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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Utah State denies transfer David Collette a release

David Collette Goodluck Okonoboh
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Utah State has denied former forward David Collette a release, saying that his decision to leave the program two days before the start of the season left them without an adequate way to replace last season’s second-leading scorer and was unduly influenced by tampering from other coaching staffs.

“I think there were a lot of factors in play that, unfortunately, have become a trend in college basketball of schools poaching other schools’ players,” head coach Tim Duryea said in a Nov. 11th release announcing the transfer. “I don’t feel good and don’t like how things transpired.”

But that’s not how Collette, who averaged 12.8 points as a redshirt freshman, said things went down. He says he left the team because he and Duryea did not get along. Duryea was a longtime assistant for former head coach Stew Morrill.

The allegations Collette has made range from worrisome to embarrassingly petty. He told Yahoo! Sports and ESPN that the team was told not to tell anyone about a fight in practice, that the school immediately pulled all his athletic aid and that they went as far as to change his measurements on the team site from 6-foot-10, 235 pounds to 6-foot-8, 220 pounds.

Now trying to keep a practice fight off the media’s radar isn’t a huge issue; they happen more than you think and are a bigger deal as a headline than in the locker room. And if Collette is no longer on the team, he is no longer doing the work required to get that aid. Nothing wrong with that, either.

But changing what he’s listed at on the team site? Refusing to release, which prohibits him from being recruited by other coaching staffs and will force him to pay his own way at his new school for two semesters?

Bitter, petty and unnecessary.

This story is now a headline on three of the biggest sports websites. Pretty soon Jay Bilas will be railing against it on twitter, and probably on a broadcast, too; Utah State plays Duke next.

This is going to be a wave of negative publicity for a Utah State program that A) doesn’t make many national headlines, and B) Might actually be pretty good this year.

Is that really worth getting revenge on some college sophomore that doesn’t like playing for you?

Labissiere scores 16 as top-ranked Kentucky beats BU 82-62

Eric Johnson, Isaiah Briscoe
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Freshman center Skal Labissiere scored 16 points to lead top-ranked Kentucky past Boston University 82-62 on Tuesday night.

The Wildcats (5-0) used a big second half to overcome Boston U. in their season debut at No. 1 in The Associated Press Top 25 poll. One day after taking over the top spot, Kentucky struggled to put away the Terriers early but outscored them 42-29 in the second half.

Labissiere finished 7 of 13 from the field and grabbed seven rebounds. Tyler Ulis added 15 points, and Alex Poythress had 14 points and 10 rebounds off the bench for his second straight double-double.

Jamal Murray scored 12 points and Isaiah Briscoe had 11. Kentucky, which spent all of last season ranked No. 1, scored 58 points in the paint and closed with a 22-9 run.

Boston University (2-3) got 15 points from John Papale. Nathan Dieudonne and Kyle Foreman scored 11 apiece.

The Wildcats raced out to a 10-0 lead 3 minutes into the game, but Boston University settled down after making its first basket and kept the score close in the first half by hitting five shots from long range.

The Terriers led 34-33 with 2 minutes remaining in the first half, but the Wildcats scored the last six points of the period to regain the lead.

Labissiere paced the Wildcats with 11 points in the first half, followed by Murray with 10.


Kentucky: The Wildcats improved to 216-28 as the top-ranked team in the country and have won 61 of their last 64 games while holding the top spot. Under coach John Calipari, Kentucky is 63-5 as the top-ranked team in the AP poll.

Boston University: The Terriers fell to 0-5 against Kentucky. … Boston University missed its first four shots and didn’t score its first basket until the 16:55 mark of the first half. … Dieudonne, a graduate of Louisville Trinity, was Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball in 2012.


Kentucky plays Friday against South Florida at the Hoophall Miami Invitational.

Boston University plays Saturday at Binghamton.