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A college sports blog from The Oakland Press, dedicated to covering Michigan and Michigan State athletics as well as former Oakland County athletes at other schools.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Spartans, Wolverines now battling for BCS

For Michigan State, the situation is simple: Beat Wisconsin in Saturday's Big Ten championship game and the Spartans are heading to the Rose Bowl. Yet, even though MSU is in control of its own destiny, Michigan might have the more favorable situation when it comes to getting a BCS bid.
While Michigan will have no other option than to sit and wait, a loss by MSU Saturday might propel the Wolverines into an at-large BCS invite.
The Spartans are ranked 13th in the latest BCS standings released Sunday night, Michigan is ranked 16th. In order to get an at-large bid to the BCS you have to be ranked in top 14. Many BCS experts from ESPN and CBS say Michigan would likely jump the loser of the Michigan State-Wisconsin game and or Georgia if it loses to LSU in the SEC championship game. Since three teams from the same conference can't get a BCS bid, that means a loss to Wisconsin will likely leave the Spartans as the odd-man out -- again.
Even though MSU beat Michigan in the regular season, won the Legends Division of the Big Ten and is currently ranked a full percentage point higher than the Wolverines in the BCS, the Spartans might fall victim to the flawed system of college football marketing which favors brand recognition over quality.
There's no question BCS sponsors would rather have Michigan than Michigan State. Michigan will draw better national TV ratings, bring more fans and flat about provide more flash.
As Michigan athletic director David Brandon told reporters after the Ohio State game, "We're Michigan. Everyone knows who we are and our tradition and our team."
Like it or not Spartan fans, that statement is undeniably true. Even MSU coach Mark Dantonio admits his program doesn't have the national recognition, yet, of the country's historically elite programs.
It's the same reason the Spartans were snubbed last season, even though they finished with an 11-1 regular season record.
The ideal scenario for this state, and the MSU-Michigan rivalry, would be for the Spartans to advance to the Rose Bowl and the Wolverines to get invited to the Sugar Bowl as an at-large team.
It's very possible.
The Spartans will either face the best team in the Pac 12 (unless Stanford or Oregon qualify for the National Championship Game) or the third team from the SEC in either the Capitol One Bowl or Outback Bowl.
If Michigan does get a BCS invite, they'll likely face the worst of the BCS crop in the Sugar Bowl -- probably Houston. Otherwise they'll end up in the same SEC matchup as a non-BCS Spartans team would.
As it stands, Michigan is the team with the best chance to win a BCS game this season -- which considering MSU had the better year and won the rivalry game in the regular season, won't sit well with Spartan fans.

Dantonio, Hoke both getting consideration for Coach of the Year
The Big Ten Coach of the Year award will be announced Wednesday and it should go to either Brady Hoke or Mark Dantonio.
What Hoke has been able to do at Michigan in his first-season, even with a schedule padded with eight home games and a down Ohio State, is spectacular. Nobody, even the Wal-Mart Wolverine faithful, saw Michigan winning 10 games this season. If the award goes to Hoke, it can't be questioned.
"I’m proud of Brady that he came in and ignored the naysayers and did his job and created a success story in his first year… He’s my coach of the year, I can tell you that,” Brandon said.
On the other side, Dantonio is establishing a level of consistency that's never been associated with Michigan State football. The Spartans have won back-to-back conference titles for the first time since 1998-1999 and have won 10 games in consecutive seasons for the first time ever.
The balance of power has shifted in the Big Ten and what Dantonio has been able to do at Michigan State is a big part of that.
“It’s an extremely competitive conference,” Dantonio said in conference call Sunday, not putting forth any lobbying on his behalf to win the award. “You look around and see people winning games that they would not normally. That's a credit to our conference."
A third candidate would be Wisconsin's Bret Bielema, who also praised what Dantonio has done at MSU in Sunday's Big Ten conference call.
"I've known Mark a long time and he's a tremendous football coach. The product on the field represents what those coaches are doing every day."
The Spartans and Badgers kickoff just after 8 p.m. Saturday in Indianapolis in a game that will determine a lot for each program, as well as Michigan, come bowl season.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Izzo has Spartans back to basics

