Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Arkansas...what are you thinking?

Let’s put this into perspective…Arkansas is in the midst of a lurid scandal involving Bobby Petrino…(that’s bad enough)…but then they decide to hire one of Petrino’s most trusted friends and advisors as interim head coach?

It’s worth remembering, Petrino and Smith have a long history dating to their coaching tenures at 4 different schools including Louisville and Arkansas.

The good news is that Arkansas hired a coach who is capable of running the same system.

The bad news is Arkansas hired a coach who has no moral compass and it should prompt Arkansas to ask the question: why are we so lucky to hire Coach Smith?

It’s also worth remembering, no reputable or respectable coach would accept the job at Arkansas before the dust has settled on a sordid scandal…not to mention the end of Spring Practice…and a mere 4 months before the regular season?

Apparently Arkansas didn’t get the memo...and didn't bother to check Smiths credentials!

After his escapades in East Lansing (how many coaches slap themselves during a Press Conference?) it would be fair to say, Smith was virtually unemployable at most Division 1 schools.

And Smith has proven he hasn’t learned from his past mistakes because in the span of a few months…Smith accepted…and then walked away from a Head coaching job at Weber State!

Let me see…didn’t Smith leave Louisville in a similar fashion to take the Spartan job…and why were the Spartans so lucky to get Coach Smith?

By any measure, Arkansas is seemingly content to cavort with the devil!

Keep in mind, Houston Nutt (who could not be confused with a country preacher) left Arkansas after a 10 year tenure…and then Arkansas was content to hire Bobby Petrino who had a questionable history at best…not to mention Petrino ‘walked out’ on the Atlanta Falcons in mid season to accept the Arkansas job.

Now Arkansas has thrown more ‘good money after bad’ by hiring JL Smith whose sense of loyalty was to walk away from Weber State (his alma mater) without coaching a single game? Let’s put this into perspective as well…Smith decided to steal away from his alma mater in the middle of the night without honoring the terms of his contract?

RichRod, what do you think about that?

All this prompts me to recall the immortal words of Groucho Marx who famously said: I wouldn’t belong to any club who would accept me as a member!!!

What lesson is Arkansas sending?

And by the way, where is the Arkansas President in all this?

Here is a tip for Arkansas. Until you decide to hire a coach who considers himself as a teacher first…and a mentor who is intent upon preparing young men for life…then Arkansas will continue to honor the legacy of their mascot by wallowing in the pig pen.

Come to think about it...the manner in which Arkansas conducts their Football program is disrespectful to the pig.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Spartans Wrap

If you’re reading this memo then you know I write a Spartan Blog…so in the interest of balanced reporting…let’s celebrate the Spartan season by walking with our heads high and praising Louisville for a great win.

I try my best to look at games thru the lens of the coach (even though my lenses are slightly tinted green & white) and not from the comfort of a courtside seat. So, if you and I view this game thru the lens of honesty and objectivity…then you and I have to give great credit to Louisville Defense and not simply blame the Spartans Offense.

I always remind myself, games aren’t played in a vacuum and in the game of guts and steely nerves…Louisville didn’t blink…and Louisville forced the Spartans into uncharacteristic errors!

So, let’s take a look at what was expected…compared to ‘what happened’ and I think you will discover the Spartans didn’t lose…they were beaten by a better team…and here are a few facts:

Prior to this game:

Spartans Defense allowed 59.4 PPG during the season…they only gave up 57.

Spartans allowed 37.9% from the field during the season…they held L’ville to a miserly 38.2%.

Spartans averaged 4.2 Blocks during the season…they got 7 Blocks  vs L’ville.

Spartans averaged 7.1 Steals during the season…they got 8 Steals vs L’ville

Spartans averaged 69% FT’s during the season…they converted an impressive 91.7% vs L’ville

But as I predicted yesterday…Defense would be the ‘key’ to the game…but I didn’t contemplate it would be Louisville who would dominate the defense. Take a look at these stats .

