Tag Archives: Tom Izzo

Why are blue blood college basketball programs struggling?

A blue blood is someone who is wealthy and powerful. In terms of college basketball, the phrase describes programs that have consistently produced postseason success, won championships and sent players to the NBA.

However, blue blood programs like Duke, Kentucky and Michigan State have suffered through varying degrees of struggles during the 2020-2021 season. 

What has caused this decline? The answer is multi-layered.

The number one problem could be the COVID-19 pandemic that has caused not only games to be postponed, but has had lasting effects on players who test positive. 

Former Duke star Jayson Tatum said he has struggled to breathe since returning to the floor after a bout with COVID. On the gridiron, Myles Garrett expressed similar sentiments. 

When it comes to tangible statistics, consider Purdue’s Sasha Stefanovic, who tested positive for COVID in January and since returning has scored a total of four points after leading the Big Ten in three-point shooting percentage. 

“I’ve talked to Mike (Krzyzewski), Roy (Williams) and all the guys I’m on the (NCAAB) committee with and a lot of people are talking about the exact same things and I don’t think you can appreciate it unless you have kids going through a tough time with the COVID,” MSU head coach Tom Izzo told local reporters during his weekly press conference on Feb. 18. “They always say mental health, it’s hard to handle yourself mentally with all the things that have been thrown at them this year (with the pandemic) so then you lose a little bit and it gets exacerbated. There’s no question about it.”

UNC sits at 13-7 while Kentucky, Duke and MSU (¾ of the Champions Classic) combine for a 26-29 record. A far cry from when these three teams were in the Final Four six seasons ago. 

But is COVID the sole reason behind the struggles? No, fans can also easily forget the importance of offseason practices, preseason exhibition games and the camaraderie of being in a team setting… all of which has been stripped away in the world of social distancing. 

Another interesting note is that the three blue bloods mentioned above rely heavily on either freshman or players that didn’t play over the past few seasons. Duke and Kentucky have gone the “one and done” recruiting route but their players never got a chance to assimilate into college basketball action before the season started.

Duke, Kentucky and MSU have also all used freshmen guards like A.J. Hoggard, Brandon Boston Jr. and Jeremy Roach to lead their teams. 

Conversely, the teams that lead the ACC, Big Ten and SEC have been able to rely on upperclassmen talent at the guard positions. Illinois’ Ayo Dosunmu, Alabama’s John Petty Jr. and UVA’s Kihei Clark have all had big impacts. 

With that being said, how many years have teams like Illinois, Alabama, Tennessee, UVA and Iowa finished above the blue bloods in the standings and in the AP Top 10? Not only are the blue bloods struggling, but teams who haven’t enjoyed the same level of consistency over the past 20 years are now having all-time seasons.  

We talked about the lack of offseason, COVID-19, the importance of veteran guards and the emergence of new conference threats but should the blue bloods be worried long term? Probably not.

Longevity means something. Duke and MSU have made the NCAA tournament 24 and 22 consecutive years, respectively. That doesn’t happen by accident. John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats followed up missing the NCAA tournament in 2013 with a championship appearance in 2014, after winning the championship in 2012.

Kentucky head coach John Calipari (pictured sitting in the team huddle) talks to his team during the 2013-2014 season. Just a season prior, his team missed the tournament. Will the Wildcats make a similar turnaround next year?

In statistics, we would call the 2020-2021 season an outlier for the blue bloods so if you’re a fan of those teams… don’t worry it will probably get better and if you aren’t… enjoy the misery of some of college basketball’s elites. 

2020 NBA Draft Preview: Xavier Tillman 6’8 245 PF/C-Michigan State

What makes this player NASTY…(Strengths): Shed more than 20 pounds from his freshman season. Played both the PF and center positions in school. Excellent passer out of the short roll and in 4-on-3 offensive situations. Defensively, he can guard wings and big men in the post (vs. Luka Garza, Iowa ‘20). Improved year after year in minutes played, blocks per game, rebounds and points per game.  

Weaknesses: Will miss layups and dunks on occasion (Wisconsin ‘20). Scouts will question how well he can finish at the rim at the next level.  Undersized for the power forward and center position at the next level. Can he overcome his physical limitations? Shot just 27.3% from three- point range during his three-year career in East Lansing. Saw his free throw percentage dip from 73% in his sophomore season to 66% as a junior. 

