Eron Harris

AP Photo/Michael Conroy

Valentine leads No. 2 Michigan St. past Ohio St. 81-54

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Big Ten player of the year Denzel Valentine scored 19 points and Eron Harris added 13 to help No. 2 Michigan State blow out Ohio State 81-54 in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals on Friday night.

The Spartans (27-5) have won 11 of 12 and will face either Nebraska or No. 18 Maryland in Saturday’s semifinal.

JaQuan Lyle had 10 points to lead the Buckeyes (20-13), who have lost three of five and must wait until Sunday to see if they’ll get in the NCAA Tournament. Ohio State thought one more impressive win could be enough.

But Valentine refused to let it happen against the Spartans. He scored 10 points in an early 13-3 run, made a 3-pointer during an 8-0 run to start the second half and finished with nine rebounds and eight assists.

Michigan State led by as much as 28 in the second half. The Buckeyes couldn’t get closer than 14 after that.

Valentine may have gotten a triple double – if coach Tom Izzo hadn’t pulled him from the game with 5:28 to play so he could get some extra rest before the weekend.

The short-handed Buckeyes just couldn’t stay with the deeper Spartans and it was evident from start to finish.

Michigan State jumped to a 17-7 lead in the first 6 1/2 minutes and still led 33-26 at halftime.

The early run in the second half gave the Spartans a 41-26 lead. Bryn Forbes’ 3-pointer with 13:07 left extended the lead to 20 and the Spartans continued pulling away late.

SHUT OUT

While it was a rough night by every measure for the Buckeyes, their most obvious problem was the inability to make 3s. Ohio State missed its first 12 shots from beyond the arc and didn’t end the drought until Lyle made one with 74 seconds to play. Ohio State finished 1 of 13, while the Spartans were 8 of 23.

TIP-INS

Buckeyes: Have lost five straight in the Michigan State series. … Ohio State has played five games against teams that reached last year’s Final Four and is now 1-4, losing three times to Michigan State in 17 days, once to Wisconsin. The lone win came against Kentucky in December. … The Buckeyes lost for only the fourth time in their last 19 Big Ten tourney games.

Spartans: Are one win away from playing for their third consecutive Big Ten tourney title in Indianapolis. … Matt Costello had no blocks and remains tied with Adreian Payne for second on Michigan State’s career list with 141. Branden Dawson has the school record, 142. … The Spartans improved to 91-35 in March games since 1998-99.

UP NEXT

Buckeyes: Will await postseason fate.

Spartans: Face either No. 18 Maryland or Nebraska in Saturday’s second semifinal.

No. 11 Michigan State suffers third straight defeat

Associated Press
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Earlier this week Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo took responsibility for his team’s issues on the defensive end, as the Spartans’ adjustment to the points of emphasis announced before the season began hasn’t come as quickly as many expected. Wednesday night the struggles continued, as Michigan State couldn’t find an answer to the riddle that was Nebraska senior wing Shavon Shields.

Shields was outstanding, leading all scorers with 28 points, shooting 12-for-20 from the field, to lead the Huskers to a 72-71 win in East Lansing. Michigan State, which had a final shot at the win but Denzel Valentine’s jumper as time expired missed the mark, has now lost its last three conference games and has a 3-4 record in conference play.

With Iowa, which has already swept the season series, and Indiana both without a conference loss the Spartans’ chances of hoisting the Big Ten regular season title may have fallen by the wayside with this defeat.

Defense was once again the culprit, as Nebraska shot 50 percent from the field on the night. Tim Miles’ team isn’t going to rack up the assists, as they entered Wednesday’s with just over 48 percent of their made baskets being of the assisted variety. Instead, they use the likes of Shields, Tai Webster and Glynn Watson to break down opposing defenses, with mixed results to this point in the season.

That wasn’t the case against Michigan State, with the Spartans playing without their best perimeter defender in Tum Tum Nairn for the second consecutive game and at times seemingly afraid to make any kind of contact. Outside of Eron Harris the Spartans didn’t have the early foul trouble they’ve endured in recent games, but they still had issues slowing down Shields and his teammates throughout Wednesday’s game.

Also of note was the off night experienced by Bryn Forbes, who scored three points on 1-for-8 shooting. The senior’s struggled in two of Michigan State’s last three games, as Anthony Clemmons held him in check in Iowa’s win in East Lansing last week, and this comes after scoring 17 points or more in three straight games. In addition to needing to do a better job of adjusting defensively, the Spartans need to get to the point where both Forbes and Eron Harris are clicking on the wings at the same time.

That should come in time, but the bigger concern in the defense. Once again Michigan State struggled on that end of the floor, and while they did have a final chance to grab the win it proved to be too much to overcome.

No. 5 Michigan State routs Illinois 79-54 without Valentine

Associated Press
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EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) Bryn Forbes scored 17 points to help No. 5 Michigan State rout Illinois 79-54 on Thursday night.

The Spartans (15-1, 2-1 Big Ten) were without Denzel Valentine for a fourth straight game. Valentine participated in pregame warmups and might play at Penn State on Sunday, nearly three weeks after having surgery on his left knee.

The Illini (8-8, 0-3) didn’t have leading-scorer Kendrick Nunn, who the team said stayed in Illinois for the birth of his child.

Maverick Morgan had 15 points and Malcolm Hill scored 10 for Illinois. The Illini made barely more than one-fourth of their shots in the first half and allowed the Spartans to connect on 61 percent of their shots before halftime.

Eron Harris scored 13 and Matt McQuaid had a career-high 10 points for the Spartans.

TIP-INS

Illinois: The short-handed Illini called timeouts, trying to slow down Michigan State, and one of their banged-up players had a lot to say to his teammates in the huddle during one of the second-half breaks. Tracy Abrams, who is out for the season with a torn Achilles tendon, shouted at his teammates to keep playing hard even though they trailed by 30 points.

Michigan State: Michigan State coach Tom Izzo has been encouraging McQuaid to be more aggressive offensively. The freshman guard made two 3-pointers and a driving, layup in the first half and scored eight points in seven minutes before halftime. Nine Spartans scored in the first 20 minutes, helping them lead 47-22.

UP NEXT

Illinois hosts No. 20 Purdue on Sunday.

Michigan State plays at Penn State on Sunday.

Ranking the best off-guards in college basketball

Buddy Hield (AP)
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The off-guard spot is the weakest position in college basketball this season. For comparison’s sake, the No. 20 lead guard in the list we released yesterday was UConn’s Sterling Gibbs, who ranked 59th in our top 100 players list.

For off-guards, only 18 were ranked in our top 100, meaning the final two in this list didn’t crack that list. Why is this the case? Is it because the best scoring guards in basketball are trying to mold themselves after the likes of Russell Westbrook, John Wall and Derrick Rose as opposed to, say, Kobe? Is it because the emphasis on court spacing has turned the off-guard spot into a spot-up shooters role? Or is this just a random year where the two-guards just aren’t all that good?

As interesting as that discussion would be, it’s a different conversation for a different day. Here are the top 20 off-guards in college basketball:

[MORE: Top backcourts | Top frontcourts]

1. Buddy Hield, Oklahoma

It feels like Hield has been around forever. Initially considered to be not much more than a lockdown perimeter defender, the reigning Big 12 Player of the Year has developed into one of the nation’s most potent wing scorers, averaging 17.4 points last season. His shooting percentages dipped a bit last year, which will be something to keep an eye on this year. Does being the focus of every team’s defense throw him off?

2. Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia

I’m beating this quote to death, I know, but the ACC coaches that I’ve spoken too rave about Brogdon. One of them told me that “he’s a MFer, man. In every way.” That’s just about the highest compliment that can be given to a basketball player from a coach. What he means is that Brogdon is tough, he’s physical, he’s skilled and he’s got the mental fortitude to execute in big moments. He’s a perfect fit for Tony Bennett’s system.

