By Matt Sheehan
Last updated: 12/04/13 4:27pm
All eyes in college basketball will be on No. 1 MSU tonight as they host the roller coaster that is UNC. The State News basketball writers Matt Sheehan and Zach Smith (attempt to) take a look into the future to see how tonight’s game will play out.
Matt Sheehan: MSU: 74 UNC: 69
The No. 1 men’s basketball team hasn’t lost to UNC in 13 years – until tonight.
North Carolina walks into the game as the biggest question mark in college basketball, as they lost to Belmont and UAB, but inexplicably pulled out a nine point win over No. 3 Louisville.
If there is any saving grace donned in Tarheel blue, it’s star guard Marcus Paige. The 6-foot-1 sophomore averages more than 20 points a game, and UNC will need all of that tonight, but Gary Harris and Keith Appling will have something to say about that.
Whoever is assigned to him will lock Paige down to 12 points at the most, taking away the main gear to UNC’s engine.
MSU can’t slack in the post though, as UNC boasts 6-foot-9 James Michael McAdoo and 6-foot-10 Joel James. If Matt Costello, Alex Gauna and Gavin Schilling don’t make a dent in the rebounding game, then this could spell trouble.
But, nonetheless, MSU is one of the fastest and skilled teams in the nation. Harris, Dawson, Payne and Valentine will all score in double figures, and MSU will win this game that will go down to the stretch.
Zach Smith: MSU: 86 UNC: 78
North Carolina seems to play up to their opponents, as they beat Louisville, but fell to lesser opponents Belmont and UAB.
This is going to be a running game, and the team that controls the game in transition and gets more fast break points is going to come out on top.
I see Keith Appling having another big game in the assist column, and with Gary Harris still on the mend, Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice are going to lead the offense.
North Carolina will keep it close down the stretch, but the No. 1 Spartans will pull away in the end.
MSU comes out on top in a high scoring affair.
By Derek Blalock
Last updated: 11/13/13 6:54pm
Leading up to Tuesday’s Champions Classic, heaps of applause and criticism was directed toward No. 1 Kentucky head coach John Calipari’s recruiting and coaching style.
But from No. 2 MSU men’s basketball head coach Tom Izzo to ESPN analyst Dick Vitale, one theme is common, Calipari is great at what he does.
Prior to tip-off of the MSU-Kentucky game, Vitale spoke to a group of reporters about his thoughts on Calipari’s style.
“I don’t like it, but bottom line is when you think about it, what is he doing wrong, who would say, ‘no’ to Julius Randle, who would say, ‘no’ to the Harrison kids,” Vitale said. “He’s just better at what he does than a lot of other people. He’s just following a rule that exists, he has no other choice and the bottom line is to get the best players and he does a great job at it. He’s a masterful salesman… It’s all about recruiting and he’s got a great product to sell, Kentucky basketball.”
After MSU’s 78-74 victory against Kentucky on Tuesday, Izzo also added his thoughts about Calipari’s style of recruiting “one-and-done” players, and called it an anomaly.
Kentucky currently has six freshman who were McDonald’s All-Americans in high school, and likely will be selected high in the 2014 NBA Draft.
“He’s found a niche, he does an incredible job with it, but I don’t think that’s the norm right now,” Izzo said. “I’m not saying it’s good or bad, I hope I get more and more ‘one-and-done’ or ‘two-and-done’ (players), but I appreciate having guys around.
“I appreciate hearing (Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson) talk about making sure they don’t worry about those things and play basketball. At the end of the year, things will get taken care of. If it takes you one year or three years, it’s about the final goal and it’s about the process.”
Izzo also added he liked to hear senior guard Keith Appling talk about his experiences in four years at MSU have helped him on and off the court.
“(Keith Appling) said something pretty cool, he said I’ve grown up off the court and on the court and I don’t think we give kids a chance to grow up off the court,” Izzo said. “It’s a shame. We’ve sped the process up so fast. God bless the kids who are good enough to go.”
By Derek Blalock, Stephen Brooks
Last updated: 11/12/13 7:16pm
CHICAGO — The No. 2 Spartans are set to take on No. 1 Kentucky at Chicago’s United Center in the first game of the Champions Classic. No. 4 Duke squares off with No. 5 Kansas for the night’s finale. State News reporters Stephen Brooks and Derek Blalock offer their predictions on the highly-anticipated showdown.
It’s youth versus experience in the first matchup of the top-two ranked teams in the country since 2008. Once again, Kentucky and head coach John Calipari have assembled a jaw-dropping collection of talent, led by what some consider the greatest recruiting class in history.
One thing I’ll be watching if how senior center Adreian Payne operates in the post against 7-foot center Willie Cauley-Stein and highly-touted freshman forward Julius Randle, who MSU head coach Tom Izzo said had a “Chris Webber body.” In the exhibition games and the season-opener, Payne spent a lot of time hanging around the perimeter and less time working on the block. We’ll see if getting the ball inside is an emphasis for the Spartans tonight.