Last season Michigan State coach Tom Izzo relied on talent and experience to carry his team. It didn't work. This year, the Spartans have gone back to the style of play that made them a mainstay among college basketball's elite and gave Izzo the reputation of being a rebounding and defensive genius.
Michigan State's most recent 72-40 victory at Eastern Michigan Sunday, its fourth in a row, wasn't easy to watch. Yet, it was identifiably Spartan basketball. MSU out rebounded the Eagles by 20 and held them to 28.6 percent shooting from the floor. EMU had just 13 points at halftime (sure MSU had just 25, but that's the formula that works in East Lansing and in the Big Ten).
Michigan State (4-2) has out rebounded all six of its opponents this season and is doing so by an average of 11.6 boards per game. Izzo's club is also making up for a lack of offensive ability by crashing the offensive glass -- another Spartan trademark.
Senior Draymond Green is leading the rebounding effort, averaging 10.8 per game. It's also no coincidence he's leading MSU in scoring with an average of 12.4 points.
Scoring, or the lack of it, is an issue but it won't derail the Spartans' chances of making an impact both in the Big Ten and in the NCAA tournament this season. MSU had plenty of offense last year, but without the defensive effort or team commitment, it got the Spartans only as far as a 19-15 record and a first-round exit in the NCAA tournament.
The points will start to come for MSU. Sophomore point guard Keith Appling will need to start looking to score and transfer shooting guard Brandon Wood needs to find his shooting touch.
By the time Big Ten play begins Dec. 28 at home against Indiana, I think both will.
Appling's offensive ability is well known. He set the MHSAA scoring record for a state championship game with his 49 point performance as a senior at Detroit Pershing. I've seen Brandon Wood play twice in person when he was at Valparaiso. Both times he scored over 30 points. He doesn't look comfortable in the MSU starting lineup just yet, but make no mistake, he can score. Freshman Brandon Dawson is another player who looks trigger shy offensively right now, but he too has a lot to offer on the offensive end.
What matters most for the Spartans is that the defense, rebounding and team chemistry look strong so far.
The Spartans don't have the depth or talent they had a year ago, but they're back to doing the dirty work that gave the program its identity during Izzo's 17-year tenure as the head coach in East Lansing.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Wolverines have chance to turn the page with win over 'Ohio'

Coming off an era of Michigan football that was so turbulent it warranted a book titled "Three and Out" to tell the story, the Wolverines now have a chance to officially start a new chapter of Michigan football. That chance is Saturday, the last in November, at high noon against the school Michigan coach Brady Hoke still won't mention by name.
"Beat Ohio," is all he really has to say.
That's been Hoke's message to his team since his first day back in Ann Arbor. It's almost fitting that Hoke refers to the school simply by the name of its state. The state that the Wolverines, and practically everyone else in our state -- whether maize and blue, green and white or somewhere in between -- universally despises.
We hate its cops. Hate its toll roads. Hate its cities. And for Michigan fans, that hate is compounded by not beating the Ohio State Buckeyes since 2003. Seven straight losses, most of which weren't even close.
Saturday, at home in the Big House, Michigan will be favored against the Buckeyes for the first time since 2004 (Wolverines are a 7.5 point favorites as of Tuesday).
The countdown clocks installed at Al Glick Field House have been running all season.
"Beat Ohio." The. Most. Important. Game. On. The. Schedule.
A win Saturday would give Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson something other, less-criticized pro-style quarterbacks such as Chade Henne and John Navarre never got. Robinson is coming off his most impressive game, given the circumstances, of his career with what he did against Nebraksa (11-for-18 180 yards, 2 TDs; 23 carries, 83 yards 2 TDs) this past weekend, earning him co-offensive player of the week honors. Saturday could become his best moment as a Wolverine -- a chance to end the losing streak, finish with 10 wins and potentially earn a bid to a BCS bowl.
"Beat Ohio," the capacity crowd at the Big House chanted as the Nebraska game came to an end.
At Tuesday's press conference, Hoke reiterated that the Wolverines have great respect for "that team" and "that school."
Respect is one thing, after all Hoke is a Kettering, Ohio native. But this game, this year, means as much as it ever has to Michigan. Because of the circumstances, it equals the stakes of the No. 1 vs. No 2. battle of 2006. It's a chance for Michigan, as a program, to move forward while at the same time stomp on its most hated rival while its down.
A loss Saturday derails what's been a joyride of a comeback season for Michigan. It's not only a must-win, it's a game in which the Wolverines need to make a statement.
It's the most important game on the schedule. It's not just the Wolverines vs. the Buckeyes. It's Michigan vs. Ohio.

