Final score from The Palace: MSU 65, Valparaiso 54
If only it was that close.
The score was not indicative to how badly Michigan State dominated Valpo.
To put it simply, Derrick Nix was too big, Adreian Payne was too long, Brandon Dawson was too athletic, Keith Appling was too fast and Gary Harris was too Gary Harris.
The Spartans’ biggest lead of the game was 27 in the second half, but careless turnovers and Russell Byrd sightings towards the end allowed the Crusaders to score a few extra buckets and make it a respectable 11-point loss.
Nix basically did whatever he wanted to Valpo’s two big men – “The Dutch Lug” and “The Guy Who Looks Like a Movie Villian,” scoring 23 points and grabbing a career high 15 rebounds. Apparently, The Dutch Lug nonchalantly said he faced similar players to Nix in the Horizon League. He later clarified after the game and said he meant “Stevie.”
There’s really not much more to pontificate on. The Spartans just outclassed the Crusaders. Give them credit for fighting until the end, but it was clearly evident they didn’t have the talent to keep up with a March Tom Izzo team.
One thing to keep an eye out for –the aforementioned turnovers. The Spartans had 17 of them this afternoon. It’s no real secret that all of Michigan State’s losses have involved two things: poor play by Appling and sloppy mistakes.
The Spartans undoubtedly have the talent to make a Final Four run. But for the first time, it’s their mental toughness that they need to worry about.
MSU Team Stats: FG 26-58 (.448), 3FG 6-15 (.400), FT 7-11 (.636), REB 49 (Nix 15), AST 16 (Harris 4), TO 17, BLK 3, STL 6
Valpo Team Stats: FG 19-54 (.352), 3FG 7-25 (.280), FT 9-14 (.643), REB 23 (Van Wijk 7), AST 10, TO 7, BLK 5, STL 12
NEXT GAME : 3/23, 12:00pm – winner of 6 Memphis/11 St. Mary’s
Stephen Curry has been a star in the making since he carried the Davidson Wildcats to the Elite Eight in 2008. Five years later, he is on pace to be the first NBA player EVER to average over six assists and three treys per game. ESPN the Mag recently touted him to be the NBA's greatest shooter EVERRRR. Stats say so.
On Wednesday night, he planted 54 points on the Knicks at the Garden. The last player to drop at least 52 points there was LeBron James. The last player to drop more than 54 points there was Kobe Bryant (61). Needless to say, Stephen Curry doesn't high five when approaching 50 at the Garden (on national TV no less); he dances:
(Curry made sure to high five Green after knocking down his next three.)
The last time Michigan State and Louisville faced off in the NCAA tournament, 2nd seed MSU beat the #1 overall seed Cardinals to reach the 2009 Final Four. Rick Pitino got his revenge tonight as his 2012 Cardinals beat Michigan State 57-44. MSU was widely expected to cruise to the Final Four after Missouri was upset by 15 seed Norfolk State in the first round, but instead Tom Izzo is left to wonder what happened to his offense. [h/t @WorldofIsaac]
In a game where MSU was expected to have a decisive advantage on the boards, getting outrebounded 34-32 tells a lot of the story. So does the fact that the Spartans shot 29% from the field and turned the ball over 15 times while Louisville -- not exactly a group of marksmen from behind the arc -- hit nine 3-pointers.
What will MSU look like next season? Draymond Green and Brandon Wood were the only two Spartans that scored more than 6 points, and both are seniors. Obviously, Green's loss means a lot more than Wood's, but both played key roles for the Spartans this season. Branden Dawson should get back to action after he recovers from his ACL injury and the Spartans' incoming freshmen will provide some solid minutes, but it remains to be seen if this team has another Big Ten title run in it. For now, however, the lack of offensive punch in tonight's loss will have Spartan fans shaking their head in disbelief (much like Izzo above) until next November.
WHEN DOES MICHIGAN STATE PLAY?*: MICHIGAN STATE PLAYS ON FRIDAY AT 9:20 PM
*This section sponsored by ESPN, because I had to click on 12 different pages of their godforsaken website to find the fucking game time.
