First Round Predictions for the B1G Tournament

MARCH 11 – The regular season is finally over, and the fun can officially begin. March college basketball is perhaps the most entertaining basketball in the world, and we are right in the middle of it. The Big Ten tourney kicks off on Thursday in Indianapolis, Ind. so here is a prediction of every game in the first round.

Game 1 – No. 8 Indiana vs. No. 9 Illinois (Thursday, 12:00 p.m.)

The Hoosiers (17-14, 7-11) split the season series with the Fighting Illini (18-13, 7-11). Illinois took the first matchup in Champaign, Ill. 83-80 in overtime on New Year’s Eve, and then Indiana won the next game by 10 in Bloomington, Ind. Indiana is 2-3 in its last five games, with wins over Iowa and Ohio State. Illinois is 4-1 in their last five with a huge road win at Michigan State.

These two teams are having disappointing seasons, but Indiana is playing better basketball right now despite their recent record. They took Michigan to the wire in Ann Arbor, and their young talent is playing extremely well. The Hoosiers will win 64-59. The winner plays No. 1 Michigan on Friday at noon.

Game 2 – No. 5 Ohio State vs. No. 12 Purdue (Thursday, 2:25 p.m.)

Ohio State (23-8, 10-8) finished the season on a high note, squeaking a win out against MSU on Sunday. Although they can be offensively challenged at times, their defense will make up for any scoring shortcomings. OSU leads the B1G in scoring defense, while Purdue is dead last. Everyone’s favorite Buckeye Aaron Craft can shut down anyone he is matched up with and can facilitate the offense without needing to score.

Purdue (15-16, 5-13) struggled mightily at times this season and lost their last six games to finish the year. Their defense is porous, and they rank No. 131 in the nation in scoring. OSU wins this one 74-60. The winner plays No. 4 Nebraska on Friday at 2:25 pm.

Game 3 – No. 7 Minnesota vs. No. 10 Penn State (Thursday, 6:30 p.m.)

These two teams met for the final regular season game of the year on Sunday, with the Golden Gophers (19-12, 8-10) coming out victorious 81-63 in Minnesota. They also won the first meeting in Happy Valley by three points in early January. Minnesota recently beat Iowa by six at home, but have not won back-to-back games since the beginning of January.

Penn State (15-16, 6-12) has had consistency issues as well, sweeping the season series with Ohio State and beating Nebraska in January, but falling to Illinois twice and opening the B1G season with a six-game losing streak. Minnesota is in Joe Lunardi’s last four out in his latest Bracketology, so they need this game more than anyone in the conference.

The Gophers will win for a third time against the Nittany Lions 75-59. The winner will face No. 2 Wisconsin on Friday at 6:30 p.m.

Game 4 – No. 6 Iowa vs. No. 11 Northwestern (Thursday, 8:55 p.m.)

This is the game to watch for MSU fans. The winner goes on to face MSU on Friday at 8:55 p.m.

Iowa (20-11, 9-9) has stumbled to the finish line, losing five of their last six games including a disappointing three-point loss at home to Illinois. The Hawkeyes climbed as high as No. 10 in the AP poll earlier this season, but their final defeat knocked them out of the rankings. Roy Devyn Marble has been the star of the team, leading them in scoring with 17 points per game.

The Spartans played Iowa twice this year, earning a hard-fought overtime win with the help of “The Legend” Russell Byrd at Iowa in the first game, and winning more convincingly on senior night last Thursday. Marble is averaging 22.5 points in the two contests against MSU this year. Aaron White is another leader on the Hawkeyes squad, averaging 13.3 points per night to go along with nearly seven rebounds. If Iowa wants to go far in the tournament, it will be on Marble’s back.

Northwestern (13-18, 6-12) fulfilled their usual role of cellar dwellers this season, finishing second to last in the conference. They endured two lengthy losing streaks of four and seven games and they score at an abysmal rate. Their only marquee win was at Wisconsin near the end of January, but other than that there has not been much for Wildcat fans to cheer about.

MSU faced off against the Wildcats twice, winning both games by 14 and 15 points, respectively. Northwestern had a tough time handling Adreian Payne down low in the second game, allowing him to score 20 points to compliment 14 rebounds.

