Tag Archive | "basketball"

What we learned from the 2016 NCAA Tournament

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What we learned from the 2016 NCAA Tournament

1. The ACC is still the conference to beat in March

All year, no matter the sport, there is always debate amongst both fans and analysts on which conference is the best. This year many suggested that the Big 12 was the best conference because the Big 10 was top heavy and ACC’s depth was also breaking down. During the tournament, the ACC flexed its muscles and dominated.

The ACC tied a tournament record by having six teams advance to the Sweet 16 and later broke a record by having four teams in the Elite Eight, per sbnation.com. Their success even continued to the Final Four where Syracuse, a 10-seed and major cinderella story in the tournament, faced off against the only 1-seed left standing, UNC. In the end, UNC beat Syracuse and came up three points short of Villanova in the National Championship game, ending the ACC’s incredible tournament run.

2. Mid-major schools can hold their own

Every year come Selection Sunday, we see analysts and pundits alike ask the same question the committee is: “How many mid-majors qualify for the tournament?”

A mid-major is a school outside of the classic Power Five and Big East conferences. Of the 32 mid-majors that made the tourney, 12 made it past the first round, including UConn, St. Joe’s and Middle Tennessee. Outside of the 15 and 16-seeds, the mid-majors that lost only did so by an average 8.1 points. For the most part these mid-majors held their own and played competitive games against teams that had more talent and experience than a lot of them.

Mid-majors were able to take down some of the best teams in the nation including Michigan State, West Virginia, California and Arizona. While no mid-major made it past the second round this year, their ability to keep it close and even beat perennial CBB powerhouses should help increase the chance of more mid-majors appearing in next year’s tourney.  

3. This tournament was more about better play than raw talent

It is often said that basketball is a game of streaks, both in game and over the course of a season. In game teams go through times when they seem to hit every shot they attempt and other times when they seemingly can’t buy a basket. Likewise, over the course of a season, a team goes through times where it can win games with ease and other times where it can’t beat even the weakest of opponents.

Middle Tennessee played arguably the best game in school history against Michigan State and pulled off one of the greatest upsets of all time. Michigan State was predicted to beat  Middle Tennessee handily, but lost in part because of Middle Tennessee’s shooting hot streak. Villanova, after losing the Big East to Seton Hall, had one of the most impressive shooting streaks in March Madness history. Villanova rode this streak all the way to the National Title game.

4. Upperclassmen are just as important to teams as freshmen superstars

For the past few seasons, NCAA has seen its fair share of freshmen phenoms. From Jahlil Okafor and Andrew Wiggins to Anthony Davis, the NCAA has seen a lot of great talent leave after one season for the NBA. With this large influx of one-and-done, many upper tier schools, like Kentucky and Duke, began to scramble for this kind of talent in hopes that those players would push their program to new heights. This talent rush has had mixed results with some teams winning national titles and others going home in the Round of 32. That wasn’t the case this year.

The top freshman in the country, Ben Simmons of LSU, didn’t even make the tourney this year. While the second best freshman, Brandon Ingram of Duke, made it to the Elite 8, the overall team wasn’t as impressive as it had been in years past. All of the dominant teams that made the tournament – Villanova, Kansas, Oklahoma, UNC, Michigan State – were all led by upperclassmen if not senior leadership.

It was this deviation from the norm that made this tournament feel special and for many of the teams mentioned, it helped them throughout the entire postseason. The two teams that met in the National Title game both had excellent senior players, like Marcus Paige and Ryan Arcidiacono. Kris Jenkins, the player who hit the game winning shot for Villanova, was a senior.

We’ll have to wait for next year’s tourney to see if this year’s trend continues but it was definitely an interesting storyline to follow this tournament.

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Fall of the Spartans: How Middle Tennessee upset Michigan State

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Fall of the Spartans: How Middle Tennessee upset Michigan State

For Michigan State fans around the country, March 18, 2016 is a day that won’t soon be forgotten.

The Spartans entered their first day of NCAA’s March Madness as a two-seed that people across the nation felt was snubbed of a one-seed. According to ESPN, the Spartans were favored in 91 percent of brackets to advance to the next round and 22 percent to win the tournament, but neither of these predictions would happen.

Michigan State was upset 90-81 by 15-seed Middle Tennessee, handing the Spartans arguably their worst loss in school history and head coach Tom Izzo’s first one-and-done tourney trip in his first 18 trips per Detriot Free Press. How did a small Conference-USA team take down one of college basketball’s perennial juggernauts?

