College Basketball Nation: Draymond Green

In the weeks leading up to the June 27 NBA draft, we’ll be taking a look at the 20 schools that have produced the best pros in the modern draft era (since 1989, when the draft went from seven to two rounds). Click here to read Eamonn Brennan’s explanation of the series, which will be featured in the Nation blog each morning as we count down the programs from 20 to 1.

Top Five NBA Draftees Since 1989

  1. Steve Smith (1991)
  2. Jason Richardson (2001)
  3. Zach Randolph (2001)
  4. Morris Peterson (2000)
  5. Eric Snow (1995)
Sixth man: Shannon Brown (2006)

The rest: Alan Anderson, Charlie Bell, Draymond Green, Goran Suton, Maurice Ager, Paul Davis, Marcus Taylor, Andre Hutson, Mateen Cleaves, Jamie Feick, Shawn Respert, Anthony Miller, Mike Peplowski, Matt Steigenga

Why they’re ranked where they are: Since 1995, Tom Izzo has commanded a Michigan State program that has reached the Final Four six times. Prior to Izzo's stint as head coach, his mentor, Jud Heathcote, was in charge. Both implemented a grueling, physical style that has kept the Spartans in the Big Ten’s top tier for years.

When you face MSU, bring bandages. That ruggedness is the stitch that ties the players on this list together. The group might not include any future Hall of Fame performers, but it features multiple players who’ve managed to compete at a high level over the course of lengthy careers. Longevity and consistency were both crucial in our decision to push Michigan State ahead of Syracuse, Ohio State, LSU and Alabama. The Spartans’ potent starting five (since 1989) also helped.

Steve Smith won a gold medal in the Sydney Olympics, earned an NBA title with the San Antonio Spurs in 2003 and made an All-Star Game appearance in 1998. He averaged 14.3 points per game and hit 35.8 percent of his 3-pointers during a 14-year career that featured 90 playoff games. Smith is also a member of the NBA’s all-time “it’s so hard to dislike these guys” team, which includes Grant Hill, Tim Duncan, Robert Horry and various members (past and present) of the Golden State Warriors organization.

[+] EnlargeJason Richardson, Zach Randolph
AP Photo/Jim WeberJason Richardson, left, and Zach Randolph have both been in the NBA since they were drafted in 2001.
Jason Richardson is underrated on so many levels. First, his efforts in the 2002 and 2003 dunk contests rivaled Vince Carter’s performance in 2000. Find the clips on YouTube. He doesn’t get enough credit. And has any player ever averaged 17.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.2 steals over a 12-year period more subtly than Richardson? He entered the league as a big, athletic wing, but he has lasted this long because his game has evolved.

Zach “Z-Bo” Randolph just carried the Memphis Grizzlies into the Western Conference finals. Here’s an athlete who left Michigan State after one season. He struggled his first few years in the NBA but everything changed in 2003-04 (20.1 PPG, 10.5 RPG for the Portland Trail Blazers). His off-court issues -- such as the time he ended up at a strip club the night after he’d sought permission from the Trail Blazers to attend a funeral out of town -- have certainly affected perceptions about him. But he found himself in Memphis and has been a model citizen, leading a revival of that city's NBA franchise. And you just won’t find many players who’ve averaged at least 18.0 PPG and 8.0 RPG seven times. He’s also a two-time NBA All-Star.

Morris Peterson (10.7 career PPG) gave the Toronto Raptors his most fruitful years. He never made an All-Star squad but he played for 11 seasons. His 37.3 percent mark from the 3-point line elevated his value. Eric Snow competed in the NBA Finals with three different teams. His years with the Philadelphia 76ers were impressive. Kobe Bryant called him the toughest defender he’d ever faced following the 76ers’ loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2001 Finals. Shannon Brown, a 2006 NBA draft pick, had the best seasons of his career with the Phoenix Suns in 2011-12 (11.0 PPG) and 2012-13 (10.5 PPG).

Even Alan Anderson and Charlie Bell, two undrafted players, have played a combined 11 seasons in the NBA. Draymond Green, a second-round pick by Golden State last summer, was impressive in the 2013 playoffs.

That’s a rich offering for any list that attempts to rate a school’s history of producing NBA talent based on quality and not simply quantity. That’s why Michigan State is No. 16 in our “Path to the Draft” rankings.

Why they could be ranked higher: If longevity is granted more weight than overall talent and depth, then the Spartans might have a case for a higher slot. Richardson, Z-Bo, Smith and Mo Pete aren’t superstars -- the Spartans haven’t produced a perennial All-Star since Magic Johnson retired in the early 1990s. But many players Michigan State has sent to the next level since 1989 have stayed there.

Michigan State isn’t the only school that can make that claim. But the program boasts a diverse group of players (lottery picks, second-round selections and undrafted athletes) who’ve latched onto rosters and made a lot of money at the next level. The Spartans would probably warrant a bump due to their expectations-to-“years in the league” ratio.

Why they could be ranked lower: The disappointments could pull Michigan State down a few spots. Maurice Ager, Mateen Cleaves and Shawn Respert were all first-round picks who were expected to do big things in the NBA. They all struggled in brief, underwhelming pro stints.

Plus, Smith, Richardson and Randolph fall into the “very good” category, but they’ve never earned or maintained “elite” status. Some of that stuff is political. I think all three were probably harmed by the fact that they competed in smaller markets for chunks of their respective careers. But this list is missing the juggernaut that other teams in these rankings possess.

What’s ahead: Well, Green could blossom into a dependable contributor for Golden State in the coming years. Randolph and Richardson might have a few solid seasons left, too.

And Brown has found a rhythm over the past four seasons. If his 3-point shooting continues to improve (last season saw his first year-to-year decrease from beyond the arc since 2008-09), he’ll continue to be a key piece in Phoenix’s -- or another franchise’s -- rotation. But he has played for five teams since he was drafted in 2006. Perhaps he’ll earn a long-term deal once his two-year agreement with Phoenix expires after next season.

Plus, Adreian Payne, Gary Harris, Keith Appling and Branden Dawson will likely enter the draft following the 2013-14 season. Payne and Harris certainly have high ceilings. Appling and Dawson are gritty enough to find homes in the league, too. We’ll need four or five years, however, to assess their full impact on Michigan State’s NBA legacy.

Final thoughts: It’s easy to dismiss Michigan State because the Spartans haven’t produced a bunch of NBA All-Stars. Definitely multiple high-level athletes, though. But few stars.

Still, Izzo’s program has developed talented players who stick. That’s not easy to do in the pros, where the average NBA career is just 4.8 years. But Michigan State has sent many players to the league who’ve surpassed that.

Many were doubted once they left college. Some fell short of expectations. But the bulk of the program’s NBA reps are notable, especially based on tenure and consistency.

Overall, Michigan State has a solid resume of NBA talent and more on the way.

Five Questions: Michigan State's Tom Izzo

September, 11, 2012
Editor's Note: In the buildup to Midnight Madness, we are taking an in-depth look at Joe Lunardi's top five seeds in a series called Countdown To Madness. In addition to the Insider pieces, Eamonn Brennan will offer Three Big Things about each team and we'll have Five Questions with a player or coach from each squad.

What is back is enough to make Michigan State fans salivate: a bounty of talent and experience at virtually every position. In a loaded Big Ten, the Spartans, too, are loaded.

[+] EnlargeTom Izzo
Mike Carter/US PresswireMichigan State coach Tom Izzo has his work cut out for him as he prepares for the new season.
But it's what's missing that is enough to make Tom Izzo panic. That would be Draymond Green, the relentless leader who steered the Spartans to the Sweet 16 last season.

With every obvious and tangible piece of the puzzle in place for another strong run, it is replacing the intangibles that is paramount on Izzo’s mind as the season draws near.

So who replaces Green?

Tom Izzo: That’s kind of an unanswerable question. He was so important for us in ways that weren’t visible. There are guys who are great point guards, great rebounders, great scorers. I’m not sure Day-Day was great at any of those, but he was excellent at all of the intangibles -- leading a team, being able to run a team through him. He was a safety net for me as a coach.

It was little things. We were talking the other day about whether we wanted the guys to lift on Thursday or Friday. I told my assistant to ask the guys what they wanted and find out. He came back and said, ‘Well, I can’t get a hold of all the guys.’ We used to be able to call Day-Day and he’d handle it.

I think there are some guys I can count on, but, honestly, it’s going to have to be by committee.

To that end, can you count on Derrick Nix after his offseason arrest for DUI?

Izzo: The thing about Derrick, he has done everything we’ve asked him to do. He’s been terrific academically. He needs 22 hours to graduate, so he’ll do that easy in four years. He lost the weight when we asked him to and even more now.

