By Matt Sheehan
Last updated: 02/02/14 5:07pm
Well gang, here we are — halfway through the Big Ten season. Needless to say, it has been an unpredictable series of events with MSU and U-M being the only two teams that look like they want to win the conference title. Here are the midseason awards basketball reporter Matt Sheehan would dish out to the always-surprising conference:
All-Big Ten First Team:
G Keith Appling, MSU
G Gary Harris, MSU
G Nik Stauskus, U-M
F Aaron White, Iowa
F Noah Vonleh, Indiana
G Tim Frazier, Penn State
G Yogi Ferrell, Indiana
G/F Drew Crawford, Northwestern
F LaQuinton Ross, Ohio State
C A.J. Hammons, Purdue
Big Ten Player of the Year: Keith Appling
He’s not the Big Ten’s leading scorer, but he is the general of arguably the Big Ten’s best team.
Appling has not only been in every game for MSU, but he has been doing it with a list of injuries. The senior guard has four conference games where he has tallied at least 20 points and seven assists.
The rest of the conference combined? They have only done it four times.
Appling also had late- game heroics against Ohio State and Iowa, showing off his improved 3-point shot that teams willingly gave him one season ago.
The Detroit native has a great stat line, but it’s also the almighty eye test that would give Appling a passing grade. Without Appling, everyone might see the loss column look a little more crowded if it wasn’t for Appling guiding this injury-plagued team.
Most surprising team: Michigan
Honestly, who had the Wolverines at the top of the Big Ten before the season started? They lost all-world player Trey Burke and teammate Tim Hardaway Jr. to the draft, leaving a huge question mark above their season.
And how has UM answered? By coming on the scene as one of the hottest shooting teams in the nation — hitting 49 percent of their shots from the field before their loss to Indiana. Their hot hands were the reason they were able to take down three top 10 teams in a row in Wisconsin, Iowa and MSU.
Most disappointing team: Ohio State
Aaron Craft’s hussle simply isn’t enough for the Buckeyes this season, as the once No. 3 team in the nation has fallen to a laughable 4-5 in the Big Ten. Where has this letdown of a season come from? It’s two simple reasons:
1) Deshaun Thomas, who averaged 19.8 points per game, opted to enter the NBA Draft instead of coming back for one more season. So who was next up to be the Buckeyes’ consistent scorer? Wait, you don’t have an answer? Exactly.
2) They took after their football team and gave the world false hope with their weak schedule. They faced one ranked opponent in then-No. 17 Marquette, who has gone 12-10 on the year, and then a dozen schools half the nation has never heard of.
So what have we learned so far, everyone? Don’t schedule Candy Land Tech-caliber teams and expect to compete in the Big Ten.
Best game: Penn State 71, Ohio State 70 on Jan. 29
Coming into Columbus looking for its second Big Ten win, Penn State knew they would have to sink shots at will to hang with the Buckeyes.
With 13 seconds left in the game and the Nittany Lions down three points, D.J. Newbill stepped up with a 3-ball to put the game in overtime.
But Newbill wasn’t done upsetting every Buckeye fan in attendance just yet.
In overtime, the junior guard saw his team down three points with 45 seconds remaining in overtime.
He got a layup to fall to cut the deficit to one, and then drained a jump shot with two ticks left on the clock to seal the one point win for Penn State.
By Matt Sheehan
Last updated: 01/30/14 4:14pm
One week after going retro with their script State jerseys, MSU is going with the same look against Georgetown this Saturday.
Except this time, the jerseys will have a little more shine to them. A public relations employee from Nike leaked these seven jerseys for some of the biggest names in college basketball:
Freshman forward Alvin Ellis III also gave Spartan fans a look at the kicks going with the bronze uniforms:
By Zach Smith
Last updated: 01/29/14 5:22pm
While President Obama was giving his State of the Union address last night and referencing Mad Men, all he really wanted to be doing was watching basketball.
According to a tweet by NBC News reporter Luke Russert, before the President went out to talk to congress and the country, he asked to turn on ESPN, which was airing the MSU vs. Iowa game.
Instead, his staff encouraged him to put on C-SPAN, which was airing the “filing in.”
He missed a good game, in which the No. 7 Spartans beat the No. 15 Hawkeyes 71-69 in thrilling overtime fashion.
Obama will fill out a bracket like he has done every year when March rolls around.
He failed to pick the Spartans to make the Final Four in 2009 and 2010, but correctly predicted a loss to Duke last season.
