Rebuilding at Michigan State? Don’t tell Tom Izzo

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It’s easy to call this a rebuilding season for Michigan State.

After all, the program graduated two high-profile players after last season: Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers played prominent roles for four seasons in East Lansing and led the Spartans to two Final Fours. Not only are they gone this season, but MSU fell far short of expectations last year—the team was favored to contend for a national championship and instead barely qualified for the NCAA Tournament.

Considering that the 2011-12 Spartans still carry the weight of last season’s disappointment, and that they don’t have Lucas and Summers to lead them, Michigan State is likely to take a step back, right?

Tom Izzo doesn’t agree. He knows this season’s rotation isn’t yet proven, but he likes the amount of talent and depth on hand. He also thinks that this team will benefit from strong chemistry and leadership—Mateen Cleaves-like leadership, in fact, and while that comparison puts plenty of pressure on senior forward Draymond Green, it also speaks to how highly Izzo thinks of Green.

You get the sense that Izzo likes this team, and that he thinks if some things break his way this season might not just exceed fans’ tempered expectations—it could shatter them. Below, Izzo explains why this could be a special and surprising season in East Lansing.

Q: What’s your sense of your team heading into this season? What’s possible for this group?

Tom Izzo: We’ve got a lot of unknowns. I like the unknowns. Is [Derrick] Nix going to keep the weight off? He looks great right now. Adreian Payne is someone we think is going to have a chance to be one of the better big men we’ve had. He had shoulder surgery at the end of high school and missed six or seven months [before his freshman season], and so this will really be like his first year. Russell Byrd, a guy who would be one of our best shooters, he had a stress fracture [before his freshman season in 2010-11] that just never healed in 14 months, but now it looks like it’s healed. So I’m excited, but all those things are question marks.

I think we’ve got a lot of positives. We’ve got [freshman] Branden Dawson, who I think has got a chance to be a star. I think we’ve got a couple of great players in [Keith] Appling and Dawson and Payne, and Draymond Green, Up front we also have and Nix and Alex Gauna.

[In the backcourt], we brought a transfer in, Brandon Wood [from Valparaiso], who I think is going to help us. And I think [freshman point guard] Travis Trice will help us immediately.

So I think we’ve got depth. It’s just not depth that I’m [confident] of, because so many of those guys are coming off of either injures or a redshirt, or the one transfer. So you don’t quite sleep as good, especially with the schedule we’ve got.

But it’s exciting because I think our team chemistry is even better [than in 2010-11], and I think we’ve worked awfully hard in the off-season. I’m really excited for all the chances and opportunities we’ve got. We’ve had teams like this in the past that people would write off, and then later we’re right in there as contenders, and we’ve done very well in those years. I’m hoping this will be one of those teams.

Q: Is Draymond Green the kind of leader who can help propel this team to have one of those special seasons?

Tom Izzo: Yeah, I think he’s going to be that leader—the kind of leader that Travis Walton was in 2009 when we went to the Final Four with a team that nobody thought could do it. And even though it’s hard to match what Cleaves did back in 2000, I think Green has a chance to be that kind of leader.

Last year, we had some good players, but we just didn’t have the right chemistry, I didn’t feel, and we didn’t have the leadership that I think you need. When you win 19 or 20 games, you make the NCAA Tournament. But what I’m talking about is when you make deep runs in the Tournament—you need big-time leadership for that. And I think with Green we’ve got a big-time leader.

Q: Mateen Cleaves was a transcendent leader for a couple of seasons; it’s a little surprising to hear you say you had a leadership void last season, considering you think so highly of Green’s leadership—and he was a junior on that team. Do you think Green didn’t assert himself out of deference to last season’s seniors? 

Tom Izzo: I think so. We had a weird deal with [Kalin] Lucas and [Durrell] Summers. Lucas had an Achilles’ injury, and he really missed six months. It took up until January for him to really get back on track with that Achilles. So for a lot of last season—and this is not to make excuses—but I think there were legitimate reasons why we never seemed in sync. Some of it was our fault—some of it was chemistry and some of it was performance—but some of it was also due to injuries and situations that we had no control over.

