By Josh Mansour
Last updated: 02/25/13 5:16pm
It was just two weeks ago that the Spartans and Wolverines had never squared off against each other on the hardwood as a pair of top-10 teams.
Yet in a matter of days it will happen for the second time.
The Associated Press’ weekly college basketball rankings were released Monday, and after two losses last week MSU (22-6 overall, 11-4 Big Ten) slid five places from fourth to ninth.
Taking over the No. 4 spot in the polls is MSU’s in-state rival, following Michigan’s (23-4, 10-4) 71-58 victory over Illinois on Sunday.
MSU will have more than a week to prepare for the Wolverines, while U-M has to travel to State College, Penn., to square off against Penn State on Wednesday.
Sunday’s rivalry game will be a chance at redemption for the Maize and Blue, after the Spartans dominated their previous meeting two weeks ago, beating U-M 75-52, the Wolverines’ most lopsided loss of the season.
By Dillon Davis
Last updated: 02/18/13 6:21pm
After a standout week, Gary Harris has been named Big Ten Freshman of the Week.
It’s the third time this season the freshman guard has earned the honor and his first since he took it home Dec. 10.
Harris averaged 15.5 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game in last week’s wins against then-No. 4 Michigan and Nebraska.
Against the Wolverines, Harris had one of his most productive outings of the season with 17 points, three assists and three steals in a winning effort.
Harris is off to one of the most successful freshman seasons in program history by averaging 12.9 points per game, which comes in just behind Earvin “Magic” Johnson (17.0) and Shawn Respert (15.8).
It will be a meaningful game for Harris this week as the No. 4 Spartans (22-4 overall, 11-2 Big Ten) host his home state’s No. 1 Indiana (22-3, 11-2) on Tuesday at Breslin Center (7 p.m., ESPN).
By Dillon Davis
Last updated: 02/15/13 2:34am
Even after a major victory earlier in the week against No. 4 Michigan, senior center Derrick Nix is looking for more respect on a national scale.
The No. 8 MSU men’s basketball team (21-4, 10-2 Big Ten) thoroughly dominated the in-state rival Wolverines (21-4, 8-4), 75-52, on Tuesday, allowing the Spartans to earn the spotlight after a season of flying under the radar.
Yet Nix said national media outlets have not given the Spartans proper credit for the victory, citing the difference between coverage of MSU and Michigan since the win.
“If Michigan would have won, Trey Burke would have been God, Tim Hardaway (Jr.) would have been God, Glenn Robinson (III) would have been God,” Nix said. “We won, and they didn’t even show our highlights”’
In a standout effort against the Wolverines, Nix finished with 14 points and five rebounds in 29 minutes of action. For the season, Nix is fourth on the team in scoring with 9.4 points per game and is tied for second with 6.3 rebounds per contest.
The Spartans sit in first place in the Big Ten with six games to play including upcoming rematches with No. 1 Indiana, Michigan and No. 13 Ohio State. The team next takes the floor in a weekend matchup with Nebraska (12-13, 3-9).
But comparing the talent on the roster to others across the league, Nix said he feels like the team is nationally underrated.
“There’s a lot of overrated players out there — like me and (junior center Adreian) Payne, I feel there’s a lot of us underrated players,” Nix said. “I just feel that way but I can’t do nothing. I don’t know if it’s us as players, I don’t know if it’s Michigan State — I don’t know what it is. You know, none of us get credit.”
Specifically addressing the professional prospects of himself and several of his teammates, Nix said the level of talent favorably compares to others who are ranked much higher by NBA Draft analysts.
“(Indiana’s Victor) Oladipo is no different from Dawson,” Nix said. “(Sophomore guard/foward Branden) Dawson’s not on the (NBA) draft board; Oladipo’s in the top 15. Payne is (6-foot-10) and can do everything that (Indiana’s Cody) Zeller can do. He’s not on the draft board; Zeller’s in the top five.
“I mean, I can do everything Reggie Johnson can do for Miami; he’s on the draft boards, I’m not. (Junior guard) Keith (Appling) can do everything (Michigan’s) Trey Burke can do. Trey Burke’s in the top five; Keith is not. (Freshman guard) Gary (Harris) can do everything (Shabazz) Muhammad from UCLA can do and he’s on the draft board; Gary’s not.
“We’re the underdogs.”
Many sites including CBSSports.com have developed NBA Draft prospect rankings prior to June’s 2013 NBA Draft.
In order, Zeller is ranked No. 2 overall, Muhammad is No. 5, Oladipo is No. 25 while Johnson does not appear on the list. The Wolverines have three players ranked before the first Spartan including Burke (No. 9), Robinson (No. 12) and Hardaway (No. 41). Michigan freshman Nik Stauskas also is ranked No. 63.
