Saturday, March 30, 2013

Defensive Score Sheet: Michigan State vs. Duke

In MSU's 71-61 loss to Duke in the Sweet 16 a lot will be made about the Spartans' offensive struggles. And, for the most part, those statements will be reasonable.

It should be said, however, that while the "MSU made one field goal in 14:38" it wasn't as if the Spartans weren't scoring. When the field goal drought began MSU's Adreian Payne had just tied the score at 35-35 with a phenomenal dunk. During the drought MSU's only field goal was a driving layup by Gary Harris.

But, when Branden Dawson made a layup with 3:32 to play it cut the Duke lead to 62-53. So, just so we're on the same page, MSU scored 16 points in the 14:38 that the offense was on life support. That's not great, nor good, but it isn't the worst display of basketball since Kansas lost to TCU earlier this year.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Duke-Michigan State: A Lopsided History

For as much as Tom Izzo yearns to turn the Michigan State into a Duke-like program the Spartans' master has been really bad in head-to-head matchups against the Blue Devils and Coach K.

The teams have met seven times during Izzo's tenure and the Spartans are just 1-6 in those games. To be fair, Duke has had the better team every time the teams have met and only once were the Spartans favored to win a game. (MSU was a 3-point favorite at home in 2003 but lost by 22).

The silver lining for the Spartans is that Izzo is 1-1 against Coach K in the NCAA Tournament. Duke won the 1999 Final Four matchup en route to a title-game loss to UConn while the Spartans were victorious in the 2005 Sweet 16 en route to a Final Four appearance.

While "real life" wins and losses haven't been plentiful, Vegas thinks the Spartans have been great in the MSU-Duke matchups. The Spartans are 5-2 ATS. In fact, the underdog has covered in all but one meeting in the seven-game series.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Defensive Score Sheet: Michigan vs. VCU

Everyone talked about VCU's "Havoc" defense fueled off press-caused turnovers.

When push came to shove it was Michigan's tried-and-true man-to-man defense that wrecked the havoc at The Palace of Auburn Hills.

Michigan cruised to a 78-53 victory against the Rams -- a team coming off a 46-points win over Akron in the Round of 64.

Defensive Score Sheet: Michigan State vs. Memphis

Quite simply, Michigan State laid down the hammer defensively against Memphis to reach the Sweet 16 for the fifth time in six seasons and 11th time in Tom Izzo's tenure.

MSU's 70-48 win against a team many thought would give the Spartans trouble is what makes it that much more impressive.

Sunday, March 17, 2013


What a wild year projecting the bracket. Not only was the bottom of the bubble as soft as usual but as many as seven teams have legit claims for a No. 1 seed.

After devouring resumes and comparing profiles this is our final projection of what the bracket will look like (if the committee is smart):

Analysis: Louisville gets the slight edge over Indiana for the overall No. 1 seed (and a spot in Indianapolis) because it won its conference tournament. The committee will say that doesn't  matter but history says it does (a lot).

Gonzaga could get bumped to the No. 2 line but the Zags profile is just as good as Kansas and Miami's - two teams that also won regular season and conference tournament titles. I like Kansas's profile slightly more than Miami's so the Jayhawks get the final No. 1.

Duke is an interesting case: It's rare for a team to not only fail to win its conference tournament and receive a No. 1 seed but almost as rare for a team not to win the regular season title either and grace the top line. I think too many teams passed Duke (slightly) this week for the Blue Devils to be on the top line.

Bubble: My last four teams are all "major" schools, but that's because I have Boise State and Middle Tennessee State in the field as No. 11 seeds. Every team is flawed at the No. 11 line and below but a team like La Salle really has a bad profile. Nothing sticks out as being good and everything screams NIT. I don't think any non-Explorer fans will be complaining about the Explorers being in the NIT.

FINAL FOUR: If this was the actual bracket all four No. 1 seeds look like Final Four teams to me. Duke presents the challenge to Indiana as well as Miami to Kansas. It's going to be a wild ride regardless.


Saturday, March 16, 2013

Michigan State-Ohio State Round 3: All About Defense

By any metric both Michigan State and Ohio State are two of the best defensive teams in the nation. OSU is 6th in Kenpom's rankings while MSU is 7th (they're separated by 0.1 if you're curious).

In the meetings this season it is clear the team whose defense was more ferocious (and more physical) won the game.

Here are the two defensive score sheets from this year's previous meetings - MSU's 59-56 win in East Lansing and OSU's 68-60 win in Columbus.

It doesn't take a genius to see which game the Spartans won. Surprisingly, Adreian Payne was awful (read: he was in charge of Deshaun Thomas in round 1 when Thomas scored 28 of OSU's 56 points) but really good in round 2. Yet the results went the other way. It really starts and ends with Keith Appling.

What Appling will have to do today against the Buckeyes is let his defense fuel his offense. If he lets his offense, which is sure to be bogged down by Aaron Craft's defense, influence his defense then Michigan State could be in for a struggle.

A lot is seemingly at stake. A No. 1 seed is still up for grabs and while MSU looks like a solid No. 2 seed right now the Buckeyes have hopes of winning the Big Ten Tournament and leapfrogging the Spartans. Even just winning this game could get that done for OSU and push MSU to the No. 3 line. Who knows at this point, but it's a possibility.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Big Ten Tournament Preview

(Originally posted at JustCoverBlog on March 14, 2013)

Not to be a killjoy but the Big Ten Tournament isn’t as wide open as you might imagine. Sure the conference – this year more than ever – is loaded but here’s a simple yet important fact: Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Illinois have won 11 of the 15 tournaments.
Much like Duke’s seemingly single-handed dominance of the ACC Tournament (with UNC success sprinkled in), these four horses have pretty much dominated the Big Ten Tournament.
Even more interesting: The No. 1 seed has won six of the past eight tournaments, losing in the finals of another one.
So, as much as we all want to be giddy about the winner of the 8/9 Illinois/Minnesota game  making a run history says we need to relax and drink a tall glass of reality.
This statistical trio isn’t meant to sway you from looking at a sleeper team making a deep run, just that your sleeper team probably won’t win the whole thing. On four occasions the championship game has featured a No. 8, No. 9, No. 10 and No. 11 seed. While all those teams lost, it leaves open the possibility that a likely NIT-bound team could have a 50/50 shot in the title game of being a NCAA Tournament party crasher.
Outside of No. 4 seeded Michigan winning the tournament in 1998 – a title that has since been vacated – only one non-Top 3 seed (No. 6 Iowa in 2001) has won the tournament.
Here’s a look at each team’s odds to reach each round compliments of

