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.

Highlight video:

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.

Highlight video:

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.

Highlight video:

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



Spartans Look to Figure it Out Against Nittany Lions

JAN 21
After a frustrating and deflating loss in College Park, Maryland last Saturday, the Spartans returned with their tails between their legs. Tonight, they have an opportunity to erase the nightmare of the Terrapins with a game against Penn State at the Breslin Center.

The Nittany Lions (12-6, 0-5) have fallen on hard times since conference play started. They are dead last in the Big Ten following a home overtime loss to Purdue on Saturday. However, Penn State does have one thing going for them: DJ Newbill. He leads the Big Ten in scoring at 21.7 points per game. However, he is the only Nittany Lion that averages double-figure scoring.

Newbill left it all on the court in the overtime loss to Purdue, putting up 37 points on 13-23 shooting. His nine other teammates did not follow suit, combining for 40 points on 13-33 shooting.

On the other side of the ball, MSU (12-6, 3-2) is looking to regain their touch from beyond the arc. They lead the Big Ten in three-point percentage at 40.1 percent, but shot only 3-17 from deep against Maryland. In their last two games, Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice are a combined 3-17 from three-point range. Penn State is No. 9 in three-point defense, which could help the Spartans regain their spark.

Last season, these teams met twice, with MSU winning both times by 16 and 15 points. This game should follow the same trend. Tip-off is at 7:00 and the game can be seen on the Big Ten Network.

Prediction: MSU 70-55


Three-Point Play: Free Throws, Three-Pointers and “Trigga Trav”

JAN 21
The halfway point of the college basketball season is upon us. Three months of upsets, head-scratchers, blowouts and everything in between has made this season one of the most tumultuous and exciting in recent memory.

As for Michigan State, the season has been confusing to say the least. This team is an enigma, changing with every game and impossible for the experts to put a finger on. Here are three main storylines surrounding the troubled, yet explosive Spartans.

Mental block at the charity stripe?

Free throws should be the easiest part of the game. The referees are literally giving a player points for free, all they have to do is make a wide open, 15-foot shot. Most players can do this in their sleep, but the Spartans cannot.

As of Jan. 18, Michigan State is dead last in the Big Ten in free-throw percentage at 63.2 percent. That also ranks MSU at No. 319 in the nation. Just let that number sink in. Here are some more abysmal numbers: Branden Dawson is shooting 38.9 percent from the stripe. Gavin Schilling is a whopping seven percent better.

Free throws make or break a team in March, and until MSU gets over its mental block at the stripe, they will have an extremely difficult time having any success in the tournament.

Live by the three, die by the three

Ah yes, the three pointer. Michigan State has quite the love affair with shots beyond the arc. They lead the Big Ten in three-point percentage at 40.1 percent, which is also good enough for No. 18 in the nation. But the long bomb is not always kind to the Spartans. MSU has not shot less than 11 threes in a game this season and topped 20 attempts in seven of their games.

In all six of the Spartans’ losses this season, they took at least 17 threes. The problem arises when players like Denzel Valentine, Travis Trice and Bryn Forbes settle for quick outside shots rather than running the offense or getting out in transition, where MSU excels. When the Spartans fall into the habit of taking bad shots, they fall behind quickly.

In the most recent matchup with Maryland, MSU shot 3-17 from downtown, their worst percentage of the season. The offense had no flow whatsoever as the Terrapins locked down the Spartans on the perimeter. When the threes fall, the offense runs quickly and efficiently. When the threes bang off the iron, the offense sputters and even looks confused at times.

For a more consistent offense, the Spartans need to utilize their bigs Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling rather than chucking up low percentage threes.

Travis Trice is the man

This tweet by Draymond Green says it all. Green sent this tweet during MSU’s impressive comeback win against Iowa. Trice was a man possessed, connecting on seven of eight three-point attempts en route to a 25-point night.

A year ago, not many people would have expected Trice to take over a game like he did in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. But this is the new Travis Trice. He has transformed into a more aggressive player and confident leader. Trice runs the offense much better than last year and is shouldering a much heavier scoring load.

Last season, Trice never took more than nine shots in one game. This season, he has surpassed that total in 12 games. Of course, this increase is mostly due to his new starting role without Gary Harris and Keith Appling in the rotation, but Trice has made an incredible leap from his junior to senior year. An ESPN article (Insider required) ranked Trice as the No. 11 best player in the nation.