Spartans averaged 72.4 PPG during the season…they were held to a pitiful 44 points by L’ville.

Spartans averaged 48.2% FG (ranked #16 Nationally)…L’ville held Spartans to 28.6%.

Spartans averaged 36.5% 3PA…L’ville held Spartans to 23.8%

Spartans averaged + 8.3 Rebounds…L’ville turned the tables and had +3 Rebounds

Spartans averaged 12.9 TO’s…L’ville forced Spartans into 15 TO’s.

I can still hear some of you saying….it wasn’t great Louisville Defense…the Spartans simply shot poorly. Fair enough but let me ask this question: Did the Spartans shoot 28% from the floor in pre-game shoot around? Or did the Spartans shoot 28% from the floor at half time shoot around? Of course not!

Louisville Defense forced the Spartans into a poor shooting night so, in defense of Louisville Defense…they rendered the Spartans Offense less than ordinary…and how many teams can say that?

In summary, I love Tom Izzo because I love the way he prepares his teams…I love his passion for the game…and I love Tom Izzo because he does it the right way (scholarship…citizenship…and sportsmanship)…but last night…the Spartans got beat by a better team. If it was a 7 game series…I think the Spartans would win the series…but it wasn’t a 7 game series and in the contest of ‘one and done’…Louisville was the better team!

But as much as I admire Tom Izzo, I have two minor (let me say again, minor) complaints: I disagree with the Spartan strategy for breaking the press and I disagree with the Spartan pregame travel plans. Travel plans? Yep but let me talk about the press first.

Maybe I’m old school but as it relates to breaking the press…I have always believed…the most efficient means of breaking the press is to pass & break. The dribble has never been considered an efficient means of breaking a press…has it? The dribble takes too much energy…and it takes too much time…and TO’s are a common by product.

But last night…it appeared as though the Spartans were engaged in a contest of “my dribbler can beat your defender”. It seemed to be a badge of courage to try to break the press via the dribble but, if that was the contest then Louisville won the contest.

On the other hand…I’m not a coach, I’m just an interested alumnus who replays the game on the 6 inch court between my ears (ha) and many times the game gets called due to darkness…(said with more laughter) so, with respect to Coach Izzo I may be wrong…but I still think the pass is the best means of breaking the press.

And how about the Spartan Travel plans?

As strange as this may seem…I think the Spartan travel plans were horribly flawed…and I made that decision when I learned the Spartans departed for Phoenix on Monday. Monday? Why?

Departing on Monday is waaaay toooo early…too much time to sit and think about a basketball game. Too much time to over think the task at hand. The Spartans arrived in Phoenix early on Monday…spent the balance of the day on Monday…spent all day Tuesday…all day Wednesday…all day Thursday prior to the game…thinking about the game.

These are 18-22 year old kids…they didn’t go to a resort to play golf…or go to trendy restaurants like you and me…for the most part, they were restlessly sitting in a hotel room…watching TV…texting…watching TV…texting…watching TV…eating lunch…watching TV…having dinner…practice…back to the hotel…watch more TV…send more text…and on and on.

The Spartans spent more than 72 hours in Phoenix to execute 6 hours of practice and play a 40 minute game. Again, not a major complaint but I think the travel plans were flawed and I think the ‘flawed’ routine was abundantly obvious at the start of the game when the Spartans were horribly  out of sync.

The travel plans alone didn’t cost the game…but it didn’t help!

But that was then and this is now.

I celebrate a great season! The Spartans went from unranked to Sweet 16. Nice job Spartans…and congratulations to Louisville…we wish you good luck…play hard…carry the banner of a victory over the Big Ten…and play the game with respect.

When does Football start? (ha).

Thank you for reading!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Spartans Sweet 16 (here we go)

It’s that time of year…it’s March…and the Spartans are playing in the Sweet 16.

