Blogger Spotlight: The Only Colors on Michigan State’s stiff defense, Draymond Green’s superior play and more

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It seems like forever ago, but Michigan State’s inauspicious start to the season – losing to North Carolina on an aircraft carrier and as the unlucky team on the other end of Mike Krzyzewski’s 903rd win – didn’t properly indicate just how good the Spartans would be this season.

But there were hints.

Draymond Green was going to be reliable. The chemistry would be improved. And the talent was there, it was just a question of how long it would take before it fully meshed.

Fast forward nearly four months and the Spartans are not only headed for their second Big Ten title in the last four years, but could snag a No. 1 seed for the NCAA tournament. How’d it happen? How good are they really? Is it a basketball school? And where will Green land in the pantheon of all-time Spartans?

For those answers, I turned to Pete Rossman at The Only Colors in the latest Blogger Spotlight.

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Q: When this story was pitched to me back in October, I figured it was half-optimism, half-hope. I’d never question Tom Izzo’s coaching, but if you told me he was overly optimistic about such an unknown group, I would’ve thought you were smoking something.

So. Did you expect anything close to this?

A: Well, I predicted MSU would place second in the Big Ten this year.  I thought Draymond Green would be improved, that Keith Appling would make a productivity jump from his freshman to sophomore year, and I thought that Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix would provide much needed offense in the post.

But to expect MSU to have gone 12-3, with wins over Ohio State and Wisconsin at home? No, I didn’t expect that, and much of that is a testament to how well the offense has gelled and how quickly the freshmen, especially Branden Dawson, have bought in to playing defense.

Q: Past Draymond Green – who’s clearly headed for an All-America spot and is still undervalued – who’s the Spartans’ most essential player? Appling? Wood? Payne? Could they survive an injury to anyone (except Green) and still make the Final Four? 

A: The key word here is essential, because there’s depth at many positions: Payne and Derrick Nix combine  to make one heck of a center we like to call Derrick Payne, Brandon Wood’s done a great job filling in at the wing; ditto for Austin Thornton who’s made a quantum leap in his ability, going from role player to starter in seemingly days.

However, the one position where there’s currently a distinct drop off in ability is at point guard, and that makes Keith Appling the most essential.  The other two players who could possibly run the point, Travis Trice and Brandan Kearney, are both inexperienced and lack the weight needed to play effectively in the Big 10 currently, though it should be said Kearney has earned his keep as a defensive presence.  If Appling goes out this team either has to use one of the freshmen, Wood, or even Draymond as a point guard, and then the offense gets a bit dodgy.

Q: It’s Michigan State, so great rebounding is a given. But is that their biggest strength? Or just the easiest to focus on?

A: Tom Izzo and rebounding have become synonymous to the point that if we were playing a word-association game, if I said “rebounding” you’d most likely say “Izzo” or “Michigan State” as one of your first responses.  And yes, the rebounding has been that of a vintage Tom Izzo Michigan State team, as they rank in the top 20 in both offensive and defensive rebound percentage, and also are currently tied with North Carolina in total rebounding percentage at 56.9%.

However, there’s another strength the Spartans possess, and that is defensive field goal percentage.  MSU ranks in the top 20 in Division One in both two and three-point precentage.  If you prefer field goal percentage as a whole, Michigan State is tied for third, with only Kentucky and Florida State (who Michigan State beat by double digits earlier this year) better.  Excellent rebounding combined with tenacious defense have been essential in the Spartans’ comeback from last year’s troubles.

Q: Is the Big Ten the toughest conference? And does the team that wins the “toughest” conference have an edge heading into March? Has this type of thing helped MSU in the past?

A: To answer the first question, yes.   The Big Ten has five teams in MSU, Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Indiana that can conceivably beat any team in the nation on any given day; I’d say only the Big East or possibly the Big 12 comes close to that sort of depth.

