Michigan State Spartans

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 15:  Miles Bridges #22 of the Michigan State Spartans goes up for a dunk in the second half during the State Farm Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden on November 15, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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Bridges expected to return for Michigan State on Wednesday

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Michigan State is about to get a major boost.

The Spartans are expecting the return of freshman Miles Bridges on Wednesday against Rutgers, coach Tom Izzo said Monday.

The 6-foot-7 forward has missed the last seven games due to an ankle injury after averaging 16.6 points and 8.8 rebounds to begin his college career.

“Our job is to try to get him some minutes,” Izzo said, according to MLive.com, “if everything goes well (Monday) and (Tuesday), and then see if we can build on that.”

The Spartans have certainly stayed afloat without their best player, going 6-1 (although that loss came to Northeastern), and are 2-0 in Big Ten play. They should have little trouble against Rutgers as Bridges re-acclimates to the lineup, and then they have Penn State on Saturday before a run against Minnesota, Ohio State, Indiana and Purdue.

If Bridges can get up to speed by then, it’ll go a long way for Michigan State trying to gain steady footing in a season that’s been upended some by a string of injuries.

“I think he’s in decent shape,” Izzo said. “He’s not going to be in playing shape, but decent shape.”

Michigan State’s tournament profile a question mark after Northeastern loss

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 15:  Head coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans talks to his team against the Kentucky Wildcats during the first half during the State Farm Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden on November 15, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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It’s time to start talking about whether or not Michigan State has cost themselves a shot at getting to the NCAA tournament.

On Sunday night, once again playing without starting forward Miles Bridges, the Spartans fell to 7-5 on the season with a 81-73 loss to Northeastern. That’s the same Northeastern team that won at UConn earlier this season, which seems like it may not be all that bad of a loss until you consider that A) UConn is not good this season, and B) Northeastern has also lost to Boston U., LIU-Brooklyn, Stony Brook, Cornell and Harvard.

Here’s the situation that the Spartans are in right now. They don’t have a quality non-conference win unless you consider their win over Wichita State, who lost by 17 at home to Oklahoma State on Saturday, a quality win. They also, however, only have one catastrophic loss, and that loss came with Bridges out of the lineup, something that the selection committee will take into consideration.

The determining factor, then, is going to be how Michigan State does in Big Ten play, and there are a couple of factors to be worried about here. For starters, the Big Ten appears to be tiered this year. Wisconsin, Indiana and Purdue look like they are the clear-cut top three teams in the league. Once you get past that, there is a logjam of teams that look like they’ll end up being in contention to get an at-large bid without really being good enough to threaten for the league title. The Michigans and Marylands and Ohio States and Northwesterns of the world.

The Spartans right now probably fall somewhere in the back end of that tier.

And that’s concerning.

But the other issue is that Tom Izzo’s team will only get four chances against that elite group. They play Indiana twice and get both Purdue and Wisconsin in East Lansing.

My guess?

Michigan State needs to go at least 11-7 in Big Ten play and get two wins against the top three teams in the league to avoid missing the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1997.

I’ll let you decide whether or not they’re actually capable of doing that.

CBT Roundtable: College Basketball’s Biggest Disappointments

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 05:  Rodney Purvis #15 of the Connecticut Huskies reacts after hitting a three pointer against the Syracuse Orange during the Tire Pros Classic at Madison Square Garden on December 5, 2016 in New York City. Connecticut defeated Syracuse 52-50  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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Travis Hines: Given the expectations weren’t all that high for the Huskies, consider this one hell of an achievement to find them here. They’ve been that bad while Markelle Fultz has been amazing. You have to start with Fultz’s brilliance to fully understand Washington’s ineptitude. The potential No. 1 draft pick is averaging 22.8 points on 49.7 percent shooting from the floor and 48.7 percent from the 3-point line while also putting up 6.9 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game. Throw in the 2.1 steals and 1.2 blocks, and he’s literally on pace to post numbers that have never been posted in college basketball. As a freshman. That’s just absurd. What else is absurd is that Washington has a guy of Fultz’s caliber performing up to the hype and still somehow sits 4-5 with losses to Yale, TCU (twice), Nevada and Gonzaga, which came in especially embarrassing fashion in a 27-point drubbing on national television.

The “how’ of Washington’s struggles clearly land on the defensive end of the floor, where one coach remarked to our Rob Dauster that “They were so ******* bad on defense. It was like they had never been coached. They had no plan.” So, that’s not good, I don’t think. The Huskies’ season is disappointing on a number of levels, first being it appears that we won’t be watching Fultz in the NCAA tournament, which is a bummer. The second is Lorenzo Romar didn’t need to surround Fultz with McDonald’s All-Americans to have a successful season. Capable dudes (given a defensive plan) would have been enough. And Washington wasn’t able to do that. How disappointing.