Not surprisingly the Big Ten’s Top 5 teams – who have all spent most of this season in the Top 25 – dominate the odds. The only thing that sticks out might be No. 2 Ohio State having better odds of reaching the semifinals than No. 1 Indiana despite the Hoosiers having the best odds of reaching the finals and winning the tournament. It seems to smell like oddsmakers know an Illinois/Minnesota vs. Indiana game will be much tougher on the Hoosiers than a Purdue/Nebraska vs. Ohio State game will on the Buckeyes.
The only teams, based on these odds, that would really qualify as that deep sleeper team that could make a run are Minnesota and Iowa. Keep that in mind when looking at the following betting odds compliments of
INDIANA (+140): It should come as no surprise that the Hoosiers are overwhelming favorites. It is a little surprising that other teams don’t have better odds, especially since this isn’t being played at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Still, Indiana proved it was the Big Ten’s best team all season and deservedly won the outright Big Ten Championship (albeit by a few inches). I’ve said it all season and the numbers agree: the one team that can beat Indiana is… Indiana. Whether it is Tom Crean’s unusually substitution patters that turn a 10-3 lead at Michigan to a 27-16 deficit or his team forgetting how to make layups (14 missed first-half layups at Michigan) or shoot the 3-ball, Indiana’s hiccups have been when it has a major off night. Does that mean the Hoosiers can’t be beat? Absolutely not. If you look at the games Indiana probably should have lost during the regular season but pulled out look no further than both games vs Michigan State (won 75-70 at home and 72-68 on the road) and the season finale at Michigan (won 72-71). In the first of the three games Indiana benefitted from what some would say was the “Hall of Calls” atmosphere in a game. The latter two involved the Spartans and Wolverines missing crucial free throws down the stretch that would have sealed a victory. 
Now, maybe that’s being too hard on the Hoosiers. Maybe Indiana showed resiliency in winning those games. That could be true, but it’s an important point to mention because as such heavy favorites it appears like Indiana cruised its way through the Big Ten season en route to the title when that is far from truthful. Indiana very well could win the tournament and secure a No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region so +140 is a nice deal if you want to wear candy-striped pants this weekend.
OHIO STATE (+350): Ohio State could have been the No. 4 or No. 5 seed and I have a feeling these odds would be quite similar. Why? Ohio State has reached the final in six of the past seven years including the past four. The Buckeyes have three championships in that span? The reason Ohio State has been so successful under Thad Matta is because the Buckeyes bring it on defense every night that despite offensive deficiencies the team is always in the game. Based on experts I’ve talked with it’s about 50-35-15 on who wins the Big Ten Tournament (compared to the above-listed odds). Indiana gets the 50 percent and the Buckeyes get the 35 percent. (Michigan State is getting the 15 percent). Not only did Ohio State finish the year on a five-game winning streak to fall just one game back of a co-championship but the Buckeyes did so in large part because they won in Bloomington. It was such an impressive performance that many feel Ohio State’s defense is a Big Ten kryptonite for the Hoosiers. At 7/2 Ohio State looks like the best buy in the Big Ten Tournament, especially by drawing the easiest quarterfinal matchup it seems.
MICHIGAN STATE (+400): The Spartans have been fluctuating around 5/1 and 4/1 odds. This seems about right as a quarterfinal matchup with desperate Iowa – a team that has given MSU fits in the past – likely awaits. That coupled with MSU’s history of early Big Ten Tournament exits and oddsmakers are being realistic. (If MSU had OSU’s history in this event I could see the Spartans closer to 3/1 or 5/2). That being said, for the second straight season it appears Tom Izzo really wants to win this tournament. He might say that’s always been the case but body language and early exits against inferior teams say otherwise. This year’s slogan is “Win the Championship We Didn’t Win The First Time.” That in itself tells me the Spartans are planning for a long stay in Chicago. The outside shot at a No. 1 seed (MSU would have to win the tournament and likely beat OSU in the semifinals and either Indiana or Michigan in the title game) still exists and is one reason the Spartans are a phenomenal buy at +400.
MICHIGAN (+450): The Wolverines have never won this event since their inaugural 1998 title has been vacated. Michigan hasn’t even sniffed the finals since. Another odd factoid is that only one No. 5 seed – Ohio State in 2009 – has reached the title game. Being in the 4/5 game used to be a daunting task because it’s the toughest quarterfinal game to win, obviously, and the winner gets a date with likely the No. 1 team. With recently added Nebraska the No. 5 team now plays in the first round against the league’s bottomfeeder. It’s an “easy” game but one that requires an extra day en route to the championship. (Last year’s first No. 5 vs. No. 12 game ended with Indiana beating Penn State but losing to No. 4 Wisconsin in the quarterfinals). With all that said we’re still talking about a team that’s seeded fifth in is conference tournament and is No. 6 in the latest AP Poll. Don’t kid yourself, this isn’t your Grandpa’s No. 5 seed. Michigan should get revenge against Wisconsin and set up another classic with Indiana in the semifinals. Despite going 0-2 vs. the Hoosiers this year the Wolverines showed they’re not that much different in terms of NCAA ceiling. If there is one Big Ten team that can win four games in four days and cut down the nets it’s the Wolverines. At 9/2 it’s a very solid bargain.
WISCONSIN (+1000): No one is buying the Badgers and for good reason. This isn’t one of Bo Ryan’s great teams. Despite another top four finish in the Big Ten – Wisconsin’s 12th straight under Ryan – this team was bailed out with only one game vs. Indiana and no return trip to Ann Arbor. Throw in what seems like a dozen heroic-yet-fluky game-winning baskets and this team has early exit written all over it. Can the Badgers make some noise? Of course, especially since their path would include Michigan (beat in Madison), Indiana (beat in Bloomington) and Ohio State (split with but beat by 22 in Madison) or Michigan State (0-2 vs. the Spartans). It’s possible that Wisconsin wins the Big Ten Tournament but, as the odds says, highly unlikely.
MINNESOTA (+2200): There are two reasons the Gophers are this high. First, it wasn’t that long ago that Minnesota beat Indiana at The Barn. Second, this team started the year 15-1 and was ranked as high as No. 8 in the polls. Those to facts combined make oddsmakers leery of the Gophers getting hot. The problem with Minnesota is it hasn’t been hot since January. It’s had surges no doubt (Indiana) but for the most part the Gophers have lost to every good team they’ve played since starting 15-1. That’s not the recipe for a sleeper. It’s the recipe for a one-and-done or, best-case-scenario a team that reaches the quarterfinals. Pass on the Gophers.
IOWA (+2500): The only reason I’ll give you a quick rundown of Iowa is because I have a strong feeling that Iowa could make a finals run. Northwestern won’t put up much of a fight in the first round game and the Hawkeyes very well could slay Michigan State and Ohio State. I worry about any type of matchup with Indiana or Michigan, but if you think the Hawkeyes can beat the Spartans and Buckeyes why not take a chance at 25/1?
OTHERS (+2500): Illinois, despite having the same odds as “The Field” was listed separately because the Illini always play well at the United Center (see 2003 and 2005 titles at the United Center as well as a spot in the 2000 finals as the No. 11 seed). That said, teams wins games, not venues. Illinois, like all “field” Big Ten teams are much too hot and cold to win four games in four days. Purdue has been playing extremely well recently in almost upsetting Michigan and whooping Wisconsin on the road before that and Minnesota at home after that. I would argue that Purdue is the most dangerous No. 7 seed this tournament has seen in some time because of how it is playing right now. Purdue is playing much more like a 21-10 team fighting for a No. 9/10 NCAA seed than a team that is sitting at 15-16 with the NIT being the best-case scenario. Still, think about that when filling out your Big Ten bracket as Purdue could very well wreck some havoc on the favorites in the lower half of the bracket.

