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Sunday, April 20, 2014


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Hoop, There It Is!

Industry insider: Harris signing with professional agent


By Matt Sheehan          Last updated: 04/01/14 6:58pm         

According to Darren Heitner, owner of SportAgentBlog.com, sophomore guard Gary Harris has signed with an agent.

Heitner tweeted Tuesday afternoon that Harris is signing with Aaron Mintz of CAA Sports.

If true, the move would officially mean Harris would not return for his junior year.

Earlier Tuesday, head coach Tom Izzo said he would encourage Harris to enter his name into the NBA Draft, but said Harris was “torn” with the choice.

Izzo said earlier Tuesday that he would expect to hear a decision within two weeks.

However, the Spartans’ leading scorer looks to be making it clear he is leaving before the Final Four even rolls around.

Among others, Mintz represents Paul George, Terrance Ross and Danny Granger of the NBA.


Loss means end of career for walk-on leader Chapman


By Matt Sheehan          Last updated: 03/30/14 6:50pm         

NEW YORK — When the final horn sounded at Madison Square Garden, the clock struck midnight on a few careers at MSU.

Keith Appling and Adreian Payne are done as Spartans following MSU’s 60-54 loss to UConn on Sunday, but there is another much more unheralded senior that will not be on the bench next season — Dan Chapman.

Chapman sat in front of his locker wearing his uniform before he took it off for the last time. He was emotional while hanging his head, but how could he not be?

His journey as a Spartan came to a close on Sunday, but not before he scored the final points of the season for MSU on a 3-pointer with one second on the clock.

The points might have gone unnoticed, but that’s just who Chapman and the scout team have been all year. Unnoticed, but helpful.

Closing the scorebooks for a finale time was a bittersweet moment for Chapman, but in the end he wanted that piece of an NCAA Tournament net.

“(Scoring) felt good, but that little good feeling was massively masked by losing that game that could have brought us to a Final Four,” Chapman said with tears in his eyes.

Next year, a different player will be taking Chapman’s seat at the end of MSU’s bench, meaning the Spartans will be missing one of their leaders on the scout team — team that works seemingly thankless hours in order to help the star players shine.

“It’s going to sound funny, it’s hard to replace him,” junior guard Keenan Wetzel said. “It’s obviously a bigger loss behind the scenes than people realize.”

Wetzel, a fellow walk-on, said the team will miss his “hilarious” attitude he brought to the locker room every day. Even when times were heated for the team on the practice court, Chapman was there to cool tensions down.

“I think coach would appreciate that (light-hearted attitude) also,” Wetzel said. “Sometimes it will be tense here and he will lighten the mood.”

He won’t be part of the eccentric group at the end of the bench anymore, but Chapman will be walking out with four year’s worth of unique MSU memories. Once you bond and work strenuously with a group for four years, it’s hard to say goodbye.

“I’m gonna miss being with those guys every day, and the fire with them working on offense trying to have fun against the starting five,” Chapman said. “I’m definitely going to miss hanging around with everybody, all of the jokes and being with that group of guys day-in and day-out.”


Prediction: MSU advances to Final Four today


By Matt Sheehan, Zach Smith          Last updated: 03/30/14 12:58pm         

NEW YORK — State News basketball reporters Zach Smith and Matt Sheehan predict MSU’s upcoming game versus UConn in the NCAA Tournament.

Zach Smith

MSU is going to the Final Four — or at least they will be.

In my opinion, the game against Virginia was essentially the Elite Eiight matchup.

But with the UConn Huskies in the way of a trip to Dallas, it’s important to focus on the task at hand.

The Spartans winning this game is based on two things: If they can stay out of foul trouble, and if either Gary Haris or Keith Appling can step up and score a boatload of points.

The first will be hard, with both Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright being two of the quickest guards the Spartans will face all season.

They might get a lot of nickel-and-dime handcheck fouls, and they’ll probably attack the rim and hop to get hacked.

The second isn’t as hard just because we’ve seen both Harris and Appling score in the past.

But the way Appling has been playing, he’s not going to be the guy, which bring me to my bold prediction that Travis Trice is the leading scorer in this game.

His three-pointer against Virginia might have been the bucket to seal the deal and push him over the offensive edge.

I think both keys are met and the Spartans roll.

MSU: 75 UConn: 66

Matt Sheehan

It’s about a two and a half hour flight from Detroit to Dallas. Roughly an 18 hour drive from Lansing to Dallas. A 15-day and five-hour walk in that same route, too.

Why am I giving you this information? Well, I thought you would like to know how to get to the Final Four to watch MSU.

Yes, boys and girls, the Spartans will top UConn and head to the Final Four today in Madison Square Garden.

However, don’t expect a blowout — this game will come down to the wire.

