Monday, January 28, 2013

Defensive Score Sheet: MSU at Indiana

In another installment of "This Week's Big Ten Classic" the Spartans and Hoosiers played a phenomenal game from start to finish. Both teams shot the lights out despite playing solid defense for 40 minutes.

Branden Dawson and Gary Harris once again led the defensive charge. Dawson had an incredible 5 1/3 turnovers forced and allowed just one field goal all game. The problem for the Spartans, defensively speaking, was Keith Appling and Denzel Valentine. It seemed the Hoosiers were able to pick on MSU's guards most of the day - a day where Appling could never get into an offensive or defensive rhythm due to foul trouble.



FINAL SCORE: Indiana 75, Michigan State 70

Here is MSU's defensive score sheet for the game:


Previous 2012-13 Spartan Defensive Score Sheets


Big Ten Breakdown: Michigan State at Indiana

(Originally posted at JustCoverBlog on January 27, 2013)


Big Ten Hoops Breakdown: Indiana vs. MSU

Written by: chrismackinder
Sunday, January 27, 2013 | 12:00 pm • No Comments •
  
It seemed laughable when I played up Michigan State being in second place in the Big Ten last week. Well, after a two-win week that included a 59-56 win against Ohio State and a 49-47 win at Wisconsin the Spartans now have sole possession of first place in the best conference in the land.
Naturally, the Big Ten standings are fluid. The Spartans (17-3, 6-1 Big Ten) could easily be in third place (and that’s the likely projection) when Monday rolls around behind Indiana (17-2, 5-1) and Michigan (18-1, 5-1). Or, the Spartans could still hold a half-game lead by winning in the toughest Big Ten venue.
Without further ado, here’s a big breakdown of Sunday’s showdown in Bloomington (h/t to Kenpom):
Michigan State (17-3) at Indiana (17-2)
Line: Indiana -9 1/2
Kenpom ranking: MSU 17th, Indiana 2nd
Offensive efficiency: MSU 109.4 (35th), Indiana 119.9 (4th)
Defensive efficiency: MSU 86.9 (16th), Indiana 86.1 (12th)
eFG%: MSU 50.8 (79th), Indiana 56.6 (3rd)
TO%: MSU 21.0 (203rd), Indiana 19.3 (111th)
OR%: MSU 34.9 (77th), Indiana 40.2 (8th)
FT Rate: MSU 36.9 (135th), Indiana 50.9 (2nd)
Tempo: MSU 65.5 (216th), Indiana 69.3 (63rd)
We’ll revisit this fact, but I’ll lead with it as I don’t like to hold back punches: This year’s Indiana team is better than last year’s Indiana team; This year’s Michigan State team is slightly worse than last year’s Michigan State team. The Spartans were 2.5-point favorites. Last year’s final score in Bloomington: 70-55 Hoosiers.
Usually, I wouldn’t bring up a “meaningless” game that featured two completely different rosters as part of my breakdown of another game. The reason I do is simple: Assembly Hall is a very tough place to play. Indiana tends to get the Duke-style home-court whistles, the crowd is bonkers (in a good way) from tip to final buzzer, and the setup just tends to have some unmeasurable affect (in a bad way) on opponent shooters. For a team like Michigan State this is a undoubtedly a toxic combination.
Tom Izzo’s Spartans don’t play great on the road. Yes, the Spartans win their fair share of road games (currently the Spartans and Hoosiers are the only Big Ten teams with three conference road victories) but history hasn’t been that kind to MSU. Factoring in possible luck makes it easy to see how MSU’s 3-0 road record could easily be 1-2 (see a 3-point how-the-heck-did-they-pull-that-out win at Iowa and Tuesday’s first-one-to-49-wins victory at Wisconsin).
Just examine last year’s road results (against the spread, of course):
* -7 at Nebraska (W 68-55)
* +6.5 at Wisconsin (W 63-60)
* -5 at Northwestern (L 81-74)
* -1 at Michigan (L 60-59)
*-1.5 at Illinois (L 42-41)
* +8.5 at Ohio State (W 58-48)
* -4.5 at Purdue (W 76-62)
* -5.5 at Minnesota (W 66-61)
* -2.5 at Indiana (L 70-55)
First off, a few things happened last year – a Cinderella MSU season if there ever was one – that are atypical: The Spartans won at Wisconsin and at Ohio State. (MSU also didn’t play in Iowa’s Carver-Hawkeye Arena, a house of horrors for the basketball team). You can see how the Spartans tend to play down to their competition on the road. Or, even worse, when the opponent is highly ranked the Spartans have an embarrassing tendency to get blown out. (It wasn’t long ago trips to Wisconsin’s Kohl Center resulted in 82-56 losses you know).
Now, let’s focus on the actual game at hand (but don’t erase MSU’s road tendencies from your memory). Indiana is better in, well, every category. The Hoosiers shoot better, rebound their own misses better, get the foul line better and take care of the ball better. Athletically, the Hoosiers also have the edge, although some might argue it just appears that way because Tom Crean is more apt to push the pace while Izzo, despite enjoying an up-and-down game, is comfortable playing a slug-it-out half-court game.
Covering the Spartans for a few years while I was at The State News I marveled the way Michigan State was able to get such easy scoring opportunities out of timeouts and after inbound plays. (Confession alert: While coaching the Algonac freshmen girls basketball team a few years ago – we went 0-15 but I promise I was a little handcuffed talent wise – I deviated from the plays I was supposed to run and used a play from the Spartans play book. It was an under-the-hoop inbound play. It was the only under-the-hoop inbound play we scored on all season). Even nowadays you’ll hear announcers gush about the success MSU has after timeouts or out of bounds sets. Unless I’m missing something this is a narrative that is running dry. The Spartans are okay in these situations but they’re in no way “one of the better teams in the country” as commentators would like you to believe. Indiana, on the other hand, might be. Crean, one of Izzo’s disciples, is masterful at getting quick scores when he needs them, especially on an inbound play. He’s the best I’ve seen in the country for the past four years. If I was fortunate to see more of his games at Marquette his kingship in the category might go further back. My point is simple: Even when an opponent thinks it’s stopped Indiana (deflecting a pass or blocking an initial shot out of bounds as a pair of examples) the Hoosiers have the defense right where they want them.
There are two advantages Michigan State might have in this game based solely on Big Ten play thus far: The Hoosiers are turning the ball over on 20.7 percent of conference possessions and the Spartans are forcing steals on 12.8 percent of opponent possessions, best in the conference. Those two stats are what should give Spartan Nation some hope. Other than that, however, this game is slanted heavily in Indiana’s favor.
The Spartans, while playing better as of late, have the tendency of packing the lane so not to allow easy buckets. The result is more opponent 3-point attempts. Luckily for MSU the opposition has struggled a bit in Big Ten play. Indiana is shooting 42.2 percent in conference play (the exact same percentage for the entire season). Those 3-point trips will be killer, especially since the Spartans aren’t exactly capable of making a big comeback by using the triple as a main weapon. Izzo’s main offensive sets run from the inside and a 3-point shot is usually option three or four in any given set. While MSU is shooting 38.4 percent from deep in Big Ten play that could be a mirage given MSU’s 33.8 percentage over the entire season. Coupled with the fact Indiana’s 3-point defense (28.8 percent in Big Ten play, 30.1 percent overall) is stellar means the 3-point line will be crucial for both sides.
The other “edge” the Spartans might have is in the paint. Now, don’t mistake that for saying Derrick Nix or Adreian Payne is better than Cody Zeller. That’s not the case at all. What I am saying is that the combination of Nix and Payne, coined Derrick Payne by some MSU bloggers, could give the Spartans an advantage. Zeller isn’t going to play 40 minutes but it is almost a guarantee, barring foul trouble, that one of Nix or Payne is on the floor for the entire game.