Michigan State’s struggles began almost right out of the gate. Middle Tennessee’s offense caught fire early and never slowed down, only missing a handful of shots within the first 10 minutes. To make matters worse, Michigan State’s offense was sluggish from the get-go and didn’t wake up until the end of the first half. By then Middle Tennessee had the lead and momentum.

While the Spartan offense picked up after halftime, in large part due to senior Matt Costello’s dominance in the paint, the team was never able to close the gap that Middle Tennessee created and maintained throughout the game.

Middle Tennessee’s ability to shoot and make the three also played a huge role in their victory. All but one of Middle Tennessee’s starters made at least one three-pointer, including the team’s power forward/center Darnell Harris. This created a matchup nightmare for the Spartans as Costello, Davis and Schilling had to leave the paint to attempt to guard the three-point line. Something that none of them are particularly strong at.

The mismatch clearly showed. In the first half alone, Middle Tennessee shot 61 percent from beyond the arch and finished the game shooting 57 percent. Michigan State just couldn’t keep the pace, shooting 45 percent overall from beyond the arch.

On the seemingly rare occasion that Middle Tennessee missed they were always there fighting for a rebound and more often than not Middle Tennessee got it. Though the stat sheet showed that Michigan State won the rebound battle, it didn’t show during the game as MT grabbed almost every crucial rebound this game had. Perhaps the reason behind this stems from the fact that Michigan State’s big players were all spread out away from the paint allowing for MT guards Jaqawn Raymond and Giddy Potts to combine for nine rebounds.  

Free throws and fouls also played a large part in this game. 35 fouls were called over the course of the game – with a 10 foul difference between the two teams – most of them being “tic-tack” or “touch fouls.” This kind of officiating environment caused the Spartans problems all year because of how aggressive the Spartans’ defense is.

Denzel Valentine, Gavin Schilling and Matt Costello were all in foul trouble during the latter portion of this game, which further restricted the already struggling Spartan defense. When it came down to free throws, Middle Tennessee, one of the worst free throw shooting teams, shot 61 percent from the line. The Spartans shot 66 percent, but much like their rebounding total, it didn’t show during the game. There were far too many times where Michigan State went one of two or zero of two from the line, while Middle Tennessee players made both free throws on their attempts.

Ultimately when trying to analyze Michigan State’s loss, Tom Izzo put it best, “They outplayed us.” Middle Tennessee did everything right, it shot lights out from the field, slowed the Spartan offense to a near standstill and played like a team possessed. Michigan State was flat out beaten and that isn’t an indictment against the Spartans, but rather praise to Middle Tennessee. It is for that reason that Michigan State shouldn’t hang its head on this loss for too long. Would it have been nice to see Michigan State seniors Matt Costello, Bryn Forbes, Colby Wallenman and Denzel Valentine end their collegiate careers on a better note? Yes. However, this loss doesn’t take away from the excellent season Michigan State had or how great this senior class of players was.

Tom Izzo has done a great job of creating a top tier basketball program at Michigan State and top tier programs bounce back from these types of losses. In fact, Duke, the team that won the National Championship last year, did so one year after being upset by Mercer, a 14-seed.

Tom Izzo and the Spartans will learn from this, grow from it and come back next year hungrier than ever for a deep postseason run; hopefully ending in a championship.

Stats courtesy of ESPN, Detroit Free Press & The Washington Post



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What to expect from College Basketball this postseason

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What to expect from College Basketball this postseason

Photo via Creative Commons.

Photo via Creative Commons.

This season of college basketball has been a crazy one. Teams ranked No. 1 have fallen almost constantly throughout the year. Perennial contenders have struggled a bit in their conference and teams that typically struggle throughout the year have risen to the higher positions. With the college basketball postseason right around corner here are some storylines that could play out throughout conference tournaments and of course March Madness.

Challengers to Kentucky’s SEC throne  

Despite the fact that Kentucky is in position to win the SEC – regular season – for the third time in five years they are vulnerable. Most people assumed going into this season that Kentucky wouldn’t be the same after losing much of last year’s team to the NBA draft, but still believed they would maintain their dominance over the usually lackluster SEC. That hasn’t been the case this year.  

There are three teams that are one game behind Kentucky in the standings and two of those teams beat Kentucky this year. LSU, University of South Carolina (USC) and Texas A&M all have the potential to surpass Kentucky in both the regular season and SEC tournament.

USC started the year off as one of the undefeated teams and has beaten LSU and Texas A&M in close games but was blown out by Kentucky in their only meeting of the season.