The Pick: Usually I have a great vibe to  pick against the Spartans in any Big Ten Tournaments. Last year, for the first time since early in the new Millennium, I didn’t get that feeling. I went with MSU to win the tournament over OSU and the Spartans did just that. Now I’m getting a similar feeling. the team I would be most worrisome about as a MSU fan would be Ohio State. But, as I mentioned above, don’t overlook a surging Purdue team that could give Ohio State a big run in the quarterfinals. With that fatigue I think the Spartans win the season series against the Buckeyes en route to the title.
While I don’t think the Spartans will get a No. 1 seed by winning the Big Ten Tournament I think it will cement them on the No. 2 line and gives MSU an outside shot at being in the Midwest Region (Indianapolis) if somehow Louisville surpasses Indiana on the S-Curve for a spot in that region. (If Indiana is in the Midwest – which is likely now – the next two Big Ten teams on the S-Curve, likely Michigan and Michigan State, can’t be in the same region). In the finale we should see another classic Big Ten game – what else would you expect with this season? – where the winner gets the better No. 2 seed. Look for the Spartans to outlast the Wolverines 67-64 to win their second straight Big Ten Tournament title and fourth overall. At +400 the Spartans are your team.

Big East Championship Preview

It feels like 1:45 a.m. on a Friday night-turned Saturday morning. The noise is beginning to die down. It’s “Last Call.”
Welcome to the 2013 Big East Championship.
After years of entertaining the nation at Madison Square Garden this year’s version of the Big East Championship will be the last as we know it.
That doesn’t mean we should get all sappy and treat this as any other event than a great one to put a few bucks down on our hopeful champion pick. Technically, the tournament began yesterday but don’t kid yourself, no one was paying any attention to the South Florida-Seton Hall and Rutgers-DePaul games unless you wanted to see what a potential NCAA Jamaican basketball team might look like.
The crux of the tournament begins today, not surprisingly with a game with more bubble implications than you might think. Cincinnati, for all the big wins its accumulated this season (Iowa State, Oregon, at Pitt at vs. Marquette) it still finishes 9-9 in a mediocre Big East this season. With the unbalanced schedule you can see how there weren’t a lot of marquee Big East wins and a lot of losses. Cincinnati lost at Providence and at home against St. Johns and also registered five of its conference wins by sweeping Rutgers and beating DePaul, Seton Hall and South Florida. That folks, means Cincinnati got 55 percent of its Big East victories against the league’s four worst teams. Nothing says “bubble” to me like that resume.
Now, when comparing Cincinnati’s resume to others it would seem a lot of teams would have to have magical conference tournament runs to pass Cincinnati but beating Providence would be a good idea just to be safe.
Speaking of Providence, somehow the Friars (17-13, 9-9 Big East) are appearing in some of the “First Eight Out” sections of bracket projections. Come again? Apparently a resume that has the following: Sweep of Villanova and home wins against Cincinnati and Notre Dame is NCAA Tournament worthy. Heck, I haven’t even mentioned a pathetic NCSOS that included loss to… wait for it… UMass, Penn State, Boston College and Brown. Yet, in some people’s eyes (maybe the committees?!?) the Friars are on the bubble. At the very least it makes for interesting theater for today’s noon tip.
But we’re not here to break down every game; rather, we’re here to break down the tournament. Here are the Big East Championship odds via

LOUISVILLE (+140): Not surprisingly, Louisville is your overwhelming favorite. What is surprising is that Georgetown – one of the three-way Co-Champions – has the fourth-best odds and Marquette – another co-Champion – has the fifth best odds.
With so much stock put into conference tournaments Louisville might have to win the Big East Tourney to keep its projected No. 1 seed. (Like it or not the selection committee has a really bad habit of giving No. 1 seeds to conference tournament champions with slightly less remarkable bodies of work than to teams with stellar bodies of work who fall short in conference tournaments). That gives Louisville all the motivation it needs. Couple that with the fact Louisville has won 10 of 11 games – the only loss being the 5 OT thriller at Notre Dame – and the Cardinals are peaking at the right time. And if you believe that the conference’s best team is going to win this tournament then Louisville at +140 is well worth your time.
Here are your Big East Championship odds via

Maybe it’s the statistical nerd in me but I love comparing computer algorithms projections and Vegas’ odds. Usually they’re pretty much the same but every now and then you find a “glitch” that could be a big payday. Based on the two sets of numbers we have you see how Vegas still likes Georgetown (2nd favorite) while the computers do not (fourth). You’ll also notice how Pittsburgh goes from Vegas’ No. 4 to the computers’ No. 2.
PITTSBURGH (+550): That means Pittsburgh, the team that always schedules softly in the nonconference but always muscles its way through the Big East for a decent NCAA seed is the big sleeper here. It’s no secret that Pitt has had great success in the Big East Championship. Jamie Dixon reached the title game in four of his first five seasons, finally winning the title in his fourth try (2008). Since then, however, Pitt hasn’t been back. The Panthers lost in the quarterfinals as the No. 2 seed in both 2009 and 2010 and as the No. 1 seed in 2011. Last season was a disaster as Pitt was the conference’s No. 13 seed and lost in the second round.
Now, Pitt hasn’t exactly beaten great teams. Let me clarify: Pitt whooped Georgetown early in the Big East season. The Hoyas then went on to win 14 of their final 16 games to claim a share of the conference title. On Jan. 8 when the teams met Georgetown and title weren’t said in the same sentence outside of some playful office jokes. The win against Syracuse was right at the time the Orange started their downward spiral. So, while Pitt has shown the ability to win games it did spent much of the later part of the conference season beating up on the lower-tier teams.