He’s a good kid, but do they ever learn?

I hope so.

What’s the status of Branden Dawson [who tore his ACL in March]?

Izzo: He’s practicing at about 95 percent right now, but he hasn’t been involved in full contact yet. We expect him to be ready by the start of the season, but just how ready he will be is the question.

You know people will look at him and say, ‘Why isn’t he the same player he was before if he’s OK to play?’ Well the thing of it is it’s the conditioning. He’s been working his butt off to get back, but when you’re going through rehab like he is, you don’t get to run and jump and play and shoot for basically six months. Riding a bike doesn’t do it.

So the impossible thing to answer is the timetable. It was really lousy timing in a lot of ways. Usually players make the most progress in the summer between their freshmen and sophomore seasons. He didn’t have that time. He’ll be back for us, but it’s still going to take time to get back to where he was.

What kind of lineups can you use with this team?

Izzo: Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix both improved a lot over the summer. With those guys and Branden Dawson, we could have a pretty big Big Ten lineup there, or we could go smaller with [Gary] Harris, Dawson, Keith Appling and Russell Byrd. He’s a great shooter -- didn’t miss the other day in practice -- which is something we didn’t have at all last year.

I don’t have the luxury of someone like Day-Day, but we have choices. We have more versatility, and those are the kinds of teams I’ve had success with in the past.

You start the season in Germany against Connecticut, then four days later you play Kansas in Georgia. How will that help your team?

Izzo: I do like to be insane with my schedule, but this might be even insane for me. I hope the schedule will add toughness for our team and maybe some camaraderie, too. We don’t take those trips like other teams do, so this is a chance for them to fly over there together, come back and see what we’re made of.

I was talking to our football coach the other day. We opened up with Boise State. They’re good, so there was decent hype. Michigan opened with Alabama and lost big, but that’s all anyone is talking about. I think that will be good for Michigan in the long run. We opened last year on the aircraft carrier and for about two weeks, that’s all anyone is talking about. You have to take a few risks like that once in a while, I think.

How good can freshman Gary Harris be?

Izzo: The thing is he’s a really young freshman. He’s still just 17 years old, but he’s a phenomenal player, a great student, tough as nails. I think he makes us a much more athletic team this year. Because of him, I think we can really run and go more this season than we did last year.

He can also defend. We were a great defensive team last year, so if we can match that and use our athleticism to push it, we could be really good.

Three Big Things: Michigan State

September, 11, 2012
In the buildup to Midnight Madness, Insider and our college hoops team are collaborating on a preview of one high-profile college hoops team per day -- based on Joe Lunardi’s top 20 teams in his offseason Bracketology. We're calling it "Countdown To Madness." I'll be tracing three key things you should know about each team we preview. We're calling that "Three Big Things." (Hey, that's snappy!) Today: Michigan State.

1. Yesterday's inaugural 3BT celebrated now-departed Marquette senior stars Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder, and discussed how Marquette could recover from losing not one but two efficient, high-usage Big East Player of the Year candidates. It won't be easy.

Michigan State's position is not dissimilar. Like Marquette, it returns most of its starters, who together form a very solid core. Like Marquette, its most important player in 2012 was a senior. The only difference? Draymond Green is one player, not two, even if his performance -- Green did as much as any player in the country in 2011-12, and did it so well he earned the top spot in Ken Pomeroy's season-ending individual awards -- was enough to deserve double the plaudits.

[+] EnlargeMichigan State's Keith Appling
Marilyn Indahl/US PRESSWIREMichigan State will potentially look to Keith Appling this season to be a go-to player in crunch time.
Replacing Green's production is the first challenge, and it won't be easy, but like Marquette, Michigan State doesn't have to (and definitely shouldn't) hope to replace what Green did on the floor with any one player. Instead, it will require a combination of efforts, because Green did so much: Scoring, rebounding, ballhandling, passing out of the high post -- you name it, Green did it. It's a fair bet to assume Michigan State will be able to replace Green's scoring; the Spartans have a host of productive players (both returning and arriving) to throw at the problem. Rebounding could be a different story. Green, who posted a 28.5 percent defensive rebounding rate (good for seventh best in the country) was a beast on the defensive glass last season, a one-man stopgap against extra offensive possessions. The next-best defensive rebounder on the team, center Adreian Payne, posted a 16.9 percent rate, and no one else broke the 13 percent mark.

Anyway, I could go on for dozens of paragraphs about all the things Green did for the Spartans; I could spend thousands of words breaking down numbers and Synergy stats. None of it would get to the biggest loss in Green's departure: leadership. Few players have earned coach Tom Izzo's enduring respect like Green; few players have embodied the time-tested coach-on-the-floor role like the man they call Day Day. These sorts of nebulous qualities can be overrated in sports, college hoops included, but in Green's case, the value of his sheer presence is almost impossible to overstate. How Michigan State moves forward without it will be the defining baseline of the 2012-13 season.

2. The good news? From a sheer talent standpoint, the Spartans might be the deepest team in the country. They have a host of productive players in the backcourt (Keith Appling, Travis Trice), on the wing (Branden Dawson, Russell Byrd, Brandan Kearney) and on the low block (Payne, Derrick Nix) to throw at the problem, and those are just the returners. Tom Izzo also has a recruiting class featuring four top-100 prospects, including the No. 2-ranked shooting guard in the country in Gary Harris. With everybody battling for minutes and improving with experience, and with Izzo bringing everyone along, Spartans' fans expectations should hardly be lowered. This looks like a very good team.

3. How good can Appling be? The Spartans will have great battles at the wing positions -- Dawson, if healthy (he's recovering from a torn ACL, but appears to be on track for a nearly full season), can be a force, and the thought of him playing alongside Harris should tickle every MSU die-hard's basketball erogenous zone -- and with Nix and Payne, the forward spots are set. (I have some questions about whether Payne and Nix can score with their backs to the basket, but that was never a major feature of the Spartans last season anyway, and they seemed to do just fine.)

But the really intriguing question about this lineup, at least for me, is how much of a leap Appling, now a junior, can make. As a freshman, Appling proved his defensive chops early -- what better way to get Izzo on your side than that? -- and as a sophomore, he took over as State's primary ball handler and perimeter threat. Even so, his shooting was merely OK; he posted a 46.6 effective field goal percentage and shot just 25 percent from beyond the arc. With efficient spot shooter Austin Thornton (lest we forget; I see you, Austin Thornton) and solid 2-guard Brandon Wood both lost to graduation, will Appling need to extend his offensive game to keep the Spartans dynamic? Can he?

Then there are the turnovers. Appling posted a 20.6 percent turnover rate in 2011-12, just three points less than his sterling assist rate of 23.6 percent. For much of the past decade, Izzo's teams have largely thrived in spite of their turnover issues; the Spartans make up for lost possessions on the glass, thank you very much. Even so, when you combine Appling's lackluster outside shooting with a tendency to turn the ball over, you get a player who could be much more efficient -- and isn't nearly the all-court threat he could be.

We know this much: Appling will give Izzo tough-as-nails defense at the point of attack. He'll be a de facto leader. He'll create problems and score points in transition. But with a couple of tweaks -- better shooting, fewer turnovers and a greater willingness to attack in the half court -- we could be talking about a Big Ten Player of the Year candidate. If Appling gets there, look out.

Best-case/Worst-case: Big Ten

July, 20, 2012
As part of our Summer Shootaround series, here are the best- and worst-case scenarios for the Big Ten:


Best-case: No one's expecting much from Illinois in 2012-13, and the reasons are obvious: With zero in the way of fresh blood entering the program this season, this is essentially the same team that lost 12 of its final 14 games last season (necessitating the firing of coach Bruce Weber) only without its best player, center Meyers Leonard. I get it. But there hasn't been a mass exodus at the program. Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson will be senior guards capable of blowing up at any time (Paul especially). The supporting cast has its holes, but harnessed correctly that's a backcourt that could give plenty of Big Ten teams trouble -- at the very least.

Worst-case: What happens when you add a dearth of young talent, experienced players who pretty much gave up on their last leader and a new coach asked to bring it all together? There is no one answer. Frankly, anything is possible, and while that includes the aforementioned revival from Paul and Richardson, it could just as easily lead to Paul looking around, deciding he's the best player on his team by a lot (not that he would be wrong) and posting yet another incredibly inefficient, borderline-greedy offensive season. I don't think Illinois will totally bottom out this season, but that's only if coach John Groce can convince everyone, Paul included, that's no way to spend a year on the hardwood. If he doesn't, this could get ugly in a hurry.