3. Ron Baker, Wichita State

It’s really difficult to argue with Ron Baker’s results. He made the Final Four as a freshman. He was a star on a team that won their first 35 games as a sophomore. He was an all-american on a team that went to the Sweet 16 and beat in-state rival Kansas — who refuses to play the Shockers — in the tournament. What does he have left to do?

The NBA hype on Baker has subsided a bit, but I still think he’ll find a role somewhere at that level. He can shoot, he can defend, he can handle the ball and he can operate in ball-screen actions.

4. Caris LeVert, Michigan

Ability is not going to be the issue with LeVert. We know how good he can be. The question is going to be his health. He’s broken his left foot twice in the last 18 months, with both injuries requiring surgery. How long does it take him to shake off the roster? And, more importantly, can he remain healthy for an entire season? If he does, Michigan has enough talent to make a run to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament and LeVert is good enough to finish his final season as an all-american.

5. Wayne Selden, Kansas

I see all the buzz surrounding Wayne Selden after his performance in the World University Games this summer. I understand why people are so high on him entering the year. The dude has never lacked for ability. Consistency and a left hand? That’s where he’s struggled. He got a slight bump in these rankings because of his play in Korea, but until he proves it night-in and night-out in the Big 12, I’ll have my reservations.

RELATED: Top 100 players | Top Lead Guards | Top Wings | Top Bigs

Indiana's James Blackmon Jr. (AP Photo)
Indiana’s James Blackmon Jr. (AP Photo)

6. James Blackmon, Indiana

Blackmon is such a dangerous scorer and he’s such a perfect fit for this Indiana offense. He’s a lethal three-point shooter when he gets into a rhythm, which is often, and that ability to shoot is what helps Indiana keep the floor spread offensively, creating acres of space for Yogi Ferrell to penetrate. I’d be surprised if his scoring numbers — he averaged 15.7 points as a freshman — didn’t improve this year. That said, the reason he’s sixth on this list is because he was a sieve defensively last year.

7. Isaiah Briscoe, Kentucky

Briscoe was another guy that was tough to place in these rankings. For starters, he’s probably more of a natural lead guard than he is an off-guard, but playing in a back court with Jamal Murray and Tyler Ulis is an easy way to get pushed off the ball. How does he react to that? Will he be willing to fill a role for UK? Is he a good enough shooter to dominate minutes over guys like Charles Matthews and Mychal Mulder? The ability is there, but it remains to be seen how he will be utilized by John Calipari.

8. Danuel House, Texas A&M

House was a five-star recruit coming out of high school and last season, his first with the Aggies after transferring in from Houston, he looked like it. House averaged 14.8 points, 2.1 assists and shot 40.0 percent from three. The Aggies were one of the last teams left out of the NCAA tournament in March. With House leading the way, and a talented freshman class coming in, the Aggies should be an SEC contender this season.

9. E.C. Matthews, Rhode Island

Matthews, a junior, is probably the best player in the Atlantic 10, having averaged 16.9 points last season. He’s an explosive, albeit at times inefficient, scorer that is a major reason the Rams will enter this season as the favorite to win the Atlantic 10.

10. Eron Harris, Michigan State

As a sophomore at West Virginia in 2013-14, Harris averaged 17.0 points. He’s a big-time wing scorer that can light it up from three when he gets on a role. Like Briscoe, it’s going to be interesting to see how Tom Izzo divvies up minutes on his perimeter. Will Harris start over Bryn Forbes? Will they be on the floor together with Denzel Valentine handling playmaking duties? Who will be the guy whose number gets called in crunch-time?

  • 11. Grayson Allen, Duke: Allen was terrific in the Final Four last season, helping to spark Duke’s come-from-behind title game victory. Does his development continue this season? And how does Coach K divide up minutes on Duke’s loaded perimeter?
  • 12. Kellen Dunham, Butler: It feels like Dunham is perennially underrated. He averaged 16.5 points and shot 41.0 percent from three last season on a top 25 team.
  • 13. Isaiah Cousins, Oklahoma: Cousins doesn’t get quite as much attention as he should, which is a by-product of sharing a back court with Buddy Hield and Jordan Woodard. NBA scouts know how good he is.
  • 14. Zak Irvin, Michigan: Irvin had a nice sophomore season individually, but with Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton getting injured, Michigan missed the NCAA tournament. Irvin is a lights-out spot-up shooter when he gets in a rhythm.
  • 15. A.J. English, Iona: English was the only player in college basketball last season to average 20 points, five boards and five assists.
  • 16. Antonio Blakeney, LSU: Blakeney is a big-time talent that can score in bunches and throw down some thunderous dunks. But he’s also streaky and playing for a coach that doesn’t always maximize his talent. I expect that he’s going to have an up-and-down season.
  • 17. Sheldon McClellan, Miami: McClellan was the steadying force on a Miami team that won 25 games a season ago. While Angel Rodriguez was up and down, McClellan averaged a cool 14.5 points with 48.4/35.8/82.4 shooting splits.
  • 18. Stefan Moody, Ole Miss: Moody is the SEC’s leading returning scorer. At 5-foot-9 with a 45 inch vert and a penchant for hitting three or four 25-footers in a row, Moody is as entertaining as anyone in the country.
  • 19. Anthony Drmic, Boise State: Drmic missed the second half of last season with an injury. With Derrick Marks gone, Drmic will have to carry a heavier load this season.
  • 20. Juice Woodard, Tulsa: Woodard is the leading scorer on a Tulsa team that is going to contend for the AAC regular season title.

Ranking College Basketball’s Top Back Courts

Associated Press
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We’re labeling this as the nation’s top back courts, but truthfully, it’s the nation’s top perimeters. That’s why you’ll see guys like Brandon Ingram and Jaylen Brown, small forwards that will play the four a lot this season, listed here. 

One thing we realized making this list: There are an inordinate number of talented guards in college basketball this season, especially those that will get labeled as lead guards. So many, in fact, that the likes of Miami, Iowa State and Texas A&M didn’t even crack the top 15.

Here is our list. What did we get wrong?

1. Kentucky (Jamal Murray, Tyler Ulis, Isaiah Briscoe, Charles Matthews, Mychal Mulder)

They don’t rebuild in Lexington they reload, and John Calipari has quite the perimeter rotation at his disposal despite losing three of his top four guards from a season ago. The returnee is 5-foot-9 sophomore Tyler Ulis, who has emerged as this team’s leader. But he isn’t the only guard in the group who operates will with the ball in his hands, as both Briscoe and Murray will also have ample opportunities to create offensively. The 6-foot-4 Murray was one of the standouts at the Pan-American Games in Canada this summer, as he went off to lead the hosts past the United States in the semifinals. Matthews and Mulder aren’t slouches either, giving Kentucky additional talent and depth with their presence.

2. Wichita State (Ron Baker, Fred VanVleet, Conner Frankamp, Landry Shamet, Evan Wessel)

Baker and VanVleet are two of the nation’s best at their respective positions and they’re going to appear on multiple preseason (and end of season, for that matter) All-America teams as a result. Wessel gives this group added toughness, and Kanas transfer Conner Frankamp will give Wichita State another capable shooter when he becomes eligible in December. The 6-foot-4 Shamet is a Top 100 recruit who will fight for minutes now and be a key figure for the Shockers in the years to come.

3. Indiana (James Blackmon Jr., Yogi Ferrell, Robert Johnson, Nick Zeisloft)

This group is one of the reasons why the Hoosiers will enter the 2015-16 season ranked, with senior point guard Yogi Ferrell leading the way. Ferrell led the Hoosiers in scoring and assists a season ago, and he also led the team in made three-pointers. Blackmon should be better as a sophomore after tailing off somewhat down the stretch last year and the same goes for classmate Johnson, with Zeisloft coming off of a year in which he shot 45 percent from beyond the arc.

