“We’ve got to figure out how to get better as a team, just more consistent,” Winston said, via MLive.com. “We were winning games, but we weren’t winning games pretty, and as crisp as we should with as much talent as we have. We still have a lot of improvements left to make as a team.”
Tom Izzo is a wizard, seemingly finding a new and ridiculous way to get the most out of whatever team is in front of him. Such was the case this past season, as his team went undefeated in non-conference play only to drop four of the first seven Big Ten games.
In the end, the Spartans still managed to challenge for the Big Ten regular season crown and finished the season 29-6 and 13-5 in B1G play. Heck, the Spartans even hoisted the B1G Tournament championship trophy and received a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.
That all came crashing down in embarrassing fashion, losing the opening matchup with No. 15-seed Middle Tennessee State.
All of that was last season, and with stars like Denzel Valentine and Matt Costello gone off this roster plenty of questions abound for a team many still believe can be a B1G title contender.
Burning Question: Are Freshmen The Answer?
With the knowledge that Valentine, the all-everyone’s Player of the Year, along with Costello and Bryn Forbes were going to be gone for the 2016-17 season, it appears Tom Izzo has hit a home run on the recruiting trail once again.
He better have, as this team doesn’t have a lot of consistent production or leadership returning. What the Spartans do have are two 5-star recruits and the No.3 ranked recruiting class in the country coming in.
You’ll want to know the names of small forward Miles Bridges and shooting guard Joshua Langford, both of whom were ranked in the top 20 in the nation for the 2016 recruiting class.
They’ll be joined by the likes of in-state point guard Cassius Winston and 6-8 power forward Nick Ward. Combined, this group is the future of the program after some down years on the recruiting trail and in production overall.
Still, this group are freshmen and living by them can also mean dying by them. The hope is that those players in front of them in the pecking order step up and allow these kids to not shoulder most of the burden this season.
Biggest Strength: Versatility
This has been one of the greatest strengths of the Michigan State program under Tom Izzo. Players who could play the wing, also playing like a center. Those who could shoot the lights out from deep, also driving right to the hole.
Last season that was on display as Denzel Valentine was effectively a point-forward for most of the season.
This season, that versatility will come from the addition of the likes of Bridges and Langford. The two are long for their heights and for the positions they have naturally played at the high school level. Having them able to play multiple roles will also be helpful to names like “Tum Tum” Nairn and Eron Harris as well.
Add in UNLV graduate transfer Ben Carter and his abilities on the inside and Izzo has a roster that can work well in different settings. That wasn’t always the case last year, especially when Valentine went down to injury early on in Big Ten play.
Don’t expect an injury to one player to be the death-nil of this year’s Spartans though.
Biggest Weakness: Youth
As good as Bridges and Langford are likely to be at some point, one has to wonder if they will be super stars out of the gate or take some time to fit in to the college game. We aren’t talking about Ben Simmons or the next one-and-done greats for the most part.
Chances are both are around for a couple of years at the very least before any real talk of NBA futures are explored.
Izzo is counting on Gavin Schilling to pull a Matt Costello, and that positive improvement could be a big help to young players on this roster. Still, that may be asking a lot of a player who hasn’t been able to be consistent.
There is also the issue of where perimeter scoring is going to come from and that is where youth also comes in to play. Can Bridges and Langford be counted on to work well on the outside or to provide enough off the dribble to make teams back off of them and shoot over the top?
It isn’t like “Tum Tum” is going to light the world on fire from deep, and there aren’t a lot of expectations that whomever is in at point guard will be a sharp shooter from deep either.
MSU may need the young players to provide that explosiveness from deep or it could be really interesting in East Lansing.
Projected Starting Lineup:
*2015 stats courtesy sports-reference.com.
G: “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr.— 2.8 ppg, 1.1 rpg, 3.3 apg, 37.9% FG
G: Eron Harris, Sr. — 9.3 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.1 apg, 43.4% FG
F: Miles Bridges, Fr. — n/a
F: Ben Carter, Sr. — 8.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.4 bpg, 55.6% FG *at UNLV
C: Gavin Schilling, Sr. — 3.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 50% FG (played in just 24 games)
Michigan State surprised some with just how good they were with Denzel Valentine in the lineup. They also surprised just about everyone when he went out injured. That team wasn’t the same, and now that he is gone for good, can this program be the same?
