Michigan State will get better, Izzo says

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NEW YORK – Tom Izzo has never been one to back down from an early season challenge.

While most programs are scheduling cupcakes and tune-ups to begin the season, Izzo has taken his Michigan State team and put them on the floor in the two biggest games of the season thus far. Last Friday, he lost to North Carolina 67-55 at the Carrier Classic, the most-watched college basketball game since North Carolina played Duke in March of 2006 that counted President Obama as a member of the crowd. Last night, his Spartan team became the answer to a trivia question, going down in infamy as the team on the losing end of Coach K’s record-setting, 903 victory, 74-69.

For those keeping score at home, that means that the entire college basketball watching world has now seen the Spartans get smacked by two of the top six teams in the country in the season’s first ten days.

And while the outcomes of the games wasn’t ideal, Izzo wouldn’t go back and change this season’s schedule.

“I’d sign up for the same schedule tomorrow,” Izzo said in the bowels of a newly renovated Madison Square Garden after the game Tuesday night. “We’re going to be a better basketball team in one week, in two weeks, in three weeks because we knuckled down and played these games.”

Izzo finds himself in a bit of a unique situation this season. Michigan State is recognized as one of the top basketball programs in the country, and rightfully so. That’s what six Final Four trips and a national title in the span of 13 years earns you. But Izzo doesn’t have a powerhouse on his hands this season. This year, the Spartans are the scrappy underdogs, the team with players that are learning new roles and relying on effort and hard work to remain competitive.

Michigan State does not have a roster full of McDonald’s all-americans and future first-round picks this season. They have a team that will be successful when they defend and they battle on the glass, but in order for the wins to come, the Spartans need to eliminate the mistakes offensively.

Derrick Nix cannot miss three or four point blank layups like he did against Mason Plumlee on Tuesday night. Travis Trice cannot commit four turnovers without an assist if he’s going to be playing the point.

More importantly, Draymond Green has to be better offensively. Against Duke, he finish 4-15 from the floor with five turnovers and just two assists. More importantly, he had just one offensive rebound after grabbing seven against North Carolina. Green forced the issue too much. He’s the best player that Michigan State has, but he’s at his best when he’s facilitating the offense, not playing as the Spartan’s go-to scorer.

That role has to fall at the feet of Keith Appling, who finally looked like the dominant scorer everyone expected him to be in the final eight minutes of the game. He finished with 22 points on 8-10 shooting from the field, getting to the rim with ease late in the game. The Spartans need Appling to provide that offensive aggressiveness for 40 minutes, not at the end of the game when the outcome has been decided.

“We’re going to get better,” Izzo said.

And he’s right. Everyone that has watched this team will agree. Its built in the mold of the an early-2000’s Tom Izzo team, and there may not be a elite coach out there that is better in the role of the underdog than him. But with so many players taking over new roles this year, its going to take time.

“I’m trying to build a team for the year,” he said, “not just for one or two games.”

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Trae Jefferson to transfer out of Texas Southern

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Texas Southern guard and NCAA tournament darling Trae Jefferson announced on Saturday that he’s leaving the school.

The 5-foot-7 Jefferson was sensational at times during his sophomore season with the Tigers as he put up 23.1 points, 4.6 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game, helping lead Texas Southern to a victory in the 2018 NCAA Tournament’s First Four in Dayton over North Carolina Central. One of the most entertaining talents in college basketball, Jefferson is leaving Texas Southern in-part because former head coach Mike Davis took the job at Detroit this offseason.

While Detroit is going to be the favorite to land Jefferson, because of his connection to Davis, it’ll be interesting to see what his transfer market looks like. Jefferson also made it clear on his Twitter page that he would like to be closer to his hometown of Milwaukee so that he can be closer to his ailing grandfather.

Given NCAA transfer rules, Jefferson would likely have to sit out next season before getting two more years of eligibility. But he could be applying for a waiver if he’s trying to be closer to home to deal with his family situation.

Nevada’s Josh Hall transfers to Missouri State

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Nevada lost a talented player from last season’s team as rising junior Josh Hall opted to transfer to Missouri State on Friday night.

