I hope you all had wonderful Thanksgiving weekend and enjoyed Feast Week to the fullest. I think I left a permanent indent on the couch thanks to all of the great basketball on display. After a lengthy drive through the thick blanket of snow that's now covering the state of Michigan, it's now time to bring you the latest installment of the Musings. Enjoy!
Random thoughts after last week's games
*Jon Sciambi’s head looks like it’s on fire.
*Kansas/Syracuse was a classic matchup this week. I was very impressed with Johnny Flynn’s poise when he nailed the three that sent it to overtime. It was a rematch of the 2004 title game that lived up to its potential; two good teams playing each other tough the whole night, and late drama to extend the game to overtime.
*Speaking of Syracuse, if they don’t make the tournament this year, I’ll eat my hat. Back-to-back wins against Florida and Kansas are great to have on your resume.
*When ordinary humans have an awkward pause in conversation, they talk about the weather. When college basketball broadcasters have an awkward pause in conversation, they talk about the three-point line. Have you heard it’s been moved back for this season?
*The angrier Tom Izzo gets, the more he tends to smile. It’s terrifying, and it must really confuse his kids at home.
*There is no doubt in my mind that Blake Griffin could beat up Roy Hibbert. He’s a much better basketball player, too.
*Byron Eaton has a very unfortunate last name for his body type. He reminds me of that giant stone at the beginning of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
*It’s never good when you have as many points as personal fouls, Raymar.
*Is there an uglier sound in this world than the “clang” of missed shots? Don’t think so.
*Purdue-Oklahoma State lived up to its billing. Griffin is putting up Chamberlain-esque rebounding numbers this season and Purdue’s youngsters, especially E’Twaun Moore, look like they’re up for the challenge in the Big 10.
*Kansas’ Brady Morningstar is the early frontrunner for the “Coolest Name of the Year” award.
*Why does everybody always think Pitt will be good? Every season, they start with a high ranking. Every season, they disappoint. New rule: Pollsters aren’t allowed to vote for Pitt in the top 10 unless they’ve made it to the Final Four the previous season.
*Western Kentucky seems to be doing just fine without Courtney Lee. What a great result against a great Louisville squad.
A closer look at...Michigan State in the Old Spice Classic
To everybody who tuned in to the Michigan State-Maryland contest on Thursday night expecting a hard fought game between two fundamentally sound teams, I apologize.
The Spartans entered the Old Spice Classic as favorites to win the tournament. They have plenty of veterans playing key roles and one of the best coaches in the country. Raymar Morgan is a preseason Player of the Year candidate, and Kalin Lucas is one of the best point guards in the country.
Then Goran Suton got hurt. There goes the interior game. After Suton, there's the inconsistent Marquise Gray, and two untested freshman, one of whom is recovering from micro-fracture surgery. Delvon Roe will be a great player, but he's nowhere near full strength.
MSU made a lot of dumb mistakes in the early going. There were blown defensive assignments and turnovers all over the place. Tom Izzo won't put up with that for long. Poor fundamentals are his biggest pet peeve. If a team is just flat out better than the Spartans, fine. But when they beat themselves, it drives Izzo mad.
There were a few positives in the early going, however. Travis Walton was shooting very well and being aggressive, something that he struggled with pretty much every game last year. Marquise Gray was also playing with a lot of energy and contributing on both ends of the floor. If Gray has a good game, it usually guarantees a Spartan victory.
But for every positive displayed by the Spartans, there were multiple negatives. If Morgan picks up an early foul or two, especially on a questionable call, he starts pouting and lets it affect every aspect of his game. He tends to disappear entirely if he gets upset. Morgan is the Spartans' best player, they need him on the floor and contributing.
Morgan was in foul trouble all night against Maryland. He ended up with four points and four fouls. Not the effort that Spartan fans were hoping for.
Michigan State was lucky to only be down three points against Maryland going into halftime. The Terrapins were shooting well, but they were also having trouble holding on to the ball. Walton hit a big jump shot as the halftime buzzer sounded to send MSU into the locker room with some momentum.
They came out firing on all cylinders and quickly took the lead from an overwhelmed Maryland team. That was to be short-lived though, as they returned to playing poor defense and turning the ball over. Maryland waltzed to a well-deserved win.
The loss can't be blamed entirely on the absence of Suton. There's no excuse for shooting 12-for-27 from the free throw line like the Spartans did. It would have been a different game if they had hit at their usual 71 percent clip, but they weren't even close. Maryland hit more free throws than the Spartans, but shot six fewer. Ugly.
