MSU Hosts Northwestern in Big Ten Home Opener
The Opening Tip Michigan State hosts Northwestern in the Big Ten home opener for the Spartans. Both teams enter the game with momentum. MSU has won five of its last six games, having most recently rallied from a 15-point deficit for a one-point overtime victory at Minnesota in the Big Ten opener. NU owns the Big Ten’s longest win streak at nine games, having not lost in more than a month. The Starting Five 1. Big Ten Home Openers Over the past 66 seasons, Michigan State has posted a 46-20 mark in Big Ten home openers. Tom Izzo is 18-3 in Big Ten home openers, including winning 13 of his last 14. 2. Ward’s Emergence The least heralded member of Michigan State’s freshman class, Nick Ward is proving to be an impact player. He ranks second on the team in scoring (13.8 ppg) and second in rebounding (6.6). He’s lost 30-plus pounds since arriving on MSU’s campus in June, and has improved his conditioning to average 22.8 minutes in the last six games. His per 40-minute averages of 29.5 points and 14.2 rebounds lead the Spartans among members of the core playing group. He’s scored seven or more points in every game this season and has posted double-figure points in the last eight games, averaging 16.6 ppg over that same span. In the six games that Miles Bridges has missed, Ward is averaging 18.2 points and 8.2 rebounds. He’s a two-time Big Ten Freshman of the Week honoree, earning the accolade on Dec. 5 and Dec. 26. 3. Winston Lends A Hand Since Miles Bridges went to the bench with an ankle injury, Cassius Winston has elevated his play. Over the last six games, Winston is averaging 10.2 points, 8.5 assists and just 2.2 turnovers. In the last seven games, Winston has totaled 58 assists against just 16 turnovers, good for a 3.6 assist-to-turnover ratio. The freshman point guard paces the Big Ten with 6.0 assists per contest, and is sixth with a 2.5 assist-to-turnover ratio. 4. Spartan Defense Michigan State has held opponents under 40 percent shooting from the field in each of the last five seasons, including finishing second in the nation in field-goal percentage defense in 2012 (.379) and 2016 (.382). The strong defensive effort has carried over to 2016-17, as nine opponents have been held under 40 percent, as MSU boasts a field-goal percentage defense of .389. Every opponent has been held under 47 percent shooting, with Baylor’s .469 mark being the highest by a Spartan opponent this season. 5. Spartans Share The Ball Unselfishness is a trademark of all Tom Izzo teams. That has been especially true over the last three seasons as MSU has established a school record for assists in each of the last three years. Last season, MSU tallied a school record 719 assists, good for the 22nd-best total in NCAA history. MSU’s nation’s-best assist average of 20.5 was the 23rd-best average in NCAA history. The Spartans recorded an assist on a nation’s-best 71.3 percent of their field goals. The Spartans are averaging 18.7 assists in 2016-17, recording an assist on 71.2 percent of their field goals, which is the second-best mark in the nation. MSU vs. Northwestern Notes Series History Michigan State leads the all-time series with Northwestern, 88-38, including a 49-8 advantage in games played in East Lansing. The Spartans have won 23 of the last 25, 30 of the last 33, and 50 of the last 54 contests. Tom Izzo is 33-4 in his career against Northwestern. Coach Collins Chris Collins (Duke, ‘96) is 61-50 in his fourth season as a collegiate head coach. Prior to his arrival in Evanston, Collins was an assistant coach at Duke from 2000-2013, including serving as associate head coach since the 2008-09 season. Collins also spent two seasons as an assistant coach at Seton Hall, and one season with the WNBA’s Detroit Shock. The Last Meeting Michigan State rode hot shooting to an easy 76-45 victory at Northwestern on Jan. 28, 2016. MSU scored the first seven points and never trailed in the contest. Leading 12-10 midway through the first half, the Spartans scored eight straight points to take a double-digit lead. MSU made seven of its first eight 3-pointers and eight in the first half to take a 36-24 lead into the break. After a slow start to the second half, MSU used a 13-2 run to take a 54-31 lead midway through the period. Freshman Matt McQuaid scored the final 11 Spartan points of the run, en route to a career-high 17 points. The Spartans shot 50.9 percent from the floor, including 61.5 percent