Here's some other Wolverine news from around the web:
Win over Nebraska was signature moment for surprisingly fast-improving program -- The Oakland Press

Michigan coach Brady Hoke can't wait for Ohio State game -- The Detroit Free Press

The Game overshadows Michigan's win over Nebraska -- The Michigan Daily

Why Michigan will be too hyped following win over Nebraska
-- The Bleacher Report

Michigan starving for win over Ohio State -- Ann

Saturday, November 19, 2011

New era of Big Ten could belong to Spartans

Three wins. That's all Michigan State needs to establish itself as the Big Ten's model program going forward in this new era of the conference. As of now, the Spartans are in control of their own destiny. They don't need any help -- and judging by the conversation in the Twitter world, they certainly don't want any from Michigan.
Today it's Indiana. Next week it's at Northwestern -- both teams MSU has a track record of beating. Should be no different this year, which would give MSU an opportunity to win the first-ever Big Ten championship game.
As it stands, the Big Ten at least for the immediate future is a three team race. Ohio State is a mess, even if Urban Meyer does take the job, it will take time. Iowa has become typecast as an eight-win football team. Purdue's ship has long since sailed. Michigan is still rebuilding towards becoming a championship caliber team. Who knows if Penn State will ever recover from what it's going through now. That leaves MSU, Wisconsin and Nebraska.
If the Spartans drop one of their final two games and allow Nebraska to face Wisconsin in the championship game, it will be a major setback. Yet, an inaugural championship game appearance -- potentially a win and Rose Bowl bid -- puts MSU at the top.
A win today against Indiana caps off back-to-back undefeated seasons at home for MSU. The next step will be winning its second-consecutive conference championship (this time it would be outright).
It's going to be a new Big Ten going forward. MSU has an opportunity to put itself in the drivers seat.

Here's some more Spartan news from around the web:
Michigan State-Indiana Preview: Stats and Facts --

Mark Dantonio's first class on verge of leaving great legacy -- The Detroit News

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Headset or no headset, Brady Hoke coaches Michigan football

The conversation started Game 1 against Western Michigan: "Hey, did you notice Brady Hoke wasn't wearing a headset?"
Yeah, we did. Thanks Mike Rosenberg.
It was more of an interesting factoid about a new coach in is first game at that point, but the discussion has been raised again recently. This time with more weight being put on it.
Wednesday, 97.1 FM The Ticket radio host Mike Valenti pointed to Hoke's lack of headgear as evidence that he doesn't actually coach the Wolverines on game day. Valenti insinuated Hoke was nothing more than a motivator and PR guy for Michigan. That the coordinators Greg Mattison and Al Borges actually do the coaching.
Good fodder for talk radio. Yet, it's a very inaccurate accusation.
(Note: Hoke occasionally does put on a headset during games. See photographic evidence to the right)
True, Mattison sets up and calls in the defensive formations and Borges calls the plays. That's no different than virtually every other pro and major college football program. In fact, when a head coach actually does take over play calling -- Andy Reid in Philadelphia comes to mind -- it makes news.
Sure, most head coaches do wear headsets. Not sure exactly why Hoke doesn't and haven't asked him after any game. It's a non-issue.
All you need to do is watch one Michigan practice, or observe Hoke intently on game day to see that he no doubt coaches the Wolverines. Whether it's him lining up across from a defensive lineman on the practice field and going through drills or pulling aside Devin Gardner after one of his JaMarcus Russell-esque overthrows on third down. Or getting in the ear of Denard Robinson after one of his jackpot interception tosses. He's just as active, if not more so, than any other head football coach.
Michigan is 8-2 playing with the same players that struggled to finish 7-6 last season. That's coaching.
Yes, Mattison and Borges deserve a ton of credit for what they've done -- particularly Mattison with that defense -- but Hoke does as well.
He's not a figurehead. He's not a "football CEO." He's not a glorified defensive line coach like Rod Marinelli, which many threw out there on Twitter yesterday. He's a college head football coach to his core.
If you want to point to Joe Paterno (past tense) not wearing a headset or Birmingham Brother Rice's ancient Al Fracassa and say they're figureheads who's assistants handle game day coaching duties, fine. Brady Hoke's not in that same boat.