Iowa will win this game 65-62 and move on to face the Spartans for a third time this season, where they will lose for the third time this season.

The full tournament bracket can be seen here.


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

 

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Big Ten Title Hopes Fading Fast

FEB 26 – With Sunday’s 79-70 loss at the hands of the Wolverines, Michigan State is virtually eliminated from one seed contention for the tournament. The Spartans dropped five spots to No. 18 in both polls this week while Michigan moved up four places to No. 16. With only three games remaining in the season, MSU must focus on their own play, not what everyone is doing around them.

In Joe Lunardi’s latest bracketology, he has the Spartans down to a three seed. With only three games left in the regular season, MSU needs to focus on winning out for any chance at a Big Ten regular season title. The Spartans are one game back in the loss column from Michigan, who has a much easier end to the regular season.

Purdue, Minnesota, Illinois and Indiana finish out U-M’s season, who have RPI’s of 122, 47, 83 and 96 respectively. This means that Minnesota is the only team out of the four expected to make the March tournament. Michigan is playing its best basketball of the season and is showing no signs of slowing down.

Meanwhile, MSU’s remaining schedule of Illinois, Iowa and Ohio State have RPI’s of 83, 33 and 17 respectively. This does not bode well for MSU’s chances at a comeback.

MSU beat the Illini in Champaign, Ill. 78-62 in January, beat Iowa on the road 71-69 in overtime and almost collapsed at home to Ohio State, eventually winning by four in overtime. Normally, the experts would say that the Illinois game on Saturday is going to be a cakewalk for the Spartans, but Nebraska proved last Sunday that there are no cakewalks in the Big Ten.

The good news for Tom Izzo is that Branden Dawson is expected to return to action against Illinois for the first time in nine games. The big question is how long will it take him to return to form. Will he jell with his teammates rights away like Adreian Payne? Or will the recovery come slower, as it is with Keith Appling? Dawson leads the team in rebounds and most of the time is the most athletic player on the court.

Earlier in the year, I wrote an article on how Dawson could be the team’s X-factor if they wanted any shot at a title. Later, I wrote another article about how he has been disappointing this year. In retrospect, the latter article seems a little shortsighted. The saying “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” applies perfectly here, and so does this song. He filled a role that no one on the team can quite like him. He makes big plays when he wants to and out-rebounds guys five inches taller than him.

Even though Dawson is a stonemason outside of 10 feet, he is a great complement to Payne, who can draw defenses away from the post and free up Dawson. It is basically like having a more skilled Matt Costello in the game.

Just because one player is back does not guarantee that MSU will suddenly transform into the best team in the nation. The addition of a “new” player to the rotation could just throw a wrench into things and State could drop two out of their final three games. Or it could be like a shot of adrenaline into the team’s collective arm and fuel a Big Ten Tournament title run.

As of right now, no one knows what is going to happen, but it should be fun regardless.


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

 

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Spartans Shoot the Lights out in Win Over Purdue

FEB 20 – Gary Harris and company hosted a shooting clinic in West Lafayette, Ind. on Thursday.

Michigan State started their game against Purdue on an unprecedented 11-14 streak from beyond the arc. Harris led the way for the Spartans with six three-pointers, finally breaking out of his shooting slump. He finished with 25 points, far surpassing his average of just over 13 points per game during his six-game shooting slump.

The Boilermakers hung tough for most of the game, especially when the Spartans came down to earth with their shooting in the second half. They capitalized on MSU’s lazy transition defense, turning missed threes into easy layups on the other end. But the Spartans were nearly unstoppable on the offensive end, eventually running away with a 94-79 victory.

Adreian Payne continued his stellar play after coming off a foot injury, tallying 23 points on 8-14 shooting. Keith Appling did not start, but logged heavy minutes. His right wrist is still bothering him, as he only took one shot. Appling played the role of facilitator, dishing out nine assists. MSU as a team shared the ball extremely well, with 26 assists on 30 shots.

Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice recovered nicely from their ugly game against Nebraska. Valentine had 16 points and five rebounds, and Trice had 14 points and six assists. They combined for five three-pointers on the night.