Other Notes:

  • Attended Forest Hills Central High School for his freshman year and for his last three years attended Grand Rapids Christian High School
  • Mother, Tanya, was a four-year letterwinner in women’s basketball at the University of Michigan and finished her career as the school’s all-time leading rebounder
  • Named the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2020 and the Big Ten’s Sixth Man of the Year in 2019
  • Michigan State’s all-time leader in blocked shots
  • 2017-2018 (35 games, 0 sts): 2.8 PPG, 65% FG, 66% FT, 2.6 RPG, 0.3 APG, 0.7 BPG
  • 2018-2019 (39 games, 14 sts):  10 PPG, 60% FG, 73% FT, 7.3 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.7 BPG
  • 2019-2020 (31 games, 31 sts): 13.7 PPG, 55% FG, 67% FT, 10.3 RPG, 3 APG, 2.1 BPG
  • Career:  8.7 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 1.6 AST, 58% FG, 69% FT, 1.5 BPG

Time to get NASTY (Our Summary): College basketball fans could see why former Spartan and current Golden State Warriors All-Star Draymond Green allowed Xavier Tillman to wear his now retired number 23 Michigan State jersey.  Both players contain high basketball IQs and compete with intensity on both ends of the floor.

The maturity served the Grand Rapids native well, as he was usually tasked with quarterbacking the defense and handling the opposition’s toughest frontcourt player. Look for Tillman to be a contributor for a playoff team in the mid-to-late first round. His toughness and conditioning will remind hoops enthusiasts of Udonis Haslem and Tillman’s makeup would pair well in Miami under the leadership of Pat Riley. 

Michigan State vs. Florida, 12-8-18: In-game report

Michigan State outlasted Florida on the hardwood in a sloppy game on Saturday.  Despite turning over the ball 15 times, MSU defeated Florida in Gainesville, 63-59, in the out of conference matchup.  DraftNasty’s Troy Jefferson gives his impressions in this in-game report:

5 Cassius Winston (6’0 185) Michigan State PG-Junior

Winston is in his third season as the starting point guard for the Spartans.  The junior has been asked to shoulder the scoring load left behind by NBA first round draft picks Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson.  Against the Gators, Winston finished with 10 points on 4-of-13 shooting, six assists and two turnovers.  The Spartans currently lack a backup point guard, which has forced Winston into heavy minutes. The junior point guard is averaging 31 minutes per game this season and played 36 minutes against Florida. 

“Cassius is the guy I’m worried about because we’re kind of playing him into the ground right now, so he was tired,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said in advance of the matchup with Florida.  “I mean, him and Josh (Langford) have played a lot of minutes.”

It will be interesting to see how Izzo manages the minutes of Winston as the young season continues on. 

44 Nick Ward (6’8 245) Michigan State center-Junior 

Nick Ward is also in his junior season and -like Winston- is being asked to do more.  The center decided to rescind his name from 2018 NBA Draft consideration and returned to East Lansing this past offseason. F oul trouble and conditioning have been a problem for Ward in the past but this season, he looks quicker and has done a better job of moving his feet defensively, especially on ball screens. Against Florida, Ward finished with 13 points and five rebounds.  On the season, he is averaging 15 points and five rebounds per game on 21 minutes of action.  The junior could garner NBA consideration as a second round draft pick because of his long arms (7’2” wingspan) and efficiency around the basket (64-percent field goal percentage). 

11 Keyontae Johnson (6’5 225) Florida SF-Freshman 

Oak Hill Academy (Virginia) has produced top NBA talent in the past and names like Carmelo Anthony, Rajon Rondo and Brandon Jennings come to mind.  Keyontae Johnson could be the next in line.  The Norfolk, Virginia, native is still trying to find his comfort zone on offense but the physical tools are there. Johnson is averaging six points and four rebounds per game during his 17 minutes of play. At 6’5”, 225, Johnson has good size for an NBA wing and despite his low scoring output, he has been efficient, shooting 53 percent from the field.   The freshman won’t be a one-and-done, but this time next season look for Johnson to surface on the radars of NBA teams. 

5 KeVaughn Allen (6’2 193) Florida  PG-Senior

Allen is the experienced leader of the Gators.  The four-year starter is a scoring machine, who can handle the ball but will be better served as a shooting guard at the next level.  The senior finished 13 points on 5-of-15 shooting against the Spartans but he also had three turnovers.  Allen is undersized for the shooting guard position and his ability to create for others is lacking. Look for the Gators point guard to spend some time in the G League or overseas after he leaves Florida.