Tag Archives: Michigan State Spartans

Diagnosing what went wrong in Indiana’s 70-50 loss to Michigan State

Minutes before the tip-off of Indiana vs. Michigan State, my dad turned to me and said “You know, Indiana could be 13-1 right now.” And he wasn’t wrong. A two-point loss to Eastern Washington was certainly avoidable and the Hoosiers were the better team in Madison Square Garden for much of their four-point overtime loss to Georgetown.

Through the 2014 portion of their schedule, they had been playing like a team that could surpass its ninth-place predicted finish in an unofficial preseason poll that surveyed 27 Big Ten media members. Indiana had defeated ranked teams in No. 22 SMU and No. 23 Butler in addition to beating Pittsburgh rather handily. Despite the Hoosiers’ warts — a porous defense, inconsistent frontcourt play and rebounding struggles — all in all, they had managed to play pretty well over the course of their first 14 games. The loss to Eastern Washington is definitely a blemish on their resume and the final score in their loss to No. 4 Louisville wasn’t pretty, but there hadn’t been a night where they frankly didn’t show up ready to play.

That game came on Monday night in East Lansing, Mich. against Michigan State. It was so bad that after watching the game, I had to cleanse myself and remove myself from basketball for a while before digesting what just happened. Five episodes of Modern Family later, I was ready to face my DVR and tackle some game film. Here’s what went wrong for the Hoosiers in their 20-point loss:

  • Hanner Mosquera-Perea’s start to the game couldn’t have been any worse. After posting his first career double-double in Indiana’s win at Nebraska, the junior forward picked up two fouls in the opening 84 seconds of the game. The first foul may have been a questionable call by the official when Mosquera-Perea attempted to cut off Denzel Valentine’s drive to the basket, but his second was completely avoidable. After James Blackmon Jr. missed a three-point attempt, Michigan State’s Gavin Schilling and Matt Costello crashed the boards. As the ball was falling into Schilling’s hands, Mosquera-Perea jumped to contest for the rebound and bumped into Schilling. Twenty-one seconds after picking up his first foul, he picked up his second foul when he should have been running back on defense. Mosquera-Perea was immediately substituted out of the game, but Indiana coach Tom Crean had no choice but to play the forward later in the first half as the Spartans jumped out to a big lead. With two fouls early in the game, Mosquera-Perea was gun-shy when he went back in the game.
  • Indiana’s offense was incredibly stagnant in the first half, in terms of both ball movement and players moving without the ball. The offense was often initiated far from the rim and there was little action in the paint, where Crean has repeatedly insisted throughout the season that the ball must move through in order for the Hoosiers to have offensive success. On the Hoosiers’ 35 first-half possessions, Indiana averaged 4.3 passes per possession and many of them were dribble handoffs and passes near the far edge of the coaching box that didn’t progress the team’s offense.
  • The Hoosiers struggled when Yogi Ferrell wasn’t playing point guard. With the additions of James Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson in Indiana’s starting lineup, Crean has the luxury of backcourt depth. Instead of relying solely on Ferrell for offensive initiation and production, something that happened all too often last season, Indiana can use Blackmon Jr., Johnson, Stanford Robinson and now Troy Williams to bring the ball up the court and run the offense while Ferrell plays off the ball. While such an offensive strategy paid off during the Hoosiers’ non-conference schedule and gave their younger players valuable in-game experience, Indiana’s offense frequently stalled against Michigan State when Ferrell wasn’t running the point. No one on the team has a better knowledge and feel for the Big Ten than Ferrell, and he has a career-best offensive rating, assist rate and turnover rate this season. He needs to be Indiana’s go-to guy more often, especially in crisis.
  • Somewhat related to the last observation, Stanford Robinson remains a liability offensively. He uses a team-high 30.2 percent of Indiana’s possessions (meaning 30.2 percent on Indiana’s possessions when Robinson is on the court end because of him — due to a turnover, made shot or missed shot that ends the team’s possession). At the same time, he has the lowest offensive rating (80.3) of all Hoosier players who have played at least 20 percent of the available minutes this season and it’s by quite a large margin (the next lowest is Max Hoetzel’s 108.0 offensive rating). It’s a really bad combination for a player who’s trying to earn minutes off the bench and prove that he’s deserving of a major role in Crean’s rotation. Shortly after entering the game in the first half against Michigan State, Robinson forced (and missed) two bad shots in the span of three possessions. For a team that flourishes on offense because of its floor spacing, jump shooters and willingness to make the next pass in order to find a better shot, Robinson can take the wind out of Indiana’s sails when he looks for his own shot in the lane when opposing defenses are collapsing on him.
  • The Hoosiers’ transition game — on offense and defense — was less than stellar on Monday night. Indiana only scored 10 fast break points to Michigan State’s 23. Much of the Spartans’ 36-17 halftime lead was built up thanks to their ability to score in transition, from their first bucket of the game (a Lourawls Nairn Jr. jumper) to a three-pointer from Bryn Forbes to multiple Branden Dawson dunks. On the other end, Indiana struggled to get out in the open floor and get open looks before Michigan State’s defense was set.
  • Indiana absolutely got worked on defense and on the boards. Michigan State had 21 assists on 28 made field goals and had excellent ball movement all night. The Spartans passed up good shots for even better shots and were unselfish with the ball. Despite not having a primary scorer this season, Michigan State showed its balance and depth against Indiana as nine players made at least one field goal. The Spartans nearly doubled up the Hoosiers on the glass, out-rebounding Indiana 50-28, grabbing 53 percent of their missed shots and having the same number of offensive rebounds (17) as Indiana had defensive rebounds. Michigan State’s offensive rebounding led to 17 second-chance points.
  • It’s a fairly safe bet to say that Monday night will be Indiana’s worst three-point shooting performance of the season and for the Hoosiers’ sake, they better hope so. Indiana was 5-of-24 from behind the arc. Ferrell was 3-of-10, Blackmon Jr. was 0-of-5 and Nick Zeisloft was 1-of-6. Part of the problem was the Spartans’ perimeter defense, which is 13th in the country in three-point percentage defense, but the Hoosiers also missed their fair share of open looks. Time and time again on the Big Ten Network broadcast, Seth Davis mentioned that the game wasn’t quite out of reach for Indiana because of their ability to light it up from deep and go on big scoring runs. There were several situations in which the Hoosiers could have partially closed the gap and at least made the game interesting, but nothing was falling for Indiana.
  • Branden Dawson absolutely got the best of Troy Williams. Williams has been playing well of late, but he took a step back against Michigan State and was dominated by Dawson. The Spartans’ senior guard-forward finished the night with 14 points, 13 rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks in 35 minutes as Williams had zero points and one rebound in 17 minutes. Dawson brought energy and physicality to the game and Indiana had no answer for him.