MSU made 17 three-pointers against Purdue, setting a school record and equaling the number of total field goals made in their game against the Cornhuskers.

The win gives the Spartans an 11-3 conference record, putting them a half game ahead of Michigan for tops in the Big Ten.

Michigan State heads to Ann Arbor on Sunday for a showdown with the Wolverines. Tip is set at 12:00 p.m. and the game can be seen on CBS.


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

Photo: David Defever/Impact Sports

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Road to the B1G Title Even Tougher with Loss to Nebraska

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FEB 17 – When Terry Braverman, the PA announcer at the Jack Breslin Student Events Center, announced the score of the Wisconsin vs. Michigan men’s basketball game, the crowd erupted. Bo Ryan and his squad did their job and dismantled Michigan in Ann Arbor.

All Michigan State had to do was beat a middle-of-the-pack team and they would sit alone atop the Big Ten.

But the Cornhuskers had other plans.

“They came in here and punched us in the mouth and we didn’t punch back,” MSU head coach Tom Izzo said in his postgame press conference.

Now MSU and U of M are tied for first place in the conference, each with a record of 10-3. The Spartans have a tougher schedule remaining than Michigan, so a win at home against Nebraska would have been huge. MSU travels to Purdue on Thursday, who is 4.5 games back in the conference and fresh off a win over Indiana. Then comes the showdown in Ann Arbor next Sunday.

Last year, the Wolverines edged the Spartans in Ann Arbor 58-57. Trey Burke had a dunk with 22 seconds left that gave Michigan a two-point lead. Derrick Nix went to the line with eight seconds left and split his free throws, leaving MSU behind by a point. U of M came into the Breslin Center earlier this year and toppled a wounded Spartan squad, 80-75.

Although Gary Harris led the team with 18 points, his shooting was off. He finished 5-15 from the field and an abysmal 1-7 from behind the arc. He has been in a funk for the past six games, shooting only 32.5 percent from the field and 24 percent from deep.

“He’s in here morning, noon and night shooting,” Izzo said. “I don’t know what you do. It’s not what I do, it’s what he does and all I can tell you is he’s working on it. We’re just going to keep going to him, because he is what he is.”

Harris has had to shoulder most of the scoring load with Adreian Payne and Keith Appling missing significant time. Appling played 19 minutes against Nebraska and wore a brace on his right wrist. He was a game-time decision and many did not expect him to suit up.

“We decided after warm-ups that we were going to try and play him some,” Izzo said. “He tried to do what he could do, but when you don’t practice for two, two-and-half weeks, when you’re not a skill guy it’s easier, but if you’re a skill guy, it’s a little harder.”

By next Sunday, Appling’s wrist should be healed more and he might be able to play without the brace. The Spartans will need all the help they can get and that includes the possible return of Branden Dawson. He is scheduled to get the pins removed from his hand on Thursday and testing and x-rays will determine if he will play against the Wolverines.

After the Michigan battle, the Spartans return to East Lansing for a two-game homestand against Illinois and Iowa before finishing the regular season in Columbus, Ohio for a rematch with Ohio State. MSU’s last five opponents have a combined win percentage of 0.667.

The loss to Nebraska shows just how deep the Big Ten is. Anyone can beat anyone on a given night. Nebraska had already won against Ohio State, Minnesota and Indiana and possibly played their way into bubble consideration. No game in the conference is a lock, and the Cornhuskers showed that on Sunday

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3-Point Play: Nebraska Edition

FEB 17 – The Spartans (21-5, 10-3) found themselves on the losing end of a knockdown, drag-out battle with Nebraska on Sunday afternoon. The Cornhuskers (14-10, 6-6) found their rhythm early, opening up a 13-4 lead by the first media timeout. MSU proceeded to charge back with an 11-0 run of their own, holding Nebraska without a field goal for over eight minutes, but the Cornhuskers tightened up their defense toward the end of the half and took a 32-25 lead into halftime.

Nebraska maintained their lead for most of the second half. Whenever MSU would start to make a run, the Cornhuskers would answer back with a basket of their own. Gary Harris was fouled on a three-pointer and made all of his free throws with 4:42 left, cutting the Nebraska lead to 51-47, but Terran Petteway was a shooting machine, seemingly stopping every single MSU run with a three-pointer.

