The Secondary Break: Monday’s Links

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Bairstow’s success story is 23 years in the making (Albuquerque Journal)
Of the three members of New Mexico’s “big three,” senior forward Cameron Bairstow may be the most overlooked. But to this point in the season he’s been outstanding, averaging 20.1 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. And Bairstow’s path to becoming one of the Mountain West’s best players is one that’s been 23 years in the making.

Unforgettable hurt from bullying (ESPN)
In recent years bullying has received greater attention in American society, with there being a greater level of understanding of what the experiences do to people. ESPN color commentator Dick Vitale shared his own experiences with bullying, and his journey to becoming one of the sport’s most recognizable personalities is certainly an inspiring one.

Loyola’s SJ Tuohy enjoying life after “The Blind Side” (Baltimore Sun)
Loyola (MD) guard SJ Tuohy was a part of the life depicted in the movie “The Blind Side,” with his family taking in a young man in Michael Oher who is now a starting offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens. Oher’s presence in Baltimore played a role in Tuohy’s decision to join the Loyola program a couple years ago.

Tennessee, Virginia seeking to gain momentum (Associated Press)
One of the bigger non-conference games of the upcoming week is Virginia’s game at Tennessee, with both teams in a position where they can use a quality win ahead of the start of play in their respective leagues. Both teams have endured their struggles thus far as well, leaving players on both teams hopeful to gain some momentum in their final game of 2013.

Toledo caps a turnaround by taking on a giant (New York Times)
Tod Kowalczyk’s Toledo Rockets are one of eight remaining undefeated teams in college basketball, which is quite the achievement when considering the fact that they were ineligible for postseason play last season. But the Rockets will be tested on Monday night when they visit No. 16 Kansas.

Big East teams have much to prove in league play (USA Today)
With many of the league’s members failing to rack up the signature non-conference victories, the first season of conference play in the new Big East takes on added importance. The fun kicks off on Tuesday, with all ten conference teams taking the floor in the first conference games of the new era.

Illinois basketball’s Rayvonte Rice in shape on, off basketball court (Chicago Sun-Times)
In Illinois’ 74-60 win over UIC on Saturday afternoon Drake transfer Rayvonte Rice stole the show, scoring a game-high 28 points to lead the way. And it was the latest step forward for Rice, who lost 45 pounds and cut his body fat by some ten percent according to head coach John Groce. As a result, he’s been one of the best transfers in the country to this point in the season.

Utes appear to be headed in the (Delon) Wright direction (Salt Lake Tribune)
One of the best junior college transfers in the nation to this point in the season has been Utah’s Delon Wright, whose versatility has proven to be a major asset for Larry Krystkowiak’s Utes. How good can the brother of Portland Trailblazer Dorell Wright and his teammates be this season? We’ll learn a bit more about Utah on Thursday night when they host No. 12 Oregon.

Patsos pleased with Saints’ progress (Troy Record)
Given how far Siena tumbled in the three seasons following Fran McCaffery’s move to Iowa, it was clear that new head coach Jimmy Patsos had a lot of work ahead of him this season. And despite the Saints having a 4-8 record entering Monday night’s game against Fordham, the former Loyola (MD) head coach is pleased with the team’s progress.

Cougars trying to find some joy in Malibu amid three-game gloom (Provo Daily Herald)
Dave Rose’s BYU Cougars dropped their third straight game on Saturday afternoon as they lost 87-76 at Loyola Marymount. With just one day off before they play at Pepperdine, the Cougars are hopeful that the trip to beautiful Malibu will serve as a catalyst of sorts.

As good as they’ve been, No. 3 Michigan State has yet to play their best

Bryn Forbes, Ryan Fazekas
Associated Press
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Sunday night’s Wooden Legacy title game matchup between No. 3 Michigan State and Providence was billed as a matchup of the nation’s two best players, and rightfully so. Michigan State senior Denzel Valentine (17 points, six rebounds, five assists), who already has two triple-doubles to his credit this season, and Providence redshirt junior Kris Dunn (21 points, five rebounds, seven assists) have more than lived up to the preseason expectations and more of the same was expected in Anaheim.

And while both had their moments, it was Michigan State’s supporting cast that made the difference in their 77-64 victory. The scary thing for future opponents on Michigan State’s schedule is that Tom Izzo’s team is nowhere near being a finished product.

With Valentine dealing with first-half foul trouble Bryn Forbes stepped up, scoring 13 of his 18 points to help the Spartans take a two-point lead into the half. As for the 11-0 run that Michigan State produced to take control of the game late, a host of players stepped forward in regards to scoring, rebounding and defending.

Freshmen Deyonta Davis and Matt McQuaid combined to score nine points over the final 5:32, with transfer guard Eron Harris adding six of his 12 points during that stretch. The Spartans outscored the Friars, who aren’t as deep, 22-7 during that stretch to close out the game, hunting for quality shots and hitting the offensive glass while making things difficult for Providence on the other end of the floor.

The end result was a final margin that does not indicate just how close the game was. While Providence seemed to run out of steam Michigan State received contributions from multiple players, which is undoubtedly a good sign for this group moving forward.

The Spartans will return the currently injured Gavin Schilling later this season, giving them another big man alongside Davis, Matt Costello and Colby Wollenman. He was a player they missed Sunday night, as he can defend opposing big men both in the post and on the perimeter. His absence was a main reason Michigan State didn’t have an answer for Providence’s Ben Bentil (20 points, seven rebounds) defensively.

The key for this group is going to end up being role definition, which is especially true in the case of Harris. A transfer from West Virginia, Harris came to East Lansing with the reputation of being a big time scorer. He’s struggled through the first two weeks of the season, but he got on a roll on Sunday night, finishing with 12 points, three boards and three assists. He showed he’s capable of doing a variety of things on the perimeter, and fitting into a “Swiss army knife” kind of role would make Michigan State that much more dangerous.

There’s no denying that Michigan State has been one of the nation’s best teams thus far.

But there’s also no denying that the Spartans have yet to hit their ceiling, which is definitely a positive moving forward.

Wichita State’s Anton Grady returns home with team

AP Photo/Willie J. Allen Jr.
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Wichita State forward Anton Grady was released from a hospital in Orlando on Sunday afternoon in time to return home with his Shocker teammates.

Grady suffered a spinal corn concussion on Friday when he collided head-first with an Alabama defender, snapping his head sharply to the side. He lay on the court motionless for 10 minutes after the injury and was taken off the floor on a stretcher.

[RELATED: Can WSU still make tourney?]

“I want to send out a big thank you to Shocker Nation and all of my friends and family for of the love and encouragement that I have received the past few days,” Grady said in a statement on Sunday morning. “I’ve been reading your tweets and posts and appreciate every last one of them. I have a lot of work to do to get back on the court, but with the help of such a great support system, I’m ready for the challenge.”

By Friday night, Grady had feeling in all of his extremities, but he has a long road of rehab ahead of him.