With so much attention on Calipari’s latest crop of studs, Izzo made a point on Monday to remind everyone the Spartans have some talent on their side, too, and it’s seasoned talent. I think that’s the difference in this early-season bout. The Spartans have played in big games such as this before, including beating Kansas in last year’s Champion’s Classic and seem better suited to handle the situation and environment.
At this point in the season, my gut tells me to side with the experience. There’s no doubt the Wildcats will grow as the season moves forward, and could easily be the toughest team around at season’s end. For now, I say MSU gets the win with the margin buffered by late free throws.
Prediction: MSU 78, Kentucky 69
Tom Izzo said it best.
“There are talented teams and then there are talented teams,” he said. “I am not sure if I ever, and I am not sure if anybody here has heard of seven or eight first-round players on the same team. The North Carolina team was the best team that I ever played against and there were five of them, I think. You start talking seven, that’s a whole different experience… I am not sure if that experience would take place over the talent if there is that much of it.”
No. 2 MSU is a very good team, with a couple first-round NBA picks, a lot of experience, and depth.
The Spartans also showed in their first three games they can run the floor much better than years past, and are bound for a great post-season run, but I think Kentucky’s talent level trumps MSU’s. Kentucky’s probable starting five features an average height of 6-foot-8. Kentucky’s height advantage as well as talent level will be the deciding factor.
Prediction: Kentucky 74, MSU 68
By Derek Blalock
Last updated: 11/12/13 3:38pm
Tuesday night will be one of the most exciting nights in college basketball this season. It might also be a preview of the 2014 NBA Draft, with heaps of talent on display for all four participating teams.
At 7:30 p.m., No. 2 MSU (1-0 overall) will tip off against No. 1 Kentucky (2-0) at the United Center in Chicago for the third annual Champions Classic.
Not only will some of the top players in the country be on full display, the game also will pit MSU head coach Tom Izzo against friend and Kentucky head coach, John Calipari.
At his weekly press conference Monday afternoon, Izzo talked about his friendship with Calipari, who is known for attracting multiple top recruits and so called “one and done” players. Izzo said they are able to talk from time to time and they also go head-to-head on the recruiting trail.
“I shouldn’t be close friends with him at all,” Izzo joked. “I haven’t been able to recruit very well against him, number one. And the only time that we played against each other, we were I think 100 points down at halftime. It might have only been 30, and it just felt like 100. I don’t know why the hell I like the guy. I guess he is Italian, and I appreciate that.”
The only other time both head coaches faced each other was in the 2008 Sweet Sixteen. Calipari, then with the Memphis Tigers, beat Izzo and the Spartans, 94-72.
Kentucky features arguably the greatest freshman class in any school’s history. Of the nine freshman, six were McDonald’s All-American last year.
Though many argue whether this is the right approach, Izzo applauds Calipari for what he has been able to accomplish.
“I respect the fact that he can take a bunch of freshmen and for the most part over these years he is able to change his team and still get them to play at a high level,” Izzo said. “Nobody has that, nobody. But he has to coach them too.
“With that can go problems. I think he is pretty demanding of his guys. I don’t think he just rolls the ball out. I think he gets after them. I respect that about him. So we will be friends until the ball goes up and then if we are down 30 at halftime, I think I am bagging my friendship.”
Although MSU doesn’t feature any “diaper dandies” as ESPN analyst Dick Vitale likes to call top freshman, the Spartans do feature a veteran lineup featuring senior center Adreian Payne and sophomore guard Gary Harris.
In the other matchup, No. 4 Duke will play No. 5 Kansas at 9:30 p.m.
Millions of viewers will be able to see Andrew Wiggins, a preseason All-American, and the No. 1 recruit in last season’s class, according to ESPN. For Duke, Jabari Parker, another star freshman, will be on display in the nationally televised audience. Parker was the No. 2 recruit behind Wiggins, according to ESPN.
By Derek Blalock
Last updated: 11/11/13 9:31pm
Tom Izzo described the night as a “Final Four in November.”
It’s an event that could feature more than a handful of first-round NBA draft picks.
The Champions Classic, which takes place Tuesday night in Chicago, includes four of the top-five teams in the nation — No. 1 Kentucky, No. 2 MSU, No. 4 Duke and No. 5 Kansas. The nationally televised classic created in 2011 is a double-header and will be on ESPN.
Fans already are paying about $200 more per ticket than the past two years at Madison Square Garden in 2011 and Georgia Dome in 2012.
Fans are paying an average of $366 per ticket for the game, which will be held at Chicago’s United Center.
“I’m not sure I’ve been as excited about an opportunity as this in a long, long time,” Izzo said. “I just think it’s great for college basketball, it’s great for the media, great for the fans, great for the programs. And as I said … I think all teams will benefit in some way shape or form.”
MSU will tip off against Kentucky at 7:30 p.m.
By Stephen Brooks
Last updated: 11/05/13 6:41pm
Three days before MSU’s regular season tipoff against McNeese State, senior center Adreian Payne and sophomore guard Gary Harris are among the 15 players named to the watch list for the Oscar Robertson Trophy, a National Player of the Year award.