With the bracket in front of you now, you can see why Louisville and Pittsburgh seem like the good bargains. It’s all about matchups. The only two “challengers” to Pitt are Georgetown (Pitt won at Georgetown 73-45) and Syracuse (Pitt won at home 65-55).
Louisville, assuming it can get past the Villanova/St. John’s winner (the Cardinals beat S. Johns at home 72-58 but lost at Villanova 73-64), it would play either Marquette ( a team it beat at home 70-51) or Notre Dame (a team it should have beaten twice but lost the aforementioned 5 OT game in South Bend 104-101 to go with a season-ending 73-57 home victory).
Here’s a quick breakdown of other title contenders:
Georgetown (+400): I’m trying to understand why more people aren’t on the G’Town bandwagon. The Hoyas have been very consistent all season outside of that home clunker vs. Pitt. My guess is people feel this is the Otto Porter show and the guy can’t keep it up for three straight days. But keep this in mind: Georgetown has a real shot at a No. 1 seed if it wins the Big East Championship (assuming it includes the Pitt/Syracuse winner and either Louisville or Marquette). Getting a “cheap” title by beating some streaky high seed (Villanova) might get the Hoyas the title but not the marquee win it needs. At 4/1 the Hoyas are actually a decent buy here.
Syracuse (+500): If you pre-January 26 Syracuse this is the bargain of the year. That was when the ‘Cuse was 18-1 and looking like a legitimate title contender. The Orange are 5-7 since with its best win being a home win against Notre Dame. All the losses are respectable and to NCAA teams (outside of UConn which would have been in the tourney as a 9/10/11 seed). But Syracuse not only has been losing games but it has looked bad in doing so. The last game at Georgetown highlights this: The final regular season Syracuse-Georgetown clash and you go out and score 39 points? Yes, that would have beaten both South Florida and Seton Hall in regulation Tuesday night but it’s a pathetic number for a team with third best odds to win this tournament. This is one of those “if-we-make-it-look-like-people-are-high-on-Syracuse-maybe-others-will-follow” lines. Don’t believe the faux hype.
Marquette (+900): If you like hardworking teams then Marquette is the squad for you. Unfortunately hard work only gets you so far (see a Sweet 16 ceiling). That hard work also seems to pay off more at home than on the road. Marquette went 16-0 at home while going just 5-6 on the road. Marquette has never reached the Big East finals, only getting to the semifinals in 2008 and 2010. This is a decent longshot to take but the deck seems stacked against the Golden Eagles.
Notre Dame (+1500): Like Marquette the Irish are a much different team at home than on the road. The Irish have never reached the finals but have reached the semis, most recently last season before falling to eventual champion Louisville. I do believe Mike Brey has it in him to get this team to win four games in four days, but this is the likely road the Irish would face: Rutgers, Marquette, Louisville, Georgetown/Pittsburgh. That is a really tough climb but stranger things have happened at MSG, right?
Villanova (+2200): The Wildcats have the wins that seemingly have cemented them into the Big Dance. Keep in mind every one of them came at home. Even when St. John’s is a bad team it is still tough playing them in this event since it is on their home floor. That won’t be an opening-game cakewalk for the Wildcats. Still, I could see ‘Nova making some kind of shocking run but I think a spot in the finals is the ceiling here. Gamble on the Wildcats at your own peril.
Cincinnati (+2200): Somehow I have more faith in these Bearcats. The No. 1 seed in this tournament has lost its first game in two out of the past three years. (It did reach title game the three years before, winning it twice). Still, somehow teams getting to play the day before seem a little more fresh compared to the rusted No. 1 seeds. Now, I think Georgetown will be reach for Cincinnati (or Providence if the Friars pull the upset) but as we mentioned above the Bearscats have a lot on the line and winning as many games as possible wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Field (+2500): If you’re playing the field you’re honestly saying you think either Seton Hall or Rutgers is going to win this thing. (Providence is listed at +3500 and St. John’s is at +7000). If that’s the case I suggest you find another hobby. Play St. John’s at +7000 for the simple fact the Red Storm are seeded higher than both No. 11 Rutgers and No. 12 Seton Hall and are playing home games. If you play the field you’re an idiot.
THE PICK: I’ve toggled back and forth with this. It’s between Louisville, Georgetown and Pittsburgh. Pitt is the big sleeper but Louisville and Georgetown are the best teams. In my heart of hearts I believe this Cardinals team is similar to the 2008-09 version that won this tournament en route to the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. I see the Cardinals potentially benefitting from some other upsets and cutting down the Madison Square Garden nets for the final time. Louisville at +140 is the call. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Correlation Between Conference Tournament, Final Four? We Analyze

Can a team win the NCAA National Championship despite losing its  first conference tournament game?

Do Final Four teams tend to be conference tournament winners?

Does a conference tournament early exit actually help a team (re: more rest) or spell March disaster?

Due to the abundance of these questions I took on the unenviable task of looking at every Final Four team since 1999 and charting that team's result in their respective conference tournaments. That's 56 Final Four teams, 55 of which played in a conference tournament. (2001 Arizona didn't play in a conference tournament because the Pac-12 didn't have a tournament from 1991-2001).

Only one thing tends to hold true: No team has lost its first conference tournament game and won the NCAA National Championship. That said, nine teams have reached the Final Four after a first-game exit in their league tourney. However, just one of those nine teams - the 2000 Florida Gators - reached the championship game after losing the first game of its conference tournament.

There were two big surprises: First, only five conference tournament runner-ups reached the Final Four (compared to a combined 24 semifinal and quarterfinal losers). Second, 41 of the 55 teams were either No. 1 or No. 2 seeds in their respective conference tournaments.

What it says is your Final Four "sleepers" are more likely to be under-seeded teams that fared well during the conference season than a team that had a mediocre season and made a little surge in the conference tournament.

Here is the breakdown of results:

It might be worth noting two of those "No. 5 seed or Higher" teams have reached the Final Four the past two seasons (eventual champion UConn in 2011 was the No. 9 seed in the Big East Championship and Louisville was the No. 7 seed in the Big East Championship in 2012).