Rob Dauster: UConn has been an absolute mess this season. They lost to Wagner and Northeastern at home in their first two games. They barely escaped Loyola Marymount with a win. They went 1-2 in the Maui Invitational, with the one win coming in a closer-than-it-should’ve-been win over Chaminade. If that wasn’t enough, UConn has also been devastated by injury, with two starters – McDonald’s all-american point guard Alterique Gilbert and Terry Larrier, who was their best player at the start of the year – going down with season-ending injuries. This was a team that entered the season with a legitimate case to be considered a top 25 team and is, in all likelihood, going to end the year with a win over a potentially NIT-bound Syracuse team in Madison Square Garden being the highlight of their year.

This is how bad things have gotten for UConn: When I was at the game at MSG, a UConn fan told me that he would consider this season a success “if UConn shows up as a bad loss when they show Syracuse’s NCAA tournament résumé.” For a team that has won two of the last six national titles, that’s quite a fall from grace.

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Terrence Payne: Outside of the major six conferences, the Atlantic 10 is up there as one of the best. The A10 looked like it was on its way to another banner year when the preseason poll included both Rhode Island and Dayton. Currently, both teams find themselves outside the top-25, but more importantly, the conference as a whole finds itself with an underwhelming non-conference résumé. The A-10 is slightly above the American Athletic Conference for seventh place in the Conference RPI rankings, while KenPom rates the A10 as the eighth toughest league.

Rhode Island landed an early-season victory over No. 24 Cincinnati on a neutral floor, but the Rams have lost three out of four, all on the road, to Valparaiso, Providence and Houston. Dayton has been plagued by injuries to Kendall Pollard and transfer Josh Cunningham, which contributed to a 2-2 start. The Flyers have won five straight since, but Dayton could enter conference player with its best out of league win being against Northwestern or New Mexico, neither team pegged to land an at-large bid at this point. And it’s not just the team’s that began the season ranked. VCU, another A-10 power, hasn’t looked up to par, dropping back-to-back games against Illinois and Georgia Tech.

With a few weeks before conference play begins, the A-10 is lacking signature wins. Three years after receiving six bids, an all-time high for the conference, the A-10 is on pace to have, at best, half that amount this upcoming March.

Scott Phillips: It’s tough to call a young, injury-riddled team disappointing, but if Tom Izzo can angrily sit at the end of his own bench in the middle of games then we’re allowed to have such feelings. This Spartans team is 7-4 with single-digit home wins over Florida Gulf Coast, Oral Roberts and Tennessee Tech. Michigan State’s rebounding and free-throw shooting woes have cast serious concerns about their ability to win games early in the Big Ten without Miles Bridges. Of course, I expect Michigan State to make the NCAA tournament – and figure things out quickly – but they better do that before conference play begins.

No. 5 Duke pulls away late to beat Michigan State

DURHAM, NC - NOVEMBER 29:  Lourawls Nairn Jr. #11 of the Michigan State Spartans defends on a drive by Frank Jackson #15 of the Duke Blue Devils during the game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on November 29, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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Grayson Allen scored 16 of his 24 points in the second half as No. 5 Duke pulled away from Michigan State down the stretch in a 78-69 win over the Spartans.

Luke Kennard added 20 points for the Blue Devils, who struggled shooting the ball for much of the game as their rotation was limited to just six players. Mike Krzyzewski started four guards – Allen, Kennard, Frank Jackson and Matt Jones – along with Amile Jefferson, while Chase Jeter chipped in with 22 minutes off the bench.

The good news, at least, is that it looks like the Blue Devils are getting closer to being healthy. Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles III and Marques Bolden warmed up with the team prior to the game and Tatum was in his jersey on the bench. They’re getting closer.

That matters because the single biggest takeaway from Tuesday night’s game was that neither of these teams are anywhere near their best right now.

Duke’s issues are obvious, and ones that I wrote about in this column: They’re missing three first round picks while a fourth, Allen, is playing through a painful toe injury. On the one hand, all this experience is a good thing for guys like Kennard, Jackson and Jeter. On the other hand, it means that there are going to be some guys that will have to adjust to playing significantly fewer minutes once the stars make their way back.

That’s where we are with Duke, and it’s where we’ve been for the last month.

And Michigan State?

Well, they’re still a team going through the growing pains of being young and losing two senior bigs to knee injuries, just like they were when I wrote this column. They’ve shown flashes – the first half tonight, the first 25 minutes against Wichita State, St. John’s – but they’re still not a finished product.

That will come with time. And practice, which the Spartans will get more of now that they’re insane travel schedule has come to an end. This team will be better in March, just like Duke will.

But for now, this is what we get with these two.

