Derrick Nix

No. 8 Michigan State claims sole possession of Big Ten with blowout win over No. 4 Michigan


In a single word, No. 8 Michigan State’s performance against No. 4 Michigan Tuesday night in East Lansing was dominant.

Four Spartans scored in double figures, on their way to a 75-52 win at the Breslin Center and the right to claim sole possession of first place in the Big Ten.

Behind 16 points and five rebounds from senior Derrick Nix, Michigan State used a multifaceted approach to hand Michigan its worst loss of the season. Before tonight, the Wolverines’ largest margin of defeat was an eight point loss to No. 3 Indiana.

But Tuesday’s game says more about Michigan State, which will likely gain its share of bandwagoners after this performance.

For as much as Michigan has been praised for its number of offensive weapons, Michigan State has a similarly loaded arsenal, though with one key difference: interior depth. Whereas Mitch McGary and Jordan Morgan can’t be counted on for consistent offensive production on a nightly basis, Nix and Adreian Payne are assets just waiting to be utilized.

Payne had four points Tuesday, but forward Branden Dawson helped to fill in the gaps with 10 points. If two of those three are active on any given night, in concert with the backcourt of Keith Appling and Gary Harris, the Spartans are tough to beat.

With Tuesday night as an example, the interior and transition approaches are the sparks for Michigan State. Once Nix got involved against a thin Michigan interior, the perimeter opened up as well. Harris finished with 17 points and Appling overcame a slow first half to finish with 11.

Against other Big Ten teams and into the NCAA tournament, the ability to play at different paces and still win is crucial. Having a range of offensive weapons helps accomplish that. The Spartans have shown the ability to do so, having won 49-47 over Wisconsin and 59-56 over Ohio State, but also showcasing the offensive power to hit the 75-point mark in five Big Ten victories.

But the true test will come in a grueling stretch from Feb. 19-March 7 for the Spartans. It is in that window that Michigan State meets No. 1 Indiana, followed by road games against No. 13 Ohio State and No. 4 Michigan, before returning home to meet No. 20 Wisconsin.

Tough schedule or not, it has typically been unwise to bet against a Tom Izzo Michigan State team, come March. This year might be another example.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

VIDEO: Kris Dunn wills Providence to win over No. 11 Arizona

Kris Dunn, Elliott Pitts
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Kris Dunn spent the first 35 minutes of Friday night’s game against No. 11 Arizona in foul trouble, splitting his time between sitting on the bench and trying to avoid finding himself, again, on the wrong side the whistle.

With 11 minutes left in the game, and with Dunn yet to find a rhythm, the all-american point guard was whistled for his fourth foul as he battled for a rebound with Arizona’s Mark Tollefsen. Head coach Ed Cooley say his superstar beside his for six game minutes, time enough for Arizona to turn a 49-47 deficit into a 58-54 lead.

There were just over five minutes left when Dunn reentered the second semifinal of the Wooden Legacy, and he proceeded to show everyone in the country why he was named the Preseason Player of the Year. Providence had nine possessions after he reentered the game. Dunn scored 11 points and had a pair of assists on those eight possessions, and if Ben Bentil had stuck a wide-open three — that was setup by Dunn — the Friars would have scored on all nine.

In total, Dunn was responsible for all 15 Friar points in a game-changing, 15-7 run in the final 4:30. It was capped off by this Kobe-in-his-prime-esque game-winner:

The win for Providence is huge for a couple of reasons:

  • Dunn showed a killer instinct against a marquee opponent, something that we didn’t necessarily see out of him a season ago. He wasn’t going to let his team lose, and given that Providence doesn’t have anyone else that can consistently create good shots, they are going to need that from him a lot this year.
  • It makes a statement for the Friars. Arizona is overrated at No. 11 in the country, yes, but going out on national television against an elite program and getting this kind of performance from Dunn is a confidence-booster and a tone-setter. Providence hasn’t been accustomed to winning in recent years. This is a way to set a trend.
  • Ben Bentil continues to play like a star. Dunn had 19 points and eight assists on Friday, but Bentil followed up a 24-point performance in the win over Evansville with 21 critical points on Friday.

This win sets up a matchup between No. 3 Michigan State and Providence on Sunday night, which means that Denzel Valentine and Kris Dunn — the two best players in the country, sorry Ben Simmons — will be going head-to-head.

Oh. Hell. Yes.

No. 14 Cal goes 0-2 in Las Vegas Invitational

Jaylen Brown
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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After midnight on the east coast on Thanksgiving, No. 14 Cal blew a 15 point second half lead against San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to use a 30-6 run to put away the game and advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. That’s the same San Diego State team had scored 43 points in a loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week.

Not 24 hours later, the Golden Bears were shredded defensively by the Richmond Spiders, losing 94-90 in the consolation game of a four-team tournament they were considered to be the heavy favorite in.

It’s a disappointing two-game stretch for Cal, who entered the season as a Pac-12 favorite and had looked the part for the first four games of the season.

And the issue appears to be on the defensive end of the floor.

Richmond is a good Atlantic 10 team. Terry Allen and Marshall Wood are high-major big men, Shawn’Dre Jones is a jitterbug at the point and Chris Mooney runs a Princeton-esque system that is very difficult to prepare for without a day in-between games. So it’s not really surprising that the Spiders gave Cal a fight.

But 94 points?

On the heels of giving up 44 points in the second half against the offensively-challenged Aztecs?

That’s a problem, one that I’m sure that Cuonzo Martin is going to address this week in practice. Martin has managed to put together a roster that is build for small-ball, with four talented perimeter players surrounding a first round pick in the post. But that’s not the style that he’s known for. Martin played his college ball at Purdue in the Gene Keady days. He cut his teeth as a head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. His team’s at Tennessee were known for being tough and physical defensively.

That’s how Martin coaches, which is part of the reason Cal had such hype entering the year.

The talents of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews on a team with a coach that gets teams to defend the way Martin does? It’s no surprise that pundits would be optimistic.

But as of now, they have some work to do defensively if they want to live up to that hype.