In fact, the Spartans have been there so many times (10 of the past 15 seasons) that it seems like a rite (or right) of Spring

But the Tournament…also known as the “second” season transcends athleticism. At this level, each team is matching wits with other players…and other coaches who have come this far mostly on the wings of guts, guile and steely nerves as athleticism. This isn’t about X’s & O’s…this is playing Poker and not blinking!

And so it seems fitting that Rick Pitino, a wily veteran who has stitched together his resume in college and pro’s… is pitted against Tom Izzo, a Tournament tested coach who has built his resume almost exclusively on the Tournament trail.

But when you get this far…after more than 30 games…over the past 4 months…I would be remiss to overlook the stats…so let’s take a look, starting with Offensive stats:

Scoring Offense
68.6 PPG
72.4 PPG

If the Spartans have an Offensive weaknesses, it would be FT shooting and TO’s. But lo and behold, the Cardinals are slightly weaker in each category. From my perspective, for two teams who expend a lot of energy on the Defensive side of the ball…it would be fair to say…a fair number of Personal Fouls will be committed, especially in crunch time.

If this contest comes down to Free Throws in crunch time…hold on because neither team claims an advantage.

But Defense is a bigger story!

In tournament time…Jump Shooting is a fickle friend so more than likely, this game will be decided on the Defensive side…in the paint…so let’s take a look at those stats:

Scoring Defense
61.1 PPG
59.4 PPG
Defensive FG%
Rebound Margin

On the Defensive side of the equation, both teams have good ‘on ball’ Defense and I think it’s interesting that both teams allow their opponents to shoot a miserly 37.9% from the field. In fact, the stats are so close that based upon National Rankings, the Spartans rank #2 while the Cardinals rank #3…with the difference being determined by ‘splitting hairs’.  

As it relates to Scoring Defense, the Spartans only allow 59.4 PPG which ranks #17 Nationally…while the Cardinals rank #35, allowing 61.1 PPG.

As it relates to Blocks and Steals it is essentially a trade off…but as you might imagine…the strength of every Tom Izzo team is rebounding so it should be no surprise, the Spartans enjoy a decided advantage as it relates to Rebound Margin where the Spartans rank # 5 Nationally (+8)…to an unremarkable +1 for Louisville which ranks #124.

Louisville may get a share of rebounds on Jump Shots but they will assuredly lose the battle of rebounds in the Paint.

So, what is the bottom line?

I have said as long as anyone cares to listen…the deeper the tournament goes…the Spartans Center Tandem of Derrick Nix (6’9” & 270#) and Adreian Payne (6’10” & 240#) are unmatched as a tandem and they become the ‘X’ factor.

Nix and Payne combine for 15.4 Points…and 8.1 Rebounds per game and while the numbers may seem modest…there isn’t a stat for physically wearing down an opponent.

The Spartans enjoy the luxury of rotating Payne and Nix at 4 minute intervals so the opposing center may be able to hold on for the first 30 to 35 minutes but when it comes to crunch time…the Spartans win that battle. Ask Jared Sullinger? And, oh by the way, the Spartans dynamic duo are probably the best passing inside tandem in the game with a combined 40 assists.

What does that mean? If an opponent plays off Nix & Payne…they take it to the rack. If an opponent collapses on Nix & Payne…they pass for a ‘back door’ layup.

All in all…this game will be a battle…a major battle…and neither coach will blink…and the players won’t blink…so this may become an Instant Classic.

My take?

At the expense of being a ‘homer’…I called the Spartans Special as early as December 29…so there is no reason to change my opinion now.

In a test of wills…the Spartans move on to the Elite 8!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Spartans add Mr. Basketball

It was publicly announced yesterday, that Matt Costello of Bay City Western has been awarded Michigan’s prestigious ‘Mr. Basketball’ award.

By the way, #2 in the balloting was Denzel Valentine and it is noteworthy that both Costello and Valentine will enroll at Michigan State in the fall.

