Big Ten Tournament: No. 22 Michigan State takes another step forward in win over No. 12 Wisconsin


It’s been a familiar refrain all season long: when No. 22 Michigan State gets back to full strength they’re a serious national title contender. But as the season wore on injuries continued to add up, resulting in a lack of on-court cohesion that left more than a few skeptical that it would ever happen.

Michigan State’s play in Indianapolis this weekend may convert some of those skeptics, with the Spartans (25-8, 12-6) knocking off No. 12 Wisconsin by the final score of 83-75 to advance to Sunday’s Big Ten title game.

The Spartans shot 56% from the field and 7-for-13 from beyond the arc against Wisconsin (26-7, 12-6) , taking control of the game in the first half with their ability to not only string together stops but get out and run off of Badger misses as well. As a result, Tom Izzo’s team was able to find quality looks early in the shot clock as they kept Wisconsin from getting set in its half-court defense. And for a team that at times struggles with defending dribble penetration, this proved to be problematic for Wisconsin.

RELATED: Is your team in the field of 68? Check our latest Bracketology

Six players, including all five starters, reached double figures for Michigan State with Adreian Payne’s 18 points leading the way. The balanced scoring was a good sign moving forward for Michigan State, as was the fact that they committed just eight turnovers on the afternoon.

In Michigan State’s final four regular season games the Spartans averaged 15.3 turnovers per contest, going 1-3 as a result with the lone win coming against an Iowa team that’s been reeling of late. In the Big Ten tournament the Spartans are averaging just nine turnovers per game, and their assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.7 is a slight improvement over their ratio in regular season conference play (1.4).

Keith Appling (ten points, six assists) and Travis Trice (11 points, four assists) were responsible for ten of Michigan State’s 15 assists against Wisconsin, with each committing just one turnover. Wisconsin isn’t a team that will force a high number of turnovers, as opponents committed just 9.3 per game in Big Ten play, but there’s a need to be patient and not get into too much of a hurry against the Badgers. Michigan State was able to remain under control for much of the afternoon, and the play of their guards was a key reason why.

These games in Indianapolis represent valuable opportunities for a rotation that hasn’t had as much time to develop chemistry as Izzo would hope for during the season to become a more cohesive unit, and the Spartans have taken advantage in wins over Northwestern and Wisconsin. Sunday’s final against No. 8 Michigan will help as well, and the Michigan State team many held out hope would show up at some point is beginning to round into form at the right time.

POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Josh Adams takes flight

Josh Adams
Associated Press
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Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.

After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.

Video credit: Wyoming Athletics

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
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Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.