So, the morel of the story is the expectations for your team in the NCAA Tournament should dictate how much stock you put into a conference tournament. If you think your team is a possible national champ then make sure it wins its first game. If the Final Four is your ceiling then don't sweat a conference tournament loss as much as the experts want you to.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Bracketolology: 4th No. 1 seed is only one 'up for grabs'

I might be in the minority but I firmly believe I'm right when I say the following: Duke, Indiana and Gonzaga have locked up No. 1 seeds.

While the Zags won the WCC Tournament last night it would be shocking to see Duke and Indiana lose in the quarterfinals in their respective ACC and Big Ten Tournaments; it would be even more shocking if that cost either team a No. 1 seed. We throw around "body of work" an awful lot and then we put so much emphasis on a 4-day, neutral-site conference tournament that becomes nothing more than a foot in the entire body of work.

Hypothetically, let's say Duke and Indiana lose in the quarterfinals while Kansas, Michigan State (or Michigan), Louisville and Miami win their respective tournaments. All the winners, in my eyes, are fighting for the final No. 1 seed. (Yes, it might not end up being the fourth No. 1 seed, but there is only one "up for grabs.")

The point is, Kansas, MSU, Michigan, Louisville and Miami have all had nice seasons, but they are still a rung below Duke and Indiana. I suppose it's possible a few teams could pass Gonzaga, but it seems criminal that a 31-2 Gonzaga team with the schedule it played in the nonconference coupled with WCC dominance wouldn't get a No. 1 seed. Worst case for the Zags seems to be the final No. 1 seed if a team like Louisville - our projected fourth No. 1 seed today, wins the Big East Tournament and passes Gonzaga no the S-Curve. I don't believe Kansas, MSU, Michigan or Miami can pass the Zags at this point. (Michigan might have the best shot with a chance to run through a Wisconsin-Indiana-MSU/OSU gauntlet to the Big Ten Tournament title, but it's still unlikely that would be enough).

Here's are updated projections following last night's punched tickets (Gonzaga and Iona):

"Last Four In" update: I struggle to see where a team like Middle Tennessee State doesn't get in. At 28-4 the Blue Raiders would have the most wins of any team not in the field. Of course, MTSU doesn't own a Top 50 win and only two Top-100 wins. Either way the Blue Raiders will be the "first" in one category. I think the committee does the right thing and rewards MTSU for its season rather than taking a middle-of-the-road BCS school (I'm talking to you, Kentucky and Mississippi). Obviously, the kicker here is the "big boys" have more time to notch  big wins and the recency effect is always in play. Still, I think the First Four will end up having two mid-majors and two major schools - the way it should be.

"First Four Out" update: It's like a SEC Tournament on this line. The SEC doesn't deserve three bids but it might get it if one of these teams can knock off Florida or Missouri this week. Beating up on each other doesn't add much to an already mundane resume. The SEC Tournament, in terms of NCAA Tournament implications, might be the most fun to watch. (The Big Ten, obviously, will be the battle of the heavyweights and should be uber-entertaining).


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Big Ten Breakdown: Indiana at Michigan

