— Can you imagine the Final Four without Michigan State? Oops, pardon me. I meant, could you imagine the NCAA tournament without Michigan State?
The Spartans just continue to get worse. A 72-52 loss at Iowa Wednesday night left Michigan State 13-9 overall and 5-5 in the Big Ten. Draymond Green called it “rock bottom.” Tom Izzo called it “the worst performance of a team that I’ve coached since I’ve been at Michigan State.”
We’ve discussed the Spartans over and over. But the first question in our weekly mailbag stays on the subject.
A: I don’t know if you would agree, Randy, but I think Tom Izzo’s best team at Michigan State went on to win the national championship in 1999-2000. That team had everything I associate with Spartan basketball. Guards Mateen Cleaves and Charlie Bell, forwards Andre Hutson (6-8) and Morris Peterson (6-6), and center A.J. Granger (6-9) set the stage for success in East Lansing. That roster didn’t have anyone taller than 6-9. When I think of Michigan State basketball, I think of mental and physical toughness, tenacious defenders, leadership and talent in the backcourt, athletic rebounders, and a work ethic that other teams usually can’t match. I don’t think of 7-footers. I’m sure Izzo would love a 7-footer who fits his style of play. I can’t think of a coach who wouldn’t want that.
There aren’t that many out there. Who’s the best 7-footer in college basketball this season? Tyler Zeller at North Carolina?
I can understand you looking around the Big Ten, seeing Jared Sullinger (6-9) at Ohio State, JaJuan Johnson (6-10) at Purdue, Ralph Sampson III (6-11) at Minnesota, and Jon Leuer (6-10) at Wisconsin. I also realize Adreian Payne (6-10) hasn’t produced for Michigan State as a freshman, but you can blame that on his shoulder problems last summer. Izzo has called Payne the “most athletic big man we’ve ever had.”
So I don’t think it’s fair to say Izzo can’t recruit big men. Look at Syracuse: 7-foot freshman Fab Melo hasn’t exploded as a low-post scoring threat and he is really struggling defensively. Kansas had the most fundamentally sound big man in the country last season in Cole Aldrich and the Jayhawks didn’t reach the Final Four.
I really don’t think the addition of Paul Davis or Kevin Willis would solve the problems at Michigan State this season. The issues are more complex than that.
Q: What is the record for the most siblings to play on the same team at the same time in sports? Duke University will (next year) have 3 brothers (Miles, Mason, and Marshall Plumlee) playing at the same time for Coach Krzyzewski. Has any other team had a similar circumstance?
— Allen Milliman, Palmyra, Va.
A: When Marshall Plumlee committed to Duke back in June, the Asheville Citizen-Times reported it will mark the first time in ACC history that three siblings will be on the same team’s roster. That, of course, assumes that Miles and Mason will both return to Duke.
I don’t know where records are kept regarding most siblings per team, but I don’t remember any circumstance like this one. Twins certainly have had their moments. We’ve got the Morris twins at Kansas right now. Stanford had the Lopez twins and the Collins twins. Rick Barry gave us three basketball-playing boys — Brent, Jon and Drew — but they never played for the same school. It’s kind of odd that a family’s spacing would allow this to happen.
But I’m sure the Plumlees will learn everything they need to know about spacing from Coach K.
Q: Ken, have you seen Utah State play? I saw that they’re ranked. Do I need to start paying attention to the Aggies for the NCAA tournament? Could they be another Butler?
— Jason Stock, Springfield, Mo.
A: Really glad to see Utah State move into the rankings Jason. At 21-2 overall and 10-0 in the Western Athletic Conference, Stew Morrill’s team deserves the recognition. I haven’t seen the Aggies play a lot this season. That’s hard to do because I live in Connecticut. But I did see part of their game at Georgetown on Dec. 4 and quite a bit of the 67-45 victory over Nevada on Wednesday night.
By the way, that 68-51 loss at Georgetown, when the Hoyas were ranked No. 14, was Utah State’s last loss. Georgetown ranks second in the Big East in 3-point field-goal percentage, but Utah State held the Hoyas to 2-for-9 shooting behind the arc. “We didn’t get that many open looks,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III said.
I’ve been a fan of Morrill's for a long time. I’ve seen Utah State in the NCAA tournament several times and Morrill’s teams impress you with their defense, hard work and basketball IQ. This is the second straight year that Morrill has brought back four starters from a defending WAC championship team. The WAC is not as strong as the Mountain West, so the Aggies haven’t gotten as much attention. Coming out of a weaker conference, Utah State will probably be looking a No. 9 or No. 10 seed.
There are some similarities to Butler, but this is not a Final Four-caliber team. I can see Morrill’s team winning a game or two in the tournament, however. Remember the names Tai Wesley, Brian Green and Brockeith Pane. And also know that Morrill is one of the most underrated coaches in the country.
A: Unless it was a prearranged moment designed to provide some levity (and I’m still not sure it would appropriate), I think any player’s decision to take a jump shot on a free throw might result in one of two things: 1) an extended period of time on the bench for that player; or 2) the firing of his coach.
Honestly Doyle, how bad a free-throw shooter are you talking about? Are you related to North Carolina’s John Henson? The Tar Heel sophomore is shooting 39 percent (30 of 77) from the line this season after hitting 43.8 as a freshman. Even though he shoots 54.1 percent from the field, I don’t think Roy Williams or anyone else would encourage a jumper. Have you seen the mid-range jumper in college basketball lately? It’s a disappearing option because kids don’t practice it. They’d rather shoot the three.
The rules wouldn’t prohibit a jumper. I asked Ty Halpin, NCAA associate director men’s basketball playing rules and he replied: “There is no restriction on jumping or shooting the ball in any manner, provided the free throw shooter remains behind the free throw line until the ball hits the rim, backboard or net. The free thrower must be behind the line and not outside the semicircle (or key) when taking the shot. The type of shot taken is not covered at all in the rules book.”
I think a better alternative would be the Rick Barry underhand style. I mean, the guy shot 90 percent, third all-time best in the NBA. Last I heard, Rick is looking for students. He swears he can help you improve by 15-30 percent.