It’s hard to pinpoint what led to Indiana getting demolished on the road at Michigan State. The Hoosiers fell to 1-20 all-time at the Breslin Center, so clearly they haven’t had the best luck playing in East Lansing, Mich., but Indiana won at Nebraska just days earlier and Michigan State’s students weren’t back in school so it’s hard to imagine that the road environment rattled Indiana enough to lose by 20.

After reflecting on Indiana’s loss and trying to figure out where the Hoosiers stand in the Big Ten, I thought of a question frequently asked by ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt: Was it a moment or a movement?

In other words, was the loss an aberration and a product of Indiana having an off-night on the road against a good team in the midst of a long college basketball season? Or, does Indiana have fundamental, underlying flaws that were exploited by Michigan State and could be a sign of further struggles in conference play?

The answer is probably somewhere in the middle. Indiana’s not going to get any taller and its defense will continue to be a liability — things that Crean & Co. will have to build gameplans around — but Monday night was also a perfect storm of a bad shooting night and foul trouble for its biggest player on the road against a fundamentally sound team in an arena in which it has historically struggled.

However, the Hoosiers won’t be able to hang their heads for long because No. 22 Ohio State travels to Bloomington to face Indiana at noon on Saturday.

Hoosiers look for second consecutive Big Ten road win against Michigan State

On his weekly radio show last week, Indiana coach Tom Crean said the Hoosiers were handed the gift of playing in two of the toughest venues in the Big Ten right off the bat.

Well, so far so good.

Indiana (11-3, 1-0) defeated Nebraska (8-5, 0-1) on the road, 70-65, on New Year’s Eve, but the start of the Hoosiers’ Big Ten schedule doesn’t get any easier. On Monday night, they will face Michigan State (9-5, 0-1) in the Breslin Center, an arena where they’re 1-19 all-time, before hosting No. 22 Ohio State on Saturday.

There aren’t any handouts in the Big Ten, everything is earned. It’s a lesson that Crean’s young Indiana team has started to learn thanks to the 2014 portion of its schedule.

“I think after going through the Nebraska game and with some of the teams we played in the non-conference they have a much better understanding of what it takes to win in these types of games,” Crean said Monday morning on the Big Ten coaches teleconference.

It’s hard to tell just how good (or bad) the Spartans are this season. All of their wins except for one were by double digits but they also lost at home to Texas Southern. They’ve played four teams currently ranked in the top 13 of the AP Top 25 Poll and lost all four games.

As Michigan State, who was ranked No. 18 in the preseason AP Poll, has regressed from early expectations, Indiana has trended upwards. The Hoosiers received nine votes in the latest AP Poll, good for No. 38, and 20 votes in the USA TODAY Coaches Poll, which is tied for 31st.

A win at Michigan State could propel Indiana into the Top 25 for the first time since the 2012-13 postseason edition of the poll. But a Hoosier victory in East Lansing, Mich. will be a serious challenge. Michigan State ranks in the top 50 in the country in offensive efficiency and in the top 25 in defensive efficiency.

The Spartans are among the slowest teams in the nation in terms of the length of their defensive possessions, which isn’t a good sign for Indiana’s run-and-gun offense.

“This will be a tremendous challenge for us because Michigan State is doing so many good things on both ends of the court,” Crean said. “The defense is at many times stifling because they take you out of so many things that you want to do and their offense is capable of scoring inside, in the mid-range and certainly they’re one of the better three-point shooting teams not only in the league but in the conference.”

