Michigan State Final Four Preview

Michigan State’s back in the Final Four, and they take on Duke tonight at 6:09 on TBS. In the spirit of the Final Four, here are four good reads on the 2015 Spartans to get you ready for tonight’s game:

Go Green!

Tom Izzo Is The Best Coach In Modern NCAA Tournament History — By Far (via FiveThirtyEight)

A No. 7 seed unseats a No. 2 in the NCAA tournament’s second round about twice every three years, but there was something about Michigan State’s upset of Virginia on Sunday that felt more routine than that. Perhaps it was the fact that the Spartans had toppled the Cavaliers just last season, but beyond that, no second-week tournament run from Michigan State qualifies as surprising at this point. As you might have heard, Izzo’s Spartans are now 13-1 all-time in the round of 32, and they’ve visited the Final Four more often (six times) than they’ve lost in the tournament’s opening weekend (five times).

Digging deeper into the numbers only solidifies Izzo’s reputation as Mr. March. A few years ago, FiveThirtyEight editor-in-chief Nate Silver wrote about how unlikely Izzo’s teams were to have consistently advanced as far as they did from the seeds at which they started — and that was at the very beginning of the five-season stretch (from 2010-present) where the Spartans advanced to four regional semifinals and one regional final. By any standard, Izzo’s teams tend to wildly exceed their expectations once the NCAA tournament commences. … Read More

(via FiveThirtyEight)

College football wrapup: 2014-15

The 2014 college football season is in the books, and Ohio State is the first school to win a national championship determined by a postseason playoff system.

Beyond the usual discussion of champions and coaching legacies (quickly: Urban Meyer– three national championships at two different schools, evil; Nick Saban– four national championships at two different schools, merely soulless), one of the central season-in-review topics of conversation, at least in these parts, is whether the SEC is over. Surprisingly but also not surprisingly, Paul Finebaum, voice of the SEC, answers the question implied in the previous sentence in the affirmative. (UPDATE: PFT Commenter emphatically concurs.) Although he’s been developing his position over the course of his daily radio show since roughly the first of the year, he summed up the general point in his appearance on Keith Olbermann’s show just before the national championship game:

In short: “It was a pretty bad year for the SEC.”

Although I contemplated the notion of Peak SEC at least as early as December 2012 and later pegged the possible date somewhat more recently, I’m not sure I agree that the SEC is over.

The SEC’s bowl record was 7-5. (They were 7-3 last year.) The Pacific Twelve was 6-2 (exclusive of Oregon’s national championship loss), the Big Ten was 5-5 (exclusive of Ohio State’s national championship win), the Big XII was 2-5, and the ACC was 4-7. In other words, among the power five conferences, the SEC had the most teams playing in bowl games and notched the second-best winning percentage.

What seems to concern Finebaum, though, is a sudden lack of championships. That people think the SEC is done for because one of its members hasn’t played for a national championship in a whole year and hasn’t won one in a whole two years is a testament to the never-before-seen degree of dominance the conference produced during the BCS era. Prior to Ohio State’s inaugural CFP championship on Monday, the Big Ten had 1.5 national championships since 1970. The SEC had nine in the BCS era (i.e., since 1998) alone. The ACC had two BCS championships, the ACC had two, the (now-defunct for football purposes) Big East had one, and the then-Pac Ten had one, since vacated.

After the hunt for Mississippi October turned up empty and OSU knocked Alabama out in the semis, the SEC may need to do a little more to earn its seeds next year, but I’m not sure we can say the conference is measurably weaker simply because it failed to produce a national champion this year. If anything, the above suggests the conference is as deep as ever.

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Transitioning toward the offseason and the 2015 season, I’ll use this space to remind everyone that Michigan State’s only losses in 2014 were to Ohio State and Oregon. The Spartans face both teams again in 2015, albeit without the aid of their departed defensive coordinator, Pat Narduzzi. Continue reading

Ohio State claims the first College Football Playoff championship

Following a hot-knife-through-butter opening touchdown drive for the Oregon Ducks in last night’s national championship game, the Ohio State Buckeyes took over the game and never relinquished control. OSU running back Ezekiel Elliott averaged 6.8 yards per carry, and it felt like more than that in the second half, when Ohio State called the same counter run play seemingly on every down and repeatedly executed it successfully. Elliott was so hungry for more yards that he tried to eat confetti after the game.

After that initial Oregon drive, the Buckeye defense, lead by coordinator and former OSU head coach Luke Fickell, found the answer, though, and Oregon’s bucket of tricks soon ran dry. Even in the second half, when Oregon’s defense produced a couple of turnovers, Marcus Mariota and the offense couldn’t make any progress.

Oregon accumulated its twenty points with two touchdowns, that opening-drive score and a one-play, seventy-yard TD pass early in the third quarter, and two field goals. Those two field goals, along with a white-flag punt with eight minutes to go in the fourth quarter, felt uncharacteristic of a school that, in recent years, lead the charge of pedal-to-the-metal offense.

In the end, Ohio State ended up knocking off Oregon by nearly as wide a margin– 42-20– as the one by which Oregon defeated Florida State in the semifinal round.   Continue reading

College Football Week 2: Two Questions

msvu

College football’s second week didn’t go so well for some of the teams on which we keep a closer eye here at ALDLAND. No controversy or arguments, really. Just poor performances and bad outcomes. Two days later, I’m left with two main questions:

1. Can Michigan State fix its leaky secondary?

Saturday night’s Michigan State-Oregon game lived up to the hype, through the end of the first half, anyway. During the intermission, the Ducks figured out that the one, very real weakness of the Spartan defense was its secondary. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota was having no luck creating much of anything on his own, but if he could get the ball out of his hands, his receivers often were very open and had an easy time tacking on extra yards. Everything else seemed pretty good for Michigan State, and I’m not worried about how they’ll handle their conference schedule. At least against Oregon, though, the secondary looked like a real and easily exploitable problem. My question is whether this is a quick fix or a season-long problem.