4. North Carolina (Marcus Paige, Justin Jackson, Joel Berry II, Nate Britt, Theo Pinson, Kenny Williams)

Paige enters his senior season as one of the the best guards in the country, as he’s comfortable as either a scorer or a distributor for the Tar Heels. Jackson, who was a key contributor for North Carolina as a freshman, looks poised for a breakout year as he moves into the starting spot left vacant by J.P. Tokoto, and classmate Pinson is healthy after dealing with injuries last season. Both Berry and Britt are capable contributors but they have to get better as playmakers, thus relieving some of the pressure on Paige. The one thing this group was missing a season ago was another shooter to go with Paige, and if called upon Williams has the ability to be that guy.

5. Michigan (Caris LeVert, Zak Irvin, Derrick Walton Jr., Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Spike Albrecht, Kameron Chatman, Aubrey Dawkins, Duncan Robinson)

Irvin is working his way back to 100 percent after undergoing back surgery in early September, and his return will make Michigan’s perimeter attack one of the deepest and most talented groups in the country. LeVert was projected by some to be an All-America caliber player prior to last season, and Walton and Irvin are also players capable of earning postseason honors. Albrecht will also be a factor, with Abdur-Rahkman, Chatman and Dawkins gaining valuable experience as freshmen due to the injuries that sidelined LeVert and Walton. The “wild card” is Robinson, who sat out last season after averaging 17.1 points per game as a freshman at Division III Williams College in 2013-14.

RELATED: Top front courts in college basketball | Top 100 Players

Buddy Hield (AP Photo)
Buddy Hield (AP Photo)

6. Oklahoma (Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins, Jordan Woodard, Chrisyian James, Rashard Odomes, Dinjiyl Walker)

Lon Kruger’s perimeter rotation won’t lack for experience as reigning Big 12 Player of the Year Hield and Cousins are both seniors and Woodard will be a junior. Walker played 10.6 minutes per game as a junior last season and figures to be in a similar reserve role. As for the freshmen, both James and Odomes are players who will look to earn minutes but ultimately benefit down the line from competing with (and against, in practice) the veteran guards.

7. Villanova (Ryan Arcidiacono, Jalen Brunson, Josh Hart, Phil Booth, Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo)

Big East Co-Player of the Year Arcidiacono is back for his senior season, with Big East tournament MOP Josh Hart appearing poised to take a significant step forward as a junior. And then there are the freshmen, most notably a lead guard in Brunson who enters college as one of the best at his position. DiVincenzo and Bridges, with the latter having redshirted last season, give Villanova additional skill and athleticism on the wing and Booth gives Wright another point guard to call upon.

8. Duke (Brandon Ingram, Grayson Allen, Matt Jones, Luke Kennard, Derryck Thornton Jr.)

Allen, who stepped forward in a big way in the national title game, returns for his sophomore season and Jones gives Duke an experienced wing option who’s a solid defender and capable perimeter shooter. Given the personnel losses the three freshmen will be especially important this year, with Thornton being asked to take over at the point and Ingram being a slender wing who can score from anywhere on the court. As for Kennard, he’s good enough to see time at both guard spots, and given Duke’s numbers he’ll likely have to do just that.

9. Maryland (Melo Trimble, Jake Layman, Jared Nickens, Rasheed Sulaimon, Dion Wiley, Jaylen Brantley)

The Terrapins did lose leader Dez Wells from last season’s NCAA tournament team, but most of the perimeter rotation returns led by preseason Big Ten Player of the Year Melo Trimble. Trimble’s a handful with the ball in his hands, making sound decisions in ball screen situations and getting to the foul line at a very high rate. Layman, who took a step forward as a junior, has the potential to be even better as a senior with Nickens and Wiley looking to earn more minutes as sophomores. And the newcomers, Brantley and Sulaimon, will also contribute with the latter giving Maryland another quality perimeter shooter (and he’s a good defender too).