To an extent, Indiana lives and dies by the three-point shot. The Hoosiers have won while shooting poorly from behind the arc (7-of-24, or 29.2 percent, against Nebraska) and they’ve lost despite lighting it up from deep (13-of-31, or 41.9 percent, against Georgetown), but Indiana’s greatest strength is its floor spacing, ball movement and resulting three-point shooting.

The Hoosiers may meet their match Monday night. Michigan State has held opponents to 27.9 percent shooting from three-point range this season, while also making 40.5 percent of their own three-pointers. If Indiana goes cold from the field in the face of the Spartans’ stingy defense, Michigan State has the rebounding ability and unselfishness offensively to potentially make it a long night for the Hoosiers.

Senior Branden Dawson and junior Matt Costello are two of the top 80 rebounders in the country in terms of offensive and defensive rebounding percentage, and three Michigan State guards have assist rates of at least 25 percent. On offense, four players average in double figures in points per game, led by senior Travis Trice’s 13.9 points per game.

While the Spartans lack the featured scorer(s) that recent Tom Izzo-led Michigan State teams have had, they have five players who are nationally ranked in terms of individual offensive efficiency, which will test an Indiana defense that is trying to take the next step forward. Four of the Hoosiers’ past five opponents have been held below 40 percent shooting from the field and Crean credits improvements in individual defense, team defense and communication.

“I think it’s individually-driven in the fact that you’ve got guys like Hanner Perea, Troy Williams, people of that nature that are really improving individually as defenders and as team defenders and rebounders,” he said. “And I think our freshmen like James and Robert are getting more and more comfortable with what they have to do and they’re gaining experience. And then it’s guys like Collin Hartman, Nick Zeisloft, Yogi, people like that are continuing to make strides not only individually defensively but in team defense.”

While the Breslin Center won’t be its usual self since Michigan State students are still off for another week, communication will be of the utmost importance for Indiana on the road. There’s still room for the Hoosiers to improve on defense — namely, protecting the rim, forcing turnovers and grabbing a higher percentage of defensive rebounds — but their understanding on that end of the floor has clearly progressed this season.

“We’re starting to understand more and more how important it is that you don’t overhelp on the ball and give up open threes,” Crean said, “and especially now in league play that it’s going to be absolutely crucial and probably never as crucial as it is tonight.”

Know Thy Conference: Elite Eight loss to UConn, Draymond Green and a new diet fuels Michigan State’s Branden Dawson

Know Thy Conference is a series of feature stories and Q&A’s with Big Ten men’s basketball players based on interviews conducted at the Big Ten Basketball Media Day in October. The second feature story is about Michigan State senior guard-forward Branden Dawson. 

Down by two points to UConn in the Elite Eight with two minutes to play, Michigan State had a chance to tie the game or take the lead.

It did neither.

Keith Appling’s entry pass to Adreian Payne on the left block was thwarted by a double team from the Huskies and the ball was knocked loose. Branden Dawson hit the deck and grabbed the ball but he slid over the baseline, turning the ball over to UConn.

The eventual national champions closed the game on a 9-5 run to defeat the Spartans 60-54. The loss marked the first time in Michigan State coach Tom Izzo’s tenure in East Lansing that four-year players — in this case, Payne and Appling — hadn’t reached the Final Four in their collegiate careers.

After the season, the Spartans lost three of their starters as Payne and Appling graduated and sophomore Gary Harris declared for the NBA Draft.

Dawson could have joined Harris and Payne, who were both first round draft picks, in the NBA. He wanted to test the waters of professional basketball to see if he’d be better off forgoing his final year of eligibility and entering the draft instead of finishing his college career at Michigan State.

However, a promise Dawson had made to his mother, combined with feedback from NBA scouts kept him in East Lansing, Mich. for his senior season.

“I always told my mom that I wanted to get my degree, that I wanted to graduate,” he said at the Big Ten Basketball Media Day in October. “I was never pressed to go to the NBA because the NBA’s not going anywhere so I just sat down and wanted to ask a few questions about it.”

The answers to his questions told him that he likely would have been a late second round pick if he had entered the 2014 NBA Draft. Scouts told him that he needed to improve his ball-handling and perimeter game in order to play on the wing at the next level.

Self-evaluation is something a lot of players struggle with, Dawson said, and it shows every spring when a handful of college players listen to bad advice and ignore the cold hard truth, and enter the NBA Draft prematurely.

Dawson wasn’t one of those players. He came back.

“I took it in consideration and came back and got back to business,” he said of the scouts’ critiques of his game. “So after we lost to UConn I was back in the gym the next few weeks.”

The 6-foot-6 guard-forward is a self-proclaimed film junkie, but his actions speak louder than his words regarding his passion for the film room. He missed nine conference games last season after breaking a bone in his right hand after slamming his hand on a table in frustration while watching film after Michigan State’s home win against Indiana.

Dawson has watched Michigan State’s loss to UConn on multiple occasions and while the pain of the loss is still fresh in his mind, it fuels him in his final season wearing green and white.

“It was hurting because we were so close,” he said. “I go back and watch it, kind of a lot now.”

He still wonders how the result could have been different if he had grabbed another rebound or made a defensive stop, but he has moved on.