2. How soon is too soon to fire Derek Mason?

I have an extremely selective (read: poor) memory, but I don’t think Vanderbilt has had two games as bad as the two they’ve played this season in three or four years. A 37-7 loss to Temple and a 41-3 loss to Ole Miss pretty much says it all. USA Today called the latter “just total destruction.” Yes, the team lost its starting quarterback and a pretty good receiver named Jordan Matthews, but these guys look like they caught World Cup fever in the offseason and thought they were out for the soccer team. I don’t think David Williams should take the kneejerk reaction of firing head coach Derek Mason in Mason’s first year on the job, but Commodawg raised the question while we were watching the game, and the regression VU fans are seeing really is shocking. I think it’s okay to ask: If Vanderbilt continues to follow its current trajectory, would you consider firing Coach Mason in the 2014 calendar year?

Quack Preview: Michigan State vs. Oregon

In easily the biggest matchup of the young college football season, Michigan State visits Oregon tonight. (6:30, FOX.) Both teams are very much in contention for a berth in the brand new College Football Playoff, and the outcome of this game figures to go a long way toward determining whether the Spartans or Ducks will find themselves in college football’s new final four.

Despite their dynamic style, Oregon essentially is a known quantity, at least in broad terms. That doesn’t mean they’re easy to handle, and their junior quarterback, Marcus Mariota, is a strong Heisman contender.

Due to some key graduations and departures (e.g., Darqueze Dennard), coupled with an added year of experience for the younger players, Michigan State figures to remain about as strong as last season, while trading a little defense for a little offense.

The question remains: can Michigan State’s defense stop Oregon’s offense? In what I thought was a neat video that included actually understandable game scheme film clips, ESPN’s Trevor Matich explains why the Spartan D might have a chance:

He doesn’t pick MSU to win, of course, and Vegas has the visitors as twelve-point underdogs. Michigan State is better than the Stanford team that ended Oregon’s undefeated run last year, though, and with Jacksonville State as their week-one opponent, Mark Dantonio, Pat Narduzzi, and everyone else in East Lansing has had all spring and summer to prepare for this one. You, on the other hand, have just a few hours to prepare for what should be a fun game.

In the meantime, join Michael Weinreb, now apparently of SB Nation, for a very nice look back at the last time these two teams played each other.

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Equal Justice Under College Football Playoff

A Statistical Appreciation of the Washington Generals And Harlem Globetrotters (via FiveThirtyEight)

gtRed Klotz, the founder and longtime coach of the Washington Generals, the Harlem Globetrotters’ perpetually feeble opponents, died at age 93 last week (I highly recommend Joe Posnanski’s remembrance). Klotz’s all-time record as a head coach of the Generals and their namesakes was something like six wins and 14,000 losses — they lost 99.96 percent of the time.

How exactly did the Generals lose so consistently? How much of it was their conceding games on purpose, as opposed to simply being really bad at basketball?

Let’s first get a sense for how good the Globetrotters were. … Read More

(via FiveThirtyEight)

Why the Michigan Wolverines have been unwatchable since at least 2008

When the University of Michigan’s athletic department swapped out its Nike gear in exchange for a lucrative contract with Adidas, the Maize ‘n’ Blue lost more than a swoosh: they lost their Maize. In fact, they sold it for something far worse:

The shift from Nike to Adidas was also a huge change. For fans, seeing a different symbol on a jersey isn’t anything special, but for athletes it’s a big adjustment. Sizes, fit, comfort, color and durability are all crucial to being able to play your sport well. With Nike, every team had figured out what they liked and disliked, and they could make small adjustments in their gear from year to year. But Adidas specializes in soccer and football gear, so things like volleyball shoes and jerseys presented new challenges.

Nike also copyrighted the color “Maize,” so Adidas actually had to make a new version of our school color, now known as “Sun” (which the volleyball team has affectionately dubbed the “highlighter” jerseys).

Terrible. I don’t love what the Spartans have done aesthetically over the last decade– it’s the overall fluctuations in approach, more than any one decision, that has become somewhat annoying– but Michigan State hasn’t done anything to make my eyeballs burn out of my face, and that recent rosy addition has been downright pleasing.

Old news, but new to me, and now you know it too.

Is James Franklin leaving Vanderbilt for Penn State? [UPDATE: Yes.]

This is the most reliable news in days on a story ALDLAND has been tracking closely. We will update this post as more information becomes available.   Click for all updates on this story…

Michigan State wins the 100th Rose Bowl

Fourth-ranked Michigan State beat #5 Stanford in the 100th Rose Bowl yesterday, 24-20, and finished the season with a 13-1 record, having gone undefeated in the Big Ten. The Spartans are Rose Bowl champions for the first time in twenty-six years. MSU was balanced in the victory, their top-in-the-nation defense leading the way and securing the win by allowing only one offensive touchdown, while unheralded quarterback Connor Cook and his receivers posted a career passing day by recording 332 yards through the air, including two touchdown passes. The Spartans’ defensive numbers are ridiculous, but this puts the win in perspective:

Following the game, Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis silenced rumors that head coach Mark Dantonio might be a candidate for the Texas job by extending Dantonio’s contract, making Dantonio and his assistants among the three highest-paid head coaches and coaching staffs in the conference. Here’s to a fantastic Rose Bowl win and many more for this great team.