Best-case: Don't look now, Indiana fans, but I'm going to do it: IU's best-case scenario is the NCAA collegiate men's basketball national championship. I know. Crazy, right? What's even crazier is that it doesn't require a huge stretch of the imagination. After all, Indiana will feature the best returning player in college basketball in Cody Zeller, who was dominant as a freshman and (according to every dispatch out of Bloomington this summer) is only beginning to showcase his newfound core strength, defense and versatility. The Hoosiers have a coterie of scorers around Zeller: stretchy wing Christian Watford, rim-attacking guard Victor Oladipo, sharpshooting floor general Jordan Hulls and do-everything Will Sheehey, not to mention a recruiting class that features at least one sure-fire immediate rotation player in point guard Yogi Ferrell. This team is deep and well-rounded and scores like crazy, and it's going to be a lot of fun to see where Zeller & Co. can go.

Worst-case: To go where they really want to be, the Hoosiers are going to have to play better defense. It's just that simple. Indiana improved some last season, but where it really excelled was offense: Tom Crean's team ranked fourth in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency but just 64th on the defensive end (IU's 102-90 tournament loss to Kentucky was thrilling evidence of this disparity). Hulls' size disadvantage makes him unreliable at the point of attack; Zeller and Watford must become better rim protectors; and in general Indiana must find some trait to sustain itself on that end of the floor. At some point in the tournament, everybody goes cold. Eventually, your D has to carry you through.


Best-case: It's Year 3 of coach Fran McCaffery's rebuilding cycle, and everything seems to be going according to plan. Iowa has made strides in each of his first two seasons. Now with two talented freshmen from the Iowa-Nebraska border (center Adam Woodbury and point guard Mike Gesell), this could be the year the Hawkeyes officially emerge from their post-Todd Lickliter morass. Other than the freshmen, the keys are rising sophomores Aaron White and Josh Oglesby and junior Melsahn Basabe, who took the Big Ten by storm as a freshmen but fell off a bit last season. If there is a collective step forward and the freshmen prove productive in a hurry, this is an NCAA tournament team waiting to happen. Right on schedule.

Worst-case: Let's not forget, of course, that senior guard Matt Gatens was by far this team's most efficient scorer, not to mention its senior leader -- the guy who almost single-handedly shot Iowa into the tournament last season. His loss is a crucial one. Just as crucial is defensive improvement. In 2011-12, the Hawkeyes were a top-35 offensive team but ranked No. 180 in defensive efficiency and No. 278 in opponents' effective field-goal percentage (eFG%). There is plenty of reason for optimism here, but if Iowa doesn't guard someone, it won't be dancing yet.


Best-case: Just last week, Big Ten Co-Freshman of the Year Trey Burke told the media he saw his team as a national title contender. That's a very optimistic best-case scenario, sure, but in such a wide-open hoops landscape, I'm inclined to agree. Burke is one of the nation's best lead guards, and he's complemented well by Tim Hardaway Jr.'s outside-in game. The Wolverines also have a pair of top 25-ranked freshman to fawn over. Like Hardaway, Glenn Robinson III comes equipped with NBA genes, while just last summer forward Mitch McGary was once considered one of the best five prospects in the class of 2012. This is unquestionably the most talented Michigan team in a decade, and if the freshmen excel early, Burke's opinion won't seem farfetched.

Worst-case: It's hard to see this team, which is indisputably more talented and almost certain to be more dynamic, somehow not being in Big Ten title contention by the end of next February. But if somehow the Wolverines are merely above average in 2012-13, it could be because they carry over last season's just-OK defensive effort (No. 60 in adjusted defensive efficiency). Or because they lack the breadth of reliable 3-point shooters (Evan Smotrycz transferred, while Zack Novak and Stu Douglass graduated) who have come to define coach John Beilein's two-guard front offense, which relies on 3-point shooting to stretch the floor. I think Beilein will make it work, and I think Michigan will be very tough to beat. But increased success is far from guaranteed.

Michigan State

Best-case: As good as Michigan's backcourt is, could Michigan State's actually be better? If Gary Harris, the No. 2-ranked shooting guard (and No. 11-ranked player overall) in the Class of 2012 lives up to his considerable hype, it's a distinct possibility. But for seniors Draymond Green and Austin Thornton (and one-year graduate rental Brandon Wood), the Spartans return everybody from last year's 29-8 redeem team, including big-bodied forward Derrick Nix, still-blossoming athletic freak Adreian Payne and impressive freshman Branden Dawson, who should recovery from an ACL tear in time to join the team for the Big Ten season. But the key to it all is point guard Keith Appling. If Appling is a star -- and I would bet he will be -- the Spartans will be right back near the top of the Big Ten, same as usual.

Worst-case: I brushed over Green's departure casually in the above paragraph, but there's really no way to overstate just how important Green was to Michigan State in 2011-12. Not only was he the team's tireless vocal leader, he was its best scorer, rebounder and passer. Without Green to solidify everything the team did, it's not unfathomable to see Michigan State take a step back into respectable but not great territory.

Editor's note:’s Summer Shootaround series is catching up on the offseason storylines for each conference. For the rest of the best- and worst-case scenarios for the Big Ten, click here.

NBA draft's biggest surprises

June, 29, 2012
Andre DrummondJerry Lai/US PresswireThe Pistons drafted Andre Drummond with the No. 9 overall pick, mostly based on potential.
For college hoops/NBA nerds like me, the NBA draft is an event.

Chinese food. High-def TV. A comfortable chair. An iPad/laptop to follow Chad Ford’s “Matrix”-like draft coverage. (When I logged off, he was teasing his 2025 mock draft, which will likely feature the children of D-Wade and LeBron.)

I anticipated more trades. And I had no idea David Stern would take on the hostile crowd the way he did. Fascinating stuff.

And there were certainly some surprises with the various selections. Some good. Some bad. Some baffling.

The Good ...

Jared Cunningham to Dallas at No. 24: I think Cunningham is a major sleeper. It’s nice to see a guy get credit for defensive prowess. He’s a versatile guard. His defensive skills (2.5 spg) will make him a valuable player on Day 1. He’s big (6-foot-5), too. This pick may have turned a few heads, but Cunningham is legit. Nice sleeper.

Royce White to Houston at No. 16: I figured some team was hiding its interest in White, a high-level passer and ball handler trapped in a power forward’s body. Some called his anxiety disorder a red flag prior to the draft. But the concern was so over-the-top, I started to think that some NBA squad probably wanted that. Let everyone assume he’s not top-20 and then grab him. The Rockets did that. He has NBA strength right now. And the best part about White’s game is he’ll facilitate an offense and not worry about buckets. Just wants to win.

Austin Rivers to New Orleans at No. 10 : Some booed this pick. Rivers couldn’t escape the haters at Duke. He either did too much or too little. Here’s the thing. He played within an offense that didn’t have a true point guard. He had to run the offense and create shots. Now, he can focus on the latter. Rivers has an NBA game. He’s not going to face the zones and traps that teams needed to lock him up his freshmen season. He’ll have the freedom to roam. This is how he learned the game. The son of Boston Celtics and former NBA standout Doc Rivers will be a different player at the next level. Might not make sense right now. But give it a year.

The Bad ...

[+] EnlargeDion Waiters
Mark Konezny/US PresswireDion Waiters, a guard drafted by Cleveland, averaged 12.6 points per game at Syracuse last season.
Dion Waiters to Cleveland at No. 4: So NFL officials aren’t the only ones who fall for athletes after one or two workouts. Based on reports, Waiters had a few amazing auditions in Vegas and the Cavs fell in love with him. The former Syracuse star is a great athlete who attacks the rim. He’ll push the pace and get buckets in transition. But Harrison Barnes is more polished. Thomas Robinson, too. Big risk for the Cavs here. And Barnes and Robinson could have better careers.

Andre Drummond to Detroit at No. 9, Meyers Leonard to Portland at No. 11: Plenty of potential with both players. Drummond has the gift to form a potent frontcourt with Greg Monroe. In stretches, Leonard was a stud. One of his biggest challenges at Illinois was the limited touches he received. They didn’t feed him enough.

But I can’t justify taking these two over North Carolina’s duo of Tyler Zeller and John Henson. Henson blocked 2.9 shots per game last season with few fouls (1.6). So many knocks against his limited strength. How about the fact he’s a pure shot-blocker who plays the ball and not the body? Few possess that skill. Milwaukee should be happy with that pick. Zeller, who was traded to the Cavs, was the ACC’s player of the year. He averaged 16.3 ppg, 9.6 rpg and 1.5 bpg. He’s 7 feet tall. Both Drummond and Leonard have had some motor issues. Can’t say that about Zeller and Henson. Drummond and Leonard were drafted on potential. Zeller and Henson produced. I just don’t get it.

