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Michigan State’s loss to Duke and the dueling narratives of a team still trying to find itself


CHICAGO — Tom Izzo has never been a man to hide the way he feels.

For better or worse, he wears his emotions on his sleeve, and that certainly was the case on Tuesday night in the minutes after his No. 2-ranked Michigan State Spartans lost, 88-81, to No. 1 Duke in the Champions Classic.

He blew through the handshake line, already making his way down the tunnel by the time the last player on the bench had finished shaking Duke hands. He gruffed his way through his postgame press conference, getting snippy with reporters he doesn’t typically get snippy with. He was not happy, and you couldn’t blame him for it.

With all the hype surrounding what has annually become the best night of non-conference college basketball, his Spartans had handed Duke a win on a silver platter.

That’s how the Spartans see it, at least.

They beat themselves.

“It was all about what we did,” Jackson said. “We fell apart from the game-plan, especially down the stretch. We played our worst.”

They were the ones that gave up 25 offensive rebounds to a Duke team that was missing Marvin Bagley III for the final 30 minutes. They were the ones that turned the ball over 17 times. They were, quite frankly, the team that struggled to do the same things that they struggled to do a season ago, when the Spartans lost 15 games, struggled to find a way to beat ranked teams and got worked by Kansas in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

“We were right in the game,” Izzo said. “But we should be. We have a great team.”

And therein lies the frustration for Michigan State.

As the saying goes, the best thing about freshmen is that they become sophomores, and after Michigan State’s ballyhooed 2016 recruiting class struggled to live up to expectations, the fact that the four most important names on last season’s roster all opted to return to school generated a level of hype for the Spartans that is generally reserved for their three Champions Classic counterparts.

When Miles Bridges announced on April 13th that he will be returning to school, this season became about immediacy. Michigan State doesn’t have the time to let Cassius Winston or Josh Langford grow into the player that they have the potential to be. Tom Izzo needs them to be their best selves this year, this March. That’s when the window for these Spartans as a national title contender closes, when Bridges and Jackson likely head to the NBA.

Which is why Izzo, his team, his coaching staff and his fan base were all so frustrated last night.

Because aside from the addition of Jaren Jackson, Michigan State didn’t look like a team that was all that much different than last year’s team.

Winston finished with 11 assists, but he still found a way to turn the ball over five times and provide all of three points on 1-for-5 shooting. Langford shot 3-for-9 from the floor and tallied nine points.Bridges had four turnovers. Nick Ward had five turnovers and opted not to keep Duke off of the offensive glass and Jackson has never really been a bruiser. These are the same issues that plagued the Spartans last season.

There are still 29 more regular season games and two postseason tournaments left to play, but the early returns are in: There was no sophomore jump.

Now there are two ways to frame this narrative:

1. Michigan State blew a golden opportunity to land a marquee win. Bridges doesn’t quite know how to take over games the way Grayson Allen does, and, as a result, the Spartans just simply have not learned how to “win the big one”. They are, after all, still a young team, one whose core is now 20-16 in their careers whose only wins over ranked opponents came against then-No. 24 Minnesota and then-No. 16 Wisconsin last season.

This was a game they should have won once Marvin Bagley III went out, and they couldn’t get it done. Maybe this is just who they are.

Or …

2. What it required for Duke to get this win is not something that is going to be replicable. Michigan State’s front court did look dominant on the offensive end of the floor, even if they struggled to keep Duke’s big men off the offensive glass. Winston did hand out 11 assists even though the Spartans did not prepare to play against Duke’s 2-3 zone for 40 minutes. Miles Bridges had an off-night and still finished with 19 points, five boards, four assists and four blocks, hitting a handful of big shots down the stretch.

Oh, and should I mention that Duke’s best player put forward the single-best performance of his career and what may end up being the single-most dominant individual performance we see on a big stage this season?

Think about it like this: With three minutes left, Javin DeLaurier grabbed an offensive rebound, kicked the ball out and got Gray Trent Jr. an open look from three. Trent hit the shot, Duke took a 78-75 lead they would never relinquish and the game was lost. But what if the Spartans had been able to corral that rebound and got a three of their own at the other end of the floor?

My point is that that is how fine the margins were in this game.

Against the No. 1 team in the country.

There is no doubt that the Spartans have issues that need fixing.

No one can win with any kind of consistency giving up that many offensive rebounds and turnovers.

But the fact that they were a play or two from winning despite all those mistakes while playing college basketball’s best team is also significant. They’re not that far away.

I say all that to say this: We won’t know how this game fits into the narrative of Michigan State’s season until we see how the rest of the season plays out.

So don’t go burning your season tickets just yet, Spartan fans. All is not lost.

Wake Forest guard Keyshawn Woods to transfer or go pro after graduation

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Wake Forest will be down a key player next season as the school announced that guard Keyshawn Woods will either transfer or go pro after graduation.

The 6-foot-3 Woods was the team’s second-leading scorer this season as he put up 11.9 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game. Woods shot 43 percent from the floor and 37 percent from three-point range for the 2017-18 campaign.

Also a key member of last season’s NCAA tournament team for the Demon Deacons, Woods transferred to Wake Forest after spending his first season at Charlotte.

“I appreciate the opportunity that Coach Manning gave me to be a part of this program and to graduate from this great university,” said Woods in the release. “I am proud that I was able to help the coaches change the culture of the program and build a foundation for the future.”

The loss of Woods won’t be easy for Wake Forest, but the team is scheduled to return some talented guards like Bryant Crawford and Brandon Childress next season. Incoming freshmen like Jaime Lewis and Sharone Wright Jr. are also signed to add to the perimeter depth.

David Padgett not retained as Louisville coach

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Louisville announced on Wednesday afternoon that interim head coach David Padgett would not be retained.

Padgett, who is 32 years old, stepped in and took the program over in the wake of a scandal that cost Hall of Fame head coach Rick Pitino his job.

“We all owe a great debt of gratitude to David for his leadership and poise this season,” said U of L Interim Director of Athletics Vince Tyra. “He took over during incredible circumstances, has handled himself respectfully throughout the season and I believe he has a bright future in coaching. We expect to determine a new head coach in a short period to build upon the great basketball tradition of this university.”

Pitino was fired because an FBI complaint contained an allegation that he and his staff had arranged for a $100,000 payment to be funneled to Brian Bowen from Adidas.

In his one season with the Cardinals, Padgett went 22-14 and reached the quarterfinals of the NIT.

Louisville will now conduct a search for their next head coach, and current Xavier coach Chris Mack has long been considered the favorite to take that job.

Kansas State’s injured star hoping to play Thursday

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One of the most surprising parts about Kansas State’s run to the Sweet 16 is that they have done it without the services of their leading scorer, Dean Wade.

Wade injured his foot prior to the Big 12 tournament loss to Kansas. He did not play in that game or in either of Kansas State’s first two tournament games, but it is looking more and more like he’ll be on the floor on Thursday night when they play Kentucky.

“I don’t play percentages very well, but I’m feeling good,” Wade said, via SEC Country. “I’m very positive about it. It’s getting better every day and today I felt great out there, doing a little more than usual. It felt good.”

Wade averaged 16.5 points per game, but the big question is going to be whether or not he is actually healthy when he takes the court. Just because he’s on the floor doesn’t mean he’s at 100 percent.

“Really just trying to get it out of my mind that it’s not hurt,” Wade said. “Just more of a mental thing, just getting out there and running around. I think I got moved past that and it’s feeling better.”

Arizona’s Sean Miller: ‘I am not a candidate’ at Pitt

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With speculation mounting about who Pitt will hire to replace Kevin Stallings as their new head coach, current Arizona head coach Sean Miller released a statement saying that he is not in the running to fill the opening.

“I am not a candidate for the University of Pittsburgh men’s basketball head coaching vacancy. I wish them well in their search for a new coach,” the statement read.

Miller is a native of Pittsburgh and an alumni of the school — he’s the guy that had the assist on Jerome Lane’s famous dunk — and with the issues that are currently swirling around him and the Arizona program, there was speculation that he was looking for an escape plan.

Maybe he wasn’t.

Maybe he was and the Pitt administration decided they couldn’t risk hiring someone who had an assistant coach arrested in the FBI’s sweep of college basketball and who himself may be on wiretaps talking about who knows what. Releasing this statement would then be a way for him to save face and say he was never interested.

And then maybe there’s option No. 3: Pitt has won the Dan Hurley sweepstakes.

As it stands, both the Panthers and UConn are in the process of chasing after the Rhode Island head coach, and it’s not uncommon in coaching searches for a coach to announce that he is not a candidate for the job after the job decides they want someone else. Call it a professional courtesy.

But that’s neither here nor there.

What we do know now is that Sean Miller will not be the next head coach at Pitt.

Report: Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson suffers another fracture in foot

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Bonzie Colson rushed back from a broken foot to try and help his Notre Dame team get into the NCAA tournament this season.

They were bumped out of the field when Davidson upset Rhode Island and earned the Atlantic 10’s third bid to the league tournament. The Fighting Irish were NIT bound, and in their second round loss to Penn State late last week, Colson reinjured the left foot that held him out of action for eight weeks.

On Wednesday, Yahoo reported that Colson suffered another fracture in the foot.

“I’m sitting there and he’s limping off and I’m going, ‘You gotta be kidding me,’” coach Mike Brey said after the game. “Everything we’ve been through? I thought we were out of the woods with him.”

There was a poignant moment at the end of the game.

Colson’s injury came during the third quarter. He returned to the bench at Purcell Pavilion with ice on his foot after going into the locker room. With 30 seconds left and a loss imminent, Colson walked right past Mike Brey, said “I’m going in”, and finished his college career on the court.

Colson is a potential second round pick. He was an all-american last year and a preseason selection this year. He was averaging 19.7 points, 10.2 boards and 2.2 blocks when he was injured.