from 3-point range (16-26) while holding the Wildcats to 20.7 percent. Denzel Valentine led MSU with 19 points and seven assists, and Deyonta Davis added six blocks, setting the MSU freshman single-game record and matching the second-highest single-game total in school history. Bryant McIntosh led the Wildcats with 14 points. The win was the 513th of Tom Izzo’s career, moving past Gene Keady for second-most victories at a Big Ten school. The Last Meeting In East Lansing Michigan State defeated Northwestern in overtime, 84-77, on Jan. 11, 2015, in East Lansing. MSU held a 23-9 lead midway through the first half, but NU came back to take a three-point lead late in the half, before the teams went into the locker room tied at 40. With 7:04 left in the contest, MSU led 66-55, but a 15-2 run gave the Wildcats a 70-68 lead. Denzel Valentine sandwiched a jumper and two free throws around a pair of NU foul shots to send the game into overtime tied at 72. The Spartans scored the first eight points of the extra period, holding NU without a point for over four minutes. Travis Trice recorded his first career double-double with 10 assists and 18 points, leading five Spartans in double figures. Bryant McIntosh led NU with 18 points and Tre Demps added 17. The Spartans made just 6-of-11 free throws in the first half, but shot a combined 13-of-15 in the second half and overtime. About The Wildcats Northwestern opened up Big Ten play with an 87-77 win at Penn State and the Wildcats will play four of its first five conference games on the road this season. Heading into Friday’s matchup, NU has won its last 19 games in the month of December. Junior guard Scottie Lindsey leads the team and is seventh in the Big Ten averaging 16.1 ppg. Northwestern leads the Big Ten and ranks seventh nationally with 6.8 blocks per game. Spartan Basketball Notes Breslin Advantage Michigan State is 371-57 (.867) at home all-time since Breslin Center opened in 1989, including 190-43 (.815) in Big Ten play. Under Tom Izzo, the Spartans are 297-42 (.876) at Breslin, including a 149-30 (.832) conference record. MSU’s Freshman Class Michigan State’s freshman class of Miles Bridges, Joshua Langford, Nick Ward and Cassius Winston was widely regarded as one of the top recruiting classes in the nation. Bridges and Langford were McDonald’s All-Americans, Winston joined Bridges as Jordan Brand All-Americans and all four players were ranked in the Top 40 in the nation. They have the potential to go down as the most productive freshman class under Tom Izzo. The 2001-02 Spartan freshmen of Alan Anderson, Chris Hill, Kelvin Torbert and Aaron Alexander combined to average 77.4 minutes and 26.5 points, both of which rank first in the Izzo era. The 2002-03 freshmen (Maurice Ager, Paul Davis, Erazem Lorbek) averaged a combined 20.9 points, while the 2012-13 freshmen (Matt Costello, Gary Harris, Denzel Valentine and Trevor Bohnhoff) averaged 19.7 points. Through 14 games, the freshman quartet is averaging a combined 43.5 points, 19.3 rebounds and 90.0 minutes, with each one starting at least one contest. Izzo Second In Wins At A Big Ten School With 533 career wins, Tom Izzo has passed Gene Keady (512 wins) for second-most victories at a Big Ten school, trailing only Bob Knight (661 wins). Izzo is also third all-time with 247 Big Ten wins, trailing just Knight (353 wins) and Keady (265 wins). Big Ten Success Michigan State has won 13 regular-season Big Ten Championships since joining the league prior to the 1950-51 season. The Spartans’ first-ever league game was at Northwestern, where MSU claimed a 67-62 victory on Jan. 6, 1951. All-time, MSU is 605-472 (.562) in league play, including 247-112 (.688) under Tom Izzo, who ranks third in league history with 247 conference wins. Izzo has guided MSU to seven of its 13 league crowns. Since Izzo’s first season (1995-96), MSU has a Big Ten-best record of 247-112, 14 games better than second-place Wisconsin (233-126). Harris Key To Spartan Attack Eron Harris is proving to be a great barometer for the Spartans’ chances of victory. MSU is 8-2 when he scores in double figures and 1-3 when he scores fewer than 10. He’s averaging 15.8 points in victory and 7.4 in defeat. The redshirt senior has scored in double figures in 10 out of the last 12 contests and leads MSU with 27 3-pointers. Nairn’s Homecoming Provides A Spark Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr. ranks tied for second in the Big Ten with a 3.3 