By Matt Sheehan
Last updated: 01/29/14 12:00am
MSU’s Tuesday night win was a roller coaster for both the Spartans and the Hawkeyes with a lot of overflowing takeaways. Here are my too-long for Twitter, too-short for a column thoughts on the Green and White’s overtime victory:
*Seriously, what are the rules? Every game I feel I know less rules than I did before. I can’t tell if it is just horrible new rules, or referees just not calling a consistent game. I’m almost certain Gary Harris got whistled for looking at the jersey of his opponent. I also nearly saw Valentine hitch a piggy-back after a Hawkeye threw a pump fake with no whistle. The only thing I do understand is how terrible the new rule change transition has been.
*MSU has to take it easy on the fouls. Today it seemed like every player agreed to see which player could get into foul trouble first, and they nearly all won. With 9:17 remaining in the first half, the Hawkeyes were already in the bonus.
Not too long after they were in the double bonus.
Iowa shot 43 free throws, but luckily for the Spartans the Hawkeyes only hit 30, but they weren’t so lucky against Michigan. In Saturday’s loss, UM hit 23-of-27 free throws in the second half to clinch the win.
*Is there anything Iowa fans won’t complain about? Don’t get me wrong, every home court crowd will act like they are getting robbed on some calls, including MSU.
But Iowa fans are a special breed. If you re-watch the game, you’re more than likely to hear a group freak out after every single call against Iowa.
Iowa takes three steps and is called for a travel? Go insane.
Costello blocks a shot cleanly with no whistle? Food nearly flies on the court.
If Gary Harris got covered with gasoline and lit on fire, resulting in an Iowa foul, you would probably hear a good amount of booing.
It’s probably because basketball success is new and the fans are somewhat new, but please keep it real.
By Matt Sheehan, Zach Smith
Last updated: 01/28/14 2:24pm
State News basketball reporters Matt Sheehan and Zach Smith offer their thoughts on MSU’s upcoming game versus Iowa tonight.
Cover your eyes Spartan fans, this will be an ugly one.
In one of Iowa’s most important games in the past decade, look for the No. 12 Hawkeyes to take to it No. 6 MSU early in the game. The home crowd of 14,700 will be the toughest crowd MSU has played in front of since making a trip to Indiana, but this team is also a lot different than it was against the Hoosiers.
As we all know, the top two Spartan rebounders in Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne are summoned to cheerleading on the bench again.
This truly couldn’t come against a worse time, as Iowa is the third best team in the nation — yes, that nation — at grabbing boards.
Missing two starters is also never a good thing, but it stings a little more after looking how deep of a team Iowa is. 11 players average more than 14 minutes of playing time, and each player has earned every minute they are given.
Iowa forward Aaron White will be one of the toughest tests the MSU big men will face in the Big Ten, averaging 13.7 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. Michigan’s own Roy Devyn Marble will be the guy to watch for the Hawkeyes, as he leads Iowa in scoring at 16.7 points per game.
MSU can shut him down, but again, Iowa is so deep they can look at other options to light up the scoreboard.
The tough atmosphere, the pain of losing Payne (pun intended) and Dawson and the deepness of Iowa will be too much for the Spartans to handle, causing some East Lansing residents to hit the panic button.
Iowa: 77 MSU: 68
Things have taken a drastic turn for the worst for the MSU men’s basketball team.
Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson get hurt, and now Keith Appling joins the list, although he’s going to play through it.
Iowa is one of the most improved teams in the conference, and this is one of the biggest games they’ve ever had.
And the Hawkeyes are going to win.
They’re going to run up and down the court and score a bunch of points on the fast break.
Roy Devyn Marble is going to score at will against the team from his home state, and without Payne and Dawson, it’ s up to Matt Costello to control the rebounds.
Appling can barely score because of his wrist, and Gary Harris isn’t enough to carry the team alone.
It’s going to be a crazy atmosphere at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, and Iowa will run up and down the court all over the Spartans.
Iowa: 77 MSU: 69
By Zach Smith
Last updated: 01/25/14 1:11pm
State News basketball reporters Zach Smith and Matt Sheehan share their predictions for tonight’s game.
Is this a big game tonight? Yes. Is the Izzone going to be loud? You bet.
But will that be enough to propel the Spartans towards the win? No chance.
Michigan has found its groove ever since losing Mitch McGary, and guard Nik Stauskas is playing out of his mind.
The interesting thing to watch will be the battle between Stauskas and sophomore guard Gary Harris, who sits at No. 2 in the conference in scoring, just behind Stauskas.