Miles Plumlee to Indiana at No. 26: Over Draymond Green? Over Arnett Moultrie? Over Perry Jones III? At this point, you’re not necessarily drafting according to need. You just want a good player. Plumlee is big (7-foot), but he averaged just 6.6 ppg and 7.1 rpg as a senior at Duke. I just think Indiana had a chance to pick multiple players with more talent and higher ceilings.

More surprises ...

• Barnes fell to No. 7, but he might average 15.0 ppg for the next decade. Might not be a star, but he could have the most consistent career in the entire draft.

• I don’t know about Jared Sullinger’s back. But if he’s healthy, he’ll be one of the best players in this draft. He faced bigger, more athletic players in college. High school, too. Yet he keeps winning. That should count for something, too.

• Perry Jones III slipped all the way to 28th? Just ... wow. Read more of my take on this here.

• Not sure why so many teams passed on Draymond Green, who fell all the way to No. 35. He played point guard in the NCAA tournament. He’s a strong rebounder. Knows how to be a leader. Not the most athletic forward in the draft, but he’ll surprise people next season. The Warriors made the right move when they took him in the second round.

• Maurice Harkless is very athletic. Not to mention he was one of the best athletes in the draft. I’m just not sure what else he has to offer Philly right now. He might develop into a stud (15.3 ppg for St. John’s). But there’s a lot of work to do.

• I think the Grizzlies made a great pick at No. 25 when they grabbed Tony Wroten (16.0 ppg last season). The confines of college basketball were not suited for this guard’s strengths. He’s a free spirit on the floor. And the NBA’s flow will really enhance his game. He’ll be a different (better) player at the next level.

• This isn’t surprising, but it’s ironic. The Minnesota Timberwolves picked Purdue’s Robbie Hummel at No. 58. Two years ago, Hummel tore his ACL for the first time during a matchup against the Gophers in Minneapolis. That was the beginning of a tough road for Hummel, who tore his ACL again about eight months later. I wouldn’t count him out. He could stick with the Wolves and earn a spot in next year’s rotation.
Thomas Robinson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist & Andre DrummondUS PresswireWhere will Thomas Robinson (left), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Andre Drummond end up?
That headline ought to be fairly self-explanatory. Here are the 10 things I'm most intrigued to see in Thursday night's NBA draft:

1. Who goes No. 1 overall?

(Kidding. I hope I have your attention now.)

2. OK, seriously, who goes No. 2?

Now this is an intriguing question, one we've argued before in this space. With Anthony Davis such an obvious No. 1 pick, this is really the only top-two suspense in this draft, made all the more so by the simple fact that the Bobcats could pick just about anybody and become immediately better. Under "needs," the Bobcats have listed "a basketball team." They could trade their pick. They could draft Thomas Robinson and shoot for the stars, or take Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and try to work on a winning culture, or do something crazy and take Andre Drummond. Whatever they do, it will be fascinating to see the implications for the other teams in the top five, and the players they select.

3. Will someone reach for Andre Drummond?

If I was a general manager, I'd be horrified to take Drummond. I'd also be horrified to not take him. There's all that physical talent. There's that apparent basketball apathy. The only time I remember seeing Drummond openly enjoying basketball as a freshman was that tip-dunk against Syracuse (just YouTube it). Being able to do that to wide-open tip-dunks would bring a smile to my face, too. Battling with NBA bigs? Not as much fun!

Austin Rivers
Mark Dolejs/US PresswireWhere will Austin Rivers, the talented yet polarizing guard from Duke, end up?
4. Who loves (or hates) Austin Rivers?

A year ago, I randomly polled some of the NBA scouts at the Nike Skills Camps in Chicago for their opinions of Rivers, the incoming Duke guard. A few loved his crossover and his swagger; others had big lingering questions about what he was (A 2-guard? A point? A combo scorer? Monta Ellis?) at the next level. Even then, he was polarizing.

That didn't change much during his one-year stopover at Duke. Rivers struggled early, had big moments (remember this?), never totally put it all together, and Duke went out in the first round to 15-seeded Lehigh. It's clear it hasn't changed at all since the NBA draft process began.

Resident draft expert Chad Ford does not like Rivers one bit, and plenty of NBA scouts have told him why: "However, here's my knock on Rivers. He thinks he's Kobe. He's not. He doesn't have the length, the height, nor the athletic ability. Take those things away from Kobe, and he's Ricky Davis -- an irritating ball hog no one wants to play with and who isn't good enough to warrant the diva act."

On the other hand, Rivers has the best dribble moves in the draft, a well-respected coach-father who knows everything about how to be a pro in the league, and a shooting mechanic ripe for improvement. I'm just as torn as everyone else. I can't wait to see where he lands, and how the franchise that takes him will affect his development.

5. More trades! Please?

On Wednesday night, my buddy Phil asked me if the draft was on. When I told him it was Thursday night, he said, "Oh. I just can't care about the NBA draft." Phil is not an NBA fan. I am. Which is why I am fascinated by the slew of trade rumors out there already, from the Houston Rockets' play for Dwight Howard to the Lakers dangling Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace. Always one of the best parts of the draft, at least for me. Your mileage may vary.

6. Which late first-round team will be smart and take Draymond Green?

I realize the dude's 22. He's definitely a tweener and there are 20 players in the draft with more enticing measurables. But Day-Day is about as versatile as any player in this draft, and he's a winner. He won't be an All-Star, but he will be a perfect fit on any already-good team looking for a solid rotation piece and a great teammate to boot. And he'll get a chance to play for a good team right away. I think that's a huge blessing in disguise.

7. How far will Jared Sullinger slide?

Get this: The guy who spent two years dominating the Big Ten, whose freshman season statistically most closely resembled Kevin Love's, who earned All-American honors and led his team to a Sweet 16 and a Final Four, might actually fall out of the first round. I get the back issues scaring people slightly, but come on! He was a top-five pick last year! NBA GMs, get it together!

[+] EnlargeJared Sullinger
Greg M. Cooper/US PresswireHow far will Jared Sullinger fall on Thursday night?
8. Speaking of Sullinger ... what will this draft say about staying in school?

More often than not in the one-and-done era, players promised top-10 draft picks left after just one season in school. It just made too much sense. Last year's lockout changed that calculus, and college basketball was better for it. We got to see sophomore seasons from Sullinger, Harrison Barnes, Terrence Jones and Perry Jones, all of whom could have been top-five picks in last year's draft. This June, only Barnes has retained his top-five status. Terrence Jones is coming off being a top rotation player on a national title team, while Perry Jones came back and improved, though only marginally. Both are borderline lottery picks, according to most mock drafts. Will things go even further south Thursday night? And if so, what will that say to elite prospects considering a sophomore season in the future?

9. Will the Bulls get Will Barton?

That's what Ford has in his latest mock draft, and as a Chicago resident, let me just say: Yes, please. I think Barton could be a real steal. He had a thoroughly excellent (and underrated) season in 2012 -- he finished behind Green, Davis and Sullinger in Ken Pomeroy's final player of the year efficiency calculations. Barton definitely needs to add things to his game (more strength and girth, a more consistent outside shot) but he is already a very versatile player who could conceivably play a 2 or a 3 in the NBA for years to come. Also, he's bouncy. I like him. It would be a great pick for the Bulls, but really for any team at that level of the draft. We'll see.

10. Whose suit will be most on point?

I'm not sure anyone in this class has the chops to pull off the Joakim Noah swagger (sorry, but that suit was and is amazing, almost as amazing as this photo). Unfortunately, based on most of the personalities in this class, I don't think most of these guys will go the wacky route, either. I hope I'm wrong. Nominate in the comments.
1. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said forward Branden Dawson is making significant progress after an operation to repair a torn ACL in his left knee. Dawson, who will be critical to the Spartans’ chances of replacing Draymond Green in the lineup, is ahead of schedule, according to Izzo. “He doesn’t look like had an operation,’’ said Izzo of the four months since the knee surgery. “The swelling is down. He’ll start working out with us in August. We’re taking our time with him so he’s ready to go.’’

2. Izzo spent some idle time he had Monday making calls to NBA teams as he continues to push for Green. Green is likely to go in the first round but where is still anybody’s guess. Teams like Indiana really like him at No. 26 but he’s also a candidate for Atlanta at No. 23 if not higher. “He’s going in the first round and will play in the league a long time,’’ said Izzo. “He can contribute in so many ways. He’ll be like [Udonis] Haslam and [Shane] Battier. He can rebound, he can shoot and he has the smarts. You’ll say who can he match up with but he knows how to play. He’s got great character.’’