Adreian Payne missed a breakaway layup and Nebraska quickly converted on one of their own to give them a 56-51 lead with just over a minute remaining. When MSU had to foul, Nebraska made their free throws and the Cornhuskers came away with the huge 60-51 upset. Here are three factors of the game.

1. Gary Harris is Still in a Funk

Although Harris led the team with 18 points, his shot was off and he kept forcing the issue. He shot just 1-7 from beyond the arc and 5-15 overall. Over his last six games, Harris is shooting 32.5 percent from the field and 24 percent from deep.

“He’s in here morning, noon and night shooting,” said Coach Izzo in the postgame conference. “I don’t know what you do. It’s not what I do, it’s what he does and all I can tell you is he’s working on it. We’re just going to keep going to him, because he is what he is.”

Although his shot is not falling, he continues to heave them up. With Appling and Payne missing significant time, Harris has felt as though he has to shoulder the scoring load. To his credit, he started taking it to the hole more frequently against Nebraska and converted on all seven of his free-throw attempts.

2. The Spartans Need Branden Dawson Back ASAP

In the last seven games that Branden Dawson has missed, the Spartans have been outrebounded in two of them, both losses. Not only is Dawson the best rebounder on the team, his is also a the top defender against big wing players. Coach Izzo called Dawson the “second-best defender on this team.” The game could have gone in a much different direction had Dawson been guarding the hot-shooting Terran Petteway.

“They made some circus shots,” Izzo said, “at least four of them (Terran) Petteway, two of them in the first half and two in the second with guys right on him. It was too late then; he was already into his thing. On the bench, we just said, ‘are you kidding me?’”

3. Road to B1G Title More Difficult

When the score of the Wisconsin vs. Michigan games was announced at the Breslin Center, the crowd erupted. All Michigan State had to do was beat a middle of the pack team at home and they would be atop the Big Ten. But with a stumble against Nebraska, MSU and U of M are still tied at 10-3 with a head-to-head matchup coming next Sunday in Ann Arbor.

“They came in here and punched us in the mouth and we didn’t punch back,” Izzo said.

Michigan State travels to Purdue on Thursday before heading to the Crisler Center for the showdown with the Wolverines. The schedule does not get any easier, with Illinois and Iowa on the horizon and the season finale at Ohio State. There is a chance that Dawson could return against Michigan, but his status is uncertain.

Michigan’s remaining schedule is more favorable, with Purdue on the road and Minnesota at home coming after the MSU game. Illinois and Indiana close out their season. It should be an exciting finish to the regular season, and the matchup next Sunday could crown the conference champion.

3-Point Play: Penn State Edition

FEB 7 – Number 9 ranked Michigan State (20-3, 9-1) cannot catch a break. As soon as Adreian Payne finally returns to the starting lineup, Coach Izzo announces that Keith Appling is out with a sore wrist. Not a good game to be missing your starting point guard. Penn State (12-11, 3-7) had won three consecutive games including at Ohio State in overtime. The Spartans struggled early in their last matchup with the Nittany Lions on New Year’s Eve, but this game was a different story.

Already up 13-8, MSU went on an 11-0 run with over 10 minutes remaining in the first half to open up a 22-8 lead. Payne received a standing ovation when he checked into the game for the first time. He scored 10 points and grabbed two rebounds in the first half. Redshirt freshman Kenny Kaminski got the start and led the Spartans in scoring through 20 minutes with 13 points. He was a perfect 3-3 from beyond the arc and 5-6 from the field. Michigan State held a 46-30 lead at the break.

It was all MSU in the second half, with the lead growing to as big as 26. The Spartans cruised past Penn State 82-67. Kaminski was lights-out all night, finishing with a career-high 19 points on 7-9 shooting. Denzel Valentine turned in another outstanding performance, just four assists away from a triple-double. His line was 11 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. Penn State never held a lead for the entire game. Here are three key factors that contributed to Michigan State’s dominant win.