This was honestly the worst I've ever seen an Izzo team play, and that includes the meltdown against Memphis in the tournament last season. At least they made their free throws then.
The last thing that the Spartans wanted to do was turn around and lose their second game in a row, to a decent Oklahoma State team. Of course, the last thing Oklahoma State wanted to do was face an angry, talented team who lost a game that they shouldn't have the night before.
Michigan State didn't come out flat two nights in a row. They looked like a top five team against the Cowboys. Morgan was scoring at will, Gray was having a big night, and Walton was scoring again (seriously, what's gotten into him?).
Oklahoma State just didn't have the depth to keep up. Lucas and Draymond Green played big roles too. The Cowboys are mostly just Byron Eaton and some role players. It's hard to compete against a team that was running out bench players that could start for plenty of other schools in the country. Austin Thornton may be a walk-on, but he was also a three-star recruit coming out of high school.
It's a tough non-conference road for the Spartans this season, as usual. They had the loaded field in the Old Spice Classic to contend with, and are now looking forward to their titanic showdown with North Carolina this coming Wednesday. Even though the Spartans haven't gotten through this tough slate undefeated, these experiences will pay huge dividends come March.
One last note on the Spartans. Lots of people have been questioning whether or not they'll be able to find a suitable replacement for Drew Neitzel. Chris Allen will be that replacement, at least in the shooting department. He'll leave East Lansing as the best shooter Izzo has ever coached. He may even finish the season as that shooter. He's got a beautiful shot and loads of confidence, exactly what great shooters need.
Spotlight on...Ohio State and the Big Ten, with Kristofer Green
This week's guest is Ohio State fanatic and Big Ten football community leader Kristofer Green. Remember, if you'd like to participate in a future "Spotlight on..." segment, drop a note on my bulletin board.
Joe Guarr: First of all, we need some background on your history as a sports fan. You're a big supporter of the Ohio State Buckeyes. Has that always been the case or did you grow up rooting for somebody else?
Kristofer Green: I was born and raised in Columbus and my parents are both huge Buckeye fans. For as long as I can remember Ohio State has been the only team that really mattered.
My first Buckeye basketball memory was walking into St. John Arena at age seven or eight and seeing the Clark Kellogg led Buckeyes. Then as a teenager, my father bought season tickets and I became the biggest Jim Jackson fan.
I have rooted for teams here and there because I liked their players, Carmelo Anthony's Syracuse team comes to mind, but it was never more than a passing interest.
So it has always been the Buckeyes.
JG: OSU went through a lean year last year after losing Greg Oden and Mike Conley. How have they been rebuilding for this season?
KG: Thad Matta has brought in another monster recruiting class headlined by yet another 7’ phenom in BJ Mullins. The talented freshman class also includes highly ranked recruits William Buford and Anthony Crater.
The Buckeyes are very young, but have experience returning and Matta has done a great job in the offseason building up that talent. Dallas Lauderdale and John Diebler have broken out their freshman slumps and have shown a lot of growth in the first three games. Evan Turner has stepped up his game and is quickly becoming the leader of the squad.
Most importantly, Matta has addressed the loss of Jamar Butler by bringing in junior college transfer Jeremie Stevens, who has the ability to be as good as Butler at the point.
JG: What is it about Thad Matta's program that attracts so many excellent players?
KG: It all starts with Thad Matta. He’s a young, passionate, energetic coach and he’s a winner. He’s never had a team in his eight years as a head coach that has won less than 20 games and success is the best selling point.
Matta’s passion trickles down to his assistants as well. Alan Majors, Archie Miller, and Dan Peters have been with Matta a long time and they all share those same qualities.
Ohio State has always and will probably always be known as a “football school," but Thad Matta has built a very successful program in a short amount of time. It always helps to have outstanding facilities and Ohio State’s facilities are among the best in the country.
JG: What's your fondest Buckeye basketball memory?
KG: I would have to say my fondest memory was following the 1999-2000 team through the NCAA Tourney to the Final Four.
It was special to me not only because of the Buckeyes improbable run, but because of the time I got to spend with my father.
We were at every game cheering on our Bucks and though we were hopeful, we never thought that Scoonie Penn and Michael Redd would take the team as far as they did.
They lost that Final Four game to eventual National Champion UConn, but that was one of the best months of my life and I will remember it forever.
JG: Time for some Big 10 picks. Give us an answer and a brief explanation. Who's your Big Ten champ this season?