Remember early in the year when the majority of media (and even Big Ten coaches such as Tom Izzo) said the Big Ten title runs through Bloomington and Ann Arbor? Well, look at the scenario that’s played out.
If Indiana wins it claims the outright Big Ten title (the Hoosiers first outright championship since 1993). If Michigan wins the Wolverines will grab a piece of their second straight conference crown. So the world was right: Indiana at Michigan will determine the Big Ten Championship*.
(*Should be noted that if Michigan State and Ohio State join Michigan in the win column today – the Spartans and Buckeyes host Northwestern and Illinois, respectively – that there would be a four-way tie for the Big Ten title.)
Indiana won the meeting on the eve of Super Bowl Sunday 81-73 in a game that was around a four-point margin for much of the evening. The big difference was Indiana going 22-for-25 from the free throw line compared to just a 6-of-7 outing for Michigan.
And since your anticipation is killing you, here’s a big breakdown of this afternoon’s showdown in Ann Arbor (h/t to Kenpom):
Michigan  (24-5, 12-5) vs. Indiana (24-5, 13-4)
Line: Michigan -2
Kenpom Score: Indiana 74-73 (56%)
Kenpom ranking: Michigan 11th, Indiana 2nd
Offensive efficiency: Michigan 120.9 (2nd), Indiana 124.0 (1st)
Defensive efficiency: Michigan 93.3 (56th), Indiana 88.3 (13th)
eFG%: Michigan 55.2 (11th), Indiana 55.9 (7th)
TO%: Michigan 14.7 (1st), Indiana 18.9 (117th)
OR%: Michigan 32.6 (137th), Indiana 39.1 (9th)
FT Rate: Michigan 28.7 (330th), Indiana 48.0 (3rd)
Tempo: Michigan 64.7 (237th), Indiana 67.9 (87th)
If there has been one noticeable difference in both of these teams since the meeting a little more than a month ago it’s been this: Michigan’s defense has slowly regressed while Indiana’s ability to “put the knife in a turn it” when an opponent is down late has become an inconsistent thing. Eight games ago (when Michigan was 20-1) the Wolverines’ defensive efficiency was 89.5 and 31st in the country. As you can see above, it’s now above 93 and in the 50s — alarmingly high for a projected No. 2 seed.
Indiana’s had the following win probabilities late in their recent losses: 98.9% with three minutes to go at Illinois (IU led 70-62); 90.5% with 15 minutes to go in loss at Minnesota (IU led 44-36); 90% with under 15 minutes to play vs. Ohio State (IU led 39-34). Technically, only the Illinois game was in the closing stages but all of these games had the moments where a few hoops would have broken it open for the Hoosiers. In all cases Indiana’s offense went dry and a potentially dead team was able to grind out a win.
The last time these teams played the “three big factors” were as follows: Michigan’s ability to take care of the ball (Michigan only had 8 TOs in 69 possessions – an 8.6 TO%), getting to the free throw line (Michigan was just 6-of-7 while Indiana was 22-of-25), and the paint (both teams scored 34 points). Obviously, Michigan’s inability not to foul was the biggest difference as the Wolverines did well in most other areas of the game.
Tonight’s three big factors: Defending Trey Burke, the 3-point line, and Can Cody Zeller be stopped?
Defending Trey Burke: It’s no secret that Burke makes Michigan go. Honestly, the more I watch Burke the more I see Allen Iverson at Georgetown. Burke, like Iverson, has the ability to slow the game down almost in an instant and speed it up when necessary. Sure both make mistakes but both were always in control. I can’t help but wonder: Where would this team be without Burke? There’s no doubt it isn’t a Top 5 team. But are the Wolverines even in the Top 25? Is the 25-5 record closer to 20-10? That’s not a knock on Michigan but on Burke’s value.
Last time out Tom Crean used Yogi Ferrell on Burke while opting to use Victor Oladipo on Tim Hardaway Jr. It worked for the most part but I’m surprised he didn’t try Oladipo on Burke to, from the get-go, separate the head from the body. If Burke becomes a non-factor early it means Hardaway, Nik Stauskas or Glenn Robinson III would have to manufacture offense. All three can, but without Burke it really takes away from Michigan’s overall game play.
Then again, Crean is an Izzo disciple and probably lives by the philosophy of letting the best player go off but not allowing him to get teammates involved. If Burke goes for 40 today Michigan probably doesn’t win because that means Burke isn’t getting his 8-10 assists. It’s definitely a poison pill for Crean today. Can you let Burke get his 20-25 points but keep his assists to five or fewer or does Burke have a 17-10 game that leads Michigan to victory?
The 3-point line: The arc was pretty cruel to both teams last time out. Indiana (7-18) and Michigan (7-23) both had ample opportunities from deep but the shots just didn’t fall when needed. Indiana started the game 4-for-4 from 3-point range, the final one giving the Hoosiers a 16-7 lead less than four minutes into the game. From there, however, Indiana went 3-of-14 from deep. That’s a major part of Indiana’s game as the better Indiana is from deep in a game the more area of the post Zeller can operate in without bodies in his way.
Indiana shoots 41.8 percent from 3-point range (3rd best in the country). Michigan’s 37.7 percent puts it at No. 34. This isn’t so much about 3-point defense as it is about just whether the shots are falling. Both teams will get open looks, semi-open looks and contested treys. They’ll make and miss some in each category. The team that wins likely will hit an extra triple or two that will be the difference.
Defending Cody Zeller: I’m on record saying I believe Zeller is a solid player but he’s not an All-American. He has the look of a 10-12 year NBA guy who comes off the bench and maybe starts on a bad team. For as much talent as Zeller has I don’t see the fire all the time. Like other players who are always picked apart because their “motor” isn’t always running, Zeller sometimes becomes just another center. That’s not good for an Indiana team that becomes like some small mid-major team jacking up threes without a post presence.
Now, when Zeller is on he’s attacking the rim, calling for the ball, and seems to have a touch on every possession. (He was on when the team’s met in Bloomington, going for 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting). If you look at the games Indiana lost (or almost/should have lost) Zeller is not a focal point of the offense: vs. Michigan State (9 points on 2-of-7 shooting); at Illinois (14 points on 4-of-6 shooting); at Minnesota (9 points on 2-of-9 shooting); vs. Ohio State (17 points on 5-of-9 shooting). Zeller should be taking 15 shots minimum a game, not including times he gets fouled and goes to the line. So, that means upwards of 20 shots a game. When he’s in single digits it just shows a void in the Hoosiers’ offensive execution in that particular game.
If Michigan’s Jordan Morgan was 100 percent I could envision he and Mitch McGary holding down the fort on Zeller. Even though Morgan has played at least 22 minutes in his last three games he’s still not the Morgan of old. McGary has his flashes of greatness but his youth still rears its ugly head every now and then, especially against wiley veterans such as Zeller and the Big Ten’s other experienced big men.
Michigan knows Indiana will be feeding Zeller early and often. If it doesn’t force him into an off shooting day and keep him off the line Michigan likely will be playing catchup and will have to win the game by forcing turnovers and dazzle from 3-point range.
The Pick: I somewhat toggled on this pick for much of the weekend depending on the projected line I came up with. I initially settled on thinking Michigan would be a 1- or 2-point favorite. And that’s just what we have (Michigan -1). Like Indiana’s trip to East Lansing when the Spartans were 1 1/2-point favorites this number is more about how to even out the betting rather than who is likely to win. (Yes, that is what Vegas always does but correct me if I’m wrong: If Indiana was favored here at least 3/4 of the money would go on Michigan, no? I’m not being fooled. Indiana is the better team and has been playing better overall ball as of late despite dropping two of three. Key stat: Michigan is 1-8 ATS in its last nine game. That’s just another reason I’m going with the Hoosiers knowing Tom Crean’s club really deserves an outright Big Ten Championship and will play like it. 
Other Big Ten Games:
Illinois (21-10, 8-9) at Ohio State (22-7, 12-5), 12:30 p.m., Sunday (ESPN)Kenpom: Ohio State 72-61
Line: Ohio State -9 1/2
Analysis: It’s quite simple: If Ohio State wins it gives itself a chance to win a piece of the Big Ten Championship (which likely would net it the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten Tournament). Illinois is looking to lock up a .500 conference record and slay the Buckeyes for the second time this season (Illinois won 74-55 in early January). What’s interesting about this matchup is that you’d expect Illinois would have shot the lights out from deep in the 19-point win in January. The fact is Illinois went 8-of-27 (29.6 percent) from 3-point range. It was a 20-of-31 shooting day from inside the arc that was key. Ohio State wins this game but Illinois at least keeps it close and covers the 9 1/2. (Of course, that’s what I said when Illinois was at Michigan and the Illini gagged any chance of a cover away down the stretch)
Northwestern (13-17, 4-13) at Michigan State (23-7, 12-5)Kenpom: Michigan State 69-51
Line: Michigan State -19 1/2
Analysis: The Spartans have only seen a line this big twice this season (1-1). MSU was a 30-point favorite against Arkansas-Pine Bluff (won by 32) and it was a 23-point favorite against Louisiana-Lafayette (won by 3). (MSU also was an 18-point favorite against Nebraska in mid-January but only won by 10 in a game that was tied with six minutes to play). The Spartans don’t blow teams out and if they do it’s usually in the low double digits. MSU wins but Northwestern covers the 19 1/2. 
Last week: 2-4 (Duke kept me from an 0-5 Saturday!)
2013 College Hoops Year-to-Date: 62-33-1
2013 Year-to-Date: 70-36-1

Friday, March 8, 2013

Bracketology: Duke, Indiana, Kansas, Gonzaga on No. 1 line

I was a huge proponent of Gonzaga not being on the No. 1 line for a few reasons: The Big Ten is so good this year that three teams could have laid claim to a No. 1 seed. Then you have two ACC teams (Duke and Miami), two Big East teams (Louisville and Georgetown) to go with Kansas as "big boys" who have played a tougher schedule throughout the season and, without stumbles, would definitely have better resumes.

Then last week happened. Michigan lost at Penn State. Michigan State lost at Michigan. Indiana lost at home to Ohio State. Georgetown fell at Villanova. Miami lost at Duke. The compilation of those losses means there just isn't any way to keep Gonzaga off the No. 1 line (not today and not on Selection Sunday if Gonzaga wins the WCC Tournament).