“Coming from having that experience from losing to those guys, it’s kind of helped me, Travis (Trice) and Denzel (Valentine),” Dawson said. “We now know what to expect and we’re now on the same page. That pushed us a lot knowing that we were so close.”

Michigan State followed up its Elite Eight exit to UConn with what Dawson describes as the team’s best summer since he joined the program in 2011.

Last summer he watched more film than he ever had in the past, specifically focusing on film of Kawhi Leonard, Andre Iguodala and LeBron James — all of whom are wing players who play tenacious defense in the NBA.

He also changed his diet.

“No more McDonald’s, no more Wendy’s,” he said. “(I) stay away from that.”

Dawson’s dietary changes allowed him to lose weight in the “right way,” while also toning up a bit. He still has a playing weight ranging from 220 to 225 pounds, depending on the day, but he’s in the best shape of his career.

The senior’s focus on fitness was sparked by the advice from former teammates. Harris, Payne and Appling spent time in East Lansing last summer and worked out with current Michigan State players.

“Adreian told me ‘Hey, bro, you really have to be in shape,’” Dawson said. “Gary told me the same thing. They worked a lot on conditioning, so they just told me to make sure that I’m in shape, make sure everything is taken care of.”

Dawson has benefitted from playing at a university that has sent 41 players to the NBA, many of whom are still in close contact with their college program. Draymond Green, a third-year NBA player for the Golden State Warriors who played alongside Dawson at Michigan State during the 2011-12 season, spent most of last summer in East Lansing.

“Going up against him this summer in open gym and in workouts made me a lot better,” Dawson said.

The senior has modeled himself as a player, on and off the court, with Green in mind. Like Green, Dawson prides himself on defense. He’s nationally ranked in defensive rebounding percentage, block percentage and steal percentage, per the advanced metrics of kenpom.com.

“Most guys really don’t like playing defense, but I like getting up in a guy’s skin,” he said. “I like getting steals, getting rebounds and you know, just doing the little things to help my teammates out.”

The season that Dawson and Green were teammates is paying dividends three years later, as Dawson attempts to be the senior leader that Green was for the Spartans.

“When I came in my freshman year, I kind of watched Draymond Green,” he said. “I watched … how he carried himself on and off the court. Just to watch his demeanor, I’d say that it kind of carried over to how I lead.”

Green has a similar build as Dawson and he has made a successful transition from often playing in the post in the Big Ten to becoming a small forward in the NBA. Dawson’s size makes him versatile in the college ranks, but he’s kind of a tweener in terms of how his game translates to the NBA — having a skill set built for playing around the rim but lacking some of the perimeter tools necessary for a player who has the body of an NBA small forward.

He’ll have to follow a similar path as Green is he hopes to make it at the next level.

But for now, Dawson doesn’t give much thought to his NBA prospects. He’s focused on trying to win a Big Ten championship, then a national championship, and he’ll let someone else worry about figuring out what position he plays.

Dawson says he’s a small forward type, but he doesn’t necessarily like to define himself as a player who only plays one position.

“I feel like I kind of play multiple positions, that’s what Coach Izzo — we’ve been talking about that a lot,” he said. “So I really don’t have a position on this team.”

For Michigan State to reach its 18th consecutive NCAA Tournament and continue its trend of deep runs in March, the Spartans will need Dawson to play one all-econmpassing role — leader.

They will go as far as Dawson, senior Travis Trice and junior Denzel Valentine take them.

“With Gary being out and Keith and Adreian, those really were our top scorers,” Dawson said of Michigan State’s roster turnover. “We’re gonna have to do a lot more.”

At the Big Ten Media Day, he said repeatedly that the trio of upperclassmen are on the same page and that if the team stays healthy and focused, everything will fall into place.

The Spartans only have one Big Ten game under their belt, but they have some work to do between now and Selection Sunday to solidify themselves as an NCAA Tournament team. Michigan State is 9-5, with four of its losses coming against teams currently ranked in the top 15 and three of them coming on the road or at neutral sites. The only bad loss on the team’s resume is a home loss to Texas Southern (3-10), a game in which Dawson was sidelined due to a fractured wrist, but its only win of note was against a mediocre Marquette team in late November.

Like most of the teams in the Big Ten, Michigan State will likely be in the thick of things — somewhere behind Wisconsin and ahead of Northwestern and Rutgers.

Dawson said he tries not to focus on the polls or accolades that surround Michigan State and the conference as a whole. There’s too much at stake to get caught up in the outside noise.

“If we were picked eighth or 10th, I’d say that every team comes out and they play their best against Michigan State,” he said. “Each team is going to still come out and want to just rip our heads off and play their best so we just can’t focus on that.”

Dawson doesn’t mind the spotlight being on Madison, Wisc. and the Badgers, while Michigan State, which was picked everywhere from second to eighth by conference media members who voted in an unofficial preseason poll, remains more in the shadows.

“Wisconsin, they can have all the pressure,” he said. “We’re fine with that because we know they’re a great team but we’re gonna be right there. We’re not gonna fade away, we’re not gonna back down.”

“I think it’ll turn out good for us.”