Costello is the 12th Mr. Basketball (and fourth straight) to enroll in East Lansing.

In the bigger picture, I pasted the current list of recruits (scroll down) who will don the Green & White next year and I think it is noteworthy, the Spartans recruited 4 student/athletes including one 5-Star and three 4-Star athletes…with the most notable recruit being Gary Harris who is a 5-Star, McDonald’s All American.

The incoming class is arguably the most ‘star studded’ Spartan class since Zach Randolph and Jason Richardson enrolled at MSU, both of whom went on to the NBA but, I think it would be fair to say, given the painful lesson learned by the early departure of Randolph and Richardson, Izzo is convinced the 2012 class will earn their degrees before they take the next step to the NBA.

By any measure…this is a Top 5 recruiting class…and if you want to view it thru Green & White lenses…it may very well be the best recruiting class in the country.

For a team that currently rotate 10 players in the lineup but lose two (or three) starters via graduation…the addition of the 2012 recruits means the Spartans should move on  without much of a hiccup next year.

I know this abut Izzo’s recruits: They are good young men of solid morals and character and when they leave East Lansing they will be properly prepared for life!

 2012 basketball class
Matt Costello, PF, ****, 6-8, 195 pounds, Bay City
Gary Harris, SG, *****, 6-4, 208 pounds, Fishers, Ind.
Kenny Kaminski, SF, ****, 6-7, 190 pounds, Medina, Ohio
Denzel Valentine, G, ****, 6-5, 200 pounds, Lansing
*Star rating according to

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Spartans: This team is Special

The Spartans won the Big Ten Tournament and I feel pretty good about that!

For what it’s worth, I declared after the Spartans beat Indiana in late December (their first Big Ten victory of the season) that this Spartan team was ‘Special’…and today, I’m feeling pretty good about that statement.

After starting the season unranked (which seemed absurd to me…not even a #25 ranking?) the Spartans finished the regular season 24-7 overall…13-5 Big Ten…won a share of the Big Ten regular season title…played the toughest schedule in the country…beat more RPI Top 50 teams (9) than any team in the country…and then proceeded to win three consecutive games (Iowa 92-75; Wisconsin 65-52 and Ohio State 68-64) on their way to winning an outright Big Ten Tournament title for a cumulative 27-7 record…and a #4 final ranking.

How about that…from unranked to #4?

As my great childhood friend in California said, let’s hear Dick Vitale try to explain that? On the other hand, let’s not (ha). Vitale’s explanation (and the rest of the so called experts) wouldn’t make much sense anyway.

Nevertheless, after the Indiana victory, it seemed to me, the Spartans had exceptional depth and were uniquely unselfish. Of course that’s Tom Izzo’s philosophy but it seemed second nature with this particular team.

Over the season, 11 players earned meaningful playing time while 8 players averaged double digit minutes. Unfortunately, the Spartan roster was reduced by ‘one’ on the last game of the regular season when All Big Ten Freshman, Branden Dawson was lost due to a torn ACL…but that’s the story isn’t it?

The Spartans lost Dawson, an All Conference Freshman and yet with all the chips on the table, the Spartans deferred to their team depth…didn’t skip a beat…and dominated each of their opponents on their way to winning the Big Ten Tournament.

Not bad for a team that started unranked…right Dick Vitale???


But the loss of Dawson forced the Spartans to reinvent themselves and become a bit more Guard oriented.

Prior to the loss of Dawson (6’6” & 220#) who is a powerful rebounding presence, the Spartans were nearly unbeatable in the paint…but with the loss of Dawson the Spartans became little less dominant on the glass…but a bit quicker into their offensive transition.

In my opinion, when the history of the Spartan season is written, it will be Team Depth that will become their hallmark.

While most teams prefer the certainty of playing a ‘short’ bench (you know what you get)…the Spartans play a ‘deep’ bench with the intent of keeping their players ‘fresh’ and building experience.