Without senior forward Adreian Payne and junior forward Branden Dawson, the top two rebounders for MSU, it’s going to be hard to contain the Wolverines on the boards, and that will be MSU’s undoing.
Sure, Harris and senior guard Keith Appling can score, but can they carry a limping Spartan team past one of the hottest teams in the country? I don’t think so.
I know all three members of ESPN’s College GameDay, including U-M grad Jalen Rose, picked the Spartans to come out on top, but MSU is missing too many pieces.
Yes, this game is big, but it doesn’t matter in the long run. Last year, MSU rolled in East Lansing, yet the Wolverines were the ones in the national title game.
Appling and Payne were named to the Wooden Award Midseason Top 25, while Stauskas was left off, and he’s going to have a season-defining game to throw his hat in the ring.
This one’s going to get ugly.
Michigan: 75 MSU: 63
If you asked me two weeks ago what would happen in tonight’s rivalry game, I would tell you “same thing as last year.”
However, with the Spartans’ two leading rebounders, Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne out, it might not be a 23-point victory.
Not only is the absence of two starters going against MSU, but Michigan is suddenly one of the hottest shooting teams in the nation, knocking down 48.7 percent of its shots.
So will there be another beatdown in this year’s episode of the rivalry? No way — MSU will be fortunate to just come out on top. Lucky enough for Tom Izzo and his Spartans, they are playing in front of one of the best home courts in the nation.
Typically the Spartans have kicked off games looking lifeless, only to be revived in the second half to stay unbeaten in the Big Ten. Even Izzo said his team might be running out of luck soon if they keep up the dull effort to start the game.
But, and I don’t have to tell you this, this game is completely different. MSU will come out guns blazing and the Wolverines will be rattled playing in the most hostile atmosphere they have seen this season.
Of course home court advantage isn’t the only factor — cooling down Canada’s gift to Michigan and leading Big Ten scorer, Nik Stauskus, will undoubtedly be crucial. Yes, Dawson won’t be there to stick on him like a wet T-shirt, but Harris will be just as good as a replacement.
Michigan will keep this game close by using their advantage in the paint. With Payne out, Matt Costello, Alex Gauna and Gavin Schilling will have to try to replace the NBA prospect, and Michigan’s Jordan Morgan will make that a tough task.
Morgan’s defense prowess was highlighted down the stretch in their win against Iowa, and the trio replacing Payne is already having a tough enough time scoring as it is.
But fear not, Spartan fans, it isn’t all bad news down low. MSU averages six more rebounds than the Wolverines, who average the nation’s 239th-best rebounding figure — 33.4 boards per game.
Nonetheless, the white-out home crowd will pump the adrenaline through MSU and Harris will contain, not stop, Stauskus from going bonkers at Breslin.
MSU: 73 U-M: 70
By Matt Sheehan
Last updated: 01/23/14 11:22am
As of late, athletic director Mark Hollis has been tweeting mysterious messages about his latest mad scientist creation in 2018, but no one seems to know what he is talking about.
Not even Tom Izzo.
Izzo was on Michigan’s Big Show on 92.1 FM this morning and was asked by host Michael Patrick Shiels if he knew anything, but the old ball coach is just as confused as we are.
“I swear to you, I didn’t know about Germany until it happened, I didn’t know about Georgetown until it happened and I didn’t know about the aircraft carrier,” Izzo said. “Mark is a loose cannon, but a good loose cannon … 99 percent of the things he does in my behalf end up so positive.”
Izzo went on to say how he has close to no part in many of the marquee events Hollis plans. Instead, Izzo just waits for Hollis to approach him with his next crazy production.
“I tell you what, when I hang up this phone (from the interview) the first thing I’m going to do is call him and ask if we are playing on Mars,” Izzo said. “Although I don’t think you need a passport for Mars.”
By Matt Sheehan
Last updated: 01/22/14 7:41pm
With the season halfway through, the Wooden Award — the holy grail of college basketball’s individual awards — has unveiled their top 25 frontrunners.
Senior forward Adreian Payne and senior guard Keith Appling made up half of the Big Ten contingent on the list.
Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker and Ohio State’s Aaron Craft were the other two on the list from the conference. No. 18 Duke, No. 2 Syracuse and No. 1 Arizona were the other three schools to have two players on the list.
Appling, who is averaging the team’s third-highest 15.2 points per game, has scored more than 20 points in seven games this season. The Detroit native is more than scoring — he’s team player with 4.6 assists per game and is one of three Spartans to play in every game this season.