Payne is the highest ranked MSU player at No. 46 with Dawson at No. 59, Harris at No. 76 and Appling at No. 96. Nix currently is not ranked.
By Dillon Davis
Last updated: 02/04/13 9:38pm
After nearing a career high in points on Thursday against Illinois, Keith Appling has been named Co-Big Ten Player of the Week. Appling shares the honor with Indiana forward Cody Zeller.
The junior guard finished the game with 24 points along with eight rebounds and seven assists to lead the No. 12 Spartans to an 80-75 comeback victory over Illinois.
In the second half, Appling scored 19 of his 24 points, which includes scoring or assisting on 11 of MSU’s 14 buckets in the half.
“I am excited that Keith Appling was one of the Co-Players of the Week with Cody Zeller,” Izzo told the media at his Monday press conference. “I think both deserved it.”
It’s the third such honor of Appling’s career but the first he’s earned this season.
On the season, the Detroit native leads the team in scoring with 14 points per game while also pulling down 3.6 rebounds per contest.
By Dillon Davis
Last updated: 01/29/13 11:19pm
After several weeks of hearing about hitting the freshman wall, it’s only natural for Gary Harris to
have grown tired of it. Following a standout performance against Indiana, Harris is hoping he
finally put the talk to rest.
The freshman guard had a team-high 21 points in a 75-70 road loss to the then-No. 7 Indiana on
Sunday and was a consistent scoring threat against one of the nation’s toughest teams.
However, the question remains whether Harris actually has broken through the freshman wall or
if it was one game adrenaline rush in a return to his home state.
When asked on Tuesday if he’s finally broken through his first-year barrier, Harris only could
smile before saying “We’ll see.”
“Yeah, it’s obviously something you don’t want to hear,” Harris said. “I mean, ‘Oh you’ve hit a
wall, you’ve hit a wall.’ (I) felt like I haven’t. But I mean, it’s obvious that you have so I just gotta
keep on it and it’s gonna be all right.”
Addressing a similar question at his weekly press conference on Monday, head coach Tom Izzo
said he’s not afraid to play any of his freshmen as long as they’re able to continue making plays.
While acknowledging the hostile environment at Assembly Hall contributed to Harris’ play
against the Hoosiers, Izzo said the young guard continues to improve this season.
“I think some of it’s adrenaline,” Izzo said. “But some of it I think is something that doesn’t
usually happen and goes the whole year. It takes a couple weeks and this could be a good
week, too, because not as many games, because it won’t be as hard on either one of them.”
By Josh Mansour
Last updated: 01/29/13 4:26pm
Although they’re arch rivals on the court, the Spartans and Wolverines might start their march toward a national championship together, not far from their respective hometowns.
The latest projected NCAA Tournament bracket released by ESPN.com’s Joe Lunardi today has the No. 13 MSU men’s basketball team (17-4 overall, 6-2 Big Ten) and No. 1 Michigan (18-1, 6-1) both traveling to nearby Auburn Hills, Mich., to begin their quest for an NCAA title.
Lunardi projects the Spartans as a No. 3 seed in the South region, facing off against No. 14 seed Harvard, led by former U-M head coach Tommy Amaker.
The move to a No. 3 seed is an improvement from Lunardi’s projection of a week ago, when he pegged the Spartans as a No. 4 seed.
Meanwhile U-M remains a No. 1 seed in the Midwest region, scheduled to play the winner of a first round game between Charleston Southern and Norfolk State for the No. 16 seed.
Although both teams are predicted to open tournament play at the Palace of Auburn Hills, home to the NBA’s Detroit Pistons, U-M and MSU would not square off against each other until the Final Four, if both were to make it that far, due to both teams being in separate regions of the bracket.
Three of MSU’s four losses have come against teams in the top-15 of the Ratings Percentage Index, or RPI, a rating system used by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee to help determine the quality of each college basketball team. The fourth loss, a 66-62 defeat in the season opener, came against Connecticut, which currently is 27th in the RPI.
MSU returns to action when they host Illinois (15-6, 2-5) on Thursday (7:00 p.m., ESPN). It is the Spartans’ only game of the week.
By Dillon Davis
Last updated: 01/28/13 11:18pm
When he joined the MSU basketball program before the 2010-11 season, many were expecting Adreian Payne to be one of the most talented big men ever recruited by Tom Izzo.
But it’s not been until recently that the junior center has found a way to make his mark.