Put that together and you have a season that none of us feel good about. But when you have a bad season and you still win almost 20 games and you go the NCAA Tournament, that’s not all bad, either.

Q: One last question about the Big Ten newbie. What do you expect from Nebraska this season? How difficult will it be for Nebraska to adjust to the Big Ten? 

Tom Izzo: I think it’s going to be hard on them and hard on us. [Doc Sadler] is a very, very good coach, and nobody in our league has been [to Lincoln recently]. I was there a lot of years ago, but it’s never easy to do that—to go into a new environment, a new situation.

I think [Sadler] is a very good coach, and he thinks he’s going to have a decent team. Everybody looks at Nebraska and just thinks about football, but Doc has done a great job for them down there, and he’s tough to play against.

He’s a very defensive-minded coach. [Because of Nebraska’s defense], you can play good and win by five, play great and win by six, or play average and lose. And that’s a problem.

So yeah, they’re going to have an adjustment—but so are we.

Steve Hendershot is a writer based in Chicago. Follow him on Twitter @stevehendershot

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California transfer Charlie Moore commits to Kansas

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Kansas has again struck gold in the transfer market, landing a commitment from former California point guard Charlie Moore, according to Scout.com.

Moore, a former top 40 recruit from Chicago, averaged 12.2 points and 3.5 assists as a freshman with the Golden Bears. He’ll sit out the 2017-18 season and have three years of eligibility remaining. He’ll likely be in line to start at the point for the Jayhawks when Devonte’ Graham graduates this season.

Moore is the fourth sit-out transfer and fifth transfer overall that Bill Self has recruited in recent years. Malik Newman, who began his career at Mississippi State, will start in the back court this year while Arizona State transfer Sam Cunliffe will be eligible in December. Dedric and K.J. Lawson, brothers that transferred out of Memphis, will be redshirting this year as well.

One interesting note: Assuming that Svi Mykhailiuk returns to Kansas, Kansas does not currently have a scholarship available, meaning that, as it stands, there is not an available scholarship for Trevon Duval.

Michigan adds grad transfer point guard from Ohio

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Michigan added a veteran presence to their back court on Tuesday when they landed a commitment from Jaaron Simmons, a graduate transfer from Ohio that started his career at Houston.

Simmons averaged 15.9 points and 6.5 assists per game last season for the Bobcats and should fit well into the point guard role that John Beilein asks his players to play. He’ll likely battle rising sophomore Xavier Simpson for the starting point guard spot.

Even with Simmons in the fold, however, Michigan’s ceiling next year is going to be determined by whether or not they get D.J. Wilson and Mo Wagner back from the draft. Both players declared without signing with an agent.

The one complicating factor with Simmons: He has declared for the NBA Draft as well, meaning that his status as a Wolverine is still somewhat up in the air.

The 15 Most Important NBA Draft Testing The Water Decisions

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The deadline to enter the NBA Draft came and went at midnight on Sunday night, meaning that if your favorite team’s best player does not have his name in the draft as of today, he will be back in school.

But thanks to a rule change that came down last year, the players with their names currently in the draft aren’t locked into remaining in the draft. They have until May 24th — 10 days after the NBA combine — to pull their name out and return to school so long as they don’t sign with an agent.

The NBA’s official early entry list won’t be out for a couple more days, but here is the current list of players that we have entering the NBA Draft, signing with an agent and already planning on returning to school.

Too many names to get through?

I got you covered. Here are the 15 teams with the most on the line over the course of the next four weeks:

Johnathan Motley (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

1. Donovan Mitchell and Deng Adel, Louisville: As it stands, Louisville is the No. 1 team in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25 for the 2017-18 season. That’s the case because I am assuming that both Mitchell and Adel will be returning to school for their junior seasons. As good as Adel was in stretches at the end of the season, the bigger story here is Mitchell, who had a legitimate case to be named the ACC Player of the Year. He was sensational for a month-long stretch in the middle of ACC play last year, but he may have just been inconsistent enough to scare off NBA teams from guaranteeing him a spot in the first round of the draft.