3. The deadline for Boise State to officially withdraw from the Mountain West is fast approaching on Saturday. There’s no reason why the Broncos shouldn’t just make every effort to get the rest of its programs in the Big West, notably men’s basketball, if it intends on playing football in the Big East. The WAC is no longer a viable option for sustained growth. Boise State’s best chance to be relevant is stick with programs that have a chance going forward like top 25 San Diego State and likely perennial Big West title contender Long Beach State. This drama has gone on long enough. It’s time for Boise State to make a decision and move.
Incoming freshmen should anticipate major adjustments at the Division I level. The players are bigger, stronger and faster.

But the uptick in competition is only part of the transition from high school to college. The 21st-century college basketball player should understand off-court expectations, too.

They're all about adhering to proper swagger etiquette.

I hope you all have notepads ready. Here’s what you’ll need to get ready for Division I basketball off the floor:

  • An Instagram account: Twitter is so 2011. These days, college basketball players send messages through photos via Instagram. It’s a cool tool. You take photos, attach a brief memo and ship the image to the world. Or if you’re Jared Sullinger, you send photos of text-message exchanges with other All-America forwards. You need this. Trust me.
  • Friendships with rappers: Blame Notre Dame’s Skylar Diggins. Lil Wayne’s highly publicized crush on the talented guard dramatically increased her street cred and Twitter follower count. Jay-Z sat behind Kentucky’s bench during the Final Four. Romeo Miller (the onetime Lil' Romeo who now just goes by Romeo) didn’t just support USC basketball. He actually joined the team. Find a rapper. Become his friend.
  • Fashionable specs: I know. You have 20/20 vision. Doesn’t matter. This is all about style. I learned about this recent development in college basketball fashion from Michigan State’s Adreian Payne. He says his black glasses project sophistication. It’s either that or an affinity for Clark Kent.
  • [+] EnlargeNerlens Noel
    Kelly Kline/Getty ImagesNerlens Noel brings a signature coif to Kentucky ... but does he have the right backpack?
  • The Kevin Durant backpack: Throw the gym bag in the trash. That’s old school. You need a backpack. Not a normal backpack. You won’t haul anything in it. You need a backpack that’s also a fashion statement. Durant’s backpack -- one he wears to postgame press conferences -- started this trend.
  • Access to a state-of-the-art facility: Florida State’s players get access to their team’s practice facility by placing their hands on some sort of “Star Trek” detection device. Indiana’s facility features underwater treadmills in the training room, his and hers gyms for the men’s and women’s squads and an atrium that doubles as a museum for Indiana basketball. Players’ lounges -- think college kids bonding, not “Shaft” -- are standard, too. And then, there’s Oklahoma State’s basketball facility. Is that legal?
  • Trend-setting hair: Nerlens Noel is covered. But what about the rest of the incoming freshmen? Will your hair matter? It definitely did for Wisconsin’s Mike Bruesewitz. Stores in Madison sell wigs of his former curly-afro look. Still waiting for the cornrows version. The hair on top of St. Louis guard Jordair Jett’s head can only be described as majestic. Talk to your barber about this.
  • Beats by Dre headphones: Yes, they’re $300 headphones, but a multitude of college players wears them and, somehow, purchases them. They’re a necessity, I guess. You either have a pair of mammoth Beats by Dre headphones or you don’t wear headphones in public as a Division I basketball player. I don’t think the headphones offer a real advantage over their competitors. But, they’re the norm for college basketball players. The obsession with Dr. Dre’s headphones among NBA players has certainly trickled down. Even high school players demand them now. Put it on the shopping list.

Feel free to add on …

The 2012 All-Tournament team

April, 3, 2012
NEW ORLEANS -- It’s over.

The 2011-12 college basketball season wrapped up with a fascinating Final Four and national title game. Now, it’s time for some hardware.

Here’s my version of the 2012 All-Tourney team:

First Team

[+] EnlargeAnthony Davis
Richard Mackson/US PresswireAnthony Davis earned Final Four Most Outstanding Player honors after leading Kentucky to a national crown.
Anthony Davis (Kentucky): The Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player left his mark on college basketball by leading the Wildcats to the national title. He finished with 29 blocks in the 2012 NCAA tournament, No. 2 all time. Against Kansas, he became the first player to record 6 points, 16 rebounds, 6 blocks, 5 assists and 3 steals during an NCAA tournament game.

Jeff Withey (Kansas): The 7-footer blossomed in the NCAA tournament and really clogged the lane for the Jayhawks' defense. He was a big reason Davis finished 1-for-10 in the national championship game. Withey established a record for blocks in a tournament with 31 in this year’s installment.

Thomas Robinson (Kansas): The Wooden Award finalist didn’t go home with a ring. But he was crucial in his team’s run to the Final Four. The junior averaged 16.6 ppg and 12.5 rpg during this year’s tournament.

Doron Lamb (Kentucky): The sophomore’s 22-point performance (a game high) in the national title game was the culmination of an impressive run for the young star. He averaged 16.5 ppg during the NCAAs. Without Lamb, the Wildcats may have fallen short against the Jayhawks on Monday night.

Bradley Beal (Florida): The freshman fueled Florida’s run to the Elite Eight with a series of high-octane efforts. He had 21 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks and 2 steals during Florida’s 68-58 win over Marquette in the Sweet 16. He followed that with 14 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists in his squad’s Elite Eight loss to Louisville.

Second Team

Tyler Zeller (North Carolina): The ACC Player of the Year helped the Tar Heels stay alive when Kendall Marshall suffered a serious wrist injury that kept him out of an overtime win against Ohio in the Sweet 16 and a loss to Kansas in the Elite Eight. He had 20 points and 22 rebounds against Ohio and he finished with 12 points, 6 rebounds and 4 blocks against the Jayhawks.

Draymond Green (Michigan State): The versatile forward started the tournament with a triple-double against LIU-Brooklyn. He had 16 points and 13 rebounds in a win over Saint Louis in the third round. Green also played some point guard in that game. The Spartans scored only 44 points in a Sweet 16 loss to Louisville, but Green ended his career with 13 points and 16 rebounds.

Deshaun Thomas (Ohio State): His team’s season ended when Kansas launched a furious comeback in their Final Four matchup Saturday. Prior to his nine-point effort that night, however, Thomas had scored 31, 18, 24 and 14 points, respectively, in Ohio State’s four previous NCAA tournament games. If he comes back for another year, the Buckeyes will be a top-5 preseason squad.

D.J. Cooper (Ohio): Cooper scored 21 points during his team’s upset win over Michigan in the second round. He had 19 against South Florida. And he finished with 10 points and six assists during an overtime loss to North Carolina. Now, his former head coach has a new job as a result of his performances in the NCAA tournament. He should send Cooper a check. Once he’s finished with school, of course.

Dion Waiters (Syracuse): He had 18 points in his team’s 75-59 win against Kansas State in the third round. And in a tight Sweet 16 matchup with Wisconsin, he went 5-for-11 and scored 13 points. The athletic guard is going to the NBA, but he put together a solid string of performances on his way out.

Other noteworthy performances:

Norfolk State’s Kyle O’Quinn put his program on the national map with 26 points, 14 rebounds and 2 blocks during the biggest upset of the NCAA tournament, Norfolk State’s 86-84 victory over No. 2 seed Missouri in the second round.

Royce White used the NCAA tournament as an audition for NBA execs. He had 15 points and 13 rebounds against Connecticut in the second round. And he scored 23 points and grabbed nine boards in Iowa State’s loss to Kentucky in the third round.

Aaron Craft is a thief. The sophomore had 16 steals for Ohio State throughout the NCAA tournament and solidified his slot as one of America’s greatest on-the-ball defenders.

Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum scored 30 points in his team’s 75-70 victory over No. 2 seed Duke in the second round.

Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick, a 6-4 guard, scored just eight points in his team’s second-round win over Texas. But when the lights came on in the later rounds, Kilpatrick showed off his star power. He had 18 points against Florida State in the third round. And he finished with 15 against Ohio State in the Sweet 16.

PHOENIX -- When Louisville center Gorgui Dieng drained a 3-pointer in the first half of Louisville's 57-44 win over Michigan State here Thursday night -- the first made 3-pointer of his career, and just his second attempt all season -- he smiled. On the sideline, Cardinals coach Rick Pitino couldn't help but smile back.

Believe it or not, Pitino had seen this movie before.

"About a week ago in practice after it was over he kept shooting 3s," Pitino said. "I said, 'It looks pretty good, Gorgui.' He said 'Next year, I'm shooting a lot of 3s.' I said, 'No problem, as long as you make them.'