After all, this team expects to win championships (conference or national) and a top recruiting class won’t do anything to change those expectations in East Lansing anytime soon. We’ll see if Bridges and Co. can live up to expectations, but this roster may actually be deeper and better than last seasons and that may mean a team ready to challenge for a deep run come March.
If that is the case, the Big Ten could be in big trouble for 2016-17.
Is Michigan State’s March magic in danger of running out in 2018?
Michigan State has limped through the start of March, can it right the ship and pull off its usual March magic?
Death, taxes and the Michigan State Spartans going deep in March under Tom Izzo.
Almost all three of these things are automatic in life.
Usually we’re talking about Michigan State and deep runs in the NCAA tournament. After all, this was a program that went to back-to-back Sweet Sixteen’s and then an Elite Eight and a Final Four in four straight seasons from 2012 to 2015.
But, the last few seasons have ended in much quicker fashion than normal, with a first round exit in 2016 and a second round exit last season.
All seemed right heading in to this March though, with the Spartans riding a 13-game win streak and a Big Ten regular season title.
But, March took on a different tone for this team and those deep runs MSU is famous for may not be worth betting on this time around.
One loss in 15 games may not be anything to worry about, but the devil is in the details as to why MSU may not be the solid bet everyone seems to think they are.
It actually started in late February, with Michigan State being taken to the wire by a lower-half Wisconsin Badgers team in the regular season finale. Five days later, that same Badgers team did it again, making the Spartans work for a 63-60 victory in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals.
A day later and MSU found itself out of the tournament at the hands of bitter in-state rival Michigan. The Wolverines played the type of game most expect from the Spartans and won 75-64.
That was the end to a 13-game win streak, but the cracks were clearly there prior to the loss.
Michigan State struggled to score in both games against the Badgers and over the past three games have only been shooting 41.6 percent from the field. Additionally, the Spartans have scored under their conference season average of 76.5 points per game in five of their final seven games.
Of course, one could also see it as a positive that MSU found ways to win six of those seven games despite not playing its best basketball.
But, come March all it takes is one day or night of off basketball and you are bounced from the tournament.
That fact isn’t lost on the team, as guard Cassius Winston pointed out that the upcoming break needs to be about MSU finding its rhythm once again.
Maybe it is a good thing the loss came on Saturday in the Big Ten tournament, giving the Spartans a bit of an extended break ahead of the NCAA tournament. The team certainly sees the extra week of prep as helpful.
“We can sharpen up on a lot of things, understand ourselves as a team more and get better offensively, because we’re not as sharp as we have been,” Spartans guard Joshua Langford said, via MLive.com. “This break is going to be great for us.”
The Spartans have the Big Ten’s most talented starting five and certainly can go deep in to the NCAA tournament, but this isn’t a team that screams classic Tom Izzo tournament run. Something seems off about this team heading in to the tournament, let’s see if they can find the spark to dominate like they have most of the season.
If not, expect this NCAA tournament run to not last very long.
Travis Walton responds to ESPN’s OTL report, denies allegations
Questions have surrounded Tom Izzo and the Michigan State basketball program since ESPN’s Outside the Lines reported a series of alleged incidents with former player and student assistant coach Travis Walton.
On Tuesday, Walton issued a full-throated defense to those allegations and denied any of the reporting to be truthful.
He started out noting that he was never a paid assistant coach, and then went on to refute both the allegations of punching a woman at an East Lansing bar and sexual assault in two separate alleged incidents.
“I was never hired or fired by Michigan State University. In January of 2010, I was enrolled at Michigan State University, taking the necessary classes to complete my degree. Upon graduation, I returned to Europe to continue my basketball career.”
He is currently a member of the coaching staff for the Los Angeles Clippers’ G-League team and a former guard for the program from 2005-09.
