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Tom Izzo: I’m not ‘bitching about officiating … I’m bitching about the rules.’

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From Nov. 20th thru Dec. 1st, I’ll be on the road, hitting 21 games in 11 days. To follow along and read my stories from the road, click here.

NEW YORK — Michigan State, the No. 1 team in the country, knocked off Oklahoma in the title game of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at the Barclays Center late on Saturday night, picking up an 87-76 win that moved the Spartans to 6-0 on the season.

There were times on Saturday where Tom Izzo’s club was dominant. From about the midway point of the first half to the first media timeout of the second half, the Spartans turned a 22-11 deficit into a 53-35 lead. The Sooners didn’t have a chance, and that was essentially without Adreian Payne doing anything.

But there was a reason that Payne wasn’t doing anything, and, according to Izzo, that reason was the new emphasis on fouls in college basketball. Well after midnight, in the bowels of the Barclays Center, Izzo spent a good 12 minutes venting about the way the game is being called, which is noteworthy given the fact that the Spartans, you know, won!

“Everybody is going to think points are up. They’re up because free shots are free shots!” Izzo said. “What I’m worried about is are we going to teach [players to] just dribble in and get fouled? Is that good basketball? We had a two hour and 32 minute game tonight. Is that going to be good for basketball?”

(MORE: Denzel Valentine, the piece that makes Michigan State’s talent fit together)

Michigan State’s starting point guard, Keith Appling, finished the night with 27 points on 10-for-14 shooting. He took over down the stretch, hitting big shot after big shot as he got into the paint seemingly at will. Here’s the thing: that was by design. “I told Keith at the end, if he takes a jump shot I’ll kill him,” Izzo said. “I just want him to drive in there and get fouled.”

Izzo believes that’s the crux of the issue in college hoops right now. No contact is allowed, which means that defense can’t be played. The best offense, as a result, is to simply isolate your team’s best penetrator, allowing him to drive headlong into the lane and wait for an official to bail you out. That’s not entertaining. That’s not basketball. It’s a free throw contest, one that results-minded coaches are going to be forced to play to.

“What are we going to teach? Are we going to teach the kids to just drive in there?” Izzo said. “I’m going to coach it this week. Just drive in. I’m going to put on football pads again this week. Not to rebound, but offensively. Just go in there, full back dive, three yards and a cloud of dust.”

“It’s going to sound like I’m coming out and bitching about the officiating, but I’m not. I’m bitching about the rules.”

He’s also bitching about the consistency. On Friday night, I was courtside at Madison Square Garden to see No. 18 UConn knock off Indiana. There was plenty of contact with dribblers in that game. There were armbars on drivers, and there was even a bit of handchecking. Much of it went uncalled, and the result was arguably the best game of the season to date.

On Saturday night, fouls were called for looking at a player with the ball. There were 49 fouls and 66 free throws combined. “You think that’s hard on a coach or a writer,” Izzo said, “imagine being a player.”

The result of an inconsistent whistle will be players hesitating to defend. Take Payne as an example. He had his worst game of the season because a pair of early fouls destroyed his rhythm. If he picks up a quick foul in first couple of minutes the next time out, do you think he’s going to play any defense whatsoever if it means he’ll once again be destined for the bench.

“Everybody is going to think, ‘well, only five kids fouled out,'” Izzo said. “It’s not about fouling out. It’s about how you play after getting your second one. You’re going to play tentative. You’re going to play ole.”

“We’re going to be fooled that [we’re] scoring more points. I think before it’s done you’re going to see more teams zoning, and it’ll get slower yet.”

No. 22 Cincinnati’s loss to No. 16 Butler shines light on AAC’s struggles

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 10: Head coach Mick Cronin of the Cincinnati Bearcats reacts against the Butler Bulldogs in the first half of the game at Hinkle Fieldhouse on December 10, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Kelan Martin scored 20 points and Andrew Chrabascz added 12 points, four boards and five assists as No. 16 Butler bounced back from a tough loss at Indiana State to beat No. 22 Cincinnati, 75-65.

The Bulldogs had been undefeated on the season prior to the loss to the Sycamores, but their ranking was built on the fact that they had beaten Arizona, who was No. 8 at the time, as well as a trio of high-major programs that look destined for the NIT.

Cincinnati probably isn’t destined for the NIT. Their top 25 ranking is justified, which is what makes this win valuable. Quality non-conference wins matter, and this is just one of a handful of good wins for what has proven to be one of the most top-heavy conferences in the country. Villanova, Creighton, Xavier and Butler all look capable of reaching the Sweet 16 this season.

The opposite is true for Cincinnati, who look like the flag-bearer in a conference that isn’t really all that good. They’re the best team in the AAC this season, but that’s a conference that has consistently disappointed this year. SMU, Temple and UConn have all struggled more than we expected them to. Tulsa and Memphis are in rebuilding mode. Houston was supposed to be good this season but they’ve yet to live up to the preseason hype.

Think about it like this: The only team in the AAC without multiple losses on the season is now UCF. That’s … not ideal, and it’s going to be interesting to see just how many bids the league is able to generate.

Think about it. Temple has beaten West Virginia and Florida State while losing to New Hampshire and UMass. SMU’s best win is either Pitt or TCU, both of whom are borderline tournament teams. UConn beat Syracuse but has some atrocious losses on their resume. Houston beat Rhode Island but lost to Arkansas and LSU. Memphis beat Iowa, but Iowa’s not all that good. UCF’s best win is … Mississippi State?

Cincinnati’s lone quality win is at Iowa State, who is about to drop out of the top 25.

POSTERIZED: Wichita State’s Daishon Smith dunks on Oklahoma big man

WICHITA, KS - NOVEMBER 13:  Guard Daishon Smith of the Wichita State Shockers drives up court past forward Roschon Prince #23 of the Long Beach State 49ers during the first half on November 13, 2016 at Charles Koch Arena in Wichita, Kansas.  (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images)
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Daishon Smith is 6-foot-1.

Kristian Doolittle is 6-foot-7.

The lil guy won this battle:

Here’s another angle of the dunk, which sent Wichita State’s bench into hysterics:

POSTERIZED: Duke’s Grayson Allen with a Dunk of the Year candidate (VIDEO)

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It looks like Grayson Allen’s toe is healthy. I’d say his explosivness is back:

Whoa.

Yeah.

POSTERIZED: Five-star Class of 2017 guard Trevon Duval dunks on 6’8″ defender

CHARLOTTE, NC - JULY 9: Trevon Duval during the 2015  Under Armour All-America Basketball Camp on July 9, 2015 at Queens College in Charlotte, NC. (Photo by Ned Dishman/Under Armour)
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Class of 2017 point guard Trevon Duval put down a huge poster dunk on a 6’8″ defender on Saturday as the five-star prospect showed why many consider him the top lead guard in high school basketball.

The 6-foot-2 Duval is considered the No. 3 overall prospect in the Class of 2017 by Rivals.

Nigel Hayes shines against as No. 17 Wisconsin beats Marquette

MILWAUKEE, WI - DECEMBER 10:  Nigel Hayes #10 of the Wisconsin Badgers is fouled by Luke Fischer #40 of the Marquette Golden Eagles during the first half of a game at the BMO Harris Bradley Center on December 10, 2016 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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What a difference a year makes.

Last season at this time, Wisconsin dropped a home game to a Marquette team that was headed to the NIT.

This year?

The Badgers put six players in double-figures as they went into Milwaukee and knocked off Marquette, 93-84.

Bronson Koenig continued his hot shooting, finishing with 18 points and six assists while shooting 4-for-6 from beyond the arc. Vitto Brown chipped in with 15 points, Khalil Iverson had 16 and Ethan Happ chipped in with 11 despite battling foul trouble all afternoon.

But the really story here – hell, the story of Wisconsin’s season to date – has been the change in the way that Nigel Hayes plays.

Hayes was terrific again on Saturday. He had 17 points, nine boards, four assists and three steals. He shot 6-for-10 from the floor and attempted just a pair of threes, making one of them. He had the ball in his hands when Wisconsin was trying to kill off the game, and, more importantly, head coach Greg Gard has seem to start to take advantage of just how good Hayes can be as a facilitator.

There are a couple of points that need to be made here:

  1. When Hayes plays like this, he deserves to be in the all-american discussion. He’s averaging 18.0 points, 7.3 boards and 6.7 assists in the three games Wisconsin has played against high-major competition since the change, and the Badgers have won five straight games while playing easily their best basketball of the season.
  2. And it’s not just because of the numbers he puts up. When Hayes operates as Wisconsin’s de-facto point guard, it makes everyone else on the roster better. For starters, it allows Koenig to play off the ball, where he seems to be more effective. He’s at his best when he’s hunting shots and trying to create off the bounce, but his aggressiveness can be detrimental when he’s the only one touching the ball. It also means offense runs through Happ more often since Koenig isn’t dominating possession, and it lets guys like Brown space the floor because they’re actually able to get rhythm threes.

As of today, Wisconsin is the favorite to win the Big Ten, even if Indiana is far more likely to end up being a No. 1 seed in March.