I would expect Izzo to game plan for this game the same way he did for Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger last year. Knowing OSU’s bench was very thin Izzo rotated Nix and Payne frequently to keep both fresh. He also pushed the pace for 40 minutes and challenged both players to beat Sullinger down the floor on offense each possession. That singlehandedly won the Spartans the game in Columbus. Indiana’s depth is a little better, but no Zeller leaves a big hole. Because he’s not likely to be sent to the bench with foul trouble, the Spartans better hope to run him to death and wear him out.
Indiana’s defense is night and day from last year. I still disagree with Mr. Pomeroy that Indiana’s  defensive efficiency would make it the 12th best unit in the country. Nevertheless, this unit is exponentially better than last year’s which ranked 64th nationally in Pomeroy’s rankings. This unit communicates much better and also forces more turnovers which helps. There are still spurts, however, where Indiana looks lost defensively (see giving up 88 points, albeit in overtime, to slow-paced Butler and the 81 points surrendered to Minnesota in a game that saw the Gophers score 52 second-half points). The point is, like many great teams, Indiana has great moments fueled by offensive execution and defensive suffocation. It also has those deer-in-the-headlight moments on defense that somehow lead to poor offense and allow the Hoosiers to get beat.
In terms of playing meaningful minutes, Indiana’s rotation is really seven guys. Jeremy Hollowell, who plays around 7-10 minutes a game, would be No. 8. That means foul trouble and fatigue are Indiana’s biggest opponents. Zeller plays around 33 minutes a game but went as high as 35 in the loss to Wisconsin (he played 37 in the OT loss to Butler). Most other IU starters are around 30 which allows Will Sheehey to get his 15-18 useful minutes off the bench for multiple players. Remy Abell is the other key bench guy, charting around 12-15 minutes a game in Big Ten play. Any team, including the Spartans, has a much better chance to win if Sheehey and Abell are on the floor for more minutes because it means one (or two) of Zeller, Ferrell, Oladipo, Watford or Hulls is saddled with foul trouble.
The wild card is MSU’s Branden Dawson. If you caught any of MSU’s win at Wisconsin you understand why. Dawson went for 18 points and 13 rebounds in a 49-47 win (55 possessions). In a “normal” game that doesn’t appear to be played in the 1950s that looks closer to 25 and 18. That is the Dawson who looks like an All-American and who can take over a game on both ends of the floor if needed. If that Dawson shows up it’ll be a huge boost for the Spartans. The problem is Dawson combined for 14 points and 15 rebounds in his previous two games before that.
The pick: Go back to that Michigan State road stat I gave you earlier. The Spartans might be road warriors in terms of effort but they’re not the road warriors that go 7-2 on the road in Big Ten play every year. MSU is due for a clunker and this is the perfect time to get one that most will chalk up as playing a better team. The Spartans lost by eight at Miami and by 13 at Minnesota. Indiana is better than both teams (by a fairly wide margin if I do say so myself). This has the look of a game that might start out even but expect a few major Indiana runs that MSU’s stagnant offense won’t be able to stop. This could be one of those 80-62 games where you say “The Spartans didn’t play that bad; Indiana is just that good” when it’s over.  Remember last year’s meeting: MSU was a 2.5-point favorite and a win would have clinched an outright Big Ten title. The Spartans lost by 15. So, in 2013 take Indiana -9 1/2 because if the Hoosiers win it’ll be big. (If you’re really on the MSU bandwagon here then the advice is to take the Spartans +400 to win outright as I truly believe the winner of this game covers either way).
Other Big Ten Games: 
Michigan (-5 1/2) at Illinois: If Michigan wins it likely will garner the AP’s No. 1 ranking for the first time since November 30, 1992. It’s a trap game of sorts for the Wolverines, not because a big game immediately follows (the Wolverines play Northwestern on Wednesday before traveling to Indiana on Saturday) or because Michigan is coming off a high-energy victory (beating Purdue by 15 at home was expected). The reason I’d call this a trap game is because of a “meaningless” No. 1 ranking being on the line. John Beilein will down play it and say all it means is the program is headed in the right direction. But when dealing with 18 to 22-year-old kids it’s inevitable that the kids will be pressing, even if just slightly, with No. 1 in their sights.
It’s also worth noting that the one way to beat Michigan (outside of the Wolverines just having a putrid offensive game) is by having a great 3-point shooting night. Occasionally, that is Illinois’ specialty. At Gonzaga earlier in the year Illinois went 11-for-26 from deep en route to an 85-74 win. In the Maui Invitational the Fighting Illini went 13-for-29, 11-for-28, and 10-for-25 against USC, Chaminade and Butler, respectively to win the championship. We know Illinois will shoot a lot of 3s and probably make at least seven. It’s getting that eighth, ninth and even tenth to fall that will be the difference in a win (cover?) or loss.
The Pick: I’ve toggled back and forth on this one. Kenpom has Michigan winning 76-67, which obviously covers the spread. If this was a noon Sunday tip I’d tend to agree. But playing in the evening in Champaign is always rough. It would not shock me in the least to see Illinois win this game (that’s the nature of the beast playing on the road in the Big Ten). Like the MSU/Indiana game, I believe the winner will cover the spread. Despite the night game aura and a sense that Illinois isn’t totally outclassed in this spot, I still think the Wolverines pick up the win. That clanky Illinois 3-point offense will prove too unreliable. The bricks add up, Michigan wins by at least a touchdown and, quite possibly, elevates to the #1 ranking when the polls come out tomorrow.
Iowa at Purdue (-2 1/2): I know Jamie is big on Iowa in this spot. If this were in Iowa City and the Hawkeyes were getting points it would be a steal. But it’s in West Lafayette and Purdue has been solid at home as of late (27-point win over West Virginia and an 18-point win over Penn State in the past two weeks).
The Pick: Iowa is a real sleeper NCAA Tournament team and winning these types of road games is the only way to justify a NCAA berth at 9-9 or even 8-10 in the Big Ten, regardless of the conference’s strength. Still, I can’t get over how much I like Purdue in this spot because the Boilermakers are in that similar we-can-make-the-tournament’s-play-in-game state.  I like Purdue to win and cover the 2 1/2, further muddling the Big Ten’s bid to get a possible seventh (Iowa) or eighth (Purdue) team into the NCAA Tournament.
Monday solid plays:Pittsburgh +6 at Louisville: This has to be the bounce back of all bounce back games for Louisville. Pittsburgh isn’t a bad team but the nonconference schedule (outside of Michigan in the Preseason NIT) was laughable as usual. However, Big East road wins at Georgetown (by 28!!!) and Villanova (by 15) show this team is capable of locking teams down in their own buildings. Georgetown scored a measly 45 points while Villanova was stopped at 43. For a Louisville team that has struggled to score as of late this could be a problem. Louisville won’t lose a fourth straight, right? I have to believe the Cardinals will turn it around, but this will be another nail biter allowing Pitt to cover.
Kansas -8 at West Virginia: Kansas was my Preseason No. 1 for a reason. This team just wins, usually doing so with no mercy. West Virginia is in a complete rebuilding mode and Morgantown isn’t what it was the past few years in terms of hostility. Look for a solid double-digit win by the Jayhawks who very well could be No. 1 when this game is played.
Last week: 8-3 (NCAA hoops), 2-0 (NFL)2013 College Hoops Year-to-Date: 17-52013 Year-to-Date: 24-8