Walton stands by his statements and made it clear he would defend himself against these accusations being reported as fact.
“I stand by these facts, and will defend myself to the extent that the law allows,” Walton said in a letter provided to the Free Press. “I apologize for the negative attention this has brought my Spartan family, the Clippers organization, and my family and friends.”
Walton had plenty of problems with ESPN’s Outside the Lines report, starting with his employment status up front.
He then went in to a full-throated defense of himself against the pair of accusations.
“I never physically assaulted a woman at an East Lansing establishment, as alleged,” he said in the letter. “While conversing with her, and without notice or provocation, she threw a drink at me, and I subsequently left the establishment. Two written statements from independent, objective witnesses were given to the City Attorney, and support my innocence. Ultimately, the determination to resolve the case was based on the merits of the investigation.”
Walton doesn’t hide from having a sexual relationship with the unnamed woman in ESPN’s report, but insists it was a consensual and multiple-time relationship between the two.
” I have never been charged with sexual assault and, to my knowledge, the alleged sexual assault was never reported to Michigan State University or the police. My encounters with this woman were more than just a single occasion, and my actions with her were always consensual.”
ESPN’s allegations were certainly a bombshell, but as they say, there is always two sides to the story. In this case, Walton is about as clear as can be on his side of what happened in both cases.
Will that matter against a running narrative of a Michigan State program out of control? We’ve asked the question of whether Izzo is the man to lead this program through a dark time given the allegations in said ESPN report.
Now we have to ask where the truth lies and just how damaged Izzo really is? If Walton’s side is 100 percent correct, Izzo has nothing to worry about.
Let’s see what independent investigations uncover, and judge then.
Magic Johnson speaks loudly, will action follow at MSU?
Magic Johnson speaks up for the first time about the sexual assault allegations and crimes at Michigan State. Will his words bring action?
There simply isn’t any alumnus at Michigan State University more famous than Magic Johnson. So when he speaks on issues surrounding the university and the athletic department, people tend to listen.
On Monday morning, Johnson spoke loudly and clearly regarding the sexual assault scandal that has rocked his beloved university.
He took to Twitter to make his public statements on the issue and his words were clear, concise and unwavering in their anger.
If anyone was aware of the sexual assault happening to women on the MSU campus from the office of the President, Board of Trustees, athletic department, faculty & campus police, and didn’t say or do anything about it, they should be fired.— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) January 29, 2018
Johnson went on to show support for the victims of all the sexual assaults alleged and proven to date.
Cookie and I stand in support of the victims and their families as they embark on the road to recovery; and I support the movement to hold everyone involved accountable.— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) January 29, 2018
The roles of the new President, Board of Trustees, athletic department, faculty, campus police and students will be to work together to create new policies and procedures to ensure this never happens again.— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) January 29, 2018
Everyone? That begs the question of what Johnson believes should happen to MSU basketball coach Tom Izzo and football coach Mark Dantonio. The answer appears to be not much in the case of the Izzo, because Johnson stated he wants to work with Izzo to fix the issue.
As a Spartan, I love MSU and want to work with Coach Izzo, the administration, and the students to be a part of the solution in any way that I can.— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) January 29, 2018
That could be hard to do as questions continue to hang over Izzo and Dantonio if an ESPN Outside the Lines report on Friday is to be believed. Izzo certainly has a lot of questions to answer, and the more he talks the more fishy things sound. Take for example his post-game press conference after a game with Maryland on Sunday.
An ESPN reporter grilled Izzo over the bombshell that former player and student assistant coach, Travis Walton, had been implicated in a criminal investigation over an alleged assault on a woman in a bar and then later an allegation of sexual assault that never was made to the police. Instead, ESPN alleges that the family went to Mark Hollis about the incident.
Izzo seemed to try his best to dance around the questions as delicately as possible.
Here’s the exchange:
It is true that Walton left the program following the 2010 season and did go over to Europe to play. However, the allegation of assault hung over him throughout his year on the coaching staff and he was never suspended while the criminal investigation or anything else was happening regarding the allegation.