Know Thy Conference: Q&A with Michigan State’s Branden Dawson

Know Thy Conference is a series of feature stories and Q&A’s with Big Ten men’s basketball players based on interviews conducted at the Big Ten Basketball Media Day in October. IUSportCom had the opportunity to interview Michigan State senior guard-forward Branden Dawson one-on-one at the Big Ten Basketball Media Day.

Here is the transcript of the conversation:

IUSportCom: When you tested the waters for the NBA, what was the scouting report on your game and what did NBA scouts tell you?

Branden Dawson: A couple of scouts told me that I was probably going to be (a) late second round (pick). They told me that I definitely have to work on different aspects of my game like my ball-handling, my shot to (be able to) play the wing and that’s what I did. I came back, I took that in consideration. Self-evaluation — a lot of guys struggle at that but I took it, like I said, I took it in consideration and came back and got back to business, so after we lost to UConn I was back in the gym the next few weeks.

IUSC: Are there any specific drills that you added to your workouts in the offseason to work on your ball-handling and perimeter game?

BD: Just working with (former Michigan State forward and current Golden State Warriors player) Draymond Green, he came up there and he stayed really like half of the summer. He came up there and helped us out, he showed me a lot of drills, he helped me out, he helped different guys out. Travis Walton, he’s kind of our workout guy so working with him, (I) went to Indianapolis to work with a trainer out there so just working with different guys, getting different drills and different workouts to help me out.

IUSC: How beneficial is that to have a network of former Michigan State players in the NBA and guys around the country who can stop by East Lansing to work out with you?

BD: They helped out a lot, because Gary (Harris) came back this summer. Adreian (Payne) came back this summer, Keith (Appling), he was back so just talking to those guys. Adreian told me ‘Hey, bro, you really have to be in shape.’ Gary told me the same thing. They worked a lot on ball-handling, they worked a lot on conditioning, so they just told me to make sure that I’m in shape, make sure everything is taken care of.

IUSC: With Gary Harris, Adreian Payne and Keith Appling gone, where is the scoring going to come from to replace the production of those players?

BD: I’ll say different guys. Like I said, we had the best summer that we’ve had in a long time for Travis Trice, Denzel (Valentine), myself, Matt (Costello), I think we’re all on the same page, we all came in and spent a lot of time (practicing) this summer, so I think (if) we stay healthy, we stay focused, I think everything will fall in place.

IUSC: Michigan State was picked anywhere from second to eighth in the media poll, do you find the conference wide open after Wisconsin and where do you see your team finishing in the conference standings?

BD: Really, for myself, I try not to focus on any of that stuff. As far as for this team, I try not to worry about all the accolades and stuff because, like I said, if we were picked eighth or tenth, I’d say that every team comes out and they play their best against Michigan State, even if we’re ranked No. 20, each team is going to still come out and want to just rip our heads off and play their best so we just can’t focus on that. Like I said, if we stay healthy, we remain focused, with our leaders, I think we’ll be fine.

IUSC: How good is Michigan State’s freshman class this season?

BD: Oh man, those guys work extremely hard. Marvin (Clark Jr.), J.B. (Javon Bess), Tum (Lourawls Nairn Jr.), those guys work extremely hard. They’re in the gym every day, those guys want to get better and they’re great guys.

Hoosiers get ready for Spartans defense

For the first time this season, the Hoosiers (3-2, 1-0 Big Ten) will play on the road this weekend. IU will face Michigan State (4-1, 1-0 Big Ten) at 12 p.m. Saturday at Spartan Stadium in a battle for the Old Brass Spittoon.

The Hoosiers haven’t defeated the Spartans since 2006, and IU’s last victory in East Lansing, Mich., was in 2001 when Antwaan Randle El led the team to a 37-28 win.

While the Hoosiers no longer have the former Heisman Trophy finalist Randle El at quarterback, IU has a two-headed threat under center that leads the nation’s ninth-best offense in terms of yards per game.

Sophomore quarterback Nate Sudfeld is 21st in the country in quarterback rating. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Tre Roberson played only seven snaps against Penn State but scored 14 points.

The Hoosiers’ offense will face its toughest task of the season when it faces the Spartans’ defense. Michigan State leads the FBS in total yards allowed, pass efficiency defense and rushing defense. In four of the Spartans’ five games this season, they have limited their opponents to two touchdowns or fewer.

IU Coach Kevin Wilson said Michigan State’s defensive personnel and schemes are very good, which allows them to stop the run.

“They structurally know where to lineup,” he said. “They know where they’re supposed to be. They know where their eyes are.”

Wilson said Michigan State’s Defensive Coordinator Pat Narduzzi is one of the best in the country.

“They’re really strong in their blitz package of when they blitz and how they blitz,” he said.

Not only have the Spartans held their opponents to an average of 203 yards per game, but MSU’s defense has also put points on the board as well. Michigan State’s defense has allowed eight touchdowns this season but it has also scored four touchdowns.

IU Offensive Coordinator Seth Littrell said Michigan State’s defense is experienced in its scheme.

“You watch on film, they’re well-trained with their eyes,where their eyes are supposed to be, what their keys are, and it doesn’t take them long once they see that key to get downhill on it,” he said.

Littrell said the Spartans’ defensive line is big and long up front.