assist-to-turnover ratio, while ranking sixth in the conference in assists (4.3). The junior point guard had a very productive homecoming during MSU’s play in the Battle 4 Atlantis. A native of Nassau, Nairn had arguably his best three-game stretch as a Spartan, matching or setting a career high in each game. He tied a career high in points with 13 points vs. St. John’s, and set new career highs in rebounding (6) vs. Baylor and assists (12) vs. Wichita State. He also hit 4-of-6 3-pointers, after entering the tournament with seven threes in his first 71 career games. He matched his career high with 13 points in a comeback win at Minnesota, including 11 in the second half and overtime. It’s All About Boardwork Being forced to play with a smaller front court due to injury, rebounding will be a major point of emphasis for Michigan State. Through 14 games, MSU has a +3.3 rebound margin, out-rebounding the opponent in seven contests. In the Tom Izzo era, MSU has out-rebounded 571 of 743 opponents (.769), posting a 453-118 (.793) mark in those games. The Spartans have led the nation in rebounding in five of the last 17 seasons (2000, 2001, 2009, 2010, 2016), ranking in the Top 10 10 times and the Top 25 on 13 occasions. MSU has led the Big Ten in rebounding margin in conference games in 13 of the last 19 years and in 14 of 21 seasons under Izzo. Spartan Depth Eleven Spartans average more than 10 minutes per game, while nine players have played in all 13 games. In those 13 games, six different players have led Michigan State in scoring. The depth has helped MSU’s reserves outscore the opponent’s bench in 11 of 13 contests, as MSU gets 33.1 points per game off the bench. Over the last nine games, Michigan State has used five different starting lineups. From Beyond the Arc The 2015-16 Spartans led the nation in 3-point field goal percentage (.434) and made a school record 321 3-pointers. This year’s Spartan squad must replace Bryn Forbes (112) and Denzel Valentine (104) who combined for 216 3-pointers last season. MSU is shooting .368 from behind the arc this year, as Eron Harris (.380, 27-71), Matt McQuaid (.322, 19-59), Miles Bridges (.385, 15-39) and Alvin Ellis III (.395, 15-38) lead the team in made 3-pointers. Joshua Langford (.448, 13-29) leads the team in 3-point field-goal percentage. Last season, Harris shot .439 (43-98) from behind the arc, while McQuaid hit .409 (27-66) of his attempts. Too Many Turnovers One of the downsides to playing a lot of new players and multiple combinations is an increased number of turnovers. After averaging fewer than 12 turnovers in each of the last three seasons, this year’s Spartan squad is averaging 14.6 per contest. MSU is 8-2 when committing 15 or fewer turnovers and 1-3 when committing more. Bridges Makes An Immediate Impact Although it’s early in the season, Miles Bridges is on pace to have one of the most productive freshman seasons in Michigan State history. Bridges’ scoring average of 16.6 points per game trails only Magic Johnson’s 17.0 ppg in 1977-78 as the best ever for a Spartan freshman. Only Greg Kelser (9.6 rpg, 1975-76) posted a better rebounding average than Bridges’ current 8.8 average. He has missed the last six games with a left ankle injury. Hall of Famer Tom Izzo Now in his 22nd season at Michigan State, Hall of Fame coach Tom Izzo has built the Spartans into one of the elite programs in the nation. MSU is the only school in the country to win 27 or more games in each of the last five seasons. The Spartans’ 19 straight NCAA Tournaments are a Big Ten record, the third-longest active streak in the nation and the fourth-longest active streak of all time. He’s been able to accomplish this while playing more ranked teams than anyone else since 1998. Michigan State has appeared in a nation’s best seven Final Fours in the last 18 seasons. Izzo’s seven Final Four trips are tied for fifth most in NCAA history. Izzo was enshrined into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame on Sept. 9. The Nation’s Toughest November MSU’s game at Duke (11/29) marked the final game in what was arguably the toughest opening month in college basketball history, certainly Spartan history. With games against No. 2 Kentucky, No. 10 Arizona and No. 20 Baylor (rankings at date of game), No. 5 Duke was the fourth ranked opponent MSU played in November alone. The Spartans had never faced three Top 10 opponents in November until this season, and had never played four Top 20 non-conference opponents in a single month during the regular season. Not only did the Spartans play a diabolical slate of opponents, they faced a brutal travel schedule to open the season. Beginning with a flight to Hawaii on November 8 and ending with the return flight from Duke on Nov. 29, the Spartans traveled more than 13,600 miles in 22 days, including additional trips to New York City and the Bahamas. Bridges’ Preseason Honors Freshman Miles Bridges is already gathering some national attention. The Flint, Michigan, native was tabbed preseason First Team All-America by The Sporting News, while also landing a spot on the Karl Malone Power Forward of the Year Award, Naismith Trophy and Wooden Award Preseason Watch Lists. Izzo Receives Dean Smith Award As announced by the USBWA in October, Tom Izzo is the recipient of the 2016 Dean Smith Award. The award goes to an individual in college basketball who embodies the spirit and values of the late North Carolina coaching great. Izzo is the second person to receive the Dean Smith Award. The USBWA established the award last year and selected former Georgetown coach John Thompson as the first recipient. Among the qualities in a coach that the award is based on are honesty and integrity, being a part of players’ lives during and after college, abiding by NCAA rules, involvement in charities and the community, standing up for social issues and causes and having a reputation for treating people with respect. Spartans In The NBA Michigan State had a Big Ten-best eight players on NBA opening day rosters, including Denzel Valentine (Bulls), Gary Harris (Nuggets), Deyonta Davis (Grizzlies), Bryn Forbes (Spurs), Draymond Green (Warriors), Adreian Payne (Timberwolves), Zach Randolph (Grizzlies) and Alan Anderson (Clippers). Playing The Best Since the 1997-98 season, the year of Michigan State’s first of 19 straight trips to the NCAA Tournament, the Spartans have played 209 games against ranked opponents. That total ranks first among teams that have appeared in a Final Four since then. The Spartans are followed by North Carolina (195), Texas (186), Duke (183), Kentucky (179), Illinois (177) and Michigan (174). Harris Tops Spartan Returners Senior Eron Harris is Michigan State’s leading returning scorer at 9.3 points per game. He is the only returning Spartan to have started a game last February or March. In the four games Denzel Valentine missed due to injury last season, Harris averaged 17.8 points. He has been named to the Jerry West Award Watch List, presented to the top shooting guard in the nation. As a sophomore at West Virginia in 2013-14, Harris averaged 17.2 points. Strength of Schedule In total, the 2016-17 schedule features 15 teams that appeared in the 2016 postseason, including 11 opponents that played in the 2016 NCAA Tournament. 2017 Recruiting Class Michigan State signed a pair of forwards on the first day of the early signing period on Nov. 9. Jaren Jackson Jr. is a 5-star 6-11, 220-pound forward from Indianapolis. Playing as a senior at La Lumiere, the No. 1 high school team in America, Jackson Jr. has been named to the All-USA Preseason Boys Basketball Team as selected by USA TODAY Sports. He is the son of Jaren Jackson Sr., a former star at Georgetown and 1999 NBA Champion with the San Antonio Spurs. Despite his 6-11 frame, he shot .442 from 3-point range as a junior. He was a member of the 2016 USA Basketball U17 team that won a gold medal in Spain. Xavier Tillman is a 4-star 6-8, 270-pound forward from Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is a three-time MLIVE Grand Rapids Press Dream Team honoree. He averaged 16 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2.9 assists as a junior, shooting 62% from the field while playing for Grand Rapids Christian, earning 2016 Associated Press Class A All-State honors. Big Ten Schedule With a 14-team conference each Big Ten team will play five schools twice, four schools on the road, and four schools at home. Michigan State will go home and home with Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio State and Purdue. The Spartans will host Iowa, Northwestern, Rutgers and Wisconsin, while traveling to Illinois, Indiana, Maryland and Penn State. Seven of Michigan State’s 13 Big Ten opponents appeared in the 2016 postseason, including six in the NCAA Tournament (Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Purdue and Wisconsin) and one in the NIT (Ohio State). In The Polls Three Big Ten