Not only does Trice have a silky stroke, his passing has also been one of his strengths. His 6.1 assists per game average (before Maryland game) is good enough for second best in the Big Ten. Trice also owns the best assist-to-turnover ratio in the conference at 4.0, nearly twice as good as last season.

Perhaps the most important improvement for Trice has been his health. Known for falling victim to the strangest injuries and illnesses, Trice has been a stalwart in the starting lineup this year.

Michigan State may not be playing to their potential right now, but rarely do Tom Izzo teams peak before March. His squads are a constant work in progress that hit stride just in time for the big games. This year looks to be no exception.


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.

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.

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.

– See more at:

Spartans Survive Crimson, Advance to Sweet Sixteen

MARCH 23 – Harvard almost blew up everybody’s bracket on Saturday night. That is, if your bracket has not already been blown up.

With 17:38 remaining in the game, a Branden Dawson throw-down gave the No. 4 seeded Spartans a 16-point lead and all of the momentum they needed to bury No. 12 Harvard, but the Crimson pulled the upset in the second round, and they had their eyes on the Sweet Sixteen.

A pair of Brandyn Curry three-pointers cut the lead to 11 with 15 minutes to play. After a Gary Harris dunk, Harvard went on an 8-0 run and tied the game in a blink of an eye. On the ensuing MSU possession, Big Shot Gary came down and hit a huge three-pointer from nearly NBA range to stop the run and give the Spartans a 58-55 lead with under nine minutes left.

A few possessions later, a defensive lapse left Harvard’s best shooter, Laurent Rivard, wide open in the corner for an easy three that gave the Crimson a two-point lead. At this point, most Spartan fans were hyperventilating into a brown paper bag.

MSU showed just how much resiliency they had and went on their own 8-0 run, capped off by a Harris three, causing Harvard to call a timeout with 5:34 left, down by six points. Harvard could not cut into the lead for the rest of the game, and Sparty hung on to win 80-73.

Dawson did his best impersonation of Adreian Payne on Saturday night, exploding for 26 points on an incredibly efficient 12-15 shooting. Dawson has been playing extremely well since the start of the Big Ten tournament, averaging 16.2 points and 7.8 rebounds in that span. His shooting has been phenomenal as well, going just over 62 percent from the field this season.

Harris woke up from his second round slumber to add 18 points and five assists, including a few cold-blooded threes to keep MSU in the game. Payne cooled off from his supernova game on Thursday with only 12 points and four rebounds. The big man was in foul trouble for most of the game.

Up next for Tom Izzo’s squad is the winner of No. 1 Virginia and No. 8 Memphis.

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

– See more at:

Payne Drops 41, Spartans Cruise Past Delaware

MARCH 20 – The road to North Texas started out on the right foot Thursday, as Michigan State soundly defeated their first round opponent, No. 13 Delaware.

Adreian Payne played like a man among boys from start to finish, scoring 23 points in the first half alone. MSU muscled their way to a quick 18-point lead with less than six minutes to go in the first half, but Delaware made a run and cut the deficit to 11 by halftime.

The Fightin’ Blue Hens scored the first six points of the second half, slashing the lead to five and causing all MSU fans to actually start to get nervous. But the Adreian Payne show rolled on and snuffed out any chance of an upset. Delaware was vastly undersized and outmuscled as the Spartans dominated the glass. MSU kept building the lead throughout the second half, eventually winning by a 93-78 margin.

Payne set the NCAA tournament record with a 17-17 performance at the charity stripe. He also set a career-high in the tournament with 41 points, which was the most in the Dance by any player since Tayshaun Prince scored 41 against Tulsa in 2002.

Travis Trice played a major role off the bench, scoring 19 points on 7-8 shooting in only 23 minutes. He picked up the scoring load from Keith Appling, who only connected on two shots. Branden Dawson and Gary Harris each scored 10 points, with Dawson pulling down eight rebounds and dishing out four assists. Harris was in foul trouble and only played 25 minutes. He eventually fouled out.

Up next for No. 4 Michigan State is No. 12 Harvard. The Crimson upset No. 5 Cincinnati early on Thursday to move on to the third round. Harvard likely will have a tough time handling Payne down low, so expect the Spartans to move on to the Sweet 16.

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

Photo: David Defever/Impact Sports

– See more at:

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

– See more at:

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.

– See more at: