Michigan State v Michigan

Should we be concerned about Michigan State?


At what point do we start getting concerned about Michigan State?

After losing 58-56 to No. 4 Michigan on Sunday afternoon, No. 9 Michigan State has now lost three straight games.

On paper, those losses don’t look all that bad. Indiana beat them in East Lansing last Tuesday, they lost at Ohio State last Sunday and, most recently, they lost to Michigan in Ann Arbor.

The Spartans are just the latest team to succumb to the meat-grinder that in the Big Ten regular season, right?

A closer look, however, reveals some concerns.

For starters, it’s been weeks since Branden Dawson played well. He’s scored just 22 points over his last four games, with just 16 rebounds to 11 turnovers during that stretch. Tom Izzo has sat Dawson down next to him down the stretch of late, preferring to use Denzel Valentine alongside Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne.

Dawson isn’t the only Spartan that’s struggled during this three-game losing streak. Point guard Keith Appling is averaging just 6.0 points during this three-game losing streak, with eight assists and nine turnovers while shooting just 5-23 from the floor, 0-9 from three (he’s 2-22 from three the past five games) and 8-13 from the free throw line. While Appling momentarily looked like he snapped out of his recent slump as he led the Spartans back from a ten-point deficit with four minutes left, he turned the ball over with the score tied and just 20 seconds left, watching as Trey Burke picked his pocket and went the other way for a wide-open, game-winning dunk.

There’s more.

Michigan State lost to Michigan on a night where the Wolverines — who got beaten up physically and gave up 84 points to Penn State — forced 18 turnovers and held Sparty to just 35.6% shooting. Taking it one step further, a “soft” Michigan team beat a “tough” Michigan State team with their defense on a night where they didn’t hit a single three-pointer.

This comes on the heels of the Spartans losing to Ohio State on a night where Aaron Craft torched Appling and Deshaun Thomas shot just 4-16 from the floor.

Without question, these are red flags for the Spartans as we dive into the best month of the college hoops season.

By no means should you write off any team coach by Tom Izzo, particularly one with as much size and talent as this team has, but it will be something to keep an eye on over the next two weeks as we head into Selection Sunday.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

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.

Tyler Ulis injured as No. 1 Kentucky beats South Florida

Tyler Ulis, Ky Howard
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MIAMI (AP) Jamal Murray had 21 points and No. 1 Kentucky scored the final 15 points of the first half on the way to beating South Florida 84-63 in the HoopHall Miami Invitational on Friday.

Skal Labissiere added 17 points for the Wildcats (6-0), who led by as many as 31. Charles Matthews scored 11 points and Isaiah Briscoe finished with seven assists for Kentucky, now a winner of 37 consecutive regular-season games and 39 in a row against unranked opponents.

Chris Perry scored 14 points for USF (1-5), which has lost 18 consecutive games against teams ranked in the Top 25. Jaleel Cousins added 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting, and Jahmal McMurray scored 11 points for the Bulls.

Kentucky played the second half without starting guard Tyler Ulis, who departed with a right elbow injury after getting hurt while fighting for a ball loose on the floor.

Kentucky announced after the game that the injury was a hyperextension of the elbow and that he will be day-to-day.

The Bulls were within 27-21 with 6 minutes left in the first half after McMurray banked in a 3-pointer only a few feet away from where John Calipari was standing, and the look of anguish on the Kentucky coach’s face was clear.

It didn’t last long.

The Wildcats scored on seven of their next nine possessions and the game was over by halftime, Kentucky going into the break with a 42-21 lead.

It was a reunion for plenty of people on both benches. Calipari squared off with his former assistant Orlando Antigua, now in his second year leading USF. Antigua’s staff includes another former Calipari assistant in Rod Strickland, plus former Kentucky basketball staff members Mike Malone and Dominic Lombardi.

So the staffs have plenty of familiarity. On the court, there was plenty of disparity. Kentucky finished with a commanding 23-6 edge in points off turnovers and finished with 16 assists to the Bulls’ six.