Or said another way, while their opponents are running ‘1600 meter race’ the Spartans are running a ‘4X400’ relay…and the relay team usually wins that race don’t they?

Anyhow, as the Spartans prepare for the Tournament, I think you have to evaluate them by “position group”. Of course, only Center (Nix & Payne) and Point Forward (Draymond Green) remain fixed…while the other 3 positions are seemingly interchangeable, so I’ve grouped the Spartans accordingly: (I apologize in advance for the column formatting misalignment)

Center...........Nix & Payne.......................................14.8.........7.8
Point Fwd.....Green................................................16.1.........10.4
Small Fwd.....Dawson..............................................8.4...........4.5
Guards..........Wood, Thornton, Byrd, Kearney.................16.8........7.8
Point Gds......Appling, Trice.....................................16.2.........4.6

According to my calculation, it is abundantly clear that depth and balance are a hallmark of this team which enable the Spartans the luxury of going with the ‘hot hand’ on any given day and last Sunday was a perfect example.

Prior to the game, Brandon Wood (Guard)was averaging a respectable but modest 26 minutes…8.6 points…and 2.9 rebounds…but Sunday, Wood got hot early…shot 8 of 14 FG (57%)...4 of 8 3PA (50%)...logged 33 min…totaled 21 points…and dished 2 assists to keep Ohio State at arm’s length.

But Saturday was a different story. The ‘hot hand’ on Saturday belonged to Austin Thornton.

If not spectacular, Austin Thornton is Mr. Reliable. Prior to Saturdays game, Thornton averaged a modest but respectable 21 minutes…5.3 points and 3.4 rebounds…but Saturday, when the Spartans were struggling to build momentum…when the Spartans needed some fire…Austin Thornton responded with 4 of 4 3PA (100%)…logged 28 minutes…finished with 12 points…3 rebounds…and 2 steals and single handedly stole Wisconsin momentum and turned the game in favor of the Spartans.

But if you’re looking for more unsung heroes…wait…there’s more (ha).

The Spartans have two additional weapons or ‘X’ Factors at center…essentially a Center ‘Tag-Team’.

The Spartans start each game with the ‘speed and length’ of Adreian Payne (6’10” & 240#) who sprints the floor…blocks shots…and defensively suffocates the ‘paint’ for the first 6 minutes (or so)…then the Spartans deploy the physical girth of Derrick Nix (6’9” & 270#) who plays Nose Tackle in the paint and stops anyone from running ‘between the tackles’.

And so it goes…the Spartans alternate Payne for six minutes…Nix for six minutes…then back to Payne…and then back to Nix…for forty relentless minutes!

Together the Nix-Payne ‘Tag-Team’ have combined during the season for a solid (if unspectacular) 14.8 points…7.8 rebounds…1.5 steals…1.4 blocks but more importantly, they dare opponents to enter the ‘paint’ at their own risk. Ask Jared Sullinger how it feels to have Nix and Payne holding onto his Basketball Shorts for forty minutes?

The offensive end of the floor presents yet another problem. Sunday, Nix and Payne relentlessly attacked the paint and got Sullinger into early  foul trouble. In turn, Sullinger went to the bench and didn’t return until the Spartans had built a solid lead.

Nevertheless, upon his return to the lineup, Sullinger was continuously harassed by Nix & Payne and limited to an unremarkable 7 of 19 FG (37%) and Sullinger played the balance of the game with  hesitation due to his foul trouble.

Thru the camera lens, Nix and Payne aren’t flashy and they don’t get a lot of National recognition but it would be fair to say, there are few (if any) teams in the country who can beat the Nix-Payne ‘Tag Team’ with a single player.

Anyhow, I said it in late December…and I’ll say it again at the end of the season…this team is Special.

They have Depth…they play exceptional Team Defense…they have amongst the best rebound margin in the country…they are unselfish…and in that context, the Spartans are uniquely built for a title run.