teams are featured in both of this week’s polls, including Wisconsin (No. 14 AP/ No. 14 USA Today), Purdue (15/15) and Indiana (16/16). In addition to the conference opponents, MSU played Baylor (4/4), Duke (5/5), Kentucky (8/8) and Arizona (18/18) in November. Coaching Stability Michigan State has had just two basketball coaches in the last 41 seasons and three in the last 48. Tom Izzo is in his 22nd season, having taking over from his mentor Jud Heathcote, who spent 19 years as head coach (1976-95). Before Heathcote, Gus Ganakas spent seven seasons as head coach. Ganakas is currently in his 31st-straight season providing commentary on Spartan radio broadcasts. Backcourt Experience Michigan State’s backcourt is its most experienced unit with seniors Eron Harris and Alvin Ellis III, junior Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr. and sophomore Matt McQuaid all having played significant minutes during their career. Harris, Nairn and Ellis entered the season with a combined 60 career starts at MSU, including 41 last year. It will also receive an influx of talent from 2016 McDonald’s All-American Joshua Langford and 2016 Michigan Mr. Basketball winner Cassius Winston, providing MSU with one of the deeper backcourts in the nation. Nation’s Best Seven Final Fours in 18 Years Michigan State advanced to the 2015 Final Four, marking the seventh trip to the Final Four in 20 seasons under Tom Izzo. The seven trips in the last 18 seasons rank as the most in the nation. In addition, MSU has appeared in 19 straight NCAA Tournaments, marking the nation’s third-longest active streak, and the longest streak in Big Ten history. Breslin Upgrades on the Horizon A major facilities upgrade – focused on improving the visitor experience – is on tap for the Breslin Student Events Center. The Breslin Center addition -- in all a $20 million project -- involves construction of a new box office, the Tom Izzo Hall of History and, for the student-athletes and coaches of the men’s and women’s basketball teams, the addition of the Draymond Green Strength and Conditioning Center, a hydration station, lounges for players and recruits, and an alumni locker room. The work began in January 2016, with substantial completion expected by August of 2017 and final completion by June 2018. The Book on Tom Izzo Coach Izzo In his 22nd year, Tom Izzo (Northern Michigan, ’77) is 533-210 (.717), and 247-112 (.688) in the Big Ten, as the head coach of the Michigan State basketball program. He ranks as the winningest coach in Michigan State history, having passed his mentor Jud Heathcote with his 341st career victory on Nov. 28, 2009. In his 21 seasons as a head coach, Izzo has captured eight National Coach of the Year awards, including the Clair Bee Award in 2005 and NABC honors in 2001 and 2012. In 1999, Izzo was named National Coach of the Year by Basketball Times, while earning similar honors from The Associated Press, Basketball News and the USBWA in ’98. He also earned National Coach of the Year accolades from CBSSports.com in 2012. He earned Big Ten Coach of the Year honors in 1998, 2009 and 2012. Izzo was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on September 9, 2016, cementing his status as one of the game’s all-time greats. Among The Big Ten’s Best Tom Izzo’s .688 winning percentage in Big Ten games ranks third all-time among league coaches with at least 10 years of service, behind former Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan (.717), and former Indiana coach Bob Knight (.700), and ahead of former Purdue coach Ward Lambert (.685). In all games, Ohio State’s Thad Matta ranks first at .748, followed by Ryan (.737), Knight (.734), Izzo (.717), Wisconsin’s Walter Meanwell (.712), and Lambert (.709). With 246 conference victories, Izzo ranks third all time. Izzo Among Best Ever Through his first 21 seasons, Tom Izzo won 524 games, ranking fifth in college basketball history for most wins by a college coach in his first 21 years. Final Fours Tom Izzo led MSU to seven Final Four appearances between 1999 and 2015, becoming just the fourth school in college basketball history to do it in any 17-year span, including just the third since the tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1985. Izzo’s seven Final Fours are the most by any coach since his first season in 1996 and he ranks fifth all-time, including tied for fifth among active coaches. The seven Final Fours are also the most by any Big Ten coach.