The 6-foot-7 Hall is a former top-150 recruit who played a key part in the Wolf Pack’s postseason run as he elevated his play to average 13 points and 4.7 rebounds per game during the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Hall also made the game-winning bucket to lift Nevada past No. 2 seed Cincinnati in the second round.

Although Hall picked up his play late in the year, he was coming off the bench most of his sophomore campaign as he averaged 6.9 points and 3.9 rebounds per game last season.

Since Nevada took in some talented transfers, while players like Jordan Caroline and the Martin twins opted not to turn pro, it left head coach Eric Musselman with too many scholarship players for the 2018-19 season. It looks like some of those issues are now going away as Hall is leaving for Missouri State and graduate transfer guard Ehab Amin opted to decommit from the school.

Nevada is expected to be a preseason top-10 team next season with all of the talent they have returning to the roster, along with the addition of some new pieces like McDonald’s All-American big man Jordan Brown.

Hall will likely have to sit out next season due to NCAA transfer rules as he still has two years of eligibility remaining.

Chris Webber accepts Jim Harbaugh’s invitation to be honorary Michigan football captain

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The frosty relationship between Chris Webber and the University of Michigan could be thawing — thanks to an invitation from football head coach Jim Harbaugh.

On Friday, Harbaugh called in to WTKA’s “The M Zone” as show host Jamie Morris had Webber on the show. Harbaugh offered Webber the opportunity to be an honorary captain for the Michigan football team next season, to which Webber replied that he would love the opportunity.

Webber, a former member of the “Fab Five” who helped the Wolverines to two consecutive NCAA tournament title-game appearances in 1992 and 1993, has not associated directly with the school, or with other members of the Fab Five, for many years.

The NCAA mandated that Webber and Michigan not associate with one another for 10 years after the Ed Martin booster scandal. Webber has always been reluctant to participate in anything Michigan or Fab Five related. When the famous Fab Five documentary was made a few years ago, Webber was the only member of the quintet not to participate in the making of the film. Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson all have a solid relationship with the University of Michigan at this point.

Webber later criticized the film during an appearance on the Dan Patrick Show, as King and Rose fired back with responses to reignite the feud. In the past, Rose has also been vocal in his belief that Webber should apologize for what happened at Michigan, as the group is hoping to move forward.

Although Webber still isn’t mending fences with the other Fab Five members, or the basketball program, returning to Michigan in some kind of official capacity is a big deal considering his past with the school.

Harbaugh and Webber haven’t decided on a game for next season yet as that will be something to watch for over the next several months.

Akoy Agau returning to Louisville as graduate transfer

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Louisville received a boost to its frontcourt rotation on Friday as former big man Akoy Agau will return to the Cardinals as a graduate transfer.

The 6-foot-8 Agau originally committed and enrolled at Louisville for a season and a half to begin his college hoops career before transferring to Georgetown. After leaving the Hoyas to play at SMU last season, Agau received a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA after battling injury for much of his career.

Agau gives Louisville an experienced forward who should earn some solid minutes next season. With the Mustangs during the 2017-18 season, Agau averaged 5.0 points and 3.6 rebounds per game in 16.1 minutes per contest.

While this isn’t the biggest splash for the Cardinals, they have plenty of scholarships to use for next season as new head coach Chris Mack tries to find a stable rotation. Getting a graduate transfer like Agau, who should be familiar with the school and the conference at the very least, is a nice step for a one-year placeholder.

NCAA President Mark Emmert got a $500,000 raise in 2016

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NCAA president Mark Emmert, the man in charge of a non-profit association that doesn’t have enough money to pay its laborers, received a $500,000 raise for the 2016 calendar year, bringing his total income to more than $2.4 million, according to an NCAA tax return that was obtained by USA Today.

That number actually pales in comparison to the salaries that are received by the commissioners of the Power 5 conferences.

But there’s not enough money to pay the players.

Nope.

Everyone is broke.

Carry on with your day, and pray for the well-being of NCAA administrators like Mark Emmert, whose salary is in no way whatsoever inflated by amateurism, which allows the schools and the NCAA to bank all of the advertising revenue that college basketball and football brings in and bars the players themselves from accessing that money.