Will Sheehey, Branden Dawson

Top 25 Countdown: No. 12 Michigan State Spartans

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 29-8, 13-5 Big Ten (t-1st); Lost in the Sweet 16 to Louisville

Head Coach: Tom Izzo

Key Losses: Draymond Green, Brandon Wood, Austin Thornton

Newcomers: Gary Harris, Matt Costello, Denzel Valentine, Kenny Kaminski

Projected Lineup:

G: Keith Appling, Jr.
G: Gary Harris, Fr.
F: Branden Dawson, So.
F: Derrick Nix, Sr.
C: Adreian Payne, Jr.
Bench: Travis Trice, So.; Alex Gauna, So.; Matt Costello, Fr.; Brandon Kearney, So.; Russell Byrd, So.; Denzel Valentive, Fr.

Outlook: Michigan State entered the 2010-2011 season with all kinds of hype and produced one of the most disappointing seasons in Spartan history. They finished 19-15 on the year, 9-9 in league play and somehow managed to squeeze an NCAA tournament bid out of it. After some significant roster turnover heading into last season, the Spartans weren’t expected to be much more than mediocre … and they went out and won a share of the Big Ten regular season title (after blowing a two game lead with two games left), the Big Ten tournament title and earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. (Hurray, accurate preseason projections!)

And this season?

Well, expectations are kind of in the middle. The Spartans are expected to be a contender in the Big Ten, but they aren’t a favorite. Indiana is. It’s tough to even label them a contender for the title with Michigan and Ohio State in the conference as well. They’re also a borderline top ten team, as their ranking in this poll will show you, but they aren’t really talked about as a Final Four contender beyond the obvious “never bet against Izzo” tourney-meme.

The one thing we do know about this group is that they have the kind of makeup that Izzo usually has success with.

It starts in the front court, where the Spartans will be as big and physical as anyone. Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix spent last season rotating at the center spot, playing along side Draymond Green, but with Green off to the professional ranks, Izzo’s two biggest big men will see a lot of shared court time. Payne and Nix are complete contrasts on the court. Where Payne has length and athleticism for days, Nix is a bully on the block that’s strong as an ox but struggles to keep his weight down.

Joining them up front is sophomore Branden Dawson, who was having an excellent freshman season before he tore his ACL in March. The good news? Dawson has recovered incredibly quickly from the surgery and should be back to his old form, which is good news for this group. At 6-foot-6 and 230 pounds, Dawson is aggressive when attacking the basket — and the back boards — and will give Izzo a trio of tough, physical front court players. Exactly like the Tom Izzo teams of old. Sophomore Alex Gauna and freshman Matt Costello will round out the front court rotation, although Dawson might also be able to slide over and play the four spot if necessary.

The back court is where the question marks will lie. As well as that front court trio fits in with what classic Michigan State teams look like, the key centers around the ability of the back court to score, because offensive creativity is not exactly a strong suit for that group.

The most important player will be Keith Appling. Appling is more of a natural scoring guard, but he was forced to move into the point guard role last season due to the dismissal of Korie Lucious. It took him awhile to get adjusted to the position, but with a year under his belt, the Spartans are expecting big things out of him. Expect his scoring numbers (11.9 ppg last season) to increase, while his assist-to-turnover ratio (1.7:1) improves and his three-point shooting (25.0% last year, versus 41.0% as a freshman) both improve. Appling’s load will be lessened by Travis Trice, a sophomore point guard that was a pleasant surprise last year. He battled a pretty vicious virus over the summer, however, which caused him to lose some weight and conditioning.

Freshman Gary Harris could end up being this team’s x-factor. A five-star recruit, Harris is an athletic, 6-foot-4 slasher known for his aggressiveness, his ability to score off the dribble and his defensive aggressiveness. If he can prove to be a consistent scorer from the perimeter, a guy that can compete for all-league honors, Michigan State could have some real upside this season. Sophomore Brandan Kearney and freshman Denzel Valentine are bigger, more versatile guards, while Russell Byrd is a 6-foot-7 shooter whose recurring foot issues may end up forcing him into a limited role.

Predictions?: Best case scenario? Assuming Appling and Harris excel in the back court, Dawson is fully recovered from his injury and more advanced offensively, and Nix and Payne have learned how to play together on the front line, Michigan State has the makings of a team that can make noise in the league and a run in the tournament. But those are a lot of ‘ifs’ that need to work out well. There’s no guarantee that happens. Whether or not it does, the Spartans are going to play a tough, physical brand of basketball and compete every night. A top four finish in the Big Ten sounds about right.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Harvard lands a commitment from top 100 point guard

Tommy Amaker
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Harvard once again has one of the top recruiting classes in the entire country, and they added to it on Thursday.

Bryce Aiken, a top 100 guard out of New Jersey, committed to the Crimson on Thursday afternoon. The 6-foot point guard announced the decision on his twitter account.

“Most difficult decision of my life but here it goes: I have decided to commit and spend the upcoming four years of my life at Harvard University,” he wrote.

Aiken, who is ranked 100th in the Class of 2016 by Rivals, ultimately picked Harvard over Miami and Seton Hall. He’s the fifth member of Tommy Amaker’s recruiting class, joining Rivals top 150 forwards Chris Lewis and Robert Baker, three star wing Seth Towns and Christian Juzang.