"When he made it, I said, 'I thought it was next year.' He just smiled. It was great."

Not that Dieng will have license to fire at will in the future, whether this season or next. But the story of Dieng's post-practice shooting sessions, just one more check box for the Senegalese player that seems to improve with every outing, is one of the main reasons Louisville can delay talk of "next year" for at least two more days.

Thanks to Dieng's nine rebounds and seven blocks (which tied the all-time UL tournament record held by Pervis Ellison), the Cardinals dominated top-seeded Michigan State on the defensive interior, setting a score of tourney records and superlatives along the way. The Spartans' 44 points were the fewest scored by any No. 1 seed in the shot-clock era. That point total and the 28.6 percent field-goal percentage were all-time tourney lows for MSU.

Thanks to a press that harried the Spartans, that wore them out and changed their style, Pitino is now a remarkable 10-0 all-time in the Sweet 16 -- the best record of any coach in the history of the tournament. And Michigan State, the West Region's clear Final Four favorite, ended its surprisingly successful season on an entirely uncharacteristic night.

"I think we ran out of gas a little bit -- emotionally, mentally and physically," MSU coach Tom Izzo said. "Louisville had the gas. They deserved to win."

[+] EnlargeLouisville's Gorgui Dieng
AP Photo/Matt YorkLouisville's Gorgui Dieng blocked seven Michigan State shots and also knocked down the first 3-pointer of his career.
"You know what our press does a lot of times? It just wears people out," Pitino said. "We didn't really want to trap them. We wanted to run and jump to get to the legs. ... Certain people we try to create steals or traps or rotate. Tonight we just tried to get into our zone, wear them out and neutralize the backboard."

That plan couldn't have worked out better for Pitino and his team. The Cardinals' pressure was never overwhelming on any specific occasion, and more often than not the Spartans were able to get into the half court with minimal issue. But the constant pressure clearly made Michigan State uncomfortable.

The Spartans finished the game with a 24.7 percent turnover rate. But it was their shooting -- a 33.7 percent effective field-goal percentage, a 5-for-21 mark beyond the 3-point arc (and how many of those shots missed even the rim?) and a staggeringly low 22.2 percent offensive rebounding rate -- that truly caused a team averaging nearly 1.17 points per possession this season to score just 0.72 on Thursday night.

Indeed, it wasn't just the pressure, or a matter of winning the purported size-vs.-speed matchup. It was all-court defensive solidity, usually by way of a stifling 2-3 zone. According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Cardinals played zone on 45 of Michigan State's 48 possessions, holding Draymond Green & Co. to a mere 22.2 percent shooting in the zone.

It came from everywhere. Dieng's shot-blocking and interior defense utterly erased MSU big men Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix from the game. (Nix's constant combinations of head fakes never remotely fooled Dieng. He stood, waited and repelled Nix with ease.) Peyton Siva, Russ Smith and Chris Smith applied the perimeter pressure.

And freshman Chane Behanan did much to eliminate the matchup problems caused by the multitalented Green. His nine rebounds -- five of which were defensive -- were the perfect complement to Dieng on the glass. His offense, which came mostly on efficient (and impressively patient) interior shots, provided a handful of key baskets throughout the second half. And his three steals helped seal the game in the final minutes.

Behanan's matchup was Green; he was a freshman facing off against the Big Ten player of the year, one of the nation's most experienced players. And he won.

"I respect him a lot," Behanan said. "I've watched him play this game, and I really love the way he plays. ... But it felt good [to play well] against him."

From the inside out, Louisville was -- well, pick your adjective. Smothering. Stifling. Twitchy. Ruthless. Anything positive you can say about a defensive effort, say it about this one. Team defensive efforts don't come more comprehensive than this.

And Dieng, the sophomore from Senegal, was always at its heart -- literally and figuratively.

Asked to describe Dieng's performance, Behanan was succinct.

"Lottery pick," he said. "He played like he wanted to get drafted tonight."

Dieng does want to get drafted: According to his coach, it was the first goal Dieng stated when he arrived at the program as a freshman last season. Pitino said he promised Dieng he would "drive him like [he'd] never been driven before."

"My freshman year I was complaining a lot," Dieng said. "I said he worked me so hard, I'm tired, my legs hurt. I thank him for that, [because] he changed my whole mentality. He made me tougher. He teach me [what] this game can do in your life."

Maybe that's why Dieng wanted to get that 3-pointer up Thursday night, maybe that's why he took a break from swatting Spartans' shots to do his best Kuric impression: If he keeps playing like this, he may not have a "next year" at the college level.

But that's a concern for another time. For now, Pitino's perfect Sweet 16 record remains intact and, thanks to a Dieng-led defense, on the verge of a trip to the Final Four. The Cardinals aren't pretty, but after seven wins in a row -- including four in a Big East tourney title run -- their defense, their knack for timely 3s and their legendary coach make them one of the most fearsome teams in the country.

In other words, your favorite team doesn't want to play Louisville right now.

Who would?

PHOENIX -- A quick overview of Louisville's 57-44 win over Michigan State:

Overview: On Wednesday, this game was billed by both coaches as a clash between two disparate styles: Michigan State's bruising rebounding and interior play versus Louisville's quick-twitch pressure and up-tempo attack.

Make no mistake: Pressure won. But it wasn't quite that simple. Louisville was defensively great -- not only in the press but all over the court -- forcing turnovers and speeding up the Spartans, but also locking down in the half court. Michigan State finished 14-of-49 from the field -- 14-of-49! -- with 15 turnovers and an offensive rebounding percentage of just 22.2 percent. The 44 points were the fewest scored by a 1-seed in the shot-clock era and the fewest ever in the tourney by an MSU team. The 28.6 percent shooting and 14 made field goals also were all-time tourney lows for Michigan State.

That's not the Spartans offense that earned them a Big Ten title and a No. 1 seed, and Louisville's defense, which ranked No. 2 in the nation in per-possession efficiency this season, deserves the lion's share of the credit.

Turning point: The Spartans never quite found their offense, but they managed to keep the Cardinals from pulling away throughout the first half thanks to stellar defense. However, up 31-26, a spate of Spartans turnovers and Cardinals transition buckets built the first double-digit lead of the night for Louisville. Draymond Green and company never got comfortable, never settled into an offensive rhythm and never could truly erase the deficit.

Key player: Chane Behanan. The Cardinals freshman was Louisville's best hope to match up with Michigan State's multitalented Green on both ends of the floor, but his offense was the real key. Behanan scored 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting -- many of those buckets on savvy finishes inside 6 feet -- and with eight rebounds aided Cardinals big man Gorgui Dieng (who anchored the defense with nine rebounds and seven blocks, which tied a school tourney record). Behanan was Louisville's X factor, and his performance was exactly what Rick Pitino's team needed.

Key stat: Shooting, or a lack thereof. Again, the Spartans made just 14 field goals. They averaged near 0.724 points per possession. Louisville didn't shoot much better (21-of-55 overall) but did finish with a 9-of-23 mark from beyond the arc. When your defense holds one of the best teams in the country to one of its worst performances all season, that's enough.

What's next: Michigan State heads home; Louisville advances to face Florida.
PHOENIX -- A little over a month ago -- still weeks before Louisville ran off its six-game postseason winning streak, which includes a Big East tournament title and a spot in the Sweet 16 -- coach Rick Pitino gave his then-struggling point guard, Peyton Siva, a bit of visual homework.

The assignment: Watch Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash.

Watch the two-time NBA MVP work possessions. Watch him change the pace and speed of his approach. Watch him keep his dribble alive at all times, even when seemingly every option had broken down. Watch him circle under the rim, watch him play every angle, watch him reload and reassess when nothing came. Watch him attack again.

"One of the reasons why Peyton was struggling is he's so fast, he plays at one pace," Pitino said Wednesday. "I wanted him to start to change his pace, and also, if he didn't have anything, continue dribbling out in a circle and take another opportunity -- and nobody does that better than Steve Nash.

"Anytime you show them a great basketball player, they love to emulate that."

No one would confuse Siva for the Suns legend just yet, but the results of the film session are hardly in dispute. In the past month, Siva has elevated his game, boosted a lackluster offense, and led his team -- which lost four of its first six Big East games, then another four of six beginning in mid-February -- to the US Airways Center, the stage upon which Nash displays his nightly brilliance.

"Growing up he was one of my favorite players to watch," Siva said. "Coach P really had me watch more film on him and how he kept his dribble alive. It really helped me out by not forcing things and getting in trouble or making jump error passes. And it really helped me out probing the court, giving other guys open looks, and seeing the whole court a little better."