“Their D-End (sophomore Shilique) Calhoun’s very active. He’s done a nice job on the edge for them this year,” he said. “ I guess as a team you’re going to see more length and size than some of the other ones you would see.”

IU’s offense will have to overcome its second loss of a starting lineman this season. The Hoosiers lost sophomore Dan Feeney in fall camp, and redshirt sophomore right guard David Kaminski is out for the season after suffering a torn ACL against Penn State.

Sophomore Tevin Coleman runs for a touchdown during IU's game against Penn State on Saturday at Memorial Stadium. (BEN MIKESELL | IDS)
Sophomore Tevin Coleman runs for a touchdown during IU’s game against Penn State on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
(BEN MIKESELL | IDS)

“It’s always a little easier when you got a group that you feel extremely comfortable with and your calls become a lot easier,” Littrell said. “You don’t worry about ‘em as much but obviously we’ve had some nicks and we’ve had some injuries. That’s part of the game.”

IU will adjust its offensive line with a “next man up” mentality.

“I promise you this, we’ll line up with five guys and we’re gonna go out there, and when it’s all said and done, at the end of the day go out there and compete,” Littrell said.

Click here to read this article on the Indiana Daily Student website. 

College Basketball: The Five Best Matchups of the ESPN Tip-off Marathon

The start of the college basketball is still a few months away, but schedules and matchup are slowly being released throughout the offseason. Beginning at 11 p.m. on August 11, ESPN’s Eamonn Brennan began releasing the matchups for the annual ESPN Tip-Off Marathon. The Tip-Off Marathon begins at 7 p.m. on November 11 and there will be games broadcasted consecutively on the network for more than 24 hours.

To make the marathon work, games will be played across the country and ESPN is using time zone differences to its full advantage.

The Tip-Off Marathon will feature title contenders (Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and Michigan State), some of last season’s Cinderella teams (Florida Gulf Coast, La Salle and Wichita State) and every other type of team in between.

While most fans are unlikely to be up at a the crack of dawn to watch Hawaii host New Mexico State, there are a number of intriguing matchups to be played on November 11 and 12.

The headliners are obviously the two Champions Classic games: Kentucky-Michigan State and Duke-Kansas.

Each of the four teams in the Champions Classic will have played each other in the event after this season, which is the third year of the Classic. With four of the best programs in college basketball competing in the Champions Classic, there are destined to be compelling matchups every year.

The Champions Classic website acknowledges that the 2011 games included Mike Krzyzewski breaking Bob Knight’s NCAA Division I men’s basketball all-time wins record as well as a preview of that year’s championship game with the Kentucky-Kansas matchup.

This year’s Champions Classic games will be filled with compelling story lines, highly touted prospects and very good basketball.

Here are the five best games in the ESPN Tip-Off Marathon based on how the teams performed last season, the players returning and the strength of their 2013 recruiting classes.

5. Western Kentucky at Wichita State

The Shockers are coming off the heels of their run to the Final Four last spring, and it’s time for them to try to build off of last season. Wichita State’s best player, senior forward Cleanthony Early, returned to school in hope of another tournament run. However, Wichita State will have to move on without Carl Hall and Malcolm Armstead, who averaged a combined 23 points and 10 rebounds per game last season.

Creighton has moved to the Big East, which means that Wichita State has a chance to assert its dominance in the Missouri Valley. The Shockers’ game against Western Kentucky will be their first time in the national spotlight since April.

The Hilltoppers are no slouches, even though WKU isn’t known for its basketball. In their opening matchup in last year’s NCAA tournament, they were beating Kansas with 18 minutes left in the game and only lost by seven to the Jayhawks.

Western Kentucky’s leading scorers, T.J. Price and George Fant, will be juniors this season. The duo averaged 28 points and 11 rebounds per game last season. WKU lost only two seniors to graduation from last year’s team that went 20-16, which means that the Hilltoppers could be chosen on selection Sunday next spring.

4. North Carolina State at Cincinnati

Both North Carolina State and Cincinnati had early NCAA tournament exits last season. The two schools each lost by four points in their first matchups.

The Wolfpack lost most of its star players to graduation, the NBA or another school via transfer. Sophomore forward T.J. Warren will lead the new-look North Carolina State team along with the nation’s 13th best recruiting class that Mark Gottfried assembled. Five freshmen will join the Wolfpack this season, and three of them (point guard Anthony Barber, center BeeJay Anya and power forward Kyle Washington) are in ESPN’s top 100 players of the 2013 class.

The Cincinnati Bearcats lost three key players–guard Cashmere Wright, center CheikhMbodj and guard JaQuon Parker–to graduation following last season. However, UCbrings back its leading scorer, Sean Kilpatrick, who averaged 17 points per game last season. Senior forwards Titus Rubles and Justin Jackson, as well as junior guard Jeremiah Davis III will have to step up this season for Cincinnati to make it back to the NCAA tournament. The Bearcats have the 24th best 2013 recruiting class, which is led by power forward Jermaine Lawrence.

Cincinnati and North Carolina State lost several starters from last year’s squads. They hope that their top 25 recruiting classes are enough to make it further in the NCAA tournament next year than they did last season.