Napier, the American Athletic Conference Player of the Year, will score around 25 points. There is no stopping in, but instead just a faint hope to contain him.

MSU’s defense will shut down his supporting cast inside, but I think UConn will get hot from 3-point range today. Niels Giffey shoots 51.4 percent from deep, and he gets a handful of good looks per game because usually the defense is too preoccupied with everyone else.

Last game Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson were the only Spartans to score more than six points. Those two will bring the ruckus again today, but they won’t be the only ones.

Gary Harris and Travis Trice will each score in double figures, and I see Denzel Valentine having a solid role player game with five assists and seven rebounds.

My random prediction of the game is that Keenan Wetzel will be on SportsCenter tonight for ten seconds doing an awesome dance.

Remember Spartan fans, save the couches — they have feelings too.
MSU: 78 UConn: 75


Game's last seconds cause anxiety for Spartans


By Matt Sheehan          Last updated: 03/29/14 3:01am         

NEW YORK — It was an example of a debate that could only be proved by a result.

With 1.4 seconds left on the clock in MSU’s 61-59 win over Virginia, head coach Tom Izzo called a timeout to speak to Gary Harris. He was shooting one free throw with a two-point lead, and Virginia had no timeouts.

Miss, and Virginia has to scramble for the ball and fire off a desperation shot. Make it, and you give the Cavaliers a quick moment to maybe set up a decent shot.

Well, Izzo told Harris to miss, but that didn’t sit well with some Spartans.

“I almost went up to Gary and said ‘please just make this,’” junior guard Travis Trice said. “Because at worst, it would be overtime.”

Harris clanked it off the rim, and Virginia’s Justin Anderson fired off a shot from beyond halfcourt.

For that second of ball flight, all to be heard was silence. And for that second, sophomore forward Matt Costello had a brief heart attack on the bench.

“I was scared — I was so scared,” Costello said with his eyes looking like he was experiencing a horrible flashback.

“From the bench, it looked like it was good, so I was freaking out.”

Now sophomore guard Denzel Valentine is usually hard to get a reaction out of during interviews. However, when he was asked about the shot, Valentine let out a sigh of relief he might have been holding since the end of the game.

“Ohh, it looked good for a second,” Valentine said shaking his head. “But it came up a little bit short, so I’m happy.”


Prediction: MSU's season ends tonight


By Matt Sheehan, Zach Smith          Last updated: 03/28/14 6:09pm         

NEW YORK — State News basketball reporters Zach Smith and Matt Sheehan predict the outcome of tonight’s MSU-Virginia NCAA Tournament matchup.

Zach Smith
This is a game of matchups, and if the Spartans play like they have for the majority of the tournament, it doesn’t play out well.

Adreian Payne against Akil Mitchell and Gary Harris against Joe Harris. Plus, the uncertain play of Denzel Valentine and Keith Appling the last couple months.

Chances are good that someone’s going to get in foul trouble putting the Spartans in a pickle.

On the other hand, if the Spartans play like a full team, this game matches up really well for MSU.

The X-factor is again going to be Branden Dawson. Virginia doesn’t have that type of player with his mix of athleticism and talent.

Not saying Harvard is the same team as Virginia, but we all saw what difference he made in the first half against the Crimson.

This is going to be a boring, slowed down game, and we’ll be lucky to see 100 points scored between the two teams.

MSU’s season comes to an end.

Virginia: 58 MSU: 48

Matt Sheehan

Spartan fans, prepare to be sad tonight.

And yes, that means I’m predicting an MSU loss tonight, thus closing the chapter on a season and ending the careers of two great seniors.

Sorry, but Virginia is simply a bad matchup for the Spartans.

In my opinion, the Cavaliers come into this game as the second best team in the nation behind Florida. Their defense is the best in the nation, they all are 6-foot-5 or taller (minus starting guard London Parrantes) and they play a physical game.

I would say without a question this is the best team MSU will face all season.

The Spartans will get more than a handful of 3-point shots, as Virginia likes to double team inside.

That means Gary Harris and Travis Trice will have to nail a handful of looks for the Spartans to even have a chance.

MSU has also had foul trouble the last two games, but Virginia doesn’t play the style Delaware and Harvard do, so that will also help the green and white.

But again, this match up favors Virginia. The patience on offense, the ball movement and the unselfishness all work in their favor, and will more than likely wear down MSU’s defense.

MSU will have to play perfect to have a fighting chance, but I see Virginia’s defense being too tight to give MSU enough points to take home the victory.

Virginia: 65 MSU: 58


Rumors swirling about Izzo and Pistons job


By Matt Sheehan          Last updated: 03/25/14 4:54pm         

Fact: MSU’s basketball season doesn’t become official until there are rumors about Tom Izzo leaving for the NBA.

