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.
By Dillon Davis
Last updated: 09/17/13 4:50pm
When Korie Lucious was kicked off the MSU men’s basketball team in 2011, head coach Tom Izzo cited the reason as a “violation of team rules.”
But after several years of both sides moving in different directions, the truth of the situation finally has emerged.
In an interview with blackathlete.net, Lucious said marijuana was the reason Izzo dismissed him from the program, while also noting his ability was stifled during his time in the program.
“I was smoking, I don’t want to tell a lot of people that, but I was smoking a lot of weed at Michigan State,” Lucious said. “That’s the real reason I got kicked off the team, and I let my mom, family and friends down. To be honest, Michigan State was a great program — I’m not taking anything from coach Izzo or the team — but that wasn’t the place for me to be.”
Lucious said Izzo “didn’t respect” his game and he felt he thrived much better at Iowa State, according to a former story by The State News.
“Coach Izzo used to always call me an ‘And-1″ player’ like even if I dribbled in between my legs and he would just yell at me and say ‘this isn’t And-1 Streetball,’” Lucious said. “I mean it was to the point I couldn’t shoot floaters or do nothing there … and he just put me in the position only to be a 3-point shooter and didn’t let me showcase my true talent.”
Following his dismissal, Lucious transferred to Iowa State, where he averaged 10.1 points in 38 games for the Cyclones. Lucious currently is signed to play for Rosa Radom of the Polish Basketball League.
By Derek Blalock
Last updated: 09/16/13 11:04am
The target is officially on the MSU men’s basketball team.
According to the Blue Ribbon Yearbook, MSU will enter the 2013-14 season ranked No. 1 in its preseason top 25 poll.
MSU will match up early in the season against Blue Ribbon’s No. 2 team, Kentucky, in Chicago for the Champions Classic.
The Spartans are coming off of back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances and will return their entire playing rotation, with the exception of the graduated Derrick Nix.
After senior center Adreian Payne and sophomore guard Gary Harris decided not to enter this year’s NBA Draft — despite being potential lottery picks — many believe MSU to make a serious National Championship campaign.
Earlier this month, Blue Ribbon named Payne to is preseason All-American team.
If MSU reaches the Final Four, it will keep head coach Tom Izzo’s streak of sending every four-year player to the Final Four.
The last time MSU reached the Final Four was 2010 when they lost to Butler, but reached the National Championship in 2009 against eventual champion North Carolina.
MSU will open their season Nov. 8 against McNeese State, before heading to Chicago to face Kentucky.
Other Big Ten teams named to the yearbook’s preseason top 25 include No. 9 Michigan, No. 11 Ohio State and No. 24 Iowa.
By Matt Sheehan
Last updated: 09/13/13 1:31pm
It may be football season, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t news coming from the hardwood already. As a matter of fact, MSU basketball’s biggest concern right now has nothing to do with their own players.
It’s the players they are trying to pull into the program.
So far this offseason hasn’t been kind to Tom Izzo and the Spartans, but hope is still far from gone. Sure, their top three point guard choices to replace Keith Appling in 2014 are likely no-shows for MSU. Tyus Jones, ESPN’s third best recruit in the nation, was an early target for Sparty, but interest faded away from MSU and toward Baylor, Duke, Kentucky and Kansas.
When Jones’ future with MSU was looking bleak, Izzo switched his focus on four-star point guard Tyler Ulis. However, reports from multiple sources are convinced he is guaranteed to pick Kentucky on Friday over MSU and Iowa. There is just something about losing to Robert Morris in the NIT that recruits love.
Within 24 hours of those reports dropping on MSU, their third option, Quentin Snider, elected to go to Illinois over UCLA and MSU.
So are plans seeming to be falling apart like a ten-year-old Nerf football? Sure they are, but, again, there are options for 2014.
This weekend two point guards from the 2014 class, Riley LaChance and Lourawls Nairn Jr., are visiting East Lansing and will listen to what Izzo has to offer them.
LaChance, the six-foot-one combo guard, is known to have one of the best jump shots in the nation. If anything else indicates that, he plays for Ray Allen Select AAU. Not too shabby.
LaChance’s list isn’t as star-studded as one would think. He has offers from a bundle of mid-majors, such as Davidson, Creighton and Butler. Indiana and Vanderbilt are the only other big-named schools that have him on their radar.
Nairn comes with a catchy nickname (“Tum Tum”), and that is something you always want to see in a player. Bahamas native and current inhabitant of the outskirts of Wichita, Kan., the Sunrise Christian senior is more importantly known for his sole-burning speed. Not only that, but he is heralded as a vocal leader on a team that boasts 10 players who have received at least one mid-major offer.
If both LaChance and Nairn take the current trend amongst recruits and spurn MSU, fear not Spartan fans. Junior Travis Trice is capable of taking the point guard position by both leadership and skill, with sophomore Denzel Valentine being able to fill in if need be.
For MSU, this has been a rough offseason, one season after top-three recruit Jabari Parker picked Duke over MSU. But, once again, the Spartans are bringing in two talented recruits to add depth to their roster this weekend.
If settling for a top-100 player, four-star guard as their fourth option is considered a failed recruiting period, then this program will certainly survive.