LSU is known best for freshman phenom Ben Simmons who is the heart and soul of the team. However, LSU has struggled with consistency issues in part because of how heavily the team depends on Simmons’ performance. Despite this problem, LSU was able to beat Texas A&M handily and blow out Kentucky in their first meeting of the season.

Texas A&M is a streaky team that has been one of the biggest surprises in collegiate basketball this season. Texas A&M was able to split the series with LSU and beat Kentucky this season.

These teams could make another first place finish for Kentucky hard to come by and possibly upset Kentucky in the SEC tournament, which would be a nice change up for the conference and its fans.

Miami’s rise in the ACC

This year has been odd for the ACC, as the top part of the conference was shaken up. While perennial top teams like UNC and Virginia have, for the most part, maintained their form other teams that are usually in their company have not.

Louisville, a team that won the National Championship three years ago, has removed itself from postseason play in the wake of a sex scandal.

Duke, last year’s National Champion, was out of the AP Top 25 poll for the first time in nine years and has also struggled to find itself all year.

Amidst this void atop the conference, the Miami Hurricanes have risen to the top and currently sit half of a game behind UNC in the standings. Among some of Miami’s more impressive wins is a blowout victory versus Duke and a win against Virginia.

Miami could be the team to upset UNC during the conference tournament and could be an even bigger factor come the time of March Madness.  

Big East and Big Ten might have the most competitive tournaments

The Big East and Big Ten are fairly similar in how their conference has shaped out over the past few seasons. Usually the conferences divide themselves into upper and lower tiers. The differences between the different tiers varies on which conference, but it usually boils down to the talent of players and coaches. Typically, the top teams in the conference perform at a high level and beat down the rest of the conference.

There has been significantly more competition between upper teams and lower teams this year. In the Big Ten, look no further than Maryland who has lost to both a struggling Minnesota and a Michigan team that had beaten only one other ranked opponent this year. Michigan State, also a perennial conference contender, has also struggled against lower tier teams in Wisconsin and Nebraska.  

The Big East, a conference usually plagued by inconsistent play by this time of year, has actually not self destructed for once. Teams like Providence and Seton Hall have legitimate shot at making the tournament. The majority of the conference has been in a battle for tournament spots all year and on Feb. 24 the Big East was put on a national spotlight when No. 5 Xavier upset No. 1 Villanova. On a smaller scale, the day after Xavier’s upset, Providence and Seton Hall duked it out in an effort to bolster their chances at a NCAA Tournament berth. That game also saw an upset as Seton Hall bested Providence.

No clear favorite for the National Title

Perhaps the most intriguing part to this year’s NCAA postseason is that there is no clear contender. Sure, some analysts have thrown around names like Kansas, Oklahoma and Michigan State, but there really isn’t a consensus as to who the best team in the country is. This year is the first in a long time where the National Championship seems tangible for any team that makes the tournament. Already this year we’ve seen many upsets, which should continue through March. So buckle up basketball fans, March is going to be a wild ride.

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Why basketball still needs the ‘Hack-a-Shaq’ strategy

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Why basketball still needs the ‘Hack-a-Shaq’ strategy

Over the course of his 19-year career, Shaquille O’Neal was a dominant force as a big man in the NBA. O’Neal was nearly unstoppable in the post and close to the basket, leaving the task of stopping him especially challenging for his opponents. However, O’Neal had one glaring weakness in his game – his free throw shooting.

Shaquille O'Neal at the free throw line. Photo via Creative Commons.

Shaquille O’Neal at the free throw line. Photo via Creative Commons.

O’Neal’s career free throw percentage was 52 percent and it didn’t take long for opposing teams to catch on. Teams began to foul O’Neal when he went up to shoot, because it was highly likely he would miss both free throws.

This strategy quickly became known as the “Hack-a-Shaq” and was used not only on O’Neal, but other players around the NBA who couldn’t shoot free throws.

Now, five years after O’Neal hung up his jersey, the strategy that bears his namesake has come under fire by NBA fans, coaches, executives and the league itself.

Recently the “Hack-a-Shaq” strategy has transformed into a far different being than what it started as. Teams have gone from predominantly fouling poor free throw shooters on their shots and more toward fouling poor free throw shooters before and during the bonus.

Most of the time the fouls committed aren’t normal accidental shooting fouls, such as a botched block attempt, but instead weak touch fouls. The problem with this adaptation is that it slows down the game exponentially. The “Hack-a-Shaq” strategy was originally used primarily on shots, or late in the game, but the present day adaptation happens throughout the entire game.