It goes without saying, there are no Tournament guarantees but the Spartans have a “Special” arsenal of weapons…and we’re about to find out how “Special”.

Regardless, it’s a great time of the year…the Big Ten placed 6 teams in the dance…so good luck to all…and let’s all hope we hear minimal amounts of Dick Vitale….(no offense, right Dick?)

Thank you for reading!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Spartans (Life without Dawson...Solving another problem)

By any measure, the Spartans had an auspicious season considering they were overlooked by the so called experts prior to the start of the season.

The Spartans went from unranked…to playing the toughest schedule in the country…to beating more Top 50 RPI teams (9) than any team in the country…to winning 24 games…to finishing #8 in the AP poll…and finally culminating with winning their 7th Big Ten Championship during Tom Izzo’s 17 year tenure. Not bad for a team that was picked to finish in the middle of the Big Ten pack.

But after solving the riddle of the regular season, the Spartans have another major problem to solve. The Spartans must find a solution for the loss of Branden Dawson, a budding All American who suffered a torn ACL in the final game versus the Buckeyes.

Dawson, a true freshman from Gary, Indiana, is a powerful 6’6” & 220# bona fide 5-Star high school player who earned McDonald’s All American honors. How good is Dawson? As a true freshman…it took him awhile to ‘find his role’…but he finished the season with some very impressive numbers: 21 min per game…57% FG (best on the team)…4.6 Rebounds (second)…27 Steals (third)…26 Blocks (third)…and 8.5 points per game (third). But his role and impact were growing exponentially as the regular season was winding to a close!

Only Draymond Green, Keith Appling and Brandon Wood averaged more minutes than the freshman Dawson and it should also be noted that only Keith Appling and Branden Dawson started every game.  Even Draymond Green missed a start!

Moreover, Dawson was an aggressive Defensive force and frequently earned the assignment of matching up on the best scorer on the opposing team. Dawson was capable of guarding every position (except the 5 spot) and in his defensive role last Sunday, Dawson was matched against William Buford of Ohio State, the Buckeyes great scorer.

As a flashback, Dawson was smothering William Buford to start the game last Sunday and Buford was visibly rattled as the Spartans built a 15 point margin…but then midway through the first half…Dawson went down.

After Dawson’s departure, it took the Buckeyes 30 plus minutes to whittle away at the Spartan lead and Dawson’s absence enabled William Buford to explode for a game high 25 points including the game winning fade away ‘jumper’ as time was expiring.

Would Buford have gotten that game winning shot if Dawson was in the game? A better question is, would the game have even been close if Dawson was in the game? Those questions will never be answered but they are fair questions.

Moreover, in my opinion, Dawson is to the 2012 Spartans what Draymond Green was to the 2009 Spartan team that played North Carolina for the National Championship. He was becoming the quiet ‘backbone’ of a well balanced team…so the loss of Branden Dawson can’t be overstated! At this point, the team is slightly out of balance.

But the Spartans must move on!

And in so doing, what is the best solution to replacing Dawson? Of late, the Spartans have been deploying a 3 Guard starting lineup (including Appling, Thornton and Dawson) along with 6’7” Draymond Green at Forward…and 6’10” Adreian Payne at Center. It’s worth remembering that even though Izzo refers to Dawson in the lineup as a Guard…in my mind, Dawson is more accurately a ‘Hybrid’ between Small Forward and Guard.

Dawson runs the floor well…handles the ball well…slashes to the basket…rebounds with authority…and handles some of the Spartans toughest Defensive assignments!