3. Florida at Wisconsin

The Florida-Wisconsin matchup will be overshadowed because it falls in between the Kentucky-Michigan State and Duke-Kansas games, but it is certainly a treat for college basketball fans. Florida and Wisconsin are two programs that are consistently good.

Florida won the national championship in 2006 and 2007 and the Gators have made the Elite Eight for three consecutive seasons.

Wisconsin has made the NCAA tournament every year since 1999.

Florida will be led by senior center Patric Young, who averaged 10.1 points and 6.3 rebounds per game last season. The Gators also have two of the top 12 2013 recruits, per ESPN. Point guard Kasey Hill and power forward Chris Walker are five-star recruits who made Billy Donovan’s two-player freshmen class the 10th best in the country.

Wisconsin returns its leading scorer, Ben Brust, who averaged more than 11 points and five rebounds per game last season. The Badgers also have sophomore Sam Dekker, who could be ready for a breakout season after averaging more than nine points and three rebounds per game in 2012-13.

The Badgers’ top incoming freshman is power forward Nigel Hayes, who was ranked 83rd overall in the country by ESPN. Wisconsin’s five-player freshman class is ranked 32nd in the country.

These schools played in November last season and Florida won at home by 18. Now it’s Wisconsin’s turn to have home-court advantage and try to pick up a key non-conference win.

2. Duke vs. Kansas

The two incoming freshmen with the most hype will get to square off at this year’s Champions Classic. Jabari Parker and the Duke Blue Devils will challenge Andrew Wiggins and the Kansas Jayhawks.

While Parker and Wiggins will get most of the attention, other highly ranked recruitswill get the chance to make a name for themselves on a national stage.

Kansas also has the top center prospect in Joel Embiid (ranked 6th overall by ESPN), small forward Wayne Selden (ranked 14th overall by ESPN), point guard Conner Frankamp (46th nationally) and shooting guard Brannen Greene (47th nationally).

Duke also signed Matt Jones (36th nationally) and Semi Ojeleye (40th nationally).

The Blue Devils also return starting guards Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon, who both averaged more than 11 points per game last season.

Kansas lost all five starters from last season, but the Jayhawks return Perry Ellis and Naadir Tharpe, who were the team’s best bench players.

Both teams reloaded on talent and they are poised to make deep tournament runs this season.

1. Kentucky vs. Michigan State

After Kentucky’s fourth-place finish in the SEC last season, John Calipari is bringing the best recruiting class in the country for 2013 to Lexington, and it includes six players in the top 25 spots of ESPN’s top 100 players.

The Wildcats also return Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein, who were both ranked in the top 40 players of the 2012 class by ESPN.

UK will likely begin the season as the No. 1 team in the country and the Wildcats are ready to turn the page after their season-ending loss to Robert Morris in the first round of the NIT.

Michigan State doesn’t have a single 2013 recruit ranked in the top 100 players by ESPN, but the Spartans are returning four starters from last year’s team that advanced to the Sweet 16. Michigan State will be led by senior point guard Keith Appling, star shooting guard Gary Harris and senior forward Adreian Payne. Tom Izzo has the roster to make his seventh final four at Michigan State.

This may be the best test of the regular season for both teams, and it comes in November rather than in conference play.

Click here to read this article on BleacherReport.com. 

After road trip, IU returns home to face Minnesota and Wisconsin

The No. 34 IU women’s tennis team (15-6, 4-3) will play Minnesota 11 a.m. Saturday and Wisconsin at 11 a.m. Sunday at the IU Tennis Center.

The Hoosiers will play at home for the next three dual matches after playing on the road the past two weekends.

IU Coach Lin Loring said the team is “nicked up” after traveling to Michigan State, Michigan, Iowa and Nebraska in the span of nine days.

“We gave them two days off when we got back to try to get a little bit healthy,” Loring said. “We’re just trying to get everybody’s legs back.”

Senior Leslie Hureau joked that she could use another four days off to recover.

Loring said this weekend’s matches should be different because IU will play on consecutive days.

“Last weekend we had a day off in between but we had to travel in between so it’s not like it was a rest,” he said. “Hopefully with a little break we might get to play some outdoor matches. Hopefully we’ll be pretty healthy.”

Minnesota (9-10, 3-4) is tied for sixth in the Big Ten. The Golden Gophers started the season ranked No. 41 but started the spring with a 2-6 record.

Then they rattled off six consecutive wins but have since lost four of their past five dual matches.

Minnesota’s only conference wins are against teams tied for sixth place or worse. The Golden Gophers defeated Penn State (T-6th), Wisconsin (10th), Michigan State (12th). They lost to Michigan and Ohio State, who IU defeated 5-2. Minnesota’s best win of the season was a 4-3 upset against No. 33 Penn State on April 5.

Similarly to the Hoosiers, the Golden Gophers have only two seniors, which means underclassmen play a significant role on the team. Their typical singles order includes, two freshmen, two sophomores, one junior and one senior.

The Wisconsin Badgers (4-14, 2-5) are tenth in the conference and have not won consecutive dual matches this season. However, the Badgers are showing signs of improvement after their 1-10 start. Wisconsin has won three of its past seven matches, including a 5-2 victory against No. 52 Ohio State on April 5.