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Defensive Score Sheet: MSU at Wisconsin

Just another Michigan State-Wisconsin game where the winner doesn't hit 50.

The game was filled with great defensive plays and horrid shooting but, nonetheless, the Spartans became the second team to win at Wisconsin when held to fewer than 60 points (Badgers are now 119-2 in those games).

Branden Dawson came to play and was spectacular defensively. Even freshmen Gary Harris looked wise beyond his years defensively. Both played a major role in holding Wisconsin to 8-for-27 shooting from 3-point range.


FINAL SCORE: Michigan State 49, Wisconsin 47

Here is MSU's defensive score sheet for the game:


Previous 2012-13 Spartan Defensive Score Sheets


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Brandan Kearney: 9th Spartan transfer under Izzo's watch


Brandan Kearney, who seemingly saw his role increasing with Michigan State in this his sophomore season, let Tom Izzo know his intention of transferring shortly after Christmas. it marks just the ninth player to transfer in Izzo's 18 years at Michigan State.


Last year, when Wisconsin's Bo Ryan drew the ire of many by initially blocking 26 schools that Jarrod Uthoff could transfer to, I researched those who have left MSU under Izzo's watch. Here's the updated story with Kearney's information.

Kearney's decision to transfer was the first one in years that really took Izzo by surprise. I would venture to say no transfer has puzzled Izzo as much since Brandon Cotton informed him three games into the season that he was interested in leaving for more playing time.

Nevertheless, like every other Izzo transfer, Kearney said the only restrictions were no other Big Ten schools. (It is assumed that Maryland and Rutgers are now included in that group).


Many outside the program pointed to Kearney as a major X-factor for the Spartans this season because of his versatility. At 6-foot-5, Kearney had the size to be a mismatch for opponents at the shooting guard spot and he was an emergency point guard for Izzo behind Keith Appling, Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice.


Here is what Izzo said about Kearney's decision:
"It's one of the more bizarre things I've been involved in with coaching. ...to be honest with you, I was half-shocked. But it happens in this day and age. Everybody's listening to somebody, and everybody's wanting to be something and you've got to work for what you want to be and you've got to earn what you want to be. Maybe he thinks he's a 3-point shooter, I don't know. Maybe he thinks he's somebody else. Usually your role is what you can do, and if he thinks he can do that somewhere else that is what he should do because I don't want someone here who doesn't want to be here. ... we'll miss him, but respect his strange decision."
Obviously, it doesn't take a genius to see how peeved Izzo is. It seems that if Kearney was a bench warmer or getting only a handful of minutes a game Izzo would understand. However, Kearney was a main cog in the rotation averaging 17 minutes a game. (Note: For a non-sixth man, 17 minutes a game is really, really good in Izzo's rotation). But it was transfer business as usual despite Izzo's frustration.

Last year I exchanged tweets with Garrick Sherman, who played for the Spartans in 2009-10 and 2010-11 before transferring to Notre Dame where he's playing this season, and he confirmed Izzo's transfer policy.


Despite "booting" both Chris Allen and Korie Lucious from their respective teams Izzo said he would be working with both players and helping them find a transfer destination.

In Lucious' case, Lucious told the media Izzo had vowed to help him find the right fit for his final year of eligibility.

According to Sherman, Izzo didn't intervene in his situation.


The only time Izzo might have exerted his authority similar to the way Ryan did with Uthoff and many coaches continually do today was with Brandon Cotton in 2004. While it's not certain, it appeared Izzo only blocked Big Ten schools. The issue here was whether MSU would allow Cotton three-and-a-half more years of eligibility or "screw" him out of that half year by not officially accepting the transfer until the second semester. Eventually, cooler heads prevailed and Cotton was eligible to play the following December at Detroit.

Other than the Doug Davis transfer early in Izzo's regime - which it seems even Izzo felt for Davis being stuck behind one of the greatest Spartans ever and likely an incoming McDonald's All-American - Cotton was the first major transfer disgruntled with playing time. 

No joke, I remember Izzo having one of his weekly Monday afternoon round tables with reporters talking about the situation. Off the record, Izzo was very candid about Cotton, dumbfounded that an incoming freshman coming off an injury had such a sense of entitlement.

"He couldn't play for months because of the stress fracture; what the **** was he expecting?" Izzo said.

Brandon Cotton (Detroit)
Continuing on, Izzo said: "Brandon may be back in school. It's going to be his decision now to just come back and go to school. He may transfer. I don't think he's made that decision yet... To me, it's a sad situation because I think a lot of people got in his ear, and as I told you before, he's had a variety of personal problems and he's had the injury.