[+] EnlargeLouisville's Peyton Siva
Anthony Gruppuso/US PRESSWIRELouisville coach Rick Pitino has asked Peyton Siva to watch how Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash varies his pace during games.
The question now, of course, is whether Siva's late-blooming improvement will be enough to key the Cardinals past the No. 1-seeded Michigan State Spartans in the first game in Phoenix (7:47 p.m. ET). If Louisville is going to keep pace with the West favorites, Siva will have to dictate the tone of the game on the offensive end, where the Cards -- who ranked No. 13 in the Big East in points per possession this season -- will be facing the nation's third-ranked efficiency defense, per

Siva's play at the point of attack, where he often works off high-ball screens before cannonballing himself into the lane, will be crucial: According to Synergy Sports Technology scouting data, nearly 40 percent of Siva's offensive possessions come as the ball handler in pick-and-rolls, and the Spartans are allowing a staggeringly low .059 points per trip on such plays, one of the best marks in the country.

There are other matchups to consider, of course: How does Gorgui Dieng guard the rim against not only Draymond Green but Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix, a trio that dominates the boards on both ends of the floor? For that matter, who matches up with Green, Tom Izzo's hyperversatile star? Asked about the issues Green presents at "his position," Pitino conceded that he didn't have a ready-made answer.

"Well, that's just it, 'his position' -- I'm not sure what his position is," Pitino said "If they need somebody to run a pick-and-roll, if they need a post-up, if they need a guy to take you off the bounce, he does that. He's about the most complete player in college basketball in terms of all phases of the game."

The Cardinals have one major trump card, one area in which they actually rank ahead of Michigan State on a per-possession basis: defense. Louisville's defense is the second-stingiest in the country this season, and not only because it holds opposing shooters to the third-worst effective field goal percentage in the nation. The Cards also force turnovers, and lots of them.

"They're scrappy," Michigan State guard Keith Appling said. "They're going to force a lot of turnovers. We're going to have to keep our composure and get into our offense as fast as we can."

Which, again, comes back to Siva -- not just on the offensive end, but in how he sets the tone on defense, whether he creates turnovers and fast-break opportunities for UL. As Pitino prepares to face off with a similarly brilliant tactician in Izzo (the two last met in the tournament in 2009, when MSU knocked off the top-seeded Cardinals in the Elite Eight), and against a team whose only clear weakness is its tendency to turn the ball over, it's clear that Siva's all-court play will hold the key.

"We got our guys to this point by pressing and running, and we're not going to change because the other team may be a little better on the backboard and try to take possessions away," Pitino said. "So we're going to run with them. They're the better backboard team. But we're going to make it that type of basketball game. We do not want to play slow against Michigan State."

Who to watch

Louisville's Gorgui Dieng and Chane Behanan: The Cardinals will be pressuring constantly, no doubt, but if Michigan State does break the press and get into its offense, UL will be at a severe disadvantage on the interior. Dieng is the lone Louisville player with the size and length to make life difficult for Payne, Nix and Green inside, but at 6-foot-7, Behanan might be the best chance Louisville has of matching a quality rebounder with the athleticism to guard Green on the perimeter. That's a lot to ask of a freshman in his first Sweet 16, but it may be Louisville's best hope of keeping pace on the glass.

Michigan State's Keith Appling and Travis Trice: Appling, Trice and Brandon Wood form the core of the Spartans' underrated backcourt, but how will this trio handle Louisville's relentless defense? Wood has kept his turnovers to a relative minimum this season (his turnover rate is a mere 14.1 percent), but together, Appling and Trice average a turnover rate of 22.1 percent. If MSU has any true vulnerabilities -- and this has been a constant under Izzo in recent seasons, even among his best teams -- this is it. That's music to Pitino's ears, and it makes Appling's and Trice's roles as the primary backcourt ball handlers especially crucial.

What to watch

Simply put? Size versus speed. Take it away, Coach Izzo ...

"Seeing [the pressure] on film and hearing it from a coach or hearing it from another player, and all of a sudden getting in one of those traps and having to get the ball out is a little different," Izzo said. "So we try to do what we can do. But we have played a million different styles. That's not going to be an excuse for this team. We're going to take care of the ball and make some shots and make sure that our defense doesn't let them get a lot of layups and make some shots -- or we're not. And I think that's what the game is going to come down to.

"They've got to handle our physical size inside and we've got to handle their pressure outside. That's what basketball is about, is the matchups, and who exploits whose, and who plays better against whose strengths will probably determine the winner."

Six bold Sweet 16 predictions

March, 20, 2012
Kentucky basketballChris Graythen/Getty ImagesAnthony Davis (No. 23) and the Wildcats haven't forgotten their regular-season loss to Indiana.
Let’s try this again.

My first set of “bold” predictions didn’t exactly last through the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. But I’m not alone.

How many reconfigured their brackets after the Fab Melo news developed? Missouri losing to Norfolk State? I’d like to see a notarized “first” bracket as evidence that you picked that one.

Second time’s a charm though, right?

  1. Kentucky will beat Indiana by 15 or more -- Vengeance is coming. On Dec. 10, Indiana defeated the Wildcats on a Christian Watford buzzer-beater. The shot stamped Indiana’s revival as “official.” But the Hoosiers aren’t playing that Kentucky team this weekend. The Wildcats have evolved. I think Indiana has matured, too. But Kentucky will make a statement in this matchup. Think “Scarface.” These players have had to watch that game, that shot, all season. They’ve lost only twice, but they’re reminded of the defeat in Bloomington often. I think we’ll see the most impressive effort from the Wildcats that we’ve watched all season. They’re not going to beat the Hoosiers. They’re going to crush them. Indiana gets full credit for the December win over Kentucky, but you can’t overlook the fact that Anthony Davis picked up early fouls and the Hoosiers surged past the Wildcats when the freshman of the year was on the bench. That was one of the few games in which Davis suffered from foul trouble. Won’t happen again. And Davis will be a constant force. And the Wildcats will avenge that earlier defeat with a “someone throw in the towel” assault of the Hoosiers.
  2. Keith Appling will be the most valuable player for the Spartans in the Sweet 16 -- The sophomore guard scored 19 points and hit a crucial 3-pointer in the final minutes of Michigan State’s win over St. Louis. He’s a talented guard who will be called upon to navigate Louisville’s twisted zone (if the Cardinals use it) and help the Spartans fend off Florida’s 3-point attack or Marquette’s running game. The Spartans have never missed the Final Four as a No. 1 seed. This season won’t be any different. But Appling will emerge as Robin to Draymond Green’s Batman. Green will continue to excel, but he’ll face pressure on all sides. St. Louis stuffed the lane so well that Tom Izzo had to move Green to point. The Spartans need a Scottie Pippen right now to help them reach New Orleans. And after watching the Spartans in Columbus, I’m convinced Appling will enter New Orleans as a star.
  3. Jordan Taylor hits a big shot to beat Syracuse -- Hard to peg this one. Both teams like to dictate the tempo. Wisconsin will work the shot clock and try to slow the game down. Syracuse is one of the best transition teams in the country. The Orange force turnovers with that stubborn, lengthy zone and they run. It’s a great contrast in styles by two programs who’ve found ways to force teams to play at their preferred pace. This will be a tug-of-war. A battle for 40 minutes. And at the end of the day, it’s going to come down to crucial plays in the final minutes because I expect a tight game. Taylor struggled at the start of the season as he tried to adjust to life without Jon Leuer. But he’s certainly looked like an All-America candidate recently. Taylor will play hero again against the Orange with a game-winning shot. It was easy to forget how good he was last season during this year’s trials. But Taylor has regained that old swagger. Look for the big shot against the Orange.
  4. Thomas Robinson averages 28 points/12 rebounds against NC State/North Carolina -- I still have Kansas in New Orleans. The Jayhawks didn’t look great against Purdue in the round of 32, but going to St. Louis and the Edward Jones Dome will feel like home with the numerous Kansas fans that will flood that facility. But environment alone can’t affect this outcome. The Jayhawks will need the best Robinson can give to get past NC State (a Sweet 16 sleeper that could pull off the upset) and North Carolina, even if the latter doesn’t have Kendall Marshall. And I believe Robinson will put together a string of performances that will define his career at Kansas. He’ll average 28.0 points and 12 rebounds. He recorded only 16/13 and 11/13 in wins over Detroit and Purdue. That won’t get the job done in the Sweet 16. Robinson will step up and take the Jayhawks to New Orleans with the kind of outings that are expected from national player of the year candidates in March.
  5. Xavier, not Baylor, will play Kentucky in the Elite Eight -- Baylor has the length and athleticism to cause matchup hell for Xavier. Perry Jones & Co. against Kenny Frease seems unfair. Brady Heslip is on fire from outside. But the Musketeers will do more than make this a game. They’ll be tougher than a Baylor Bears squad that’s failed to match more physical teams in multiple matchups this season. Jones has scored nine points combined in his team’s two NCAA tournament games. As impressive as Heslip was against Colorado (nine 3-pointers), it’s unlikely that he’ll match that output against Xavier. Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons will pressure Baylor on the perimeter. The Cincinnati-Xavier brawl has not defined the season for either squad. This is one of those games in which the personnel certainly favors the Bears. But Xavier will push Baylor to the brink and ultimately score a 10/3 upset. The health of Dezmine Wells’ toe, however, will certainly play a major role in this prediction.
  6. Ohio won’t be represented in New Orleans -- One of the best storylines of the tournament unfolded over the weekend. Four Ohio schools (Xavier, Cincinnati, Ohio State and Ohio) reached the Sweet 16. But I don’t think we’ll see any of them in New Orleans. Even if Marshall can’t go, the Tar Heels have far too much athleticism and size for Ohio. I’m picking Cincinnati over Ohio State. I like the Yancy Gates-Jared Sullinger battle and the Bearcats’ athleticism on the perimeter. But I don’t think Cincy gets past Wisconsin, the team I’m picking to beat Syracuse. I think the Musketeers can defeat Baylor in the Sweet 16, but they’re not going to beat Kentucky. It’s a great accomplishment for one state to send four schools to the Sweet 16. But it won’t have any reps in New Orleans even though the numbers favor it right now. Sorry, Ohio.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Before he wiped the floor -- he actually grabbed the sweeper from a ball boy in the final minutes of Michigan State’s 65-61 victory over Saint Louis on Sunday at Nationwide Arena to erase a wet spot -- Draymond Green cleaned up the locker room.