1. Payne shows no signs of rust

Adreian Payne had not played since January 7, but you couldn’t tell by watching him against Penn State. The senior had 10 points in the first half and looked dominant inside and out. His jumper was falling and his post moves were effective. Coach Pat Chambers of Penn State described Payne’s return in the post-game press conference.

“He played great. It was like Willis Reed coming off the bench, the crowd was going crazy; it was a standing ovation. They used that, Coach Izzo used that really well as motivation for his team and for the crowd.”

Payne only played 18 minutes but made the most of his time. He finished with 12 points on 5-9 shooting and did not look hesitant at all. The Spartans couldn’t have had him back at a better time with a tough roadie in the Kohl Center coming up on Sunday against Wisconsin. While the Badgers are starting to fade, Bo Ryan’s teams always play tough on their home court.

2. Even with injuries, Spartans have great depth

Coach Izzo surprised everybody when news broke that Keith Appling would not play against the Nittany Lions.

“I had talked to Keith [Appling] the night before and it sounded like things were getting better. Then the trainer calls and says that he can hardly move his wrist. We had specialists look at it and we’ve gone through all the x-rays and everything. It is kind of a strange deal – I don’t know if it’s locked up or what. They’ve done some work on him, but the poor guy missed his first game here.”

There was a thought in the back of everyone’s mind that they could give MSU a good game. But those fears were put to rest within the first 10 minutes of the game. Tom Izzo is lucky to have such a plethora of talent on his team with all the injuries they’ve dealt with this year. MSU has used 12 different starting lineups in 19 games, and Coach Izzo characterized some of the lineups as “goofy”.

Denzel Valentine stepped up in the absence of Appling and ran the point extremely well, sharing with Travis Trice.

“Early in the game he [Valentine] was a bit out of control there – just going in and throwing the ball up. We took him out for a little bit, settled him down a bit and then I thought he play phenomenally – rebounding wise, defensively, made some shots, made some great passes, and did a great job on the boards,” said Izzo.

Even Coach Chambers had high praises for Valentine’s level of play.

“He really got things going. He played great. He did a lot of little things. He’s a tough matchup for us; he’s a big guard. When he’s knocking down his shot, it’s tough; it’s tough to defend him. He got in the paint a lot. He did some really good things; made winning plays for that team.”

Matt Costello did a great job complimenting Payne down low, going for 10 points on 3-3 shooting and six rebounds. He was also solid at the line, making four out of five. He gave Payne the opportunity to ease back into the game without feeling the pressure of being the main scorer in the post.

Kenny Kaminski had the best game of his career. He made his first five three-pointers of the game, including one from the top of the key that banked in.

“I think they hit a bank at the top of the key, that’s when you know it’s not your night,” said Chambers.

Kaminski has been up and down all season, so this performance was extremely important for the redshirt freshman. He not only hit threes, he played better defense and actually used his size to grab two rebounds.

3. The Big Ten race is going to be fun

Michigan State and Michigan are tied atop the Big Ten standings, with the rest of the pack at least three games behind. The Wolverines have a tough stretch coming up, starting on Saturday when they travel to Iowa. Then they face Ohio State in Columbus, Wisconsin comes to Crisler, and then MSU returns for revenge on the 23rd. Coach Izzo likes the lead he has, but is definitely not comfortable with it.

“We are both competing; I think the next closest team has four, five loses. Not that I feel comfortable with that in any way, because the schedule the way it is who plays who twice. There is no levelness to it. Doesn’t mean you have played one-through-nine and nine-through-one. It doesn’t go how it used to go. So you could have some tough road games. We have some tough games coming up now. So I just feel good that we are in the hunt right now,” said Izzo.

Michigan State’s next game is on Sunday against Bo Ryan’s Wisconsin team. The Kohl Center has always been a difficult place to play, no matter who suits up for the Badgers. Wisconsin has lost five of their last seven games after starting 16-0, but they are still one of the toughest teams in the conference. The game is at 1:00 pm and can be seen on CBS or heard on the Spartan Sports Network.

 

 

Role Players Plugging the Hole for MSU

JAN 30 – One slam of a hand, and MSU’s season could have been up in flames.