If MSU ever went 365 days without the talk, East Lansing would crumble and the world as Spartan fans know it would end.
Well, lucky for them, the world is going to keep on spinning.

USA Today posted a story on Izzo being one of the Detroit Pistons’ main targets. ClickOnDetroit.com picked it up too, and it gained steam.

I’ll just cut to the chase — don’t panic or take it for anything. If Izzo leaves MSU at the age of 59 to go coach in a new frontier, I would fall on the floor. I would then get up, and probably fall down again.

Just because the Pistons are “targeting” him doesn’t mean anything. Heck, the Pistons could target Phil Jackson and John Wooden’s ghost if they wanted to.

It doesn’t mean a single thing unless the feeling is mutual, and I don’t think Izzo is willing to jump ship.

Let’s be real here, the job he would be taking isn’t a glamorous one.

It’s not like he would be inheriting the Los Angeles Clippers or the 2004 Pistons.

Yeah, it’s at home and the owner Tom Gores is an MSU grad, but when Izzo turned down the Cleveland Cavaliers job a few years ago, he made it clear he’s here to stay.

Of course, crazier things have happened, so maybe he will leave.

I just have a hard time getting my eyebrows to raise in shock reading the report, because I think Izzo will stay based in East Lansing.


Prediction: MSU will pull away from Harvard in second half tonight


By Matt Sheehan, Zach Smith          Last updated: 03/22/14 5:39pm         

SPOKANE, Wash. — State News basketball reporters Matt Sheehan and Zach Smith predict the outcome of tonight’s MSU-Harvard NCAA Tournament game.

Matt Sheehan

Ahh yes, Harvard — the king of academia and the birthplace of Facebook.

It’s hard to top Harvard in anything, and Cincinnati saw that firsthand on the basketball court on Thursday in their 61-57 loss.

Up next for Harvard is a team you can call, well, “the Harvard of postseason basketball.” This will be a tall task for the Crimson — literally.

6-foot-10 Adreian Payne is fresh off a so-so 41 point performance against Delaware, and I don’t see him slowing down too much tonight.

Harvard has a length problem, as their tallest regular players top out at 6-foot-7.

They have height on the bench, but 6-foot-9 Evan Cummins is the only big man that plays at least 10 minutes off the bench.
If you’re going to bet a friend who will score the most points tonight, be the first to say Payne’s name.

Harvard did do a solid job at shutting down Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati’s main offensive weapon, to a mediocre 6-of-13 shooting performance.

Gary Harris could be seeing the same defensive smothering, and it wouldn’t be out of this world to see him having a sub-par game on offense.

But MSU isn’t like Cincinnati. They have at least four scoring options in any given possessions, and Harvard will have their hands full trying to contain the Spartans onslaught.

This game might start slow, as Harvard plays quality defense, but expect the Spartans to start pulling away in the middle of the second half.

My random, specific prediction of the game is that Russell Byrd will hit a 3-pointer and end his day 1-of-1 shooting. The Byrd wants to soar in Spokane, people.

Next stop, Madison Square Garden.

MSU: 80 Harvard: 70

Zach Smith

I’m not going to insert a smart joke here like everyone else.

Instead I’m going with the cliche saying that the Spartans can’t overlook the Crimson.

Don’t get me wrong, I think MSU is going to win and probably by a lot, but just going off of how Harvard played against Cincinnati and how some of the other lower seeds played against top teams, this isn’t going to be a blowout from the get-go.

Even Costal Carolina stuck with No. 1 seed Virginia for a while, before the Cavaliers pulled away in the second half.

The same will be the case in this game.

MSU has too much size for Harvard, Adreian Payne won’t have a 41 point night again, but he’s going to assert himself in the paint.

Harvard says they want to push the pace, but I think it’s going to be a much slower game than expected.

Harris might not have his best game, seeing as Wesley Saunders will shut him down to some degree, but Payne and Branden Dawson are too athletic and unlike anyone the Crimson have seen all year.

Harvard will keep it close for much of the game, but the Spartans have too much depth and will pull away in the end.

MSU: 69 Harvard: 60


Site led by Nate Silver gives MSU 77 percent chance over Harvard


By Matt Sheehan          Last updated: 03/21/14 8:46pm         

SPOKANE, Wash. — Remember Nate Silver?

He was the hottest name that wasn’t Mitt Romney or Barrack Obama in the 2012 presidential election, as he correctly guessed the winner in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. He also predicted the outcomes of the U.S. Senate race in 31 of 33 states.

To say the least, this math whiz knows what he is doing.

On his new website, FiveThirtyEight.com, there’s an interactive look into the most unpredictable event sports has to offer – the NCAA Tournament.