If Mitchell does return, he’ll be on a short list — with guys like Miles Bridges, Allonzo Trier and a few of the names on here — for Preseason National Player of the Year. He’ll be a virtual lock to be placed somewhere on every outlet’s preseason all-america. If both return, Louisville will have a real chance to win a national title. If Mitchell — and, to a lesser extent, Adel — leaves, we could be looking at a situation where the Cardinals will have to fight to finish in the top two of the ACC.

2. Johnathan Motley, Baylor: Motley was Baylor’s best player a season ago, a second-team all-american for a Bears team that outperformed everyone’s expectations. Motley has a shot of being a late-first round pick, but he’s also a redshirt junior that will be 22 years old by the time the NBA combine happens. With him back in the fold, Baylor, who returns the majority of their key pieces, might be able to give Kansas a run for their money in the Big 12 again. Without him, they’re still a back-end top 25 team, but it significantly changes their ceiling.

3. Joel Berry II, Tony Bradley and Theo Pinson, North Carolina: This is obvious, isn’t it? The Tar Heels lost Justin Jackson to the NBA already. Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks and Nate Britt have graduated. If these three remain in the draft, the Tar Heels — who are the reigning National Champs — will be without their top seven from that title winning team. Pinson is a key role player, but both Berry and Bradley will be expected to star next season. Berry should be a Preseason All-American while Bradley will make preseason all-ACC teams. Of the three, only Bradley has a real shot to be a first round pick.

4. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: Swanigan was the runner-up last year for National Player of the Year, averaging a ridiculous 18.5 points, 12.5 boards and 3.1 assists while shooting 44.7 percent from three. With the Boilermakers returning essentially everyone else from a team that won the Big Ten regular season title, it’s hard not to see what Swanigan’s return would mean: Preseason National Player of the Year, preseason Big Ten title favorite, preseason top ten nationally. The problem? I just don’t see Swanigan returning to school, not after what he did last season and not when there really isn’t all that much more that he can do to improve in college.

Trevon Bluiett (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

5. Trevon Bluiett, Xavier: Bluiett was the best player in the NCAA Tournament not named Tyler Dorsey, and with the Musketeers, who made a run to the Elite 8 without Edmond Sumner, already losing their star point guard to the draft, getting back the guy that would be the Big East Preseason Player of the Year would help keep them in the mix for the Big East title. Without him, they’re probably more of a borderline top 25 team.

6. Semi Ojeleye, SMU: The Mustangs already have some solid pieces on their roster coming back next season, with the added boost of Shake Milton’s decision to return to school, but Ojeleye is the difference maker. He was incredible last season, so good, in fact, that he may have played his way into the NBA Draft’s first round. He’s a redshirt junior that turns 23 in December. If he’s back, SMU if a top 15 team, but I don’t expect him to come back.

7. Khadeen Carrington and Angel Delgado, Seton Hall: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love this Seton Hall team and I am going to end up overhyping them all offseason. It’s inevitable at this point. That said, my love affair with the Pirates stems from the fact that I am assuming both Carrington, the team’s most explosive back court scorer, and Delgado, arguably the nation’s best rebounder and the best big man in the Big East, return to school. They’re a top 20 team and a sleeper to win the Big East with them in the mix. They may not make the tournament without them.

8. Mo Wagner and D.J. Wilson, Michigan: The major blow that Michigan is going to take this offseason is to their back court. Derrick Walton Jr. was unbelievable in the last two months of the season, and he graduates. John Beilein added grad transfer Jaaron Simmons, who averaged 15.9 points and 6.5 assists at Ohio last season, to fill in at the point, but Michigan’s ceiling is going to be determined by whether or not they get their two stretch-fives back. Wagner and Wilson are perfect big men to play for Beilein — think Kevin Pittsnoggle with athleticism and mobility — and if they return, the Wolverines are a sneaky pick to finish top three in the Big Ten.

Aaron Holiday (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

9. Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh, UCLA: As it stands, UCLA is losing their top seven players from last season’s team. They are bringing in a talented freshman class, but it’s hard to picture a team made up of just freshmen and G.G. Goloman competing with Arizona and USC atop the Pac-12. Throw Aaron Holiday, who was one of the most under-appreciated players in the country last season, and Welsh back into the mix, however, and suddenly there are some veteran leaders on the roster to provide Steve Alford with an anchor. Neither are projected as first round picks.