"I think a lot of things happened that were not related to us or our team. That's all I can tell you right now. I don't know exactly what he's going to do. He's not here as a player right now. I guess if he comes back and goes to school and it worked out for him, that's his [choice]."
*********************************************************************************

Here's some other information on the non-Brandon Cotton transfers:

Doug Davis (Miami, OH)

Doug Davis: It was just a matter of bad timing for the really solid point guard. Davis was stuck playing behind Mateen Cleaves his first two years and, had he not transferred before his junior season, would have played behind Cleaves during the Spartans' 2000 NCAA National Championship. If that was going to be the only issue, chances are Davis never leaves East Lansing.

His already grim playing status didn't get any brighter when MSU recruited Marcus Taylor, the No. 3 PG recruit in the country. While Davis might have been the starter early in the year, he read the writing on the wall that he would forever be a career backup at Michigan State. 

After averaging around seven minutes and two points per game in both his years at MSU, Davis averaged close to 31 minutes per game in both years as a RedHawk, scoring 9.8 and 12.1 points per game, respectively.

Maurice Joseph (Vermont)
Maurice Joseph: MoJo, as he was known in East Lansing, was nothing more than a role player. While his brother was starting at Syracuse, MoJo was playing around 17 minutes a game for the Spartans and averaging 5.9 points. Just wanting a to be the "focal point" of an offense, MoJo talked with Izzo and the separation was mutual.

"I'm happy for Maurice," Izzo said at the time. "This was an amicable situation, and he handled things the right way. He will always be a part of us. Vermont seems to be a perfect fit for MoJo in terms pf playing basketball for a successful team, playing less than two hours from home and at a strong academic institution. I'll miss him because he's a great kid."

Tom Herzog (UCF)
Tom Herzog: Despite graduating in four years, Herzog had a year of eligibility left because he redshirted his first year. There is little doubt that Herzog, at 7-feet, knew he could be a big-time player at a smaller school. Michigan State's pool of big men was so strong that Herzog just wasn't going to be a 25-minute-a-game player. Herzog never got those minutes at UCF either, playing 16 minutes a game and scoring 5.7 points, grabbing 3.5 rebounds and recording a pair of blocks each game.

It was a peaceful separation, with Izzo somewhat putting the blame on himself.

"He works his butt off," Izzo said. "He's a great kid. He's one of the few big men who has a passion for basketball. I don't know, because of the Big Ten, because of some injuries he's had, because of me -- whatever -- it just didn't work out for him here."

Chris Allen (Iowa St.)
Chris Allen: Despite all his flashes of greatness, Allen and Izzo always seemed to clash. If you watched Allen's body language throughout games, it was clear he wasn't the type of player who could accept Izzo's tough love and constant criticism. That coupled with some off-court incidents were too much for Allen to continue playing at Michigan State.

Described as a "schism enabler," by some, much of the chemistry issues during MSU's surprise Final Four run in 2009-10 were linked back to Allen.

"It's been no secret that Chris Allen's been in a tenuous position since spring," Izzo said before the 2010-11 season. there were multiple obligations that Chris had to meet in order to return for his senior season. While he did make progress through the summer, he has failed to meet all obligations and will not be a part of our program this fall."

In his "going away" statement, Allen said that Izzo was straightforward with him and that he was leaving on good terms with all the coaches.

Allen had his best college season this past year at Iowa State. He logged a career high in minutes (29.2 per game), free throw percentage (82.2), points (12.2), assists (2.3) and steals (0.6). The only dips came in his field goal percentage, which dropped from 43 percent his junior year at MSU to 37.6 percent at Iowa State, and his 3-point shooting (36.9 percent down from 39.8 percent).

Garrick Sherman (Notre Dame)
Garrick Sherman: This was no doubt a quiet, under-the-table transfer that didn't generate a lot of buzz. It's unclear whether Izzo ever addressed Sherman specifically, but the initial press release did say Izzo "appreciated Sherman's contributions."

Other than the fact Izzo, according to Sherman (tweet pictured above) didn't help him find another school, the one clue that this wasn't the cleanest break was another line in the press release. After acknowledging Sherman's contributions, Izzo said he was looking forward to an offseason "with players committed to Spartan basketball."

It doesn't take a genius to read between the lines there; Izzo seemed miffed that Sherman didn't understand or embrace his role on the team.

Sherman will play his final two seasons at Notre Dame beginning this fall.

Korie Lucious (Iowa St.)
Korie Lucious: When rumors surfaced of Lucious' suspension, people flocked to his Twitter page and found the now infamous message: "Man did I really mess up this time...off 2 the gym I go!"

Later, Lucious spoke with the media and said, "Everything just didn't work out, so I think it's time to move on. We just didn't see eye-to-eye on things. Just little minor things that I could have done better on my part."

Despite what seemed to be an ominous relationship toward the end, Lucious said he still talked with Izzo almost daily and that Izzo vowed to help him find the right fit for his final year of eligibility.

Obviously, that "fit" was at Iowa State where Lucious will conclude his college career this upcoming season.

Dwaun Anderson (Wagner)
Dwaun Anderson: Despite never playing at MSU, this Top-100 recruit would still fall under the transfer category. Anderson was dealing with an ailing mother who ended up passing before he was to start his freshman season.

Anderson never enrolled at MSU and Izzo was completely supportive in Anderson focusing on everything but basketball at that moment.

"We know it's been a difficult last few years for Dwaun, culminating with the death of his mother this spring. He's trying to iron out his personal life before moving onto his collegiate and basketball life. We will be supportive of him throughout this process, understanding there are things in life more important than basketball."

For reasons unknown, Anderson has ended up at Wagner College where he'll begin his collegiate career this fall.
*********************************************************************************
Including Cotton, Izzo has had eight transfers in the past decade. That is a pretty high number but is the same number Duke's had. That said, seven transfers is nothing compared to Kentucky's 17 and UConn's 14 in the past 10 years.

It's tough to really put Kentucky in the same class with multiple coaching changes (Tubby Smith to Billy Gillispie to John Calipari) since coaching transfers usually incur player transfers.

It would be interesting to see a list of all major colleges and their respective transfer rates over the past decade (or, worst case, under the current head coach).

The fact remains, transferring has become an epidemic. After the 2010-11 season, 271 players transferred according to College Hoops Update. This year has felt worse, but there have only been 192 players transferring according to the same Web site. That number, of course, is expected to grow as many transfer requests happen during the summer months.

There are many reasons for the rapidly increasing transfer rate: More and more coaching changes, the 1-year renewable scholarship and playing time are only the obvious ones. There are dozens of other reasons that will keep this an epidemic until NCAA changes are made. In the meantime, a coach who averages less than one transfer every two seasons like MSU's Izzo is actually doing incredibly well in retrospect.