Last season, teams began to foul Clippers Center DeAndre Jordan, who has a poor free throw rate of 39.7 percent. Most of those fouls occurred before Jordan was even able to touch the ball.

The problem appeared at its worst this year during a game between the Phoenix Suns and the Detroit Pistons. The Pistons were leading at half, so the Suns began to foul Pistons Center Andre Drummond, who shoots at 35 percent, right out of halftime. The fouls committed against Drummond were almost always touch fouls away from the ball, which dramatically slowed the speed and tempo of the game.

Fans, coaches and team executives have all become upset with the strategy because, in their opinions, it makes the game less enjoyable.

At first, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver brushed off these complaints saying that the NBA wouldn’t consider a rule change regarding the “Hack-a-Shaq” strategy. However, with a new wave of complaints and the problem appearing to get worse, the NBA is planning to review the legitimacy of the strategy.

Despite the strategy’s namesake, the idea of fouling a big man to force him to the free throw line goes before O’Neal’s career.

Big men in basketball have the notorious stereotype of not making free throws, so fouling them to prevent their shots is nothing new. While hacking does extend games, sometimes that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In late game situations a few free throws can be the difference between a win or a loss, so it makes sense that teams would opt to foul in that situation.

Likewise, if a team is down by a large margin, a set of wasted possessions via missed free throws may be enough to turn the tide of the game.

Another element is the big men themselves. These players are professionals playing in the best professional basketball league in the world, they should be able to hit a free throw. Free throws, in the grand scheme of things, are a small part of the game and it doesn’t take a state of the art practice facility to work on them. These players should take the time and address this clear weakness in their game if not for themselves then for the sake of the team.

The “Hack-a-Shaq” strategy has its advantages and disadvantages but it should ultimately be kept in basketball. It is a legitimate way for a team to come back late in a game and in a sense rewards players who work hard on their free throws. Has the strategy today evolved into a bit of a mess? Yes, but that doesn’t mean that it has to be banned outright. The NBA could look to reform the strategy and or limit it, but an outright ban would hurt the game of basketball from top to bottom.

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MSU Celebrates Coach Tom Izzo’s 20th Season

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MSU Celebrates Coach Tom Izzo’s 20th Season

As the Spartan basketball season opened on Nov. 14, the game against the Navy marked more than just the first win—it simultaneously marked the beginning of MSU Head Coach Tom Izzo’s 20th season.

Since 1995, Izzo has coached his way into the hearts of Spartan supporters. Students and fans routinely purchase tickets season-to-season for the opportunity to cheer on the team in green and white and stand by the beloved coach who’s not only changed the spirit of basketball at Michigan State, but strengthened school pride as well.

Sophomore Ben Limb works under the MSU Association of Future Alumni as one of three Directors of this year’s Izzone.

“[Izzo has] just transformed the idea of athletics at this school. He has this mindset that it’s not just ‘basketball is life’,” said Limb. “He cares about [the player’s] studies, he cares about their character. He cares about so much more than just the game.”

Coach Izzo regularly participates in a variety of activities on campus such as supporting the MSU football team at Spartan Stadium and attending the Izzone Campout to greet and spend time with his number one fans.

The Izzone Campout takes place every year prior to the start of basketball season. The committed MSU student season ticketholders, regardless of weather, show up at Munn Field to hear Izzo inspire the crowd and share the excitement of yet another year of cheering, shouting, and jumping up and down until their legs hurt.

“I don’t even know if you can put it into words how big of a character he is,” said MSU sophomore and Director of the Izzone, Lauren Honer. “Any interaction I’ve ever had with him has been so positive and exciting. I don’t know if I would say he’s like a celebrity on campus, he’s more like an icon. Everybody feels like they know him.”

Lauren Honer with Coach Izzo

Lauren Honer with Coach Izzo

This year also marks two decades since the establishment of the Izzone, and some things are changing at the Breslin Center.

“The upper bowl [student section] is not only just the upper ring, now, they have a strip of the green seats so they can sit down, they have backrests on their seats,” said Honer. “They’re more together rather than spread out in the top three or five rows like it used to be. They have a section.”

Sophomore Scott Kolasa, a second-year season ticketholder, said he believes the change will encourage unity in both sections of the Izzone.

“Last year when I was in the upper bowl it was kind of like we weren’t even a part of the game,” said Kolasa. “We were so high up that it was hard to see…we didn’t even feel like an actual student section.”

The MSU Association of Future Alumni has realized how great of an impact the Izzone has on those who attend. To keep the spirit alive for recent alumni, they’ve planned a reunion game.

