“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.”
Michigan State has undergone a huge leadership transformation following the sex abuse scandal that plagued the athletic department and led to the AD leaving and the university president resigning as well.
Bill Beekman was named interim AD following Mark Hollis’ resignation last January. Apparently he has impressed the Board of Trustees enough in his just about three-month tenure to earn the new job on a permanent basis. This will be his first official job in any capacity within an athletic department.
The Detroit Free Press first reported the Beekman would get the interim tag removed from him on Sunday night. On Monday morning, the Spartans held a press conference and announced that very thing.
Beekman is a name that many on the Board of Trustees would be familiar with, having served on the board himself starting in 2008 until his appointment as the interim athletic director. He also has served as the executive director for the MSU Alumni Association and is a 1989 graduate of Michigan State.
Clearly he has the Spartan blood running through him, but most importantly, he has apparently done a great job of getting the big names behind him in the process. According to sources, both Mark Dantonio and Tom Izzo have been impressed by what Beekman has brought to the table in reshaping the department since his arrival.
Additionally, this move makes sense as the Board of Trustees isn’t likely to name a replacement to interim president John Engler until at least this time next year.
The university put out a media notice through the Big Ten of a press conference set for 11am ET for what it is calling “regarding an athletic-related personnel announcement.”
You can see the press conference on BTN or via BTN2Go.
Michigan State Spartans Football Preview: Reasons to be Optimistic
We continue our look at the 2018 Michigan State Spartans with a look at reasons to be optimistic heading in to the season.
Michigan State has been a surprising team as of late. First it surprised everyone by going from the College Football Playoff to a 3-9 team in a matter of one season. Then it surprised a lot of people from weathering that 33-9 season and a horrible offseason to return to a Big Ten East contender in 2017.
So, where does that leave the 2018 version of Mark Dantonio’s Spartans? Well, we’re here to break that down all week and today we’ll give you the reasons to be optimistic about MSU.
Holy Experience Batman
One reason why Michigan State has been so successful under Mark Dantonio is that he has a system and sticks to it. That consistency helps his players in a major way, but so does having experienced players executing that system.
So, it should be no coincidence that when the Spartans are at their best it’s with a very experienced team.
The 2018 version of the Spartans return 19 starters, including 10 on the offensive side of the ball. Spearheading that attack is second-year starting QB Brian Lewerke, whose ability to be a deadly passer as well as a deadly runner has added a different wrinkle to the MSU offense.
Defensively, this team is as strong as it may ever be under Dantonio. Mike Panasiuk and Raequan Williams are beasts at defensive tackle and Joe Bachie follows a long line of quality middle linebackers behind that group. In fact, another season like Bachie had in 2017 and he could be the best middle linebacker MSU has seen in the Dantonio era. Those are just three of 9 returning starters for a defense that was No. 2 in the country against the run last season.
That 2017 team was light on experience, but had plenty of potential. Fast forward a season and this is one of the more experienced teams in the Big Ten, and that should help them contend in the rough and tumble Big Ten East division.
Skill Position Depth
This isn’t your brother or sister’s Michigan State Spartans squad anymore. No longer does MSU have to pound you in to submission on offense. Instead, it can be as dynamic an offense as any the Big Ten has to offer.
One huge reason for that is a deep group of skill position players at the ready. MSU has arguably its most versatile group of wide receivers it has had in the 2010’s. 6 foot, 4 inch tall Felton Davis is a matchup nightmare thanks to his size and speed, while Darrell Stewart is perfect in the slot and can kill you with deceptive speed. Both caught over 50 passes last season to prove they belong. Meanwhile up and coming Cody White is another big threat, catching 35 passes as a freshman last year.
Defensively, things look good on the edge with the combo of Justin Layne and Josiah Scott. Layne’s size (6-3) and Scott’s ability to use his hands well makes this combo difficult to pass against. Scott nabbed a pair of interceptions and led the team with 10 pass breakups as a freshman last season, while Layne had eight of his own pass break ups and a forced fumble to go with 40 total tackles as well.
There’s also depth behind them at cornerback and two safeties that are proving to grow in to their roles. Having the skill positions be a strength should only help an offensive line that returns a lot of starting experience but lacked quality run game production a season ago.
Few coaches in the Big Ten get as much out of their talent as Dantonio does in East Lansing.
Any time you have Dantonio on your side, it’s a reason to be optimistic that things are going to be just fine. How Dantonio helped his guys weather an offseason storm and how he took the slings and arrows of the media over the past 18 months is a testament to why the team can be successful on the field.