For the most part, MSU's Tom Izzo has avoided the transfer
hardships that programs like UConn and Kentucky have had
to endure over the past decade. (AP)

Monday, January 21, 2013

Updated: Rivalry of Love: Michigan State - Wisconsin


(Originally posted on February 14, 2012)

Following this post, the Spartans dominated the Badgers 69-55 in East Lansing on February 16. Michigan State also beat Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals, 65-52.


In honor of Valentine’s Day, great rivalries always bring out the love – the love to hate – on Cupid’s Day.

There’s Duke-North Carolina. There’s Kentucky-Louisville. There's even Kansas-Missouri.

There’s also Michigan State-Wisconsin. Don’t sleep on the Spartans and Badgers as a take-notice college basketball hoops rivalry, especially as “The Mitten State Battle” continues.

On the heels of January’s classic in Madison – where Michigan State withstood a furious rally and needed a banked-in-but-ruled-to-be-released-too-late 3-pointer at the overtime buzzer to escape with a 63-60 win – and before the teams take the floor this Thursday, now seems like a time to put the Michigan State-Wisconsin matchup on a pedestal in hopes of comparing it to college basketball’s other great rivalries.

Obviously, one game doesn’t make a rivalry. You need the following: Buzzer-beaters, crazy comebacks, superstars who take over games and will their teams to victory, two programs that are pretty solid year in and year out, and finally, at least a little animosity between coaches.

Check. Check. Check. Check. Check.

THE EARLY FLAME
The rivalry blossomed when Bo Ryan took over at the start of the 2001-02 season, though some could argue the sparks began flickering during Michigan State’s 2000 NCAA National Championship season. The old adage is, “It’s nearly impossible to beat an opponent three times in one season.” Oh yeah? Try four.

Not only did the Spartans sweep both meetings during the regular season but the Spartans rolled the Badgers in the Big Ten Tournament as well. Meeting No. 4 took place in the Final Four in Indianapolis. There, the Spartans beat Wisconsin 53-41 in what many called the ugliest Final Four game in history (that is, until Uconn beat Butler by the same score in last season’s national title game). The win propelled Michigan State to its second national championship and first under Tom Izzo.
When Dick Bennett resigned three games into the following season citing “burnout,” Wisconsin started what many thought would be a fall off the college basketball map.

Then it hired Bo Ryan.

Wisconsin became a really, really good basketball program and became Michigan State’s nemesis almost immediately.

THE TIP-IN GAME
On January 12, 2002, when the Badgers visited the Breslin Center, the Spartans were riding the nation’s longest home-court winning streak at 53 games. In a back-and-forth game, which I witnessed from the upper deck, Wisconsin had a two-point lead when then-freshman Alan Anderson was fouled with 10 seconds to play. Despite splitting the free throws, Aloysius Anagonye’s rebound gave the Spartans a chance for a last-second win. Sophomore Marcus Taylor missed a driving layup but the ball went out of bounds off Wisconsin with 0.2 seconds on the clock.
This is where Tom Izzo began exerting his muscle as a master of both under-the-basket inbounds plays as well as plays following a timeout.

With Anderson inbounding the ball, fellow freshman Kelvin Torbert, after some cuts and screens, darted to the middle of the lane, quickly caught Anderson’s pass and banked in a floater for the win.

Fans stormed the court – I wasn’t one of them for two reasons: First, jumping from the upper deck wouldn’t have been very smart; Second, I knew the basket, which was being reviewed, would be overturned. With 0.3 or less on the clock, the ball can only be tipped. It was clear that Torbert, albeit for a split second, possessed the ball before releasing the floater, meaning the time had to run out. Wisconsin won, 64-63.

Had 0.5 been on the clock the Spartans win. However, then we might never have had this budding rivalry.

THE ‘I’LL REMEMBER THAT’ GAME
The next season, with Michigan State’s most disappointing season in recent memory undoubtedly still on Tom Izzo’s mind (after three straight Final Fours and a national championship, an 18-win season and first round NCAA Tournament loss looks pretty bad), the Badgers and Spartans were at it again.

The teams’ only meeting that season took place at the Kohl Center and boy was it another classic. With the game tied at 48-48 with 5:25 to go, Wisconsin used a clutch 3-pointer by Alando Tucker to ignite a 16-5 Wisconsin run to close the game. It was the final two points – a Tucker alley-oop dunk on a pass by Devin Harris at the buzzer – that infuriated Izzo.
“I’ll remember that,” Izzo yelled at Ryan, with a handshake that made a Bill Belichick-Eric Mangini exchange seem cordial.

“I would never allow my team to do that and I’m not going to talk about it,” a crimson-faced Izzo said after the game.

Some reports say Ryan understood Izzo’s anger but, being a reporter in the press room, that was not the case at all. Ryan defended the play as well as his players, saying, “That’s a 19-year old throwing to an 18-year old in a situation where Michigan State is the marked team… It’s two young men that finished with an exclamation point.”

THE SEASON THAT PUT GASOLINE ON THE FIRE
The 2003-04 season might have been Wisconsin’s payback for the quartet of losses in 2000. The trifecta of losses, each one stinging in a different way, really brought out Izzo’s venom when discussing Wisconsin.

This, if you remember, was the year Izzo went psychotic in his nonconference schedule, playing games against five ranked opponents and UCLA at Pauley Pavilion. Those games were: At No. 14 Kansas; Vs. No. 6 Duke in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge; vs. No. 14 Oklahoma at the Palace of Auburn Hills; vs. No. 4 Kentucky in the “BasketBowl” at Detroit’s Ford Field; and, finally, at No. 24 Syracuse in the Carrier Dome.

The Spartans lost every game.

Naturally, the first Big Ten game that season was against the Badgers at the Kohl Center.
In Izzo’s mind, Wisconsin benefitted from the game being officiated differently on each end of the floor. Thanks to a 27-13 foul disparity, Wisconsin shot 35 free throws to Michigan State’s 13. (Note: MSU was 13-for-13 from the line).

“I felt like there was a lot of physical play inside,” Izzo said. “I thought it was knick-knack on one end and not the other.”

It’s a rare time that Izzo went out of his way to blast officials after a game. Nevertheless, Wisconsin’s 77-64 victory dropped MSU to 5-7 overall on a season it started the year as high as No. 2 in many preseason publications.

THE “BANNER IN THE RAFTERS” GAME
Despite all its early-season struggles, Michigan State won 12 of its next 14 games and would clinch a Big Ten Championship by winning its regular season finale. It was a home against, you guessed it, Wisconsin.

Unbeknownst to Ryan and his players – if you believe the coach – was the fact a “2003-04 Big Ten Championship” banner was hanging right above Wisconsin’s bench. The Spartans win and Izzo’s team would claim its’ fifth Big Ten crown in seven seasons.