Since the Spartans reached Nationwide Arena last week, they’d hinted at past distress. They were even instructed not to discuss the 2010-11 season. Senior guard Austin Thornton admitted, however, that “guys had minds elsewhere,” during one news conference.

The cause behind that fall from back-to-back Final Fours to a one-and-done program in the 2011 NCAA tournament wasn’t as simple as injuries and a bad night. The Spartans had issues.

But Green’s leadership eliminated yesteryear’s drama and fueled the team’s run to the Sweet 16.

In one crucial play against the Billikens, this squad illustrated its renewed bond and his role in it.

With three minutes to go, Tom Izzo gave Green the ball. He’d struggled to get comfortable in the paint in the second half -- proof that Rick Majerus still has it -- so Izzo told his 6-foot-7, 230-pound forward (everything?) to run point.

“I did go up to him and I said, 'Look, I’m going to put the ball in your hands the last three minutes because we can’t get it to you down low, but you’ve got to make good decisions,'" Izzo said.

Green scored 16 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and recorded 2 steals.

But his greatest moment came after Izzo turned him into a point guard. The Billikens had cut Michigan State’s 11-point lead midway through the second half to two with 3:18 to go on Kwamain Mitchell’s layup.

Green nailed a 15-footer. Then, he blocked Cory Remekun’s shot on the other end. And on his team’s next possession, he channeled Magic Johnson.

[+] EnlargeDraymond Green
Greg Bartram/US PresswireDraymond Green's move to the point down the stretch helped Michigan State hold off Saint Louis.
He drove toward the rim in traffic. And as a national-player-of-the-year candidate and the best player on the floor, he had every right to take that shot.

But Green is a star who doesn’t care about that status. He had a greater goal in mind.

Instead, he moved toward the bucket, drew Billikens and found Keith Appling wide open in the corner.

Appling connected on the 3-pointer and put the Spartans ahead 58-51 with 1:37 remaining on the game clock, one of his six assists on Sunday.

Prior to that play, Green had encouraged Appling to get loose.

“We got in the huddle in one of our timeouts, Draymond instilled some confidence in me, told me I was a 41 percent 3-point shooter last year, so shoot the ball,” Appling said.

Green was actually the first option on that critical sequence, but deferred to his teammate.

“All night, I was begging him to shoot, too,” he said.

Late free throws sealed Michigan State’s trip to the Sweet 16, where it will face Louisville in Phoenix. But Green’s continued emphasis on unity ensured that this program would not unravel in the clutch moments it navigated against Saint Louis.

On Twitter, some commented that Green’s decision to wipe up the floor late in the game was an example of the senior “trying too hard” to show off his leadership and selflessness.

An entire locker room of young men who call him a brother would disagree.

Travis Trice said he admires Green because he invites the team’s freshmen over to his house in East Lansing, Mich. It’s not a random occurrence but a consistent effort by Green to include everyone in the program.

One staffer said Green just “gets it.” He shows up early for meetings. He treats the trainers -- not just his teammates and coaches -- with respect.

Derrick Nix said Green's dish to Appling showcased that humility. His teammate makes those plays often, Nix said, because he’s interested in the success of the entire program, not his own numbers.

“Draymond’s one of those pass-first guys. Little do a lot of people know, he’s going to pass it before he takes a shot because he’s so unselfish when he should be selfish at times,” Nix said.

The same man who’s helped the Spartans connect on and off the floor with his personality is the same person who will jump on a player if he’s out of order.

“Barking,” players called it during the NCAA tournament.

At halftime Sunday, players argued over the effort level in the first half. Green was vocal during the exchange.

“He is our head on this team, him and Keith," Nix said. "If it’s something going on, they’re going to know about it and address it."

Players accept Green’s praise and criticism because they respect him.

It’s easy to see why.

As much as he oozes confidence, Green admitted that he’s prone to mistakes. He’s not the perfect player/kid/friend/son/teammate he appears to be.

He said the pressures of garnishing attention for earning Big Ten player-of-the-year honors and being mentioned as a candidate for national honors were tough to handle.

“I still have times where I struggle and I go in to Coach behind closed doors and talk to him," Green said. "Nobody may know about it. My teammates may not know about it."

It’s that genuine persona and vulnerability that have anchored Michigan State’s undeniable chemistry.

Yes, Green is one of the best players in America. But according to those around him, his leadership is equally significant for the program and its potential to reach New Orleans.

“If he wanted to he could go off and say, 'Screw you guys, I’m going to get my numbers. I’m going to do what I can to get my numbers,'” Thornton said. “He sacrifices to make the team better.”

Victory is sweet for Wolfpack, Spartans

March, 18, 2012

Greg Bartram/US Presswire
C.J. Williams celebrates North Carolina State's first trip to the Sweet 16 since 2005.

Here's a snapshot look at the early-afternoon games as eight more teams look to advance to the Sweet 16 on Sunday.

(11) North Carolina State 66, (3) Georgetown 63
The North Carolina State Wolfpack were the 68th team to hear its name called on Selection Sunday. One week later, they are among the 16 teams to survive the first weekend of play, advancing to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2005.

NC State erased an early 10-point deficit with a 30-9 run over 11 minutes spanning the first and second half, and held off a late rally by the Georgetown Hoyas for the 3-point victory.

The Wolfpack used a strong inside game to dominate the Hoyas on the boards. NC State grabbed more than twice as many offensive rebounds as Georgetown and nearly doubled up the Hoyas in second-chance points.

C.J. Leslie had seven second-chance points, nearly as many as the entire Georgetown team, and 10 of the Wolfpack’s 20 points in the paint.

NC State’s efficiency on the perimeter also proved to be a key weapon in the upset win. The Wolfpack made 7-of-15 shots (47 percent) from beyond the arc against a Georgetown team that entered the game holding opponents to a Division I-best 28 percent shooting on 3-point attempts this season.

The early-round upset loss for Georgetown was hardly a surprise. This is the third straight year the Hoyas have been eliminated by a team seeded at least five spots lower. They are the third team with such a streak, joining DePaul (1980-82) and Florida (2002-04).

(1) Michigan State 65, (9) Saint Louis 61
The Spartans advance to the Sweet 16 for the fourth time in the last five seasons thanks to another big game from senior Draymond Green.

Green stuffed the stat sheet with 16 points, 13 rebounds and six assists. It’s his eighth game this season with at least 15 points, 10 rebounds and five assists – no other player in Division I has more than three such games.

Michigan State sealed the win with a much-improved half-court offense after halftime.

The Spartans shot over 60 percent in the half-court and turned the ball over just twice in the final 20 minutes, after coughing it up eight times on 29 half-court possessions in the first half.

The Saint Louis Billikens were looking for their first Sweet 16 appearance, but once again Rick Majerus failed to reach the second weekend with an underdog.

Majerus is now 0-5 all-time in the Round of 32 as a lower seed, including a loss to the Spartans in 2000 when they won the national championship.