Duke, by virtue of not being swept by Miami and by having arguably the toughest schedule in the country (Kenpom has MSU No. 1 and Duke No. 11) not only gets a No. 1 seed but, at the moment, would be the No. 1 overall seed.

I'm on record saying Indiana can lose at Michigan and in the Big Ten quarterfinals and should still be a No. 1 seed. The overall body of work is there and Indiana's wins stack up with any other team's. Now, could Indiana be the last No. 1 seed? Of course. But I just don't think, given my worst-case scenario, that the selection committee could justify putting four teams ahead of the Hoosiers on the S-curve.

The other No. 1 seed goes to Kansas. The biggest head scratcher as to how the committee will judge the Jayhawks is the TCU loss. It's, by far, the worst loss by any No. 1 seed contender. Then again, Kansas has been dominant as of late and a 27-4 record speaks for itself in a solid Big XII.

At this point, most of the debate centers around the "Last Four In." It's not that those teams don't matter but, seriously, those teams don't matter. There will be four "bid stealers" so if you're in a "First Four" game right now you need to play your way in. I have Iowa State, Tennessee, Virginia and Temple as those teams right now. 

Kentucky has two "good" wins this season: vs. Missouri (No. 8 seed) and vs. Ole Miss (projected First Four out). That isn't exactly the kind of resume you want to show the committee in hopes of a NCAA bid. Therefore, there is no debating the defending champion Wildcats are NIT bound at the moment.


Defensive Score Sheet: MSU vs. Wisconsin

Wisconsin continued its stretch of building mansions with its missed shots on Thursday. Much of that was due to Michigan State's defense but even the Breslin Center air was on its best this evening.

The Spartans held the Badgers under 30 percent shooting for the second time this year in a 15-point game in which the score makes it look much closer than it actually was.

Here is the defensive score sheet from the game for the Spartans:

The team's 66.4 defensive rating speaks volumes. But if you're looking for some individual efforts take a peak at Travis Trice (48.3) and Gary Harris (59.9). It seems that Trice's return from concussion-like symptoms has had a positive impact on the entire team - especially on the defensive end. 

It will be interesting if MSU can keep up the defensive intensity in future games against lesser opponents (see Senior Day vs. Northwestern and a Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal opponent). 

Previous 2012-13 Spartan Defensive Score Sheets
MSU at Michigan (March 3)
MSU at Ohio State (Feb. 24)
MSU vs. Indiana (Feb. 19)
MSU vs. Michigan (Feb. 12)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Big Ten Breakdown: Michigan State vs. Wisconsin

(Originally posted at JustCoverBlog on March 6, 2013)