The game was a back-and-forth contest that came down to free throw shooting, cramps and a “what will happen to the banner” question.

Paul Davis had been an absolute monster for the Spartans that night. Davis recorded a double-double with 25 points and 10 rebounds before leaving the game on a stretcher with two minutes left in regulation due to severe leg cramps.

Down three with 45 seconds to play and with a hand in his face, Harris hit a 27-foot triple - to knot the score at 52.
Then-junior Chris Hill was fouled with 22 seconds to play with a chance to retake the lead for MSU. Despite being an 80-percent free-throw shooter, Hill missed both shots and the game went to overtime.

Without Davis being a monster inside, Wisconsin controlled the extra session and reserve player Clayton Hanson hit a big triple giving Wisconsin a 68-64 win.

THE DEVIN HARRIS PLAYS HERO, AGAIN GAME
The Spartans had one more chance for revenge that season in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals.
Michigan State controlled the first 20 minutes and half of the second half. That’s when Wisconsin used a 10-0 run to take the lead. The game was nip and tuck but Harris hit a pair of back-breaking 3-pointers down the stretch that proved to be crucial. Maurice Ager missed an in-close runner off the front of the rim as time expired to give Wisconsin a 68-66 victory.

When the final buzzer sounded, Harris dove on the floor in front of his bench and was mobbed by his teammates.

It is likely Harris wasn’t only celebrating this victory but the fact he had, some would argue, helped Wisconsin extend is winning streak against Michigan State to five games.

After the game, a frustrated Izzo said, “It was another tough loss. But if failure builds character, I’m going to have some character before the seasons over.”

THE 11-0 FINISH GAME
When it finally appeared Michigan State would not only snap its losing streak to Wisconsin but also conquer the Kohl Center, everything collapsed for the Spartans.

Despite Wisconsin having the nation’s longest home-court winning streak at the time (37 games) and being a perfect 25-0 in Big Ten home games under Bo Ryan, the Spartans held a 59-51 lead with 2 minutes to play.

For the Spartans, that’s when the rim closed. Wisconsin’s Sharif Chambliss hit a triple and Mike Wilkinson went 4-for-4 from the foul line to pull Wisconsin within one.

Kammron Taylor’s basket in the lane with 37.3 to play gave Wisconsin a 60-59 lead and a pair of Zach Morley free throws with 9.3 to go tallied the winning score. MSU’s Shannon Brown missed a 3-pointer – with the ball literally circling the rim – as the buzzer sounded to give Wisconsin the 62-59 win and seal the shocking Badgers comeback.

THE STREAK-SNAPPER GAME
Then-junior Paul Davis heaved the ball skyward when the final buzzer sounded. For Michigan State to do that in a regular-season game says a lot.

Senior Alan Anderson scored a career-high 28 points in a perfect game (he was 10-of-10 from the field and 7-for-7 from the line) as Michigan State not only snapped a six-game losing streak to Wisconsin but a 12-game losing streak to ranked opponents.
Izzo’s postgame comments illustrated just how big the 77-64 victory was: “It’s not secret; we needed to get over one hurdle. There’s a bunch more hurdles to go, but you have to get over the first. We had to get over this one to give this team a chance to get the weight of the world off their shoulders and to move on.”

Who would have ever thought Wisconsin would become the “weight of the world” for Michigan State?

After the 2005-06 season seemed to be fairly tame – the home team won each game pretty easily – the zesty 2006-07 season began.

THE “DOWN GOES #1” GAME
It was the type of game Wisconsin would always win, especially against Michigan State. Ryan’s Badgers were 26-2 and had ascended to the nation’s No. 1 ranking the previous day. Michigan State, at the time, was 19-8 and .500 in the Big Ten.

The game started with a bang: MSU took a 7-0 lead, thanks in part to Ryan picking up a technical foul due to the lack of a foul call on a MSU offensive rebound. Naturally, Wisconsin responded by scoring 16 of the game’s next 19 points.
Point guard Drew Neitzel took over late in the game, hitting a pair of clutch 3-pointers and giving MSU the lead for good and the first MSU win against the No. 1 ranked team since Magic Johnson led the Spartans to the 1979 championship against Larry Bird’s top-ranked Indiana State Sycamores.

It was a win that, as Izzo had preached throughout the tumultuous season, could leave a forever cemented footprint in the Spartan history books.

“It is a chance for us to leave our legacy and our footprints on the program,” Neitzel said after the game.

THE FORCING MICHIGAN STATE TO PLAY ZONE GAME
Wisconsin’s aggressiveness in the team’s meeting a few weeks later was crippling MSU’s ability to play man-to-man defense. So, for one of the rare times in Izzo’s tenure, the Spartans resorted to a zone defense.

“I thought we were going to have to forfeit the game there for a while,” Izzo joked after the game, no doubt referencing the fact five players had three fouls with 10 minutes left in the game.

Still, the Spartans looked like they would leave the Kohl Center with a rare victory. That is, until Kammron Taylor had a Hollywood Senior Day sendoff.
Trailing 50-49, Taylor hit a triple with four seconds remaining to give Wisconsin the 52-50 victory.

“If it’s an omen, we’ll find out,” Ryan said. “But what a great way to walk off the court here for the last time.”

THE 30 FOULS & 12-POINT WISCONSIN COMEBACK GAME
After some rather typical games, the teams met in the 2007-08 Big Ten Tournament semifinals. Looking to reach the tournament finals for the first time since 2000, Michigan State held a 12-point lead with about seven minutes to play. The finish was a typical slug-it-out Wisconsin-MSU battle.

Shortly after building the lead, three Spartan bigs – Idong Ibok, Drew Naymick and Goran Suton – fouled out in the span of 56 seconds. The depleted bench forced Izzo to play lineups that rarely played together and the Spartans couldn’t hang on.

Wisconsin guard Michael Flowers stole a critical inbound pass and took it in for an easy, uncontested lay-up that proved to be the game winner for the Badgers.

“I don’t plan on getting over this today; I don’t play on getting over this tomorrow,” Izzo said about the 65-53 loss.

THE 12-POINT MICHIGAN STATE COMEBACK GAME
The teams didn’t meet again until the following February in East Lansing. This time, Wisconsin was trying to play spoiler.

The Spartans held a narrow lead in the Big Ten while Wisconsin, in a rebuilding year and having lost six-straight games at one point in the season, was playing slightly above .500 ball in the conference.

Nevertheless, with 12:30 to play in the game, the Spartans had just 29 points and were trailing by a dozen.

“We had some interesting huddles,” Izzo said. “We got to brass tacks and that changed a lot of things.”

