonight’s matchup.

Continue reading “Game 1 Preview: Wizards vs. Pistons”

Week in Review: Pistons Drop Three in a Row in Preseason Action

OCT 22, 2013 – MSU Impact Sports

The Detroit Pistons played three preseason games this week, all on the road. They haven’t had much success thus far, but don’t panic. Put down the “Fire Dumars” signs (for now) and remember that it is only preseason. A 2-4 record doesn’t mean the Pistons are lottery bound. A rash of injuries to the backcourt and spacing problems have contributed to this stumble out of the gate, but that’s what the preseason is for: finding problems and (hopefully) fixing them.

On Wednesday, the Pistons packed their bags and headed to the United Center in Chicago. This game marked the return of Derrick Rose, who missed all of last season with a knee injury.

With the home crowd fired up and Rose looking to prove himself, the Pistons were doomed from the start. The Bulls, known for their tight defense, limited the Pistons to a dismal 32% shooting from the field, en route to a 96-81 loss.

Rose hadn’t played in nearly 18 months, but he appeared to be in midseason form. He went off for 22 points in 22 minutes and looked like he hadn’t missed a game. Rose missed the first game of the preseason due to soreness in his surgically repaired knee.

Rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope led the charge for the Pistons with 18 points to go along with seven rebounds in 40 minutes off the bench. Pope’s cold hand has been a subject of concern for the Pistons, as he only shot 6-17 from the field.

Greg Monroe led all Pistons starters with 10 points and 10 rebounds, but shot 3-11 from the field. Monroe is starting to develop a mid-range game, as two out of his three made shots came outside of the paint.

Brandon Jennings (tooth), Rodney Stuckey (hand) and Chauncey Billups (Coach’s decision) all did not see action. Jennings and Stuckey will most likely be out for the first few games of the regular season, which will open the door for Billups and Bynum to get more minutes.

The next night, Detroit traveled to Cleveland to face Kyrie Irving and the Cavaliers. The Pistons had a seven-point lead going into halftime, only to be outscored by fifteen in the second half and lose 96-84.

Irving led a balanced Cleveland attack with 15 points and six assists. If Irving can stay healthy, he could become one of the elite point guards in the NBA. Number one overall pick Anthony Bennett added 12 points on 4-7 shooting. The Cavs are the league’s youngest team and look to be much improved from last season’s train wreck.

On the Pistons’ side of the ball, Stuckey and Jennings did not play once again. Bynum got the start for the Pistons, contributing 12 points on an efficient 5-6 from the field. Greg Monroe led all Pistons with 16 points and added eight rebounds.

Caldwell-Pope continued his shooting woes, going 1-7 from the field and 0-1 behind the arc. Fellow rookie Peyton Siva saw 18 minutes of action and dished out five assists. Once Jennings and Stuckey return to the lineup, Siva will find himself at the end of a very deep Pistons bench.

The final preseason game of the week for the Pistons came on Sunday in Orlando. Detroit came in with a thin backcourt, as Billups (rest), Bynum (food poisoning), Stuckey (hand), and Jennings (tooth) all were unavailable.

Down 23 late in the third quarter, the Pistons made a furious comeback. Josh Smith made a three pointer to cut the deficit to four with 3:41 to go in the game. With just under a minute to play, Monroe put in a layup off the assist from Smith to take a one-point lead. 18 seconds later, Cleveland responded with the eventual game-winning layup to go back up one point. Smith missed a three pointer with 30 seconds to go and the Pistons never got the ball back, losing 87-86.

Siva and KCP started in the backcourt and made the most of their expanded minutes. Peyton only sat out for one minute in the game, scoring 12 points and dishing seven assists. KCP improved his shooting, going 4-9 from the field to add 11 points.

Greg Monroe had another huge game, exploding for 19 points and going 5-6 from the charity stripe. He is averaging over 15 points per game in the last three games and is coming into midseason form. Drummond posted a double-double with 14 points and 15 rebounds.

The Pistons (2-4) have two more preseason games remaining before the regular season starts. Expect the Pistons to start slow out of the gate until Stuckey and Jennings return from injury. Head coach Maurice Cheeks will be thrown into the fire right away, and will have to get creative with his lineups for the first few weeks of the regular season. The Wizards will come to the Palace on October 30 for the home opener.

Photo from Detroit Pistons Facebook page

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