Payne, who has missed the last four games, still made the list with his dominance in the post. The 6-foot-10 forward has scored from all over the floor this season, shooting 43.9 percent from 3-point range and scoring 16.2 points per game.
He also is averaging 7.7 rebounds per game and is the tallest player on the top 25 list.
The team’s leading scorer, sophomore guard Gary Harris, was kept off the list despite averaging the Big Ten’s-highest 18.2 points per game. He wasn’t the only snug from the list as Kansas big man Joel Embiid, who is the No. 1 overall pick in many mock NBA drafts, was also kept off.
However, the top 25 list does not mean only those listed players can win the award by season’s end.
By Matt Sheehan
Last updated: 01/21/14 11:57pm
Another day, another mysterious chapter in the Adreian Payne saga.
After No. 3 MSU’s win over Indiana, head coach Tom Izzo was obligatorily asked about the health of his senior forward, who has missed the last four games with a sprained foot. On Monday, Izzo said he has close to no idea when he will come back, keeping his status at day-to-day. Well, not much changed over the 24 hour-long period, as Izzo still isn’t sure if he will be ready for Saturday’s game against No. 21 Michigan.
“Payne is a day-to-day deal,” Izzo said. “He’s run twice … but I don’t know, I don’t think he is playing (on Saturday) right now, but he wants to play.”
Sitting in the press conference, you could nearly see the frustrations on Izzo’s face, but who could blame him? He has almost seen more injuries on his roster than a doctor, and the difficult choices with the injuries are admittedly stressing Izzo out.
“I’ve got some of the toughest coaching decisions in my life to make as far as that goes,” Izzo said. “It’s going to be me and (Payne). Doctors have done their job, everyone else has done theirs. It’s going to be me and him sitting down and talking about the pain of Payne.”
Payne was not available for comment after the game.
By Matt Sheehan
Last updated: 01/21/14 2:19pm
State News basketball reporters Matt Sheehan and Zach Smith offer their predictions for tonight’s contest versus Indiana.
This game could go one of two ways:
1) Indiana star guard Yogi Ferrell gets hot and keeps Indiana in the game, or
2) Ferrell gets shut down by MSUs’ defense and the No. 3 Spartans cruise to a home victory.
If I was a betting man (I am, kind of), I would put money on the Spartans, who have the nation’s 7th-best defense — holding opponents to 37.7 percent shooting — to contain Ferrell.
Why am I harping so much on Indiana’s sophomore guard? It’s simple — the Hoosiers go as far as he does.
In their upset win over then-No. 3 Wisconsin, Ferrell hit up the Badgers for 25 points.
On the flip side, he shot 2-for-14 in their embarrassing home loss to Northwestern.
If there is one team in the conference that can shut him down, it’s the team with defensive menaces Keith Appling, Gary Harris and Branden Dawson.
However, Ferrell is only a major piece of Indiana’s puzzle, not the only one. Freshman forward Noah Vonleh will look to tear up the Adreian Payne-less Spartans, and he very well could with his natural rebounding instinct and ability to stretch the floor.
Even if Vonleh does get hot, MSU has more than enough weapons to combat Indiana’s attacks on the opposite end of the floor.
The Izzone will be rocking, Hoosier head coach Tom Crean will scream so loud his head will explode and the Spartans will put the game away mid way through the second half.
And do you know what that means? That means this Saturday’s game against No. 21 Michigan could be a battle between the Big Ten’s two undefeated teams. Get your vocal cords ready, kids.
MSU: Tacos (70) Indiana: 61
Not to beat a dead horse, but Gary Harris is on another level when he’s playing Indiana.
The sophomore guard averaged 20 points per game against the Hoosiers last season, then backed that up with a career-high 26-point performance in Bloomington earlier this season.
I don’t expect anything different tonight.
The explosive sophomore, coupled with the most turnover prone offense
in the Big Ten will help MSU roll.
The prospect of stopping the Big Ten’s No. 3 scorer in Yogi Ferrell will be a tough job, especially as the Spartans will most likely be without the services of senior forward Adreian Payne.
Still, junior forward Alex Gauna and sophomore forward Matt Costello have filled the space left by the senior leader.
They’ll have to buckle down to stop Farrell and forward Noah Vonleh, the leading rebounder in the Big Ten.
It’s a big week for MSU and the Izzone, with ESPN College Game Day and Michigan wrapping up the week on Saturday, so Breslin Center will be rockin’ tonight.
The battle will be between Harris and Ferrell, and the winner of that war will turn the tide of the game.
MSU: 77 Indiana: 65