Without their top two rebounders, the Spartans could have imploded and limped along until Adreian Payne came back. But the role players for Michigan State have done their best to plug the gaping hole left by Payne and Branden Dawson so far.

Matt Costello played a key part in Michigan State’s last two games. In the hard-fought loss to Michigan, the sophomore scored nine points while grabbing eight rebounds. He is not needed to score, but more to clean the offensive glass. In his last two games, Costello has had nine offensive rebounds, leading to key second-chance points for the Spartans. His defense is also solid in the post, swatting the Hawkeyes twice in the overtime win.

Denzel Valentine played a major role in the overtime victory in Iowa on Tuesday. He played 29 minutes and pitched in 12 points and six rebounds. He also had two assists, including a huge one in overtime. Although he turned in a lackluster performance against Michigan, his overall numbers this season are up from last year, with 2.5 more points and nearly two more rebounds per game.

Perhaps the best moment from the Iowa game was Russell Byrd hitting the three-pointer in the corner to seal the game for the Spartans in overtime. Byrd has dealt with a slew of injuries throughout his career at Michigan State that have completely shot his confidence.

Despite being healthy all season, Byrd has only played in 11 games this year, scoring in double digits once. He had not hit a three since mid-December, but it could not have come at a better time. Those were his only points of the game, but he could be considered the game’s MVP.

With the best head coach in the Big Ten and possibly the nation, the Spartans should be in good shape even without two starters. Coach Izzo has dealt with similar situations in the past, specifically in the 1999-2000 championship season. Mateen Cleaves had to miss the first 13 games of the season due to a stress fracture in his right foot and the Spartans stumbled to a 9-4 start, including a loss to Wright State (4-8).

The rest is history. So do not despair Spartan fans. Izzo knows what he is doing and he has the players to step up and carry the team until Dawson and Payne are back.

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3-Point Play: Minnesota Edition

JAN 11 – It took five extra minutes, but the Spartans (15-1, 4-0) were able to overcome a second half deficit to beat Minnesota (13-4, 2-2) on Saturday, 87-75. They did it without both Adreian Payne and a less than 100 percent Travis Trice, whom coach Izzo describe as “zone busters.”

The Golden Gophers had the hot hand from outside to start the game, connecting on seven of 12 from deep in the first half. They went on a 13-4 run to take a 29-21 lead with six and a half minutes remaining in the first. Kaminski was lights out from deep for MSU, making his first four three-pointers in the first half. The Spartans trailed by five at the break.

Michigan State chipped away at the deficit throughout the second half. They finally took the lead with just under 11 minutes remaining, their first edge since midway through the first half. A pair of Matt Costello free throws extended MSU’s lead to five with 22 seconds remaining. Malik Smith hit a three-pointer with 16 seconds left for the Gophers, then Deandre Mathieu made a layup in the closing seconds to send the game into overtime.

The overtime period was dominated by Michigan State. Minnesota didn’t get onto the board for the first four minutes. The Spartans outscored the Gophers 16-4 largely on free throws and won by a score of 87-75. Here are three storylines that stood out in the overtime win.

1. Kenny Kaminski: Pure Shooter

Redshirt freshman Kenny Kaminski had his coming out party against Ohio State, in which he hit three shots from beyond the arc. None were bigger than his three-pointer in overtime to give the Spartans a two-point lead. Against Minnesota, he was scorching. Kaminski connected on his first five three-pointers and earned extra minutes with Branden Dawson disappearing in the first half (I’ll get to that later).

Kaminski has responded as well as coach Izzo could have hoped after his second suspension of the season. He has missed six games this year due to suspensions, mostly for academic reasons.

“He has made some progress,” Coach Izzo said in the post game press conference, “he has been handling it pretty well and we are going to keep moving forward.”

Izzo went on to say, “If he continues to improve and we try to get a rebound once in a while and guard someone once in a while, he can shoot it with anybody. We do have to do more than just score on one end, but he did give us a lift at a point in time when we weren’t very good.”


2. Will the real Branden Dawson please stand up?

Zero points and three rebounds is the disappointing stat line that Branden Dawson turned in through one half of play on Saturday. Coming off another disappointing game against Ohio State in which he only scored four points and grabbed four rebounds, many thought he would be fired-up to bounce back.

