Derrick Nix

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

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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 JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

UNLV’s Stephen Zimmerman out with a knee injury

UNLV forward Stephen Zimmerman Jr. shoots against San Diego State during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
(L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
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The injury Stephen Zimmerman suffered on Saturday will keep the star UNLV freshman out for at least a week, a source told NBC Sports.

The injury is not thought to be serious, however. Zimmerman may be kept out for longer as a precaution, but that’s a result of the Runnin’ Rebels being in a situation where the rest of their regular season is relatively meaningless.

They’re not getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament regardless of how they finish out league play. With back-up center Ben Carter out with a torn ACL, it’s more important to make sure that Zimmerman, who is averaging 10.6 points and 9.1 boards this season, is totally healthy for the Mountain West tournament.

That tournament, mind you, will be played at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.

So the Runnin’ Rebels, regardless of how poor they’ve played this season, will always have a chance to land an automatic bid.

Anyway, the more interesting aspect of this story is how Zimmerman injured the knee. It was a completely avoidable play that came after the whistle, but I’m not sure it was what you would call a “dirty play”. You tell me:

VIDEO: Buddy Hield is ‘all money’ on game-winning three vs. No. 24 Texas

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) takes a shot over Oklahoma State forward Chris Oliver during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
(AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
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With a little more than three minutes left on Monday night, No. 24 Texas held a 57-51 lead on No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman as Jordan Woodard struggled again and Buddy Hield failed to find the rhythm that he had throughout the first three months of the season.

At that point in the game, Hield was 4-for-14 from the floor with 15 points and four turnovers. He had just missed a pair of wide-open threes

“I couldn’t make a shot,” Hield said after the game. But that changed down the stretch. First, Hield finally got a three to drop. On the next possession, he got all the way to the rim and scored. On the following two possessions, he was fouled on a drive to the rim and hit four free throws. And after missing a pull-up jumper, Hield did this:

“I told coach I wanted the ball,” Hield said, “I saw Lammert coming to bite, so I pulled up.”

“It’s all money.”

Hield is already the favorite to win National Player of the Year, and this performance is only going to help his cause further. Think about it like this: Buddy was not good on Monday night, at least according to his (admittedly lofty) standards. But he still finished with 27 points and shook off a cold shooting night just in time to take over down the stretch.

Now think about this: Hield’s head coach has enough confidence in him to hand him the keys in the final minutes despite the fact that he’s struggling and on a team that has two other players that Lon Kruger trusts on game-winning possessions. Think about it. When Oklahoma beat West Virginia at the buzzer, it was Jordan Woodard that the play was drawn up for. When they beat LSU, it was Isaiah Cousins that got the rock on the final possession while Hield was used as a decoy. .

Want to talk about coaching luxuries?

Kruger has three guards that can shoot, penetrate and score, and penetrate and kick, and one of them is the National Player of the Year that doesn’t mind being used as a decoy.