ACC/Big Ten Challenge: Previews, picks and what to watch for

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 25:  Nate Britt #0 of the North Carolina Tar Heels highfives teammate Joel Berry II #2 in the second half against the Indiana Hoosiers during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament East Regional at Wells Fargo Center on March 25, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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The ACC/Big Ten Challenge kicks off tonight.

Here is a preview of the 14-game slate.

No. 3 North Carolina at No. 13 Indiana, Weds. 9:15 p.m.

Easily the biggest game of the event, the streaking Tar Heels will make their way to Bloomington to face-off with an Indiana team that has been knocked back after a perfect start to the season. The Hoosiers not only lost to Fort Wayne on the road last week, but they may have lost James Blackmon Jr., the hero in the win over Kansas, to a knee injury. Tom Crean said the injury isn’t serious, but for a team that lacks weapons in the half court, not having Blackmon against the Tar Heels would be a major blow.

Why?

Because North Carolina is playing as well as anyone in college basketball right now. Joel Berry II looks like an all-american, the trio of Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks and Tony Bradley are averaging 39.0 points and 22.4 boards and the Tar Heels are hitting 39.2 percent from beyond the arc this season. Playing in Bloomington will be by far their biggest test of the season. The Hoosiers are lethal when their threes are going down, and when Assembly Hall is packed to the gills, those threes tend to go down.

  • Prediction: It sounds like Blackmon has a good chance of playing, so I’ll go with Indiana (+4.5) at home.

Michigan State at No. 5 Duke, Tues. 9:30 p.m.

Michigan State has been playing better of late, but this is still a dreadfully young team missing key players and at the end of a long, long three weeks. they’ve been to Hawai’i, New York and the Bahamas already this season, and they will be heading back out to Durham for this one at some point on Monday.

Miles Bridges is playing much better after the trip to the Battle 4 Atlantis than he did against Kentucky at the Garden and Duke, frankly, does not have anyone that can guard him. That said, I think the Blue Devils will be too much, even with Jayson Tatum, Marques Bolden and Harry Giles III out and Grayson Allen limited.

  • Prediction: Duke (-11.5) coasts, but keep an eye on the status of Grayson Allen’s toe.

No. 22 Syracuse at No. 17 Wisconsin, Tues. 7:30 p.m.

Two teams trending in the wrong direction. Let’s start with Syracuse, who couldn’t find a way to run offense against South Carolina’s half court pressure. It was not a promising performance from the Orange, who mustered all of 50 points as the issues with their point guard play – Franklin Howard and John Gillon – rose to the surface.

On the other hands, the Badgers are still trying to figure out how they are going to be able to turn Nigel Hayes back into an efficient basketball player. A year after getting criticized for settling for too many threes, Hayes is shooting more three per game at a worse clip than he did last season, just 29.0 percent. Someone’s streak has to snap on Tuesday.

  • Prediction: I think Syracuse wins so of course I’ll take the Orange (+7.5).
SYRACUSE, NY - DECEMBER 02: Ethan Happ #22 of the Wisconsin Badgers drives to the basket as Tyler Lydon #20 of the Syracuse Orange defends during the first half on December 2, 2015 at The Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
Ethan Happ (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

No. 15 Purdue at No. 14 Louisville, Weds. 7:15 p.m.

This is a matchup of two very different teams. The Boilermakers want to pound the ball inside, to take advantage of the fact that they have Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan and you don’t. Louisville? They press, they try to force turnovers, they want to speed the game up and take advantage of the talent and athleticism on their perimeter.

There are two keys to this game. 1. Can Louisville’s bigs stay out of foul trouble? The sheer size of Haas and Swanigan got Georgia State into foul trouble and cost them a win in Mackey Arena, and it nearly cost Villanova their win at Purdue. 2. Will Louisville make perimeter shots? Deng Adel and Quentin Snider are shooting under 30 percent from the floor this season. Donovan Mitchell is under 40 percent. That’s not good.

  • Prediction: I’m on Louisville (-5.5) as I think Louisville’s guards overwhel Purdue’s back court and nullify the advantage the Boilermakers have inside.

Ohio State at No. 6 Virginia, Weds. 7:15 p.m.

Virginia is giving up an average of 41.3 points per game through six games. Their opponents are shooting 31.7 percent from the floor and averaging just 0.708 points-per-possession, which is an insane number. The question here is: Can Ohio State break 50 points on the evening?

  • Prediction: I’m going to say take the under (119.5) here. Virginia is a 12-point favorite, meaning the predicted final score is 66-54. The Wahoos haven’t given up more than 52 points this season and are allowing an average of just 41.3 points. Iowa, who put up 92 on Memphis and 78 on Notre Dame, scored 41 points against Virginia. Ohio State, however, has also been pretty good defensively on the season, and the only proven scored Virginia has on their roster is London Perrantes, who isn’t really a scorer. And all that is before you consider Virginia is the slowest team in the country and Ohio State is 185th in pace. If you’re only into betting lines, I’d say take Ohio State (+12).