In a conference that has upgraded its overall coaching talent, Dantonio still stands out as one of the best motivators and teachers in the Big Ten. Don’t underestimate that mattering when the games kick off this fall.
There is certainly reason for renewed optimism around the Spartans program.
While it may be difficult to get all the way back to the College Football Playoff level, at least the Spartans aren’t going backwards as many seemed to think they were heading in to 2017.
Combining Dantonio’s steady system with experienced players who just so happen to be very productive while gaining that experience is a great reason to be bullish on this team. Don’t be surprised to see this formula equal a run towards the East division title and national recognition too.
Michigan State Spartans Football Preview: Lessons from 2017
What did the 2017 season teach us about the Michigan State Spartans program?
There was little doubt that 2017 was going to be a defining season in the Mark Dantonio era. With a ton of pressure from the outside world and a crazy 3-9 season in the rearview mirror, either Dantonio would sink his own ship or right it.
It didn’t take long to see that a program in turmoil had banded together in an “us vs. them” mentality that worked well for the Spartans.
The result was a 10-3 season, wins over two of the biggest names in the Big Ten East division and a very different narrative heading in to the 2018 offseason.
But, with so much happening around the program last season, what lessons were learned that would apply to 2018?
Let’s take a look at what lessons we believe will matter going forward.
Adversity Wears Well on Spartans
No team in the Big Ten had a worse 2017 offseason than the Spartans did. There were awful off-field allegations, charges and convictions. There were players suspended, kicked off the team and transfers.
Yet, when the dust settled on the 2017 season, a team that seemingly was in disarray nearly won the East division. A team that won just three games in 2016 and suffered through a very public and ugly offseason managed to right the ship right away and went 7-2 in Big Ten play.
There were wins over rival Michigan and a red-hot Penn Stat program and a massive blowout of Washington State in the Holiday bowl for redemption of not being selected for a seemingly better positioned bowl game.
At every step of the way in 2017 there was major adversity. Instead of folding, Mark Dantonio’s crew rallied together and came away with a season few saw coming from the outside world.
It was certainly a positive lesson for everyone involved — from what not to do off the field to how to grow together in the face of major doubters. By the end of it all, MSU football felt like it was closer to being back in the Big Ten title picture than ever before. The lesson of the 2017 season won’t soon be forgotten.
1-QB System Works Best
If you would’ve told anyone back in the 2016 offseason that Brian Lewerke would be the answer to MSU’s quarterback hopes, few would’ve believed you. Yet, the pattern of quarterback-by-committee not working and then getting a leader to emerge and make the team dangerous the next continued on.
No position seems to hold the keys to success or failure at Michigan State more that quarterback. It’s no coincidence that settling on one quarterback has proven to be the defining factor in offensive success at MSU.
Lewerke looked like the better option in 2016, took hold of the position in 2017 and the Spartans offense was back off to the races. The sophomore signal caller threw for over 2,700 yards and 20 touchdowns compared to just 7 interceptions. Compare that to the three-headed QB monster in 2016 that ended up with just 2,668 yards, completed just 57 percent of their passes and had just 19 touchdowns to 11 interceptions.
Coming up the ranks from a walk-on to starter in the face of supposed stiff competition from Damion Terry, Tyler O’Connor and emerging as the steadying force showed that picking one quarterback and sticking with them is a recipe for better chances at success in East Lansing.
Lewerke established himself as the starter and has two more years to lead this team forward. If 2017 taught us anything, it’s that Lewerke is not to be underestimated, just like the Spartans as a whole.
This Offense has to be More Than Lewerke
As impressive as Brian Lewerke was last season, for large swaths of 2017 he was the only offense that mattered for Michigan State.
In fact, not only did Lewerke lead the way through the air, he was the Spartans leading rusher for much of the year too. Only a late-season surge from L.J. Scott, who only had three 100-yard games on the entire season, allowed him to overtake Lewerke on the ground.
Scott finished the season with 898 yards to Lewerke’s 559 yards, with Scott leading the TD category 8 to 5.
While it was nice to see the team back to winning against quality competition, the Spartans were torn apart by teams who could shut Lewerke down. Ohio State tore apart MSU and more importantly, held Lewerke completely in check. He rushed for just 2 total yards and passed for just 131 yards with two interceptions and no touchdowns in the 48-3 loss.
Can Scott become the star everyone thought he might have been last season, this season? If MSU wants to become a true East division and Big Ten title contender, it has to re-establish a tough run game that doesn’t rely on Lewerke to be the leading rusher for most of the season.
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.