10. Hamidou Diallo, Kentucky: Should Diallo opt to return to school for what would be his redshirt freshman season, he would be one of the veterans on Kentucky’s roster. He hasn’t played a second for the Wildcats, but given that this will be Kentucky’s youngest and most inexperienced team in John Calipari’s tenure, having another guy — one that is, you know, a top ten recruit and a freak athlete and defender — that’s been through three months of practices with the team is a bonus Kentucky can’t really pretend they don’t need.

11. Frank Jackson, Duke: In a vacuum, ranking Jackson this low probably seems silly. He was a borderline top ten recruit last season that played his best basketball down the stretch of the year and eventually unseated Grayson Allen from the Duke starting lineup. But he’s also a guy that’s testing the waters to protect himself in case Trevon Duval commits to Duke. If Frank Jackson stays in the draft, does that mean Duke is getting Duval? If he’s back in Durham, does that mean they missed on Duval? For a team in need of a point guard, which is the better option to have?

12. Thomas Bryant, James Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson, Indiana: It’s really this simple for Indiana: If Archie Miller gets all three of these guys to return to school, Indiana is probably going to be a preseason top 25 team. If all three of them stick in the NBA Draft, Indiana is going to have to scrap to make the NCAA tournament.

13. Markis McDuffie, Wichita State: I think McDuffie is one of those guys that has flown under the radar as a talent, largely due to the fact that he plays on a team that spends less time on national television than Rutgers. That said, he’s the leading scorer of a team that’s going to be on everyone’s preseason top ten next season. Losing him would be a major blow for the Shockers.

14. Tacko Fall, UCF: UCF actually has a shot to be an NCAA tournament team next season — Johnny Dawkins has a better roster than you realize — but that hinges somewhat upon Tacko Fall and whether or not he’ll return to school for his junior year. The 7-foot-6 Fall made massive strides this season, but he still has a ways to go before he’s ready to handle the rigors of being a professional basketball player.

15. Braxton Key, Alabama: Alabama is going to pop up in the preseason top 25 this season and Key led the team in scoring as a freshman. So why is he so low here? Because Alabama is top 25 due to the fact that they bring in a loaded freshman class headlined by a pair of five-star scorers in Collin Sexton and John Petty. Key’s numbers will take a hit.

2017 NBA Draft Early Entry List: Who is staying and who is going?

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RETURNING TO SCHOOL

Jalen Adams, UConn
Grayson Allen, Duke (story)
Tyus Battle, Syracuse
Marques Bolden, Duke
Mikal Bridges (story)
Miles Bridges, Michigan State (story)
Bruce Brown, Miami
Jalen Brunson (story)
Jeffery Carroll, Oklahoma State (story)
Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame
Marcus Foster, Creighton
Devonte’ Graham, Kansas (story)
E.C. Matthews, Rhode Island
Shake Milton, SMU
Chimezie Metu, USC
Allonzo Trier, Arizona (story)
Robert Williams, Texas A&M (story)

DECLARING, SIGNING WITH AN AGENT

Bam Adebayo, Kentucky (story)
Jarrett Allen, Texas (story)
Ike Anigbogu, UCLA (story)
O.G. Anunoby, Indiana (story)
Dwayne Bacon, Florida State (story)
Lonzo Ball, UCLA (story)
Jordan Bell, Oregon (story)
Antonio Blakeney, LSU (story)
John Collins, Wake Forest
Zach Collins, Gonzaga (story)
Tyler Dorsey, Oregon (story)
P.J. Dozier, South Carolina (story)
Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State (story)
De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky (story)
Markelle Fultz, Washington (story)
Harry Giles III, Duke (story)
Isaac Humphries, Kentucky (story)
Jonathan Isaac, Florida State (story)
Justin Jackson, North Carolina (story)
Jaylen Johnson, Louisville
Luke Kennard, Duke (story)
T.J. Leaf, UCLA (story)
Tyler Lydon, Syracuse (story)
Lauri Markkanen, Arizona (story)
Malik Monk, Kentucky (story)
Austin Nichols, Virginia
Justin Patton, Creighton (story)
L.J. Peak, Georgetown
Ivan Rabb, California (story)
Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Florida State
Devin Robinson, Florida
Kobi Simmons, Arizona (story)
Dennis Smith Jr., N.C. State (story)
Edmond Sumner, Xavier (story)
Jayson Tatum, Duke (story)
Melo Trimble, Maryland (story)
Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga (story)