That was not the case in the first half.

When he was on the court, Dawson looked disinterested at times, not fighting for rebounds like we are accustomed to seeing. “There is something wrong with Branden, there is no question about it,” Izzo said.

He was benched at the start of the second half with the hot Kaminski replacing him. His first basket came on a tip-in with 11:30 remaining in the second half and his play picked up after that, but still not the level that coaches expect out of him.

“You can see the look on his face, everybody can see it,” Izzo said, “My mother calls; she’s 87, she is wearing her bifocals looking at the TV and she can see it.”

With Dawson being a nonfactor in the first half and a slightly better version in the second half and overtime, this leads us to wonder, which player is the true Branden Dawson? The one who scored a season-high 20 points to go along with nine rebounds against Penn State? Or the player who turned in four points and four rebounds in the overtime win over Ohio State?

“He was averaging a double-double going into that Carolina game,” Izzo said. “He really struggled in that game, and then he had the big stretch where he played very well, and then he has not played with that same energy and it’s nothing with his teammates, it’s nothing with his coaches, it’s nothing with school. It’s something and we just have to figure it out and get him back.”

The hope is that Dawson will bring a consistent effort on a nightly basis because his pure athleticism makes him one of the most exciting players to watch, and the sky is the limit for his potential. His freakish jumping ability makes up for the height he gives up in the paint, and he leads the Spartans in rebounding with 8.7 per game. Dawson grabbed some important boards near the end of regulation and overtime, which is a good sign. The only question is, why can’t he perform at high level consistently for a full game?

3. Costello and Valentine fill in nicely for Payne

Adreian Payne played through pain to score 18 points and grab eight rebounds in a heroic effort against Ohio State. Due to a right foot sprain, Coach Izzo didn’t even think the senior would play when he got to the Breslin Center on Tuesday night. But Payne gritted his teeth throughout the game and played a major role in the overtime win.

The pain was too much for Payne to play through on Saturday, however, so the Spartans found themselves without 16.2 points of offense.

But that’s where MSU’s team displayed its depth, which has been better than expected, with all of the injuries and suspensions that have plagued the team. He has seen multiple players step up when their team needed them throughout the year. On Saturday, Matt Costello returned to the starting lineup and played his best game since he came down with mononucleosis. He scored seven points and added eight rebounds and three blocks.

Denzel Valentine was in the starting lineup on Saturday and had a tough time shooting. With the emergence of Kaminski, the Spartans didn’t need Valentine to be a scoring machine. He did come up clutch when his team needed it, though, and finished the game with nine points and ten rebounds.

“He got some big rebounds late. I thought he defended better late,” Izzo told reporters.

UP NEXT

Michigan State travels to Evanston, Ill for a matchup with the Northwestern Wildcats on Wednesday. With the days off, the Spartans should have a fully healthy Travis Trice and a much-recovered Adreian Payne. Tipoff is at 7:00.

Opinion: Branden Dawson Disappointing but Knows His Role for MSU

JAN 11 – In November, I wrote an article about how Branden Dawson would be the X factor for Michigan State this season. At the time, he had been bragging about his new-look jump shot that would transform his game.

As of now, nothing has really changed for the junior from Gary, Ind.

Dawson has had some impressive games this season scoring-wise, but they have been few and far-between. In MSU’s biggest games of the season, Dawson just does not put in the performance that coach Izzo expects.

In the loss to North Carolina, Dawson posted two points and three rebounds. Against Ohio State, he scored four points and added four boards in a game where Izzo said some of his players played like, “little boys.”

Dawson’s new jump shot was supposed to turn him into something more than a dunk and layup guy, but that is definitely not the case. He still has not attempted a single three-pointer in his collegiate career and is a stonemason from anywhere outside of seven feet. His field goal percentage is extremely high at just over 60 percent, but that is a result of dunks, layups and put-backs. We have not seen Dawson test his new jumper hardly at all this year, and I do not think we will anytime soon.