Virginia Tech at Michigan, Weds. 9:15 p.m.

This is a win the Hokies badly need after they blew a 16-point second half lead to Texas A&M, missing out on their chance to take a swing at UCLA in the Wooden Legacy title game. Buzz Williams has a good team in Blacksburg, one that will improve their NCAA tournament candidacy with a win at Michigan. The Wolverines looked good at the 2K Classic in New York two weeks ago, but took a beating on the road against South Carolina over the weekend.

  • Prediction: I like Virginia Tech (+5), mainly because I’m not convinced Michigan isn’t overrated and I love the Hokies this season.

Monday, Nov. 28

  • Minnesota at Florida State, 7:00 p.m.: This is going to be a nice gauge game for both of these teams. The Seminoles should, in theory, be able to take care of Minnesota at home, but Richard Pitino’s team is sitting at 6-0 on the year with a 14-point win over Arkansas.
  • Wake Forest at Northwestern, 9:00 p.m.: Is this the year that Northwestern makes the tournament? It looked like it in their 19-point win over Texas. Not so much against Butler and Notre Dame. Wake Forest is 5-1 on the year with a couple of decent mid-major wins.

Tuesday, Nov. 29

  • Pittsburgh at Maryland, 7:00 p.m.: Maryland is 7-0 on the season, but five of those seven wins have come by single digits, including late comebacks against Georgetown and Kansas State. What happens when the Terps face off with a good Pitt team?
  • Georgia Tech at Penn State, 7:00 p.m.: Penn State has struggled early on this season while Georgia Tech is … still Georgia Tech under Josh Pastner.
  • Iowa at Notre Dame, 9:00 p.m.: Iowa scored 41 points against Virginia and lost. They got 42 points from Peter Jok the next night … and lost to Memphis. The Irish, coming off of a
    win in the Legends Classic, have looked good this year.
  • N.C. State at Illinois, 9:00 p.m.: Dennis Smith Jr. has been phenomenal of late, but his team is still missing Maverick Rowan (concussion) and Omer Yurtseven (suspension). This is a win they should be able to get.

Wednesday, Nov. 30

  • Rutgers at Miami (Fla.), 7:15 p.m.: Don’t look now but Rutgers is undefeated. This will be their stiffest test of the season to date.
  • Nebraska at Clemson, 9:15 p.m.: I’m still unsure of what to make of either of these teams. Clemson’s Jaron Blossomgame is a first round pick.

No. 24 Michigan State avoids collapse against Wichita State

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 15:  Lourawls Nairn Jr. #11 of the Michigan State Spartans dribbles up court against the Kentucky Wildcats in the second half during the State Farm Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden on November 15, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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Miles Bridges scored 21 points to lead four players in double-figures and Tum Tum Nairn chipped in with 12 assists as No. 24 Michigan State picked up their best win of the season over Wichita State, 77-72.

The Shockers are in something of a rebuilding mode right now, as Gregg Marshall works through how he’s going to replace the duo of Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet, but they are still a good, well-coached basketball team.

And the Spartans had this game firmly in had for a good 35 minutes.

A late first-half run – that came when Bridges was on the bench in foul trouble – gave the Spartans a 10-point halftime lead which they pushed to as much as 15 in the second half. But the Shockers made their run, cutting the lead to a single point. If it wasn’t for a couple of hasty jumpers from the Shockers on their last two possessions, Wichita State just might have completed the comeback.

RELATED: Michigan State’s growing pains | Tom Izzo apologizes to team

There are a ways to look at this. On the one hand, it certainly isn’t a good sign that the Spartans blew a big lead, regardless of the opponent. Michigan State committed turnovers, missed open looks and, for the most part, looked like a young team that got nervous trying to close out a win.

But they didn’t give the game away.

They made just enough plays to win the game. Miles Bridges hit a couple of massive jumpers. Cassius Winston hit a critical free throw. Tum Tum had a pair of assists late that helped clinch the win.

Learning how to win, how to close out close games, is a process. It’s a skill. It’s something that freshmen typically have to develop at this level, and if anything, this win feels like a step in that direction.

Whatever the case may be, the Spartans are leaving the Bahamas with a third-place finish, two wins in three games and a record over .500 as they get ready to pay a visit to Duke next week.

It could be much, much worse.

For the Shockers, this was not a great trip. They leave the Bahamas at just 1-2 overall with losses to both Louisville and Michigan State, and for a team from the Missouri Valley with only two more potential quality wins left on their schedule – Oklahoma and Oklahoma State – this puts the Shockers somewhat behind the eight-ball when it comes to getting an at-large bid.