DECLARING WITHOUT AN AGENT

Shaqquan Aaron, USC
Jaylen Adams, St. Bonaventure
Deng Adel, Louisville
Jashaun Agosto, LIU-Brooklyn
Rawle Alkins, Arizona
Mark Alstork, Wright State
Jaylen Barford, Arkansas
Joel Berry II, North Carolina
James Blackmon, Indiana
Trevon Bluiett, Xavier
Tony Bradley, North Carolina
Dillon Brooks, Oregon
Thomas Bryant, Indiana (story)
Rodney Bullock, Providence
Khadeen Carrington, Seton Hall
Jevon Carter, West Virginia (story)
Jason Chartouny, Fordham
Donte Clark, UMass (story)
Chance Comanche, Arizona
Angel Delgado, Seton Hall
Hamidou Diallo, Kentucky (story)
Vince Edwards, Purdue
John Egbunu, Florida
Jon Elmore, Marshall
Obi Enechionyia, Temple
Drew Eubanks, Oregon State
Tacko Fall, UCF
Brandon Goodwin, FGCU
Isaac Haas, Purdue
Aaron Holiday, UCLA
Chandler Hutchinson, Boise State
Frank Jackson, Duke (story)
B.J. Johnson, La Salle
Darin Johnson, CSUN
Robert Johnson, Indiana
Andrew Jones, Texas
Kerem Kanter, Green Bay
Marcus Keene, Central Michigan
Braxton Key, Alabama
Kyle Kuzma, Utah
William Lee, UAB
Daryl Macon, Arkansas
Yante Maten, Georgia
Markis McDuffie, Wichita State
MiKyle McIntosh, Illinois State
Donovan Mitchell, Louisville
Eric Mika, BYU
Johnathan Motley, Baylor (story)
Svi Mykhailiuk, Kansas (story)
Semi Ojeleye, SMU
Cam Oliver, Nevada
Randy Onwuasor, Southern Utah
Theo Pinson, North Carolina
Maverick Rowan, N.C. State
Corey Sanders, Rutgers
Jaaron Simmons, Ohio
Jaren Sina, George Washington
Zach Smith, Texas Tech
Elijah Stewart, USC
Caleb Swanigan (story)
Stevie Thompson, Oregon State
Trevor Thompson, Ohio State
Mo Wagner, Michigan
Tevonn Walker, Valparaiso
Thomas Welsh, UCLA
Thomas Wilder, Western Michigan
Johnathan Williams III, Gonzaga
D.J. Wilson, Michigan
Omer Yurtseven, N.C. State

YET TO DECIDE

Keita Bates-Diop, Ohio State
Jacob Evans, Cincinnati
Matthew Fisher-Davis, Vanderbilt
Jessie Govan, Georgetown
Donta Hall, Alabama
Ethan Happ, Wisconsin
D.J. Hogg, Texas A&M
Justin Jackson, Maryland
V.J. King, Louisville
Dedric Lawson, Memphis
Anas Mahmoud, Louisville
De’Anthony Melton, USC
Jerome Robinson, Boston College

Report: Chris Collins to receive lengthy contract extension

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Chris Collins and Northwestern have reportedly agreed to a lengthy contract extension on Monday morning.

According to Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune, Collins, 43, and the university have come to terms on a deal that will run through the 2024-25 season.

The news shouldn’t come as a surprise. Collins, in his fourth year in Evanston, took Northwestern to the first NCAA Tournament in school history. The Wildcats defeated Vanderbilt in the first round and had eventual national finalist Gonzaga on the ropes in the second round before a controversial call swung all the momentum they had.

In four seasons, Collins has a 73-60 (30-42 Big Ten) record, with back-to-back 20-win seasons.

Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald is also reportedly in line for an extension, according to the Tribune.