Before Tuesday night's Indiana-Ohio State game this contest had lost almost all of it's luster. MSU is coming off a 58-57 loss at Michigan in a game the Spartans were so shocked to have a chance to win their last-second play turned into a circus act while Wisconsin lost by 13 points at home — 13 points at home!!! — to an inferior Purdue team. Needless to say, both the Spartans and Badgers were able to pull their respective tails from between their legs thanks to the Buckeyes.
Ohio State's 67-58 win at Indiana means that there is a chance - if Michigan beats Indiana at Crisler Center on Sunday - that this game's winner can still claim a share of the Big Ten Championship. (MSU would have to beat Wisconsin and then defeat Northwestern at home on Senior Day while Wisconsin would have to defeat MSU and win at Penn State). Now this game has some true significance!
The Only Colors designed a great tiebreaker graphic with all potential outcomes in the final week. Now that Indiana seems fallible all teams want a piece of the Big Ten pie. The Buckeyes, thanks to the win, can also get in on the title as long as they beat Illinois at home this weekend. That means there is a chance there is a four-way tie for the Big Ten Championship. In that scenario (if MSU was included) the Spartans would be the No. 4 seed. That would also mean Wisconsin would finish fifth in the conference, ending the streak of finishing in the Top 4 every year during Bo Ryan’s 12 years in Madison*. However, if Wisconsin wins in East Lansing and finishes in a four-way tie atop the Big Ten the Badgers would be the conference’s No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament.
(*NOTE: Two of Wisconsin’s 4th-place finishes were a 9-7 conference record in 2005-06 and a 10-8 record in 2008-09. So while the overall stat is really cool it’s not like Wisconsin has been lighting up the Big Ten every year.)
If you’re interested here’s a nice breakdown of the MSU-Wisconsin “rivalry of love” in the Izzo-Ryan tenure. It’s why this game, regardless of how the teams are playing, is sure to be some type of a classic.
The Spartans won the early-season meeting in Madison, 49-47, in a game that, in all honestly, felt like the past dozen MSU-Wisconsin games. Here’s a big breakdown of Thursday’s showdown at MSU’s Breslin Center (h/t to Kenpom):
Michigan State (22-7, 11-5) vs Wisconsin (20-9, 11-5), 9 p.m., Thursday, ESPN
Line: TBD (MSU is projected to be favored by 3-4 points)
Kenpom Score: MSU 59-57 [60 possessions]
Kenpom ranking: MSU 10th, Wisconsin 8th
Offensive efficiency: MSU 112.8 (24th), Wisconsin 110.8 (33rd)
Defensive efficiency: MSU 86.8 (9th), Wisconsin 84.1 (3rd)
eFG%: MSU 51.2 (77th), Wisconsin 49.7 (119th)
TO%: MSU 20.6 (208th), Wisconsin 15.1 (2nd)
OR%: MSU 35.2 (62nd), Wisconsin 33.7 (111th)
FT Rate: MSU 37.8 (127th), Wisconsin 29.9 (313th)
Tempo: MSU 65.1 (218th), Wisconsin 61.9 (319th)
A month ago Basketball Prospectus’ John Gasaway had an interesting braekdown of how this Wisconsin team isn’t that  much different from Bo Ryan’s previous teams. The breakdown compares 2013 to 2012 where, in Big Ten play, Wisconsin’s eFG% (46.5 to 46.7), TO% (15.4 to 15.6) and OR% (31.3 to 29.2) are very similar. I broke it down a little more in a preview of the Michigan game at Wisconsin but it boils down to one thing: Wisconsin stinks at free throw shooting. It’s at 62.6 percent on the season (329th out of 347 teams in the nation) and an even worse 60.6 percent in Big Ten play (dead last). Now, the only saving grace in this is Wisconsin has always played to its strengths; knowing driving and getting hacked isn’t necessarily a good use of an offensive possession the Badgers don’t attempt to get to the line much. However, in close games when freebies are crucial this becomes a real problem.
The Spartans aren’t a hacking team, but you can believe in a close game Tom Izzo knows which Badgers he wants on the stripe (you paying attention, you of the 41.7 percent Mr. Ryan Evans?). You saw how Izzo had his team double team Michigan Trey Burke over the weekend so Michigan had to get someone else the ball (MSU trailed 58-57 at the time). When Mitch McGary, a 44 percent free throw shooter, touched the ball it was hacking time. McGary missed the front end of a one-and-one allowing the Spartans a chance (one that didn’t pan out, obviously) to win the game.
Still, Wisconsin’s free throw shooting is probably No. 4 on a list of “keys to the game” if its even that high. In order, the keys to this crucial Big Ten contest are as follows: Wisconsin’s 3-point shooting vs. MSU’s 3-point defense, how will MSU defend Sam Dekker and with who, and can Keith Appling break out.
Wisco3Wisconsin’s 3-point offense vs. MSU’s 3-point defense: Don’t mistake Wisconsin for Duke when it comes to 3-point shooting. Not only does Duke have a much better 3-point percentage (41.4 percent to just 34.2 percent) but the Blue Devils don’t jack up as many 3-pointers or at as much of a staggering rate as Wisconsin. Duke has taken 548 triples this season, just under 19 per game.
Wisconsin has taken 638 3-pointers this season, an average of 22 per game. That’s not a crazy number, but it’s more staggering when you realize the Badgers average about 62 possessions a game. When you throw in the turnover percentage of 15 you’re looking at about nine turnovers per game. Take those empty possessions away and you have Wisconsin shooting a triple on 22 of 53 shot-ending possessions, a better-than-40-percent clip. That, my friends, is a lot of 3s. (For those still wondering, Duke averages 69 possessions a game. With a turnover percentage of around 16 that’s about 11 giveaways a game meaning Duke has 58 shot-ending possessions. So, while Duke does shoot a lot of threes compared to most teams, it only shoots threes on 32.6 percent of shot-ending possessions.
Now that you’ve digested that you are free to laugh whenever you hear someone say “boy, Duke shoots a lot of 3s.”
How does this factor into the MSU game? Simple. The Spartans made it a point of defending Michigan’s 3-point shot well. MSU did just that holding Michigan to 0-for-12 from deep, the first time the Wolverines won a game without sinking a 3-pointer since 1995. The difference between Michigan and Wisconsin is that the Wolverines are athletic and were able to offset that horrendous long-range shooting by getting into the paint all game long. Wisconsin doesn’t have that same ability. Yes, guys like Dekker will get near the hoop for some layups and dunks but not often. That coupled with the above-noted information that Wisconsin isn’t exactly attacking the rim to draw fouls plays right into MSU’s hands (MSU is 56th nationally holding opponents to just 31.2 percent from beyond the arc).
Sam Dekker, LaQuinton Ross, Shannon ScottDefending Sam Dekker: At one point Branden Dawson was MSU’s shut-down defender. But ever since a potential concussions against Michigan on February 12 he’s been a completely different player on both ends of the floor, especially defensively. He’s a step slower and seems to get beat for at least one but usually two backdoor plays each game. Height and position-wise a Dawson-Dekker matchup makes sense. Both are long and athletic and Dekker has been a big key in Wisconsin’s pre-Purdue greatness down the stretch. If you assume both teams keep similar starting lineups the likely defensive matchups (MSU defending Wisconsin) would be: Keith Appling on Traevon Jackson, Gary Harris on Ben Brust, Dawson on Ryan Evans, Adreian Payne on Mike Bruesewitz and Derrick Nix on Jared Berggren. Dekker usually spells Evans or Bruesewitcz.
I suppose the Spartans could use Payne on Dekker, but Payne is a big mismatch on offense and him staying out of foul trouble is a bigger key in this game since Wisconsin’s offense will force Nix away from the hoop much of the night.
Dekker scored 10 points in 26 minutes in the loss to Purdue and his offensive rating of 144 was Wisconsin’s best. If Wisconsin wins Dekker will no doubt be the key. That’s why Michigan State better have a great game plan for who will stop him and how he (they?) will do it.
Paging Keith Appling: It’s been well documented that Appling is struggling with his shot. Just when you thought his confidence was coming back despite still underwhemling shooting he lets Trey Burke pick his pocket for the game-winning steal in a game that, at the very least, was bound for overtime.
ApplingBurkeStealIn his last five games Appling is 10-for-26 from 2-point range and 2-for-22 from 3-point range (12-for-48, 25 percent overall). (He’s missed his last 14 3-point attempts spanning back to the 15:18 mark in the first half at Nebraska on February 16. Now, for the most part Appling hasn’t let that affect how he’s run the game. He’s still finding others for open shots but he’s been a little less aggressive in looking for his own shot because, at this point, who wants to create your own good look when there is just a one-in-four chance you make it. Still, this is the point where Michigan State is looking to start getting “hot” for the NCAA Tournament. Win against Wisconsin and Northwestern on Senior Day and then make a run in the Big Ten Tournament (revenge against Michigan and/or Indiana?) and cement that No. 2 NCAA seed or, gasp!, a No. 1 by winning out and defeating Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament finale. If the Spartans are serious in making a run – and Izzo believes his club is – it starts with Appling breaking the shackles of this funk.
During Monday’s Big Ten Teleconference Izzo said that this MSU team has a chance to go as far as any Spartan team in the NCAA Tournament he’s ever coached. This is coming off three straight losses! Izzo realizes MSU’s three-game losing streak is more about the murderer’s row of a scheduling block than his team coming apart at the wrong time. But, that’s why Wisconsin is an important “must-have” game and securing it might take Appling’s best effort in a month.
The pick: When I talked to MSU players after Sunday’s loss at Michigan there was still a disbelief that MSU lost not just some of the games during it’s three-game losing streak but each and every game during the streak. In Payne’s words: “We look at it as we shouldn’t have lost these (3) games – we shouldn’t have lost any of them.” This team isn’t sulking. It’s pissed – a little battered – but more pissed and ready for vengeance. Wisconsin will do what it always does and keep things close, but look for the Spartans to pull away in various spots in the second half for a double-digit win. That means MSU at -4 or better should make you smile. 
***Make sure you come back this weekend for an Indiana at Michigan breakdown to close the Big Ten regular season.
Last week: 9-5 (not bad after a 2-5 start!)
2013 College Hoops Year-to-Date: 60-29-1

2013 Year-to-Date: 68-32-1