So now the relay race begins and Coach Izzo must go to his legendary bench to find the best collection of players to pass the baton in relief of Dawson. Who are the best candidates? Considering that 6’1” Keith Appling and 6’0” Travis Trice alternate at Point…and 6’2” Brandon Wood and 6’5” Austin Thornton fill the undesignated role as shooting Guard(s)…then the spot vacated by Dawson will arguably get filled by a rotation of two other freshman:

·         Brandan Kearney, 6’5” & 185# Freshman Guard from Detroit (Southeastern)

·         Russell Byrd, 6’7” & 205# Redshirt Freshman Guard from Ft. Wayne (Blackhawk Christian)

In summary, Kearney is a brilliant defender…while the oft injured but highly recruited Russell Byrd has the capacity to be a tremendous scorer…but given the limited playing time of Kearney and Byrd respectively, neither is the perfect solution to fill the role left vacant by Branden Dawson. Nevertheless, both Kearney and Byrd are bright young talents who will get great playoff experience and this now becomes their time!

In the end, there is no fear…the Spartan bench is deep and Izzo still has his eyes on a #1 NCAA seed via a Big Ten tournament championship…so the Spartans will go to Indy with the intention of making the best of a tough situation.

The Spartans have been there before!!!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Big Ten Basketball (it's not over until.....)

After two months of grinding Big Ten Basketball, the season is nearly over but if you think the last two games have little impact…then Lee Corso would say…not so fast my friends!

 A lot can happen over the next two games with the prize being a share of the Big Ten title and/or better seeding for the NCAA tournament. For example, Ohio State and Michigan could possibly tie the Spartans for the Big Ten title but they could also fall in the other direction.

Ohio State and Michigan could slide to third and Wisconsin could take over sole possession of second place. Purdue could rise all the way from 6th to second . At the very minimum, a lot of Chess pieces could be moved around the board before the end of the season. Here’s a look at the Top 6 teams:

·         Spartans              13-3

·         Ohio State           11-5

·         Michigan              11-5

·         Wisconsin            10-6

·         Indiana                 9-7

·         Purdue                 9-7

Given the cluster of teams, there is only one certainty: the Spartans are ensured of at least a share of the Big Ten title but if the Spartans win one more game, they will grab an undisputed Big Ten title and in that case, there will be a mad scramble for the next 5 spots which will have a major impact on NCAA seeds.

I scripted a few possibilities. I don’t recommend you read all of the variables because it’s not exactly entertaining (pondering what ifs) but you might be surprised by the possibilities:

·         If Ohio State and/or Michigan win out, they would share the Big Ten title with the Spartans assuming the Spartans lose both of their remaining games

·         If Wisconsin wins out and Ohio State and Michigan lose at least one game, the Badgers would share second place with Michigan and/or Ohio State

·         If Wisconsin wins out and Ohio State and Michigan lose out, the Badgers would take undisputed control of second place (not bad for a team that started 0-3 Big Ten)

·         If Ohio State and/or Michigan lose out, they could end up in a three way tie for third place with either Purdue or Indiana (assuming either Purdue or Indiana win out) and assuming Wisconsin wins out and takes second place

·         If Ohio State and Michigan lose out, they could end up in a four way tie for second place with Wisconsin (if Wisconsin splits) and either Purdue or Indiana win out

·         And of course, Michigan State could simply win the Big Ten title outright by winning at least one more game

The point is…with a mere two games remaining…the Big Ten season is far from over!!! Right Brother Gus??? (ha). And here is where it gets interesting…here are the remaining schedules for the Top 6 teams:

·         Spartans:             @ Indiana…OSU (home)

·         Ohio State:         @Northwestern…@MSU             (both Road games)

·         Michigan:            @Illinois…@Penn State                 (both Road games)

·         Wisconsin:          Minnesota…Illinois                          (both Home games)

·         Purdue:                Penn State…@Indiana

·         Indiana:                MSU…Purdue                                    (both Home games)

Inasmuch as Ohio State visits Michigan State…and Purdue visits Indiana…it is a certainty that two of those 4 teams will suffer at least one more loss.

The most favorable schedule belongs to Wisconsin who has two home games against bottom tier teams. On the other hand, Indiana has two home games but they will face two formidable top tier opponents.