The Spartans are the only team with two representatives on the list. Ohio State’s Aaron Craft and Michigan’s Mitch McGary make up the rest of the Big Ten candidates. The watch list was compiled by the United States Basketball Writers Association’s board of directors.
Harris received preseason recognition on Oct. 31 when he was voted preseason Big Ten Player of the Year. He and Payne were second-team All-Big Ten selections in 2012-13.
MSU will see another Oscar Robertson candidate in Kentucky freshman forward Julius Randle when it takes on the Wildcats on Nov. 12 in Chicago for the Champions Classic.
By Stephen Brooks
Last updated: 11/04/13 5:09pm
The No. 2 national ranking justifies the MSU men’s basketball teams as one of the country’s elite.
When it comes to the Big Ten, expected to be among the most competitive conferences again this season, the Spartans were unanimously picked as the favorite in a poll of conference media members.
After winning Big Ten Freshman of the Year last season behind his 12.9 points per game, sophomore guard Gary Harris was named the preseason conference Player of the Year. A former heralded recruit, Harris battled through injuries in a standout freshman campaign to start 33 of 34 games and displayed a knack for defending head coach Tom Izzo called “illegal” last month.
Senior center Adreian Payne joined Harris as MSU’s representatives on the preseason All-Big Ten team. Both Payne and Harris returned to campus for the 2013-14 season after mulling departures to the NBA. Michigan forwards Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III, Penn State guard Tim Frazier and Ohio State guard Aaron Craft round out the team. There are six selections because of a tie in the voting.
As for the team rankings, No. 7 U-M is predicted to finish second while No. 11 Ohio State is slotted third. Wisconsin, at No. 20, is the Big Ten’s fourth team ranked in the Associated Press poll.
By Dillon Davis
Last updated: 10/30/13 7:19pm
Since the chase for the highly-coveted Jabari Parker ended in failure last year, many wondered when Tom Izzo and the MSU men’s basketball team might land the next big recruit to come to East Lansing.
Some believe that recruit might be Chicago power forward Cliff Alexander. But several other teams still are vying for Alexander’s attention.
College basketball writer Adam Zagoria reported Tuesday that Alexander, the nation’s No. 3 recruit, will be receiving in-home visits in the near future from Illinois, Memphis and possibly Kansas, while MLive’s Diamond Leung noted Alexander is scheduled for an unofficial visit to MSU this weekend, which he attributes to an unnamed source close to the information.
The Chicago Curie High School forward told Louisville’s The Courier Journal in July he did not intend to take an official visit to MSU because he’s taken numerous visits to campus in the past and wanted to explore some of the others. Alexander narrowed his list to MSU, Kansas, Memphis, Depaul, Illinois and Arizona in September. He later knocked off Arizona and has taken official visits to all of the remaining schools — with the exception of MSU.
There seems to be interest in Alexander remaining in his home state, as he took in the weekend’s MSU-Illinois football game from the press box at Memorial Stadium, but his mother Latillia Alexander told SNY.tv that there’s no preference of location.
“It doesn’t matter to me how close or how far, I just want him to be happy,” she said in the interview.
A 2014 recruit, Alexander could make an impact on the Spartans, who potentially could lose sophomore guard Gary Harris, junior forward Branden Dawson along with senior guard Keith Appling and senior center Adreian Payne to next year’s NBA Draft.
The Spartans also are waiting on decisions from Trevon Bluiett (Indianapolis), James Blackmon Jr. (Marion, Ind.), Devin Booker (Moss Point, Miss.) and Kevon Looney (Milwaukee).
Alexander is set to make his announcement Nov. 16 on ESPN.
By Matt Sheehan
Last updated: 10/22/13 8:17pm
Welcome back, basketball fans. During Tuesday’s media day, head coach Tom Izzo and players sounded off on their thoughts before the season tips off. Here are some snippets from The State News sports desk and writers Dillon Davis and Matt Sheehan.
By Stephen Brooks
Last updated: 10/17/13 7:06pm
MSU men’s basketball will begin the 2013-14 season ranked No. 2 in the USA Today coaches poll.
The Spartans were expected to be a consensus top-three team entering the season with their rare combination of experience and talent. Returning six of its top seven scorers from a year ago — including sophomore guard Gary Harris and senior center Adrian Payne who spurned the NBA Draft — MSU figures to be one of the most balanced and seasoned teams in the country.
MSU and No. 4 Duke each received three of the 32 first-place votes in the coaches poll. No. 1 Kentucky received 16 votes while 10 went to No. 3 Louisville. Blue Ribbon Yearbook pegged MSU No. 1 in its own rankings last month.
Four other Big Ten schools join MSU in the rankings: Michigan (No. 9), Ohio State (No. 10), Wisconsin (No. 21) and Indiana (No. 24).
The top two teams in the country will square off on Nov. 12 in Chicago when MSU takes on the Wildcats in the Champions Classic. The Spartans begin the regular season on Nov. 8 at home against McNeese State.