Here's some more Michigan news from around the web as the Wolverines prepare for Nebraska on Saturday:

Communication key to Michigan's defensive turnaround -- The Detroit Free Press

Kicker Brandon Gibbons opens up about struggles --

Michigan's Five Most Likely Bowl Opponents --

Robinson's fumbling issues addressed, Hoke plays quarterback -- The Michigan Daily

Sunday, November 13, 2011

No need for NBA season in Detroit, plenty of basketball to go around

All indications are that the NBA Players Association is set to reject the latest offer from David Stern and the owners, which will more than likely derail any chances of having a 2011-2012 NBA season. Count me among the many that don't care.
I love basketball. It's my favorite sport. Yet, the NBA as a whole has been a declining product for awhile now.
Unless your team has one of the 5-7 true superstars, you'll be investing your time and money to watch half-speed, low-effort basketball.
The Pistons have been a part of some great sports memories in Detroit during their history, but there's no need for them to take the floor for another 30 win season this year.
You want basketball, there's plenty of it.
The University of Michigan may have its best team in the past decade, if not further, and has a legitimate chance to win the Big Ten and make an NCAA tournament run. We all got our first look at the Spartans Friday against No. 1-ranked North Carolina and the early impressions are promising. They too, should contend for a Big Ten title this season.
For those in the Detroit area, there's good basketball closer to home as well.
Oakland lost Keith Benson, but gained Laval Lucas-Perry and returned Reggie Hamilton for what will be an exciting, high-scoring backcourt. The Golden Grizzlies open the season Monday night at Alabama -- and unlike year's past, they've got plenty of home games this season, including Tennessee at the O'rena and Michigan at The Palace. That's good basketball being played in Rochester.
Detroit Mercy is also loaded this year. Without currently suspended center Eli Holman, the Titans are still a very strong team. With him -- he is expected to return at some point -- Butler's got a huge problem in the Horizon League. Led by former Birmingham Detroit Country Day star Ray McCallum Jr., the Titans are going to have a fun team to watch and should be able to pack Calihan Hall. I'm already excited for the home game against St. John's Dec. 5.
As always, Oakland County is also home to some of the best high school hoops in the state.
Throw in the fact that the Lions, Spartans and Wolverines are all relevant on the football field -- as are the Red Wings on the ice -- and truth be told, our paper at The Oakland Press would be hard-pressed finding room to cover the Pistons' mediocrity this season. They're beyond second fiddle.
So forget about Ben Gordon's contract, Rodney Stuckey's jump shot, Ben Wallace's age and Rip Hamilton's ego. Take a year off.
I'll be updating coverage of Detroit Mercy, Michigan State and Michigan as best I can on this blog and Paul Kampe will have his usual coverage of the Golden Grizzlies on his blog, The Grizz Den, and in The Oakland Press.
You want basketball, there's plenty of it.
There's also going to be meaningful football in late December this year.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Spartans land Harris to complete 2012 recruiting class

Although he did not sign a National Letter of Intent with Michigan State on signing day yesterday, it appears heralded recruit Gary Harris is heading to East Lansing to play for Tom Izzo and the Spartans.
The Indianapolis Star reported late last night that Harris will sign with MSU.
"(Michigan State) recruited me for a long time," Harris told the Star. "I liked the whole family atmosphere up there. I feel like I'm a part of them. It was a great environment and once I got around the players, I was really comfortable."
Harris (6-foot-4), from Hamilton, Ind., is ranked as the No. 2 shooting guard in the country by He was considering Indiana, Purdue and Kentucky, along with MSU.
The Spartans did get official National Letters of Intent from two other prized in-state recruits in power forward Matt Costello of Bay City Western and shooting guard Denzel Valentine of Lansing Sexton -- both of whom have been verbally committed to MSU since last year. Power forward Kenny Kaminski (6-8, 245) of Medina, Ohio also signed with MSU yesterday.
While that's a strong class even without Harris, adding a top-ranked national recruit such as him, particularly at a position of need, is a huge step for MSU getting back to its habit of reaching Final Fours and competing for Big Ten and national championships.
Costello averaged 19.8 points, 13 rebounds and 3.8 blocks per game last season as he helped lead Bay City Western to the state semifinals. He's the likely front runner to win the state's Mr. Basketball Award this season. Valentine, who's father Carlton played at MSU in the 1980s and who's brother Drew currently plays at Oakland University, is a versatile wing who averaged 12.7 points and 7.9 rebounds while leading Sexton to a Class B state title last season. He's very similar is style to former Spartan Alan Anderson, with a little more athleticism.
Harris, assuming he does indeed sign, and Costello will be the stars of this class for MSU -- giving the Spartans a nice inside-out duo on a team that will be filled with solid role players and perhaps another star in current point guard Keith Appling.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Spartans in middle of 'playoff' run