How did they get here?: MSU started the season in rough fashion, getting dominated in their first two games by North Carolina and Duke. To their credit, the Spartans fought back towards the end of each of those games to make the scorelines respectable. This "never say die" attitude set the tone for the rest of the season, as the Spartans rolled off 15 consecutive wins before losing their last three games on the road to end the month of January. Again, MSU responded by going on another long winning streak, then lost their last two games, having already clinched a share of the Big Ten title with Michigan and Ohio State. In their loss to Ohio State, freshman wing Branden Dawson tore his ACL, putting MSU's mental toughness to the test once again. Like this insanely long paragraph suggests, MSU responded by rolling off three straight victories, winning the Big Ten Tournament title. Their reward? The top seed in one of the toughest regions in the bracket.
First round opponent: LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds, who have no chance. The more important question for Spartan fans is who their second round opponent will be. Both Memphis and Saint Louis are scary second round matchups, but for very different reasons.
Memphis is white hot right now after a shaky start to the season, and they have the kind of quickness and athleticism that can give Michigan State problems. However, they have a tendency to get dominated on the boards, which isn't really a good idea to do against a Tom Izzo-coached team.
Saint Louis, on the other hand, is pretty much as vanilla white as their mascot (seriously, the fuck is a Billiken?). Their strength, much like MSU, lies in their coaching. Jokes aside, Rick Majerus knows what the hell he is doing, and his team plays like it. Old-time Spartan fans will remember that Majerus' Utah team briefly gave MSU trouble during their 2000 championship run, and that MSU team was way more talented than the current roster. Still, if MSU continues to play like they did in the Big Ten tourney, they should move on to the deeper part of the bracket.
Keys to success: Continue to dominate fools in the rebounding category. MSU isn't as athletic or talented as many of the other teams in this tournament, especially the deeper into the bracket they get. A potential regional final matchup with Missouri could get very hairy if MSU doesn't use their size and frontcourt depth to their advantage.
If there's one player that could be MSU's "X-factor," it's Keith Appling. He's hit somewhat of a sophomore slump that, luckily, hasn't slowed down MSU too much thus far. Draymond Green has carried this team on his back for the majority of the season and will continue to do so during the tournament. If Appling can become a legitimate second scoring option for the Spartans, this team will be extremely tough to beat.
Prediction: As inconsistent as this MSU team has been at times, this is a solid basketball team with a chip on its shoulder. Their offense has a tendency to sputter in key moments, but they play defense and rebound, two things that often carry teams deep into the tournament. Add in the fact that Tom Izzo simply doesn't lose during March and Draymond Green is willing to light his shoes on fire to cut down a net or two, and I don't see anyone beating MSU in the West region. Getting by Kentucky in the Final Four, however, is a completely different story. Of course, you could always be optimistic like Justin Verlander and predict a monumental South regional upset.
The last time Michigan State won the Big Ten Tournament, their season ended with Mateen Cleaves dancing on the floor in Indianapolis as MSU won their 2nd national title in school history. Tom Izzo and company are hoping that history repeats itself this season, as MSU beat Ohio State to win the Big Ten tournament and was subsequently named the top seed in the West Region of this year's NCAA tournament. Adreian Payne would like you to know how excited he is about this.
MSU will be greeted by one of the tournament's toughest regions. Missouri and Marquette, the respective #2 and #3 seeds in the West, are no tough out, and #4 Louisville just won the Big East tournament. Not to mention, #8 seed Memphis was ranked in the top 25 to start the season and has been red hot since starting the season 6-5. If MSU lifts another trophy this season, it will be well deserved. [h/t Big Ten for the video]
On the other end of the bracket, Michigan was named a #4 seed in the Midwest region. They will match up against Ohio (yes, the real Ohio) in the first round. If they get out of the first weekend, they will likely be greeted by North Carolina in the Sweet 16. While I thought that the Wolverines were more deserving of a #3 seed than Georgetown (the actual #3 seed in the Midwest), I think that Michigan has a much easier path to the later stages of the bracket.
This is probably the second greatest Super Bowl Sunday proposal, second only to Matthew Stafford's future proposal. Ex-Michigan State linebacker and Super Bowl XLVI champion Greg Jones proposed an engagement ring to his girlfriend on the field after winning the rights to a ring himself.
I haven't gotten the chance to watch this yet, but I can't imagine it's not worth passing along. The Journey, a show on Big Ten Network, has been pretty entertaining from afar (with tidbits on Indiana, Wisconsin, and the like), so it should be fun to see what they do with something that hits closer to home.
And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention and congratulate Tom Izzo's 400th win at Michigan State. MSU beat Minnesota 68-52 this evening.