10. California (Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Jabari Bird, Stephen Domingo, Jordan Mathews, Sam Singer)

Depth, which was an issue all over the court for the Golden Bears a season ago, won’t be a problem in 2015-16. Wallace, one of the nation’s top point guards, leads the way with a trio of juniors (Bird, Mathews and Singer) also having a wealth of experience. Add in two talented newcomers in Brown, who could see time at the four in smaller lineups, and Georgetown transfer Domingo and head coach Cuonzo Martin has a host of options at his disposal.

Tyrone Wallace (AP Photo)
Tyrone Wallace (AP Photo)

11. Virginia (Malcolm Brogdon, London Perrantes, Marial Shayok, Devon Hall, Evan Nolte, Darius Thompson)

The Cavaliers have to account for the departure of Justin Anderson on the perimeter, but it certainly helps to have veterans Brogdon and Perrantes back on campus. Brodgon was a first team All-ACC selection a season ago, and his skill on both ends of the floor merits All-America mention this season. Perrantes is a solid floor general who can do even more from a scoring standpoint. Nolte and Shayok were rotation players last season, and Hall and Thompson (who redshirted after transferring in from Tennessee) will also compete for minutes.

12. Michigan State (Denzel Valentine, Eron Harris, Tum Tum Nairn, Bryn Forbes, Matt McQuaid, Kyle Ahrens, Alvin Ellis)

This group is led by one of the nation’s most versatile players in Valentine, who can play anywhere from the one to the three depending on match-ups. Forbes should be more consistent in his second season with the program, and Nairn looks poised to step forward as the next in a long line of high-level point guards to play for Izzo. Harris is a transfer from West Virginia who many expect to hit the ground running, and Ellis will also look to solidify his spot in the rotation. As for the freshmen, they’ll look to carve out roles in what is a deep rotation.

13. Connecticut (Daniel Hamilton, Sterling Gibbs, Rodney Purvis, Jalen Adams, Omar Calhoun, Sam Cassell Jr.)

Ryan Boatright’s moved on, but UConn’s perimeter rotation is more balanced (and deeper) than it was a season ago. Part of that is due to their additions, with the explosive Adams and experienced Gibbs joining the ranks. As for holdovers, head coach Kevin Ollie has those as well with Calhoun being a senior, Cassell and Purvis (who put together some solid outings down the stretch last season) being juniors and the versatile Hamilton (AAC Rookie of the Year) being a sophomore.

14. Kansas (Wayne Selden Jr., Frank Mason III, Svi Mykhailiuk, Devonté Graham, Brannen Greene, LaGerald Vick)

This ranking could prove to be low at season’s end, depending upon (in part) the progress made by Selden. The junior played very well at the World University Games in South Korea this summer, and if he can build on that play the Jayhawks will undoubtedly have one of the top guards in the country. Mason gives them an absolute pitbull at the point, with Graham being another player capable of running the point. And in Green, Mykhailiuk and Vick, Kansas won’t lack for depth on the wings either.

15. Florida State (Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Dwayne Bacon, Devon Bookert, Montay Brandon, Terance Mann, Malik Beasley, Benji Bell, Robbie Berwick)

While he’ll once again be one of the top guards in the ACC, Rathan-Mayes will have some much-needed help on the perimeter. Bookert and Brandon give Florida State two experienced seniors, Berwick saw solid minutes as a freshman, and their newcomers arrive on campus amidst much fanfare. Bacon may be the marquee freshman, but Beasley and Mann will also compete for minutes with junior college transfer Bell looking to do the same.

Also Considered: Miami, Iowa State, UCLA, Notre Dame, LSU, Louisville, Providence, Vanderbilt, Texas A&M