There certainly are plenty of questions to be answered but it’s likely the media won’t be the ones getting those answers. It’s much more likely that they come from the special investigator and NCAA investigators findings in the coming months. That’s also assuming the NCAA investigators actually do their jobs, and that’s been a stretch at times.
Magic Johnson’s statements certainly put pressure on MSU to get things right this time, and that should be applauded. Reform is certainly needed, and Magic is saying all the right things. Let’s see if there is any true follow through happens or not, because words don’t matter without action behind them and that’s exactly what is needed now — actions.
Can any Big Ten team challenge Michigan State basketball this year?
Michigan State appears to be the darling of the Big Ten, but can it run the league in a down year?
One look at the most recent AP basketball poll and one thing immediately jumps off the page — Michigan State is No. 2 in the country.
But, there’s a second thing that immediately jumps out at me, and that is the fact that there is a rather large gap between the Spartans and anyone else in the Big Ten.
Michigan State is the only Big Ten team currently inside the top 10 of the rankings and you have to go all the way to No. 17 to find the next Big Ten team — Purdue.
That’s also it for the Big Ten in the AP poll all together.
Not even Ohio State’s 8-3 start and 2-0 start to Big Ten play has been deemed worthy of a single vote in the AP poll.
Say what you want about the Buckeyes losing to both Butler and Gonzaga, but in previous years any team starting off the Big Ten as hot as Ohio State has would be at least worthy of a look from one voter in the AP poll.
But, the fact that OSU hasn’t garnered any attention after sweeping the first weekend of Big Ten action speaks volumes. It tells us that those who pay attention to the college game from the first moments of the season see this as a one-horse race and one that isn’t even close.
Michigan State has certainly helped their case with an impressive opening run to the season. Sitting at 9-1 and 2-0 in Big Ten play is a good start, but it is the details that suggest this is the Spartans year to run away with the Big Ten title.
The Spartans own two of the best non-conference wins from any B1G team this season — crushing North Carolina and Notre Dame in back-to-back contests.
It also doesn’t hurt that in the nine wins to date, Michigan State has won by at least 10 points or more. Yes, not a single game has been within single digits for the win.
Michigan State also isn’t a one-man show this season. So far, five players are averaging in double figures, led of course by all-everything guard Miles Bridges’ 15.6 points per game. But, he isn’t doing the work alone as Nick Ward, Joshua Langford and Cassius Winston are all averaging more than 12 points per game. Then there’s Jaren Jackson Jr., who is averaging a solid 10.8 points per game through the first 10 games of the season.
That smacks of a team ready to dominate on the Big Ten scene when conference play re-starts in earnest in a few weeks time. But, is Michigan State really head-and-shoulders above the rest of the league?
Of course, other measures of basketball acumen suggest that the gap is nowhere near as big as the AP voters suggest. Take the Ken Pomeroy rankings for example.
Michigan State sits second in the country to Villanova, just like it does in the AP rankings. But, the gap between MSU and the next team from the Big Ten is much smaller. That’s because Purdue comes in at No. 8 in the country according to the KenPom rankings.
The Boilermakers are actually better offensively than Michigan State, coming at No. 10 in AdjO on the KenPom rankings, compared to No. 14 for Michigan State.
But, those are the only two teams inside the top 25 of the KenPom rankings. One would have to go all the way down to No. 35 to find the next Big Ten team and that team is Minnesota.
Maryland (No. 38), Penn State (No. 40) and Michigan (No. 41) round out the Big Ten’s contingent inside the top 50 of the KenPom rankings as well.
Therein lies the biggest factor suggesting that Michigan State may indeed run away with the Big Ten title this season — it’s a down year for the conference, and one of the strongest Michigan State teams in recent memory.
Wisconsin’s struggles, along with those of Iowa, Indiana and Northwestern suggest a conference that is going through some changes and struggling to find a competitive core outside of conference play.
In conference, the one weekend of action already in the books suggest that this is going to be a conference that beats up on each other once again. Only Michigan State, Ohio State and Purdue came away from the first two games with a perfect record. Eight teams sit at 1-1, while Illinois, Iowa and Rutgers all have two losses under their belts.