According to the site’s projections, MSU has the fifth-highest percentage of winning the title — seven percent. Louisville has the highest odds at 15 percent, while Florida and Arizona trail with an 11 percent chance to win the whole shebang. Kansas is fourth on the list with an eight percent chance.

Looking at the immediate future for MSU, the website is giving the Spartans a 77 percent chance to beat Harvard and advance to Tom Izzo’s 12th Sweet 16. MSU also has a 45 percent chance to move onto the Elite Eight.

MSU has the fourth-highest odds to move onto the Final Four with a 27 percent chance – the highest of any team from their region. Virginia, the East Region’s one seed, has a 22 percent chance of heading to Dallas.

Wisconsin and Michigan, the other two Big Ten teams still alive, have a 22 and 18 percent chance to advance to the Final Four, respectively.

Alright, now that’s enough numbers for a journalist.


Izzo still unhappy with team's foul trouble after Delaware win


By Matt Sheehan          Last updated: 03/21/14 8:17pm         

SPOKANE, Wash. — After beating Delaware by 15 points in the NCAA Tournament, head coach Tom Izzo wasn’t happy about everything.

Yes, his team cruised to a victory on the back of Adreian Payne’s 41 points, but there was something that didn’t sit too well with Izzo — the foul trouble.

For the eighth time this season, MSU allowed their opponent to make at least 30 trips to the free throw line, as the Fightin’ Blue Hens shot 39 freebies on MSU’s 27 fouls in Thursday’s game.

“Obviously, we fouled way too many times (Thursday) night and moving forward in this tournament we’re not going to be able to advance playing the way we did defensively,” senior guard Keith Appling said in Friday’s press conference.

Because of the 27 fouls committed by MSU, nearly all of its post players were in foul trouble. Sophomore guard Gary Harris was also limited to 25 minutes, his second-lowest mark of the season, due to his fouling.

A good portion of Delaware’s offense comes from the free throw line, as they average the nation’s 32nd-highest 26.4 attempts per game. It’s just a part of their winning formula they used throughout the season.

Harvard isn’t too far behind Delaware, as they visit the charity stripe 25.3 times per game.

11 fouls were committed between Harris, Denzel Valentine and Branden Dawson, forcing MSU to trot out its bench players when the trio was in foul trouble. Dawson said the trio was used to being physical in Big Ten play, and they will have to adjust to the officiating quicker next time to keep the foul count low.

“I think we got carried away on defense with our toughness,” Dawson said. “So, I think tomorrow, we have to capitalize on our mistakes from the Delaware game and just play solid.”


In Spokane, NDSU victory a thrilling reminder of NCAA tourney greatness


By Matt Sheehan          Last updated: 03/20/14 11:27pm         

SPOKANE, Wash. — After writing about MSU’s victory over Delaware, I decided to head on over to the North Dakota State-Oklahoma game. I was hearing the crowd go crazy while writing, so I decided to see what all the hoopla was about.

Well, fast forward about ten minutes and NDSU is down two with 26 seconds left. Oklahoma hits the first, but give the Bison a glimmer of hope after the second clanks off the rim.

With 12 seconds left, Lawrence Alexander wrote his name into the chapters of NDSU history as he hit a 3-pointer to send it to overtime.

The Bison rallied around the Spokane crowd that was rooting for an upset, and down the stretch, they secured their first NCAA Tournament victory in program history.

Now this year I’ve been covering a team that expects to win every game, and if they didn’t get out of the first round, MSU’s campus would be a madhouse. NDSU’s campus is probably a madhouse, but for a completely different reason.

So as I was walking away from my makeshift, standing room-only spot, I had a crazy idea. I had a credential and I had nothing else to do, so what the heck? Let’s take a field trip to see what a hype-filled locker room would be like.

The Bison looked stunned, almost not believing what they just did themselves. Alexander, who was sitting in a chair in the middle of the room, was fielding questions as the man of the hour.

When I asked him if he ever dreamed of hitting that shot as a kid, he simply said he didn’t.

I followed up with asking if it was safe to say that was the biggest shot he’s ever hit. Dumb question.

“It’s definitely safe to say that was the biggest shot I ever hit,” he said with college basketball’s biggest smile.

I then walked over to a duo, Carlin Dupree and Mike Felt, who were looking at their phones, flipping their thumb up on the screen nonstop while scrolling through notifications.

I asked how much their phones are blowing up, and they looked at me like their phone was literally blowing up.

“Dude, just look at this,” Dupree said.

It was amazing. He flicked his thumb five or six times, and the stream texts and twitter notifications didn’t end. It was the same on Felt’s phone too.

Hey, that’s what you get when you create madness in March and make program history.

For big programs like MSU, winning is business as usual.

For small programs like NDSU, winning is arguably the greatest moment of their lives.

That’s, my friends, is why March Madness is the greatest time of the year.