In Sunday’s 75-70 loss to then-No. 7 Indiana, Payne put on an impressive display with 18 points and a team-high nine rebounds. Even more impressive, Payne found his range and hit 3-of-4 shots from beyond the arc, forcing the Hoosiers to scheme their defense to slow him down.
During his weekly press conference, Izzo said the 6-foot-10, 240-pound Payne is displaying plenty of abilities that will serve him well at the next level.
When asked if Payne potentially could play in the NBA someday, Izzo said he never had any doubt of the answer.
“I think he’s been an NBA guy since I got him,” Izzo said. “I always thought this kid had an NBA body and he could do some things. He’s had a pretty good jump shot, you guys see him. He has the best rotation of anybody on our team. …
“So his comfort level and confidence has increased and I hope and think one day he will play (in the NBA).”
In the past six games, Payne is averaging 13 points per contest and has been a consistent source of energy for the Spartans. During the high point of the streak, Payne put up 20 points in the second half alone against Penn State, after being forced to sit out the first half due to a team altercation earlier in the day with sophomore guard/forward Branden Dawson.
On the season, Payne is averaging 9.4 points through 21 games while leading the team on the glass with 6.9 rebounds per game.
By Josh Mansour
Last updated: 01/25/13 1:11am
Two days after photos of the MSU men’s basketball team’s new alternate jerseys were leaked online, the Spartans got a chance to sound off on their new threads Thursday.
“Those cold,” senior center Derrick Nix said of the jerseys. “I feel like I’m about to play football. They look like football jerseys.”
The No. 13 Spartans (17-3 overall, 6-1 Big Ten) will wear the jerseys Sunday (1:00 p.m., CBS) when they travel to Bloomington, Ind. to square off against No. 7 Indiana (16-3, 5-1).
The uniform features special jerseys, shorts, and shoes, among other accessories, and sophomore guard/forward Branden Dawson said he expects to get a number of calls about the gear after the game.
“Jersey’s are nice, shoes are nice,” Dawson said. “After the game, I know a lot of family and friends are going to be asking for them.”
And if things go well, Nix said he hopes this won’t be the jerseys’ final appearance.
“I wish we could play in them against Michigan. I think that would be sweet,” Nix said.
“If we win (against Indiana), we’ll play in them against Michigan. I’ll make sure of that. If we lose, we’re probably just gonna throw them out.”
By Stephen Brooks
Last updated: 01/22/13 6:57pm
After announcing the possibility of Nike Pro Combat uniforms for the men’s basketball program this fall, photos of the alleged alternate jerseys began circulating around the Internet today.
The Detroit Free Press’ Joe Rexrode reports the jerseys will be worn on Sunday’s game against Indiana and confirmed the authenticity of the photos with MSU equipment manager Dave Pruder.
The jersey features a green base with a bronze Spartan helmet logo and bronze lettering — an overall design similar to the Pro Combat football jerseys MSU wore last season against Michigan. Ohio State appears to be the only other Big Ten school to have the special jerseys, which primarily features an enlarged main logo on the chest.
North Carolina, Duke, Kentucky, Villanova, Southern California and Texas are some of the other schools chosen to wear the Pro Combat uniforms.
By Josh Mansour
Last updated: 01/14/13 6:10am
When Branden Dawson takes flight, he reaches a rarified air only few can meet.
But for one scary moment Sunday night, it appeared as if Dawson’s soaring days might be numbered.
After falling to the ground, clutching his knee and letting out a guttural scream while being fouled on a fast break layup attempt, Dawson glumly left the court, leaving some wondering if he’d destroyed the same anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, he had spent months rehabilitating.
The answer came quickly.
In a matter of minutes Dawson sprinted out of the locker room to the Spartans bench and checked back into the game.
His return combined with explosive performances from centers Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix to spark the Spartans, lifting the No. 22 MSU men’s basketball team (14-3 overall, 3-1 Big Ten) to a 66-56 victory over Nebraska (9-8, 0-4) Sunday night at Breslin Center.
Nix led the way with 17 points and five rebounds, while Dawson tallied 12 points and six rebounds and Payne added 14 points off the bench.
An 11-2 run from Nebraska helped the Cornhuskers take the lead, 23-19, with 7:58 to go in the first half, a lead they would maintain for most of the rest of the period, until a pair of Nix free throws evened the score at 32 going into halftime.
The game remained close throughout, as neither team was able to secure a lead of more than five points for the first 13 minutes of the second half.
With the game in doubt, MSU turned to its lone senior, and Nix carried the Spartans home, scoring 11 second half points to push MSU in front for good.
Tied at 50 with 6:50 remaining, MSU closed the game on a 16-6 run, capped off by a emphatic two-handed alley-oop dunk by Dawson.