The most ‘unfavorable’ schedule belongs to Ohio State followed by Michigan who both finish the season with consecutive road games …and if there is one absolute in Big Ten Basketball…‘Road Games’ are especially unkind to visiting teams.

Think about this, Michigan and Ohio State didn’t help themselves over the past weekend inasmuch as Senior Day gave them a decided advantage…and now…with diminished title hopes…their final road games will become especially daunting!

Let’s take a look at Ohio State.

The Buckeyes must travel to Evanston to play the Wildcats (17-11 overall and 7-9 Big Ten) and while it may seem like a mismatch on paper, make no mistake, the Wildcats are desperate to earn their ‘first ever’ trip to the NCAA tournament. From my perspective…I would be very apprehensive if I were the Buckeyes because the Wildcats have nothing to lose and they are hungry for an NCAA berth.

Thereafter, the Buckeyes travel to East Lansing to play the Spartans (24-5 overall and 13-3 Big Ten) on Senior Night and that’s a big problem.

If anyone has ever attended Senior Night at Breslin Center…then they are familiar with the electric atmosphere as Spartan faithful pay homage to their beloved Seniors (and the electricity rises to fever pitch when the Seniors plant a traditional kiss on the floor at Center Court).

By collegiate standards, it’s a love fest and for the most part, the Spartans don’t lose on Senior Night. Not to mention, the Spartans will have plenty of incentive inasmuch as they are seeking a #1 seed in the NCAA as well as their 7th outright Big Ten title under Tom Izzo. This game will be a major challenge for the Buckeyes on the road!

As for Michigan, they must go on the road to play Illinois (17-12 overall and 6-10 Big Ten). The Illini have enjoyed bright moments during this season with wins over Ohio State and Michigan State both at home…but otherwise the Illini have ‘curiously’ underachieved. It’s curious because the Illini have plenty of talent.

One ‘game changing’ player is Meyers Leonard who is arguably one of the best 7-foot Centers in the country. Leonard is a true freshman whom I intend to personally anoint as All American prior to his junior season (if not before). Want an indicator? 

Sunday night against Iowa, the tall…rangy Freshman was 7 of 13 (53%) from the field…8 of 8 (100%) from the stripe…hauled down 14 Rebounds…got 2 assists…2 Blocks…and 22 points in 36 minutes while posting a 65-54 win over the Hawkeyes.

As a true Freshman, Meyers Leonard is starting to play his best Basketball of the season and if I were Michigan, I would be especially fearful of that match up! Needless to say, trying to get a ‘W’ in Champaign will test the ‘will’ of the Wolverines because the Illini will be ‘desperate’ to improve their NCAA seed.

Thereafter, the Wolverines must travel to State College, PA to finish the season and if there is a single place in the country that affords the home team an advantage simply based upon the degree of ‘Travel’ difficulty for the visiting team…it would be traveling to State College, PA.

State College is located smack dab in the geographical center of Pennsylvania…geographically close to nowhere! It takes nearly a week of travel time to get there (in jest of course)…and needless to say, that is a decided advantage for Penn State…right JoPa? Sorry, I guess you can’t answer…no disrespect intended.

On paper, Penn State is not formidable because they only have 4 Big Ten wins but each win was on their home floor including a win versus Purdue!

In closing, if the question is…what about the Spartans? Their challenge is clear. They must play Indiana on the road (they beat Indiana at home)…and they must play Ohio State at home (they beat the Buckeyes in Columbus).

What else do the Spartans need to know? They know their opponents…they know the challenge…they control their destiny…and they are coached by the one of the most successful coaches in the country (and arguably ‘the’ most successful coach in the Big Ten).

If you ask me? Needing one win to capture an undisputed Big Ten title, I wouldn’t bet against Coach Izzo to grab his 7th Big Ten title. Would you?

Destiny awaits….Good luck to all…Thank you for reading!