Dawson has shown flashes of his true potential at times this season. He scored a season-high 20 points to go along with nine rebounds on the road against Penn State. According to ESPN, he only made two shots that were not considered dunks or layups in that game. Luckily for Michigan State fans, Dawson seems to know his limitations and does not try to force the issue with taking jump shots.

The ACL injury does not appear to have any lingering effects on Dawson. He has springs for legs and never fails to impress on a breakaway.

Although he lacks the size of most power forwards and centers, he leads the Spartans in rebounding with 8.6 per game. He simply jumps over the bigger defenders most of the time.

Right now, Dawson might be able to get a tryout with an NBA team, but his pure athleticism will not carry him far in the pros. Until he figures out his jumper, Dawson will always be a one-dimensional player. Teams have already recognized this and frequently sag off of him whenever he has the ball outside of the paint. He simply is not a threat if he is not near the basket.

Coach Izzo has enough outside weapons on his team that he does not need Dawson to expand his game right now. With the emergence of Kenny Kaminski especially, Dawson can be used as a post player, perfect for lobs and tip-ins. He can do the dirty work while Adreian Payne draws the bigger defenders out of the post.

Another year under Izzo could be what he needs to make the progress he hoped for this year. Even though Branden Dawson has not progressed the way many scouts and coaches thought he would, he fits the system at Michigan State very well – when he shows up.

– See more at: http://impact89fm.org/sports/2014/01/11/opinion-dawson-disappointing-but-knows-his-role-for-msu/#sthash.ASl0yKbe.dpuf

Marquee Matchup: Aaron Craft vs. Keith Appling

JAN 7 – When talking about Ohio State, the first player that comes to mind is most likely point guard Aaron Craft.

In his senior season with the Buckeyes, Craft is the leader of an undefeated and third-ranked team heading into only its second true road game of the season. He is not expected to put up 20 points a night, but defense is how he earns his keep.

Craft is not an offensive powerhouse, but is efficient when he has the ball in his hands. He averages 4.9 assists per game, good enough for second in the Big Ten. He rarely turns the ball over either, with an assist to turnover ratio that is second in the conference. He is fourth in scoring for the Buckeyes with 9.3 points per game and shoots a solid 48 percent from the field.

In his last two regular season games against the Spartans, Craft averaged 13 points on 45 percent shooting and recorded six assists and three steals between the two games.

But Craft makes his money on defense, as some experts say he is the best perimeter defender in the nation. He does not tower over the guards he faces off with, standing 6 feet 2 inches tall, but relies on his lateral quickness and his hands to harass defenders and get into passing lanes. His 2.5 steals per game leads the Big Ten.

According to basketball-reference.com, Craft leads the nation in Defensive Win Shares (an estimate of the number of wins contributed to a player by his defense) with 1.7. The scary part about Craft’s defense is that it is getting better. His Defensive Rating (an estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions) is nearly ten points better so far this season than it was last year at 81.7, good enough for third in the Big Ten.

Craft will most likely match up against Keith Appling tonight. Appling is averaging 15.6 points per game this season, twelfth in the Big Ten. He shoots efficiently from beyond the arc and can explode toward the basket. In his last three games, Keith is shooting 54 percent from the field, including 61.5 percent from downtown. He is also the main distributor in the Spartans’ offense, leading the team in assists with 4.6 per game.

Offensively, Appling has a strong edge over Craft. Offense is not a main focus for Craft, who takes more than four fewer shots per game than Appling. Craft has one inch and ten pounds on Appling.

Defensively, Craft holds the advantage. Aaron’s defensive rating is 12 points better than Appling’s this season and his defensive wins share is 0.5 points better than Keith’s.

Craft will have to use his quickness to keep Appling from driving by him and has to get in passing lanes early and often. Appling will have to hit his jump shots and three pointers to have success against Craft.

My prediction is a 73-69 Spartan win. Appling will score 12 points and dish out five assists. Craft will have eight points and four steals. The Buckeyes are good, but they hardly have any road experience this season. The Izzone will definitely be the sixth man on Tom Izzo’s squad.

– See more at: http://impact89fm.org/sports/2014/01/07/marquee-matchup-aaron-craft-vs-keith-appling/#sthash.IYBPyALS.dpuf