Relying on its defense, the Spartans close the game on a 32-9 run to cement a 61-50 victory.

“Life is about tempo and pace in a lot of things that we do,” Ryan said. “When they were making their run, which you know teams are going to do, especially at home, you need to get a bucket to squeeze between. We missed some shots around the basket.”

THE KALIN LUCAS TAKES OVER GAME
The teams traded victories in 2009-10 with each team, not surprisingly, winning at home. But when the teams met in early January of 2011, it was as if the previous season’s games weren’t suspenseful enough for diehard Michigan State and Wisconsin fans.

Michigan State, trailing 53-44, scored the final nine points in regulation and won the game in overtime, 64-61. Kalin Lucas led the charge in regulation and scored 17 points in the game. Draymond Green took over in the extra session en route to a career-high 26 points.
“We fell apart,” said then-junior Jordan Taylor. “They turned us over and did a good job of pressuring.”

It was a win that many thought would save Michigan State’s season. The Spartans, ranked as high as No. 2 in many preseason polls, had just fallen out of the rankings.

“I’ve never seen a bunch of guys get knocked down more times than we got knocked down, and in every huddle, they still thought they could win,” Izzo said.

In hindsight, the win didn’t save MSU’s season; what the win probably did was give MSU one victory it desperately needed to reach the NCAA Tournament for the 14th-straight season.

Izzo’s team lacked chemistry all season – a fact that became increasingly clear as the season wore on. The team’s issues were never more prevalent than in an 82-56 loss to Wisconsin later that season.

THE "WHICH CLOCK IS IT?" GAME
All MSU’s frustrations were bottled for a streak-snapper game this season. Both teams struggled to score and Wisconsin held a 22-21 lead at halftime which, in a hilarious comparison, was dwarfed by the conference’s first ever football championship game halftime score (MSU led Wisconsin, 29-21, on the gridiron).

But the Spartans seemed to be playing like Wisconsin typically did against MSU at home: Methodical and mistake free. Still, that didn’t stop Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor from hitting a game-tying free throw late in regulation to send the game into overtime.

There, the Spartans seemed to take control. MSU led by seven with 30 seconds to play. Of course, that’s when gamers become heroes. Taylor hit a deep, hand-in-his-face triple to pull Wisconsin to within four at 61-57. After MSU sunk a pair of free throws, it was déjà vu for Taylor. Another deep three make it 63-60.

Despite being Mr. Clutch for the Spartans, Draymond Green missed both free throws with 7.1 seconds to play that would have iced the game. After Taylor missed a desperation shot, Ryan Evans grabbed the offensive rebound, sprinted to the 3-point line, jumped, spun around and banked in a triple as the buzzer sounded to knot the score.

Officials spent more than two minutes at the monitors to see if the shot would count. The situation became crazier when replays showed the game clock on the shot clock and another game clock in the replay were not synced. However, NCAA rules are the shot clock’s numbers are correct. Replays clearly show the ball in Evans’ hands with 0.0 on the clock.
Much to Ryan’s disgust – a lip reader would almost certainly confirm him dropping a few F-bombs directed squarely at an official – the shot didn’t count and Michigan State slayed it’s Kohl Center losing streak, 63-60.

THE FUTURE
With two future Hall of Fame coaches and two programs that have formulas for winning, expecting either team to disappear into some type of abyss or the rivalry to lose any luster is lunacy.

Thursday’s game comes with both teams within reach of a Big Ten Championship. Welcome to the next chapter of one of the decade’s greatest rivalries.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Big Ten Breakdown: Ohio State at Michigan State

(Originally posted at JustCoverBlog on January 19, 2013)


You wouldn’t know it based on national hype or rankings but, at the moment, Michigan State (15-3, 4-1) shares second place in the Big Ten with Michigan. The Buckeyes (13-3, 3-1) are a game back and in a tie for fourth. Obviously, sorting out a conference this early is worthless – will Wisconsin, the league’s lone unbeaten, really finish first in the country’s toughest conference? – but it is nevertheless interesting to see how a single game like the Spartans-Buckeyes clash can really shape how things could finish.
Here’s a breakdown of Saturday’s game at the Breslin Center in East Lansing (h/t to Kenpom):
Ohio State (13-3) at Michigan State (15-3)
Line: MSU -2