Aiken will likely play behind Siyani Chambers as a freshman, as Chambers left Harvard this season in order to preserve his final year of eligibility. He’ll compete with Tommy McCarthy for the starting point guard spot down the road.

CAA Preview: Hofstra, James Madison head balanced field

Ronald Curry (AP Photo)
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Beginning in October and running up through November 13th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2015-2016 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the CAA.

There may not have been a conference in the country that was more competitive at the top than the CAA a season ago. Four teams shared the regular season title and seven finished within three games of first place.

It doesn’t get more competitive than that, and while a couple of those teams lose some critical pieces, we’re staring down the barrel of another CAA season that won’t be decided until the final game.

On paper, Hofstra looks like the best team, as they clearly have the most talent. Juan’ya Green and Ameen Tanksley, the best 1-2 punch in the conference are arguably the best perimeter pairing in mid-major hoops, are both back for their final season. Sharp-shooter Brian Bernardi returns as well, as do a couple of big bodies inside, but the issue for the Pride this season will have nothing to do with how well they can score.

Can they get stops? The Pride were 49th nationally in offensive efficiency last season. They were 249th in defensive efficiency and struggled throughout the year to get critical stops on key possessions.

That leaves James Madison, who won a share of last year’s regular season title. The Dukes have the league’s best pure point guard on their roster in 6-foot-4 Ron Curry. Curry averaged 13.9 points and 4.3 assists as a junior and was the catalyst in a number of important wins. Matt Brady also has the best big man in the conference in 6-foot-9 Yohanny Dalembert. Throw in a pair of snipers on the wings and a handful of quality role players, and JMU has a real shot at winning again.

The key for this group is going to be team chemistry. In 2014-15, their season turned when they dismissed Andre Nation, arguably the most talented player on the roster, in December.

Northeastern, William & Mary and UNC Wilmington all lose critical pieces off of last year’s roster.

Northeastern will be without big man Scott Eatherton, a key piece in their near-upset of Notre Dame in the opening round of last year’s NCAA tournament, but they bring back four key seniors from last year, including Quincy Ford and David Walker. They’ll be in the mix down the stretch despite Eatherton’s graduation, but the same cannot be said for William & Mary.

The Tribe run a Princeton-esque offensive system, and they run it well, which should help them overcome the loss of Marcus Thornton, one of the most dynamic guards in all of college basketball last season. They also return a promising wing in Omar Prewitt, but there are some real concerns. Can Prewitt handle facing an opponent’s best defender on a nightly basis? And without Thornton, do they have someone they can turn to if their offense breaks down?

UNCW loses their two leading scorers and three of their top five players. Kevin Keatts is a terrific coach, but the Seahawks look primed to take a small step back this season. As will Drexel, who lost Damion Lee as a graduate transfer to Louisville.

There are two teams to keep an eye on in the middle of the league: Delaware and Towson. The Blue Hens were dreadfully inexperienced last season and dealing with a coaching staff that was left in contract limbo. They still managed to finish 9-9 in the league, returning the league’s two best freshmen in Kory Holden and Chivarsky Corbett. They’re probably a year away from truly being a contender.

Towson lost leading scorer Four McGlynn, but John Davis and Byron Hawkins both return while Wake Forest transfer Arnaud William Adala Moto will be eligible this year.

MORE: 2015-16 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule


  • Favorite: “Hofstra is probably the most talented team. But Hofstra was really talented last year, too, and with [Green and Tanksley] they only finished 10-8. Can they defend a little better? That was their Achilles’ heel last year. I also like James Madison. Ronald Curry is the best point guard in the league, and [Yohanney] Dalembert is the best big.”
  • Sleeper: “I really like Delaware. I think they’re a year away, but I hate to play them. If Kory Holden has it going, they’ve got two guys that can score inside and if Chivarsky Corbett progresses on the wing? I like their chances.”
  • Star to watch: “Juan’ya Green. He just plays wit such a pace. Big guard, can score at all three levels, make threes, mid-range, scores at the rim. He’s got a feel for the game. Old man game, it looks like he’s coasting until you see the box score. He’s a terrific player. Far and away biggest difference maker in the league.”


I’m not sure what I can add here that wasn’t mentioned in the Coach’s Take. Green, who transferred into the program from Niagara, averaged 17.1 points, 6.5 assists and 4.3 boards. The knock on him — like the rest of the Pride — is his effort on the defensive end of the floor. But even with those concerns, Green is the best player on the team that can win the league.


  • Ronald Curry, James Madison: Curry has improved every year he’s been in college, averaging 13.9 points, 4.3 assists and 3.8 boards as a junior. As he goes, JMU goes.
  • Ameen Tanksley, Hofstra: The second-part of Hofstra’s dynamic Philly duo. Green is the playmaker for the Pride, Tanksley, a 6-foot-5 wing that averaged 16.5 points last season, is their pure scorer.
  • Terry Tarpey, William & Mary: A 6-foot-5 guard, Tarpey averaged 12.0 points, 8.4 boards and 3.2 assists as a junior. He was the Defensive Player of the Year in the league last season. A winner through and through.
  • Yohanny Dalembert, James Madison: A junior from Haiti, the 6-foot-8 Dalembert should be the best big in the conference this season. He averaged 11.6 points and 5.9 boards a season ago.



1. James Madison
2. Hofstra
3. Northeastern
4. Delaware
5. William & Mary
6. Towson
7. UNC Wilmington
8. Drexel
9. Charleston
10. Elon