Last year, IU lost to Minnesota 7-0 and Wisconsin 5-2 on the road in the regular season. However, IU won the previous eight dual matches against the Golden Gophers and 10 of the team’s past 11 matches against the Badgers. IU’s home court advantage will favor the Hoosiers this weekend. IU is 8-2 at home while Minnesota and Wisconsin are a combined 0-12 on the road this season.

“Both teams are a little scary in that they can play good tennis on a given day,” Loring said. “We’re ranked ahead of both of them but they’ve both shown that they can play really good tennis. We just really have to be ready for both of them.”

Click here to read this article on the Indiana Daily Student website. 

No. 32 Hoosiers set for away matches

Riding a three-match win streak, which includes a victory against No. 10 Michigan, the No. 32 IU women’s tennis team (14-5, 3-2) will play on the road for the second weekend in a row. The Hoosiers will face Iowa at 4:30 p.m. Friday and No. 13 Nebraska at noon Sunday.

IU has cut back on practice leading up to this weekend’s matches due to the team’s two long road trips in consecutive weeks.

“We got back at about 11 o’clock last Sunday night, and we’ll probably get back around midnight or one o’clock this Sunday night, so it’s just important for us to rest our legs,” IU Coach Lin Loring said. “This is not an easy road trip because of (matches on) Friday and Sunday and driving six hours between the two sites. We just have to make sure that we’re fresh and ready to go.”

Loring said the bad part about IU’s schedule is that the team plays Michigan, Nebraska, Northwestern and Purdue – all of whom are ranked in the top 25 – on the road this season. He said the Hoosiers have to make the most of their opportunities.

IU is in fifth place in the Big Ten after its pair of victories last weekend improved the team’s conference record to 3-2. Senior Leslie Hureau is ranked No. 111 in singles, and her teammate, sophomore Katie Klyczek, is ranked No. 112.

Iowa (8-8, 1-4) is tied for 10th in the conference. While the Hawkeyes have a .500 record through March, all of their losses have been against ranked opponents.

The Hawkeyes’ lone conference win was against No. 37 Illinois. Iowa junior Ruth Seaborne is ranked No. 85 in singles. Seaborne and Morven McCulloch are the No. 34 doubles tandem.

In the past decade, Iowa has a 7-5 advantage in dual matches against IU.

“The only thing that we’re concerned about at Iowa is that we really haven’t played in an outdoor match in strong wind,” Loring said. “It can get pretty windy there.”

Nebraska (16-3, 5-0) is first in the Big Ten. If the weather permits, the match will be played outdoors.

IU is 2-0 in outdoor matches this season. The Hoosiers defeated No. 2 Duke 4-2 and Michigan State 7-0 in those dual matches.

“They do play in a bubble, so if we play indoors we’ll have to get used to the bubble,” Loring said.

Nebraska has bested 10 ranked opponents this season, including wins against five teams ranked in the top 25.

Senior Mary Weatherholt is ranked No. 13 in singles. She will leave Nebraska as the winningest women’s tennis player in school history.

The doubles combination of Weatherholt and Patricia Veresova is No. 11 in the country.

IU and Nebraska have only faced each other once as conference foes. The Cornhuskers won that dual match 5-2 last spring.

“The bad thing for us this year is that we play every top-ranked team in the conference on the road,” he said. “We just have to give it our best shot.”

Click here to read this article on the Indiana Daily Student website.

Chupa wins Big Ten Women’s Tennis Athlete of the Week

For the third time this season, an Indiana University women’s tennis player has been awarded the Big Ten Women’s Tennis Athlete of the Week honor. Sophomore Carolyn Chupa joins fellow sophomores Alecia Kauss and Katie Klyczek as Hoosiers who have won the conference’s weekly award. It is her first time receiving the honor.

“I just think that it shows that she has really improved from last year and that she’s played really good tennis,” IU Coach Lin Loring said. “It’s nice that she was recognized.”

Chupa was 3-1 last weekend in IU’s victories against Michigan State and No. 10 Michigan. Her only loss was in a doubles match against Michigan’s No. 2 tandem of Brooke Bolender and Emina Bektas.

Against Michigan State, Chupa won her singles match in the No. 3 position against Emily Meyers 6-3, 2-6, 6-2. Chupa and senior Leslie Hureau defeated the Spartans’ Marina Bohrer/Catherine Parenteau 8-1 in the No. 1 doubles match.

The sophomore’s biggest win of the weekend was in the No. 3 singles match against No. 10 Michigan. She topped No. 76 Sarah Lee 6-2, 2-6, 7-6 (4), which was the deciding singles match and propelled No. 40 Indiana to a 5-2 victory.

Overall this season, Chupa is 19-5 in singles, which is the second highest win total on the team, and 19-9 in doubles. She has a 14-1 singles record in dual matches, which includes a current five-match win streak and a 2-0 record against nationally ranked opponents.

No. 32 Indiana will face to Iowa and No. 13 Nebraska on the road this weekend. The Hoosiers face the Hawkeyes at 4:30 p.m. on Friday and the Cornhuskers at 12:00 p.m. on Sunday.

Click here to read this post on the Indiana Daily Student’s Hoosier Hype blog.