KG: Michigan State-Tom Izzo is itching for his first Big 10 title since 2001. The Spartans return a very talented group that finished strong last season. Raymar Morgan must fill the void in leadership (and scoring) that was left by Drew Neitzel and will need help from Kalin Lucas and Goran Suton. The Spartans have the talent and the coaching to win the Big Ten this season and make a deep run in the Tournament.
KG: Ohio State-The Buckeyes are very young (there are no seniors on the roster), but very talented and Thad Matta has had great success in molding young teams into contenders. The Buckeyes tough non-conference schedule that includes games against Miami, Notre Dame, West Virginia, and Butler will prepare this young team for the Big 10 season.
KG: Wisconsin-I’m not saying the Badgers will completely tank it. They will have a fairly successful season and make their 11th straight NCAA Tournament appearance. That being said, the Badgers won’t have the kind of season they had last year. They do return some talented players led by Marcus Landry, but I’m not feeling the Badgers this season and expect them to finish third or fourth in the conference.
JG: Player of the year?
KG: Raymar Morgan, Michigan State-Michigan State’s success this season lies in the hands of Morgan. When he’s on, the Spartans are tough to beat.
JG: Freshman of the year?
KG: BJ Mullens, Ohio State-As much as I hate to say it, Mullins will probably be the next one and done seven footer for Ohio State. Mullins has great offensive ability and is tremendous in the post, but can also score in transition or from anywhere on the floor.
He’s already projected as sure lottery pick and has been rated as high as top three, should he decide to come out after the season.
JG: All Big 10 team?
KG: Kalin Lucas, Michigan State; Manny Harris, Michigan; Robbie Hummel, Purdue; Raymar Morgan, Michigan State; BJ Mullens, Ohio State
JG: The Big 10 is a good basketball conference because...
KG: The Big Ten has a strong basketball tradition and this season marks the 105th year of Big Ten Basketball.
The first NCAA Tournament Championship game was played in a Big 10 venue and featured a Big 10 team (Ohio State). The next two championship games also featured Big 10 teams (Indiana and Wisconsin) and the first three tournament MVP’s came from the Big 10 (Jimmy Hull, Marv Huffman, and John Katz).
Since 2000, four different Big Ten teams have appeared in the Tournament Championship Game (Michigan State, Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio State.)
Since 1978, the Big Ten has led the country in attendance.
JG: We'll close with some word association. I'll give you a Big 10-related word, and you give us the first word/sentence that comes to mind. Tom Izzo?
KG: A winner and a class act.
JG: Bo Ryan?
KG: Hard nosed and grumpy.
KG: Sucks. (That was honestly the first word that came to mind.)
JG: Haha, right there with you on that one. Indiana
KG: Full of tradition.
KG: The first thing I thought of was that raised floor they play on. I don’t like it.
JG: Many thanks to Kristofer for his part in this. Remember, leave a note on my bulletin board if you'd like to have your team/conference spotlighted!
What I'll be watching this week
You can't go wrong with the Big 10/ACC Challenge. There are plenty of great non-conference matchups this week every year, and the current season won't disappoint. Will this finally be the year that the Big 10 actually wins the Challenge?
Wisconsin and Virginia Tech start the party on Monday. Both should be tournament teams. Wisconsin is always well-coached, and Virginia Tech has had a penchant for pulling off upsets in the past few seasons. Will Wisconsin be able to pick up a quality non-conference win on the road? Will Virginia Tech get a big resume booster early in the season?
The marquee matchup Tuesday night pits Duke against Purdue on Keady Court. Purdue played a great Oklahoma team tough in the NIT Season Tip-Off during feast week while Duke is coming off a win in the 2K Sports Coaches vs. Cancer Classic.
Both teams are expected to contend for their conference title, and both have some excellent talent. Robbie Hummel and E'Twuan Moore for Purdue will try and out-duel Kyle Singler and Gerald Henderson for Duke. This will be a big win for whoever comes out on top.
Lastly, we've got the biggest matchup of them all. North Carolina travels to Ford Field to face Michigan State in a possible Final Four preview (venue included.)
The Tar Heels come in fresh off of dismantling Notre Dame down in Maui. Tyler Hansbrough will be taking the floor as well. The Spartans will be looking to make a statement after the letdown in Orlando and hope to welcome Goran Suton back to the lineup. The Spartans will have to utilize their considerable depth up front in order to shut down Hansbrough, but it might not be enough. If you watch one game this week, make it this one.