“They get one game over Christmas break where they get to come back and be in the Izzone again,” said Ben Limb.

The reunion game is set for Jan. 5, 2015. Izzone alumni will get to watch the Spartans—and Izzo—take on fellow Big Ten basketball powerhouse Indiana.

“I think [Izzo] is honestly one of the best coaches in college basketball and I wouldn’t trade him for anybody,” said MSU student, Scott Kolasa.

Izzo’s professional reputation and record speak for themselves. However, in addition to his abilities as a coach, it’s the person he is off the court that makes him an adored figure at Michigan State University.

Director of Marketing and Communications for the Izzone and MSU junior, Lauren Pereny said, “[Izzo] wants everyone to be together, be respectful, and be there for basketball, and also be there as Spartans.”

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What TBG loves about November

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What TBG loves about November


10. Beginning of the holidays

Halloween is just finished and Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s are right around the corner. The holidays are one of the most joyous times of year—fun, friends, family and food are abundant. Worth checking out is Lansing’s annual Silver Bells in the City Festival will kick off the holiday season in mid-Michigan on Nov. 21 from 5 pm to 9 pm.
9. Stress relief

Midterms are done (for the most part) and there’s still a month until finals. For most MSU students, there is usually a bit of an academic breather come the month of November.
8. Colors on campus

November is the last time to enjoy the beautiful reds, oranges and yellows that grace the trees on campus before the trees turn barren for the winter.
7. Warm drinks

Let’s be honest: hot chocolate, tea and coffee go perfect with November weather.
6. Black Friday
Even if you don’t go shopping on the actual date, the beginning of holiday sales at your favorite stores is worth a celebration. If you do go shopping on Black Friday, TBG honors your bravery.
5. Michigan State Football

MSU Football kicks into high gear in November as the team pushes closer to a trip to the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis. A night game against Ohio State on the Nov. 8 and a trip to Maryland on Nov. 15 are highlights of the Spartans’ schedule.
4. Michigan State Basketball

November means the return of Spartan basketball. The Spartans kick off the 2014-15 season with two exhibition games against The Master’s College on Nov. 3 and St. Cloud State on Nov. 7. The first regular season game will be against in Annapolis, Md. against Navy on Nov. 14, just one day before the football team faces off against the Terps in College Park, Md.
3. Fall Fashion

For girls, it likely means leggings, warm scarves and boots. For guys, it likely means hoodies and flannels. Either way, there’s no arguing that fall is easily the most chic and comfortable fashion season of the year.
2. Thanksgiving break

Four days off of school and time to spend back home with family and friends. Enough said.
1. Thanksgiving food

The best meal of the year.

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Where To Be

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Where To Be

City of East Lansing Winter Festival and Chili Cook-off

Dec. 6, 1-4 p.m. at Ann Street Plaza, Parking Lot 1 and the East Lansing Marriott at University Place

Take a break from the cold December weather and head under the heated tent to place your vote for the best soup and chili recipes in East Lansing. Served up by local restaurants, the competitors will be contending for first, second and third place in the People’s and Judge’s Choice Awards. There will be lots of other winter activities too, including a reindeer petting zoo, roaming carolers, photos with Santa, ice carving, roasted chestnuts, hot chocolate and horse and carriage rides.

Preservation Hall Jazz Band: A Creole Christmas

Dec. 4 and 5, Pasant Theatre

Sick of the same old Christmas songs? This New Orleans band is sure to revitalize your favorite classics with their famous jazz and ragtime style. You’ll be ready for the holidays after this gumbo of carols, spiced up with just the right hint of Creole rhythm and blues.

Men’s Basketball vs. Oakland

Dec. 10, 7 p.m. at the Breslin Center

Take a break from studying to cheer on the Spartans as they take on the Oakland University Golden Grizzlies. Make a sign or break out some dance moves to get your five seconds of fame on the JumboTron.

Jerry Seinfeld

Dec. 17, 7 p.m. at the Wharton Center

Hit up this event for some stand-up comedy before you head home for break. Seinfeld is even better in person than the reruns of his sitcom you’ll have on while you’re studying some last minute flashcards before finals.

Meijer Holiday Hoops Invitational

Dec. 26, 11:00 a.m. at the Breslin Center

You might not be ready for a game of hoops after Christmas dinner, but be sure to check out some local basketball teams at the Meijer Holiday Hoops Invitational. All proceeds are donated to the Sparrow Foundation, which has earned $75,000 to date from the event. Tip-offs for the six games are scattered throughout the day and one ticket is good for all admissions.

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