For the second question, I’d say no.  I remember during the 2009 NCAA tournament when some were wondering if the Big East was the best conference in history.  Michigan State responded by beating Big East champions Louisville and the #3 team in the conference, Connecticut, on the way to the national title game.  I don’t think playing in the “toughest” conference grants an edge, as any team who plays in a top-tier conference (not necessarily BCS — you could easily substitute the Mountain West for the PAC-12 this year) will have its trials.

And for the last question, I don’t playing in a tough conference has given MSU an advantage in that by the time they get to the tournament, they’ve played enough top teams where they have a feel of what’s going to work on offense and defense. When you look at a conference like the Big East, yes you have your top teams in Syracuse and Marquette, but there’s so much chaff at the conference’s bottom (lookin’ at you DePaul) where teams can afford to take a night off.  I don’t think one can in the Big Ten this year, otherwise a team might lose by double digits to the conference’s cellar dwellers.  The strength of teams throughout the Big Ten and the diversity of styles (slow, fast, perimeter-oriented, etc.) is one of the ingredients that helps make the Spartans a tough out during the tourney time.

Oh, and Izzo.  He helps a bit too.

Q: Yeah, I’d say Izzo is a nice advantage to have. But given how his team has already thrived, is it fair to say that this might be one of the few times the Spartans don’t overachieve in the NCAA tournament? It’s going to be difficult for MSU to surprise anyone in this year’s tourney, let alone avoid the “They didn’t make the Final Four, they choked” backlash (which is always BS). (And, of course, all of this is just blather if they do make the Final Four or win the whole thing.)

A: It will be hard for MSU to overachieve when they’ll most likely be going be a 1 or 2 seed.  However, the last time they went into the tournament as a 2 seed was 2009, and that season ended in the national title game.

While I think there might be some backlash by the national media if MSU gets ousted in the Sweet Sixteen or earlier, I think many of us MSU fans won’t be too hard on them.  Sure, it’ll be frustrating to think what could’ve been, but compared to last year’s disastrous season everything just seems like gravy.

Q: Is Green gonna go down as one of Izzo’s all-time Spartans? If they win it all, could he displace Mateen Cleaves of the top spot?

A: He’s definitely going to go as one of the all-timers, no doubt about it. He was a pudgy three-star recruit at the time of his commitment, and I recall many Michigan State fans wondering if he was going to pan out.  His body, shot, and smarts improved every season though into the All-American candidate he is today.  However, I don’t think he’s going to replace Mateen at the top spot.  It’s not like Mateen replaced Magic when MSU won it all in 2000, and I think the same sentiment will apply for Draymond if (knock on wood) MSU wins it all in 2012.  I do think Green will be on the same plane as Cleaves, which would put him among the top 5 Spartan basketball players of all time in my opinion.

Q: Is Michigan State a basketball school? Or is football the preferred sport, just not as successful?


A: If this was 2005, I would’ve absolutely said basketball school.  Football was in a rut and MSU was coming off a Final Four season as a 5 seed.  With Mark Dantonio’s arrival however, I think interest in both programs is about equal.

If I had to choose, I’d choose football, and here’s why — After Michigan State’s entrance in the Big 10 in 1953, its first big successes were in Football in the mid-60’s.  I think a good part of the fanbase still identifies with those victories and their accompanying history.  Combine that with America’s preference for college football as a whole over college basketball and the allure of fall Saturday mornings without snow on the ground, and I think most (but definitely not all) fans would say MSU’s a football school.

Q: What’s your future like at The Only Colors? I know the grind got to KJ after a while. Is emeritus status something you might consider after a few more years?

A: I’m definitely still enjoying The Only Colors.  SB Nation’s a great company to work for, and I have great writers with intrpdtrvlr, T-Con, Spartan Dan, Patrick Hayes, Heck Dorland, and even KJ from time to time. The grind definitely becomes a lot easier when you have people to cover you; I even took a week off and went to Peru last summer!

Right now though, I’m 28, single, and I definitely still have the time to contribute, so I don’t see myself going anywhere in the near future.  When you have commenters as entertaining and intelligent as we do along with gifted writers, it makes it a real joy to run the site.  I see myself sticking around as long as SB Nation will have me.

Read more from Pete at The Only Colors. Follow him on Twitter @PeteatTOC.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

North Carolina transfer Caleb Love commits to Arizona

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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Caleb Love is now headed to Arizona.

The North Carolina transfer tweeted, less than a month after decommitting from Michigan, that he will play next season with the Wildcats.

“Caleb is a tremendously talented guard who has significant experience playing college basketball at a high level,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said in a statement. “We look forward to helping Caleb grow his game at Arizona. And as we near the completion of the roster for the upcoming season, we feel great about how everything has come together. Now it’s time for the real work to start.”

A 6-foot-4 guard, Love averaged 14.6 points and 3.3 assists in three seasons at North Carolina. He averaged 17.6 points in seven NCAA Tournament games, helping lead the Tar Heels to the 2022 national championship game.

Love entered the transfer portal after leading North Carolina with 73 3-pointers as a junior and initially committed to Michigan. He decommitted from the Wolverines earlier this month, reportedly due to an admissions issue involving academic credits.

Love narrowed his transfer targets to three schools before choosing to play at Arizona over Gonzaga and Texas.

Love will likely start on a team that will have dynamic perimeter players, including Pelle Larsson, Kylan Boswell and Alabama transfer Jaden Bradley.

Biden celebrates LSU women’s and UConn men’s basketball teams at separate White House events


WASHINGTON – All of the past drama and sore feelings associated with Louisiana State’s invitation to the White House were seemingly forgotten or set aside Friday as President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcomed the championship women’s basketball team to the mansion with smiles, hugs and lavish praise all around.

The visit had once appeared in jeopardy after Jill Biden suggested that the losing Iowa team be invited, too. But none of that was mentioned as both Bidens heralded the players for their performance and the way they have helped advance women’s sports.

“Folks, we witnessed history,” the president said. “In this team, we saw hope, we saw pride and we saw purpose. It matters.”

The ceremony was halted for about 10 minutes after forward Sa’Myah Smith appeared to collapse as she and her teammates stood behind Biden. A wheelchair was brought in and coach Kim Mulkey assured the audience that Smith was fine.

LSU said in a statement that Smith felt overheated, nauseous and thought she might faint. She was evaluated by LSU and White House medical staff and was later able to rejoin the team. “She is feeling well, in good spirits, and will undergo further evaluation once back in Baton Rouge,” the LSU statement said.

Since the passage of Title IX in 1972, Biden said, more than half of all college students are women, and there are now 10 times more female athletes in college and high school. He said most sports stories are still about men, and that that needs to change.

Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs and activities.

“Folks, we need to support women sports, not just during the championship run but during the entire year,” President Biden said.

After the Tigers beat Iowa for the NCAA title in April in a game the first lady attended, she caused an uproar by suggesting that the Hawkeyes also come to the White House.

LSU star Angel Reese called the idea “A JOKE” and said she would prefer to visit with former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, instead. The LSU team largely is Black, while Iowa’s top player, Caitlin Clark, is white, as are most of her teammates.

Nothing came of Jill Biden’s idea and the White House only invited the Tigers. Reese ultimately said she would not skip the White House visit. She and co-captain Emily Ward presented team jerseys bearing the number “46” to Biden and the first lady. Hugs were exchanged.

Jill Biden also lavished praise on the team, saying the players showed “what it means to be a champion.”

“In this room, I see the absolute best of the best,” she said, adding that watching them play was “pure magic.”

“Every basket was pure joy and I kept thinking about how far women’s sports have come,” the first lady added, noting that she grew up before Title IX was passed. “We’ve made so much progress and we still have so much more work to do.”

The president added that “the way in which women’s sports has come along is just incredible. It’s really neat to see, since I’ve got four granddaughters.”

After Smith was helped to a wheelchair, Mulkey told the audience the player was OK.

“As you can see, we leave our mark where we go,” Mulkey joked. “Sa’Myah is fine. She’s kind of, right now, embarrassed.”

A few members of Congress and Biden aides past and present with Louisiana roots dropped what they were doing to attend the East Room event, including White House budget director Shalanda Young. Young is in the thick of negotiations with House Republicans to reach a deal by the middle of next week to stave off what would be a globally calamitous U.S. financial default if the U.S. can no longer borrow the money it needs to pay its bills.

