Film Room: Can Tom Izzo fix what is wrong with Michigan State?


No. 3 Michigan State lost on Monday night in the quarterfinals of the Maui Invitational to a Virginia Tech team that saw their top five players, and their head coach, bounce during the offseason.

Let me repeat that for you.

The preseason No. 1 team in the country flew all the way to Hawaii to get beaten by the team picked 14th in the ACC.

It was Michigan State’s second loss in the first five games of the season. They are the first team to be ranked No. 1 in the preseason to lose two of their first five games since … Cincinnati in 1996-97.

That, my friends, is not ideal.

But the truth is that it continues a trend that has started to become somewhat worrying, one that has played out over the course of the three games where Michigan State has faced off with high-major competition.

So just what is wrong with the Spartans?

I have some answers.

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Last year, the most memorable shot of the season for the Spartans, the shot that beat No. 1 Duke and sent Michigan State to the Final Four, did not come from Cassius Winston. Or Xavier Tillman. Or Aaron Henry. Or anyone that you would think it would.

It came from Kenny Goins.

The 6-foot-8 forward hit a three with 34 seconds over Zion Williamson, giving Michigan State a 68-66 lead. They would not need to score again to get to Minneapolis, and the key to Michigan State’s entire 2019-20 season could very well hinge on whether or not the Spartans have anyone on their roster than can make that exact same shot.

What happened on the play where Williamson left Goins was just a simple mental mistake – two guys followed Winston, no one followed Goins – and, in reality, it is a perfect example of why this year’s iteration of the Spartans are struggling.

The secret is out on how to stop the Spartans, who run ball-screens more than anyone else in college basketball: Sell out to keep Winston from beating you.

Kentucky discovered the recipe. Whenever a ball-screen was set for Winston, the Wildcats left two defenders with Winston for as long as possible, forcing the ball out of his hands. Their game-plan was, more or less, to let literally anyone else on the roster try to beat them. Seton Hall did the same thing. So did Virginia Tech. I’ve heard different terms used to describe exactly what this defense is – best I can tell, it’s something between a slow hedge and a soft double – but the intention for all three was pretty simple.

John Calipari, Kevin Willard and Mike Young decided they didn’t need to guard Thomas Kithier.

“If they want to double team Cash, we gotta make them pay for it,” Xavier Tillman told me. “By not having bigs that can shoot, it hurts us. The big will be open up top and he’s gotta take that shot. If he passes up the shot, that will be it. Malik, he can hit that shot on a consistent basis. So now, if you want to trap Cash, he’ll get an open three and knock it down.”

“It helps us space the floor out,” he added. “We can keep the defense honest.”

Now, the thing that makes Draymond Green so special and such a perfect fit in the Golden State system with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson is that he’s one of the best passers in the world for a big man. When defenses sell out to stop Steph in a ball-screen and Draymond receives the ball in a 4-on-3 or 3-on-2 situation, he can drive, he can shoot, he can make defenses pay for the attention they give to Golden State’s shooters. What makes him so special is that he almost always makes the right decision.

Thomas Kithier is not Draymond Green, and neither was Kenny Goins, but Goins was good enough to make some threes, and he did average 2.3 assists as a senior, and he did all of this as Michigan State’s leading rebounder and a very good frontcourt defender.

It should come as no coincidence, then, that the best half that the Spartans have played against high-major competition came in the half where Malik Hall, a freshman forward that is the closest thing Izzo has to Goins on his roster, scored 17 points, hit three threes and made all seven of the shots he took from the field.

“When [a big] shoots like that, and they’re doing all that roll and replace, and you have to deal with Tillman down low, and you have Gabe Brown in the corner and Aaron Henry in the corner, then all of a sudden you have to start switching pick and rolls and you have a four-man on Cassius Winston,” Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard said. “Good luck with that.”

The truth, however is that just has not been the case the majority of the season.

Take a look at these plays.

There is just no space for Cassius Winston to do anything on this side of the floor, but when the ball is rotated, the Spartans do not have the weapons to make them pay.

The question then becomes whether or not this is a problem that can be solved.

And I think it can be.

We know how young this Michigan State team truly is. There are really only three upperclassmen on the roster, and the freshmen and sophomores they have are more program guys than they are early entry candidates. Henry is an absolute monster, and when combined with Cassius Winston and Xavier Tillman, he gives Michigan State one of the best trios in the country.

But Gabe Brown is still learning what and when he has to do on the defensive end of the floor. Malik Hall has played one good half of basketball this season. Rocket Watts is still figuring out the college game. Those are the three guys that the Spartans need to get up to speed if they want to play a smaller lineup. Frankly, I think the most interesting lineup that the Spartans can roll out will feature Watts on the floor to move Winston off the ball with Henry and one of Brown, Hall or Ahrens on the floor with them.

I just don’t think Izzo trusts his younger guys enough to play that way right now.

They’ll get there with time.

It just may be more time than we initially expected.

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

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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

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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
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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.

George Washington adopts new name ‘Revolutionaries’ to replace ‘Colonials’

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WASHINGTON — George Washington University’s sports teams will now be known as the Revolutionaries, the school announced.

Revolutionaries replaces Colonials, which had been GW’s name since 1926. Officials made the decision last year to drop the old name after determining it no longer unified the community.

GW said 8,000 different names were suggested and 47,000 points of feedback made during the 12-month process. Revolutionaries won out over the other final choices of Ambassadors, Blue Fog and Sentinels.

“I am very grateful for the active engagement of our community throughout the development of the new moniker,” president Mark S. Wrighton said. “This process was truly driven by our students, faculty, staff and alumni, and the result is a moniker that broadly reflects our community – and our distinguished and distinguishable GW spirit.”

George the mascot will stay and a new logo developed soon for the Revolutionaries name that takes effect for the 2023-24 school year. The university is part of the Atlantic 10 Conference.