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Hardcourt Happenings

   by Matt Fargo - 02/11/2007

Throughout the college basketball season, Matt Fargo will be taking a look at teams that should pique your betting appetite, whether they are good or bad. We all know about Florida, North Carolina and UCLA but with 336 teams in division I college hoops, there are plenty of teams flying under the radar. Today’s session:

Michigan St. Spartans

What is happening in East Lansing? Michigan St. has lost four straight games capped off by a 24-point defeat at Purdue on Wednesday. The Spartans find themselves in unfamiliar territory – alone in 8th place in the Big Ten. There is a lot of basketball left to be played but the conference has never had that many teams invited to the Big Dance and it isn’t going to happen this year either. Michigan St. is 17-8 on the year which is good by most standards but the lack of quality wins stands out.

Michigan St. has been taking care of the patsies this season as any team with even average talent should be doing. It’s the top quality competition that the Spartans have struggled against as they are 0-3 against the nation’s top 10 and 3-7 against the top 50. Granted two of those three losses in the former were against Ohio St. but the Spartans of old would have been able to split that season series at a minimum while this year’s version does not have what it takes to get it done.

It isn’t because of lack of talent as there will always be that at Michigan St. It is lack of experience as the Spartans are an extremely young team and one that is still showing its growing pains. The offense is a real concern as it has averaged a putrid 47.3 ppg over its last three games and has hit 70 points only twice in its last 10 games, all against Big Ten competition. The production needs to improve in a hurry as a solid defense can only go so far if the offense cannot at least be average.

The Spartans are coming off a season low 38 points against Purdue as no one scored in double figures while the team was an embarrassing 3-10 from the charity stripe, an aberration for this team. Drew Neitzel is the heart and soul of the Spartans and when he has a bad game, the whole team obviously struggles. That is a definite problem as he has led the team in scoring in 17 of the 25 games as there has not been a second option when he does struggle. Raymar Morgan is second, leading the team in scoring just three times.

Of their top seven scorers, Neitzel is the only one not a freshman or sophomore so it shows how young this team really is. With a team so youthful, head coach Tom Izzo has preached defense and they have responded so all isn’t bad. The Spartans lead the league in field-goal percentage defense at 38.1 percent and scoring defense allowing just 56.8 ppg, while ranking second in three-point field-goal percentage defense at 30.8 percent. In total, 17 opponents have shot below 40 percent and 18 below 42 percent.

If there is any good news on the horizon it is that Michigan St. plays its next four games at home with all four of those against teams higher in the standings so some ground can be made up. However, is it possible for Michigan St. to beat these teams even on its home floor? It is 15-1 at home but its best home win was against Illinois, a team in similar circumstances. It still has to face Wisconsin twice and it has to at least split those games if the Spartans have any chance of heading to the tournament for a 10th straight season.

The Spartans are 7-4 against the number at home thanks to outscoring opponents by 17 ppg but blowouts against the cupcakes including Big Ten bottom feeders Northwestern and Minnesota does not instill a lot of confidence when going up against quality. Michigan St. has six days off until its next game, a home contest against rival Michigan. The recent struggles should give Spartans backers some value in the number but even with the time off, it is a dicey endeavor putting money on a team that can’t score.

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