For those craving for college football playoffs, Michigan State's final three games may be as close as it gets to that atmosphere.
Alone in first place of the Big Ten Legends Division, the Spartans are in control of their own destiny when it comes to claiming a Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl bid. One loss, however, and things get murky.
Nebraska, currently tied with Michigan for second, owns the tiebreaker over MSU but the Spartans own the tie breaker over Michigan. The Wolverines and Cornhuskers play in the second-to-last game of the regular season in Ann Arbor. If Michigan wins that game, even if MSU suffers another loss, the Spartans will go to the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis.
Up next for MSU is a game at Iowa, the same scenario that derailed the Spartans' Rose Bowl bid last season when they suffered their first loss of the season in a blowout in Iowa City. After that comes a home game against Indiana and a game at Northwestern to close out the year. That Northwestern game is what makes this Saturday against Iowa even more important.
Head coach Mark Dantonio has closed off his players from the media this week, citing a need for increased focus on the Iowa game. The last time he did this was the week leading up to Ohio State, and the Spartans nearly shut out the Buckeyes en route to getting a tough road win.
"We've got seven wins and are 4-1 in the conference so any way you look at it we're right there," Mark Dantonio said after the Spartans win over Minnesota. "We survived one playoff game as far as I'm concerned and we advanced. That's how we have to challenge ourselves to take this."
Iowa, even though technically still in the race for the Big Ten Legends Division as well, is down this year. MSU should win that game. Indiana at home should be no different than playing Indiana at home any other year. It's Indiana football.
The Northwestern game is the scary one for MSU. The Wildcats typically play well against the Spartans, even if they don't always come away successful. Northwestern will be playing at home and for an opportunity to add another marquee win to bolster its bowl positioning. Even without quarterback Dan Persa, Northwestern remains a very dangerous team. It was backup QB Kain Colter who led the charge in the win over Nebraska this past weekend.
There's a chance, say if Michigan loses to Illinois and then beats Nebraska, that a loss to the Wildcats won't matter. But for MSU's sake, every game from here on out will be approached as a must win. If MSU can avoid playing down to the level of competition it will coast into the first-ever Big Ten Championship Game and face either Wisconsin or Penn State.
If you wanted playoffs, you've got them in East Lansing.

Here's some other news and opinions about the Spartans from around the web:
Spartans have clear path to become Big Ten champs, now must start playing like it -- The Oakland Press

Michigan State will exact revenge on Iowa -- The Bleacher Report

Spartans know Rose Bowl hopes ride on Iowa game --

Elsworth emerges as key contributor --

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Top hoops prospect McGary expected to choose Michigan

Come Thursday evening, the future of Michigan's basketball program may get a whole lot brighter. That is when the nation's No. 2 prospect Mitch McGary is expected to make his college decision with an announcement that will air at 5 p.m. on ESPN U.
McGary wrote on his blog that his recruiting process is over and that Michigan, along with Duke and Florida are the final three schools he's still considering. A report from's Dave Telep said Michigan is the leading destination to land the the 6-10 prospect from Chesterton, Ind.
Michigan's 2012 recruiting class already includes top prospects Glenn Robinson III (3-star recruit) from Indiana, the son of former NBA player Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson, and Nick Stauskas (3-star recruit) from Massachusetts. U-M's 2012 class also includes forward Max Bielfeldt from Illinois, who was sought after by several other Big Ten schools.
If McGary comes to Ann Arbor, the Wolverines will have perhaps the most talented team in the Big Ten for years to come.