The president, who wore a necktie in the shade of LSU’s purple, said Young, who grew up in Baton Rouge, told him, “I’m leaving the talks to be here.” Rep. Garret Graves, one of the House GOP negotiators, also attended.

Biden closed sports Friday by changing to a blue tie and welcoming the UConn’s men’s championship team for its own celebration. The Huskies won their fifth national title by defeating San Diego State, 76-59, in April.

“Congratulations to the whole UConn nation,” he said.

Marquette’s Prosper says he will stay in draft rather than returning to school

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

MILWAUKEE — Olivier-Maxence Prosper announced he is keeping his name under NBA draft consideration rather than returning to Marquette.

The 6-foot-8 forward announced his decision.

“Thank you Marquette nation, my coaches, my teammates and support staff for embracing me from day one,” Prosper said in an Instagram post. “My time at Marquette has been incredible. With that being said, I will remain in the 2023 NBA Draft. I’m excited for what comes next. On to the next chapter…”

Prosper had announced last month he was entering the draft. He still could have returned to school and maintained his college eligibility by withdrawing from the draft by May 31. Prosper’s announcement indicates he instead is going ahead with his plans to turn pro.

Prosper averaged 12.5 points and 4.7 rebounds last season while helping Marquette go 29-7 and win the Big East’s regular-season and tournament titles. Marquette’s season ended with a 69-60 loss to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32.

He played two seasons at Marquette after transferring from Clemson, where he spent one season.

Kansas’ Kevin McCullar Jr. returning for last season of eligibility

kansas mccullar
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Kevin McCullar Jr. said that he will return to Kansas for his final year of eligibility, likely rounding out a roster that could make the Jayhawks the preseason No. 1 next season.

McCullar transferred from Texas Tech to Kansas for last season, when he started 33 of 34 games and averaged 10.7 points and 7.0 rebounds. He was also among the nation’s leaders in steals, and along with being selected to the Big 12’s all-defensive team, the 6-foot-6 forward was a semifinalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award.

“To be able to play in front of the best fans in the country; to play for the best coach in the nation, I truly believe we have the pieces to hang another banner in the Phog,” McCullar said in announcing his return.

Along with McCullar, the Jayhawks return starters Dajuan Harris Jr. and K.J. Adams from a team that went 28–8, won the Big 12 regular-season title and was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where it lost to Arkansas in the second round.

Perhaps more importantly, the Jayhawks landed Michigan transfer Hunter Dickinson, widely considered the best player in the portal, to anchor a lineup that was missing a true big man. They also grabbed former five-star prospect Arterio Morris, who left Texas, and Towson’s Nick Timberlake, who emerged last season as one of the best 3-point shooters in the country.

The Jayhawks also have an elite recruiting class arriving that is headlined by five-star recruit Elmarko Jackson.

McCullar declared for the draft but, after getting feedback from scouts, decided to return. He was a redshirt senior last season, but he has another year of eligibility because part of his career was played during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is a big day for Kansas basketball,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. “Kevin is not only a terrific player but a terrific teammate. He fit in so well in year one and we’re excited about what he’ll do with our program from a leadership standpoint.”

Clemson leading scorer Hall withdraws from NBA draft, returns to Tigers

clemson pj hall
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports

CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson leading scorer PJ Hall is returning to college after withdrawing from the NBA draft on Thursday.

The 6-foot-10 forward took part in the NBA combine and posted his decision to put off the pros on social media.

Hall led the Tigers with 15.3 points per game this past season. He also led the Tigers with 37 blocks, along with 5.7 rebounds. Hall helped Clemson finish third in the Atlantic Coast Conference while posting a program-record 14 league wins.

Clemson coach Brad Brownell said Hall gained experience from going through the NBA’s combine that will help the team next season. “I’m counting on him and others to help lead a very talented group,” he said.

Hall was named to the all-ACC third team last season as the Tigers went 23-10.