Kenpom ranking: OSU 10th, MSU 18th
Offensive efficiency: OSU 112.9 (19th), MSU 109.9 (35th)
Defensive efficiency: OSU 85.5 (9th), MSU 88.3 (25th)
eFG%: OSU 52.1% (49th), MSU 51.5% (61st)
TO%: OSU 16.4 (14th), MSU 21.1 (202nd)
OR%: OSU 34.8 (87th), MSU 35.1 (78th)
FT Rate: OSU 34.3 (206th), MSU 38.0 (109th)
Tempo: OSU 68.1 (113th), MSU 66.7 (178th)
It’s quite clear why Vegas, Kenpom and others assume this will be a close game: Both teams are very, very similar. Sure the Buckeyes have a slight edge in the efficiency numbers and the effective field goal percentage but the Spartans have the edge in offensive rebounding and getting to the free throw line. Both teams can play at a snail’s pace (see OSU’s 56-53 win vs. Michigan in a 60-possession game and MSU’s 59-possession game – albeit a loss – at Miami) or can run like the 1990 Loyola Marymount teams (OSU beat UNC Asheville 90-72 in a 76-possession game; MSU beat Tuskegee 92-56 in an 86-possession game). 
The key difference is star power. While Michigan State has the athletes capable of going for say, 25 points, the team is typically so balanced that no player takes over a game. It doesn’t help, of course, that point guard Keith Appling is 9-for-36 from the floor in his last four games (9-for-his-last-42 if you include his final six shots in the Big Ten opener at Minnesota). MSU so badly needs that guy who, ball in his hands, can will his team to victory. The Buckeyes have that player in Deshaun Thomas. And, even though Thomas has struggled to meet expectations, he’s still having a solid year. (Yes, despite him scoring 20+ points in his four Big Ten games he has somehow been pegged as not living up to the hype). It should be noted that Kenpom has him ranked eight in the KPOY (Ken’s Player of the Year) rankings.
Thomas is the key to this game. Period.
Michigan State will need to find an eraser of sorts to keep Thomas in check. It seems likely that assignment will go to Brandon Dawson. If Thomas gets Dawson in early foul trouble that’s an added bonus even if he’s not scoring 20-30 points. If Dawson keeps Thomas out of the game it forces other Buckeyes to try and lead Ohio State to victory.
Other than Thomas’ individual play, turnovers (duh!) will be crucial. Not only is Ohio State’s turnover percentage (16.4) one of the nation’s best, but a lot of those turnovers are dead-ball turnovers; only 6.2 percent of Buckeye giveaways are credited as steals for the opposition, second best in the country. That’s important because the “turnovers for touchdowns,” as MSU’s Tom Izzo calls them, are back breakers. On the other hand, the Spartans are once again dealing with a turnover problem. Giving the ball away on more than a fifth of your possessions is something that can be overcome, but when more than half of those turnovers result in easy baskets it becomes that much harder to win a game. (MSU’s opponents are credited with steals on 11.8 percent of Spartan possessions, putting MSU near the bottom of the country). With a defense as good as MSU has, allowing a team an uncontested two points is more than frustrating.
Interestingly enough, the turnover numbers are really reversed in Big Ten play. The Buckeyes are at 18.9 percent (9th in the Big Ten) while MSU is at 16.5 percent (5th). If that trend continues the Spartans should survive. If not it is safe to assume Ohio State will win its second straight game in East Lansing.
This will be Ohio State’s third road game in Big Ten play and it’ll be very interesting to see how things go in the toughest road contest to date. These same Buckeyes, of course, lost to an Illinois team that is now 1-4 in the conference after losing by two touchdowns to Northwestern on its home floor. (Illinois whooped Ohio State, 74-55, two weeks ago). On the other hand the Spartans will be playing just their third Big Ten home game and looking to stay unbeaten at home. MSU has wins over Nebraska and Purdue at Breslin Center, both games that were pretty close for at least the first 30 minutes.
This is a really interesting spot for both teams. MSU enters a stretch of the following: Ohio State, at Wisconsin, at Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota, at Purdue, Michigan. There are no gimmes in that bunch and that’s why, for a team that still has Big Ten Championship aspirations, holding serve at home is vital. That starts with tomorrow’s game.
For the Buckeyes this game comes after an emotional win against arch rival Michigan. Granted, Ohio State has had a week off, but it was still the last game and there is no telling what emotion the Buckeyes will have for the Spartans.
 The Pick: With the line as close to even as it is, Vegas is really telling you this game is a pick’em but giving points to the road team “just because.” I’ve been torn on this game all week. Every time I learn toward MSU to cover I think it could easily be a game Ohio State takes an early lead and MSU plays catchup but comes up short. Then I think, the Buckeyes just seem to have the numbers advantage and should win. All of a sudden I’m reminded how bad Ohio State’s offense has been in Big Ten play. In the end, go with the Spartans -2 if for no other reason than the Spartans are at home and just have the feel of a team that’ll will out a win today. 

Other Games Around The Country: 
Syracuse at Louisville (-7): Both teams enter 16-1 overall and 4-0 in the Big East, tied for the league lead (with Marquette). Games like this always come down to will and, in many cases, which team is really better. Louisville is playing like a national champion and has done so against a much tougher schedule tougher schedule so far. Look for the Cards to force close to 20 turnovers and get a lot of easy buckets en route to a double-digit victory. Take Louisville -7.
Creighton at Wichita State (-2 1/2): The McDermotts, err, the Blue Jays had lost three straight games at Wichita State before a 7-point victory last year. Creighton is a solid squad, the lone loss coming at home to an underrated Boise State squad. Wichita State, on the other hand, has two road losses (Tennessee and Evansville) that are puzzling. This game will be decided by whether the Shockers resemble the team that picked off VCU on the road in November of the team that lost to Evansville last weekend. I’m thinking the former shows up today, so take Wichita State -2 1/2. 
Gonzaga at Butler (+3): Not only are both these teams worth of the “major” team logo, they both have an odd similarity: They’ve both lost to Illinois, a team now on a free fall in the Big Ten. One of the best gifts Vegas ever gives is handing you Butler AND points. While Gonzaga is the better team it is criminally irresponsible to ignore Butler when it’s getting points. Take Butler +3, even though the Bulldogs might not win. Butler has shown it deserves your trust.
UConn at Pittsburgh (-9 1/2): This is the most surprising line of the weekend. It was just last weekend that I was all over the Huskies getting 8 1/2 points at Notre Dame. With its athleticism UConn should be in every game it plays (except against a team much better than it, which is what Louisville is and why last Monday’s game resulted in a 15-point loss). Pittsburgh is no Louisville and this game should come down to the wire. UConn +9 1/2 is the easiest call of the weekend.
 Around the Big Ten: 
Wisconsin at Iowa (PK): This is the perfect Vegas line for suckers. Wisconsin, coming off a monumental win at Indiana as a pick’em at Iowa? Jump on the Badgers, right? No so fast. While many teams have listed Wisconsin as their respective Achilles heels the Hawkeyes just seem to have Wisconsin’s number under Fran McCaffery. Iowa, despite winning just eight Big Ten games last years, beat Wisconsin twice. In 2011, McCaffery’s first year, Wisconsin needed a dramatic comeback to force overtime where the Badgers eventually won. Still, the matchup presents problems. Take Iowa to win straight up here only if you’re a die hard wagerer. 
West Virginia at Purdue (-4 1/2): This game has been mighty entertaining the last few years. Don’t expect to be thrilled today. Purdue’s rebuilding mode is going okay but the team just isn’t consistent enough to look like a real viable threat for 40 minutes. On the other hand, West Virginia can’t decide if it wants a spot in the NIT or not. Outside of a win at floundering Texas the Mountaineers have been brutal to watch. I don’t think I’d take West Virginia in this game if it was in Morgantown. Take Purdue -4 1/2 for some easy money.
Indiana at Northwestern (Sunday): No line has been released for this game yet but expect it to be around Indiana – 11 to -12. Coming off the home loss to Wisconsin the panic button is being pressed in Bloomington. That is, by everyone but the team. Indiana lost a game by five points i which it didn’t do anything well; Jordan Hulls didn’t hit a 3-pointer, spark plug Will Sheehey didn’t score, the team shot just 40.5 percent from the field while allowing Wisconsin to shooting 55.2 percent and Indiana had a 7-to-11 assist to turnover ratio. After taking a 4-point lead 88 seconds into the second half things fell apart. Wisconsin went on a 20-6 run and all the Hoosier could do was chip away. Heck, despite all the struggles Indiana got within a point a few times in the closing minutes. A few bounces here or there and we’re still talking about Indiana’s greatness and not nitpicking. Take Indiana to cover any spread -12 or less. Northwestern has the ability to make thing interesting at Welsh-Ryan Arena, but this is just a bad spot for the Wildcats. 
Other freebies: Florida State +5 at Virginia; Florida – 13 vs. Missouri; Harvard +11 at Memphis.
2013 College Hoops Year-to-Date: 7-2
2013 Year-to-Date: 12-5