Mar 31, 2012

Larry Caper will have to emerge as offensive threat for Michigan State Spartans in 2012

Photo: Associated Press -- Larry Caper will have to emerge as more of an offensive threat in 2012 for the Michigan State Spartans.

By Adam Biggers

The early departure of running back Edwin Baker will force the Michigan State Spartans to look toward others for offensive production this fall—and so will the loss of three of their top receivers.

While Michigan State has will-be junior Le'Veon Bell—who rushed for a team-high 948 yards in 2011—returning, the backfield will miss Baker's contributions. His ability to break off a big run and bounce off tacklers for a gain can't be immediately replaced.

Bell showed he can both run and catch last season, but the Spartans need another threat.
Larry Caper can add to the offense with his versatility in the absence of Baker, who was in the same recruiting class. Being able to lean on Caper will cause defenses to emphasize him, while possibly freeing up Bell.

Having a capable two-back force is almost necessary in college football.

Caper had a respectable freshman year in which he scored the game-winning touchdown in Michigan State's 26-20 win over Michigan. That season, Caper demonstrated his ability to turn receptions into gains with three catches for 47 yards.

While not the first option, Caper can make catches. He had 10 for 86 yards last season (missed six games), and he could be more of a target for quarterback Andrew Maxwell come fall. Caper didn't see many carries while healthy in 2011 because Bell and Baker shouldered the load. He saw limited throws because B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin were two of Kirk Cousins' mainstays.

Caper will likely play more of a receiver's role in 2012, as his past two seasons' statistics suggest. He had 12 catches for 133 yards and a touchdown as a sophomore.

The Spartans offense is in a transition: It's ushering a new quarterback, grooming receivers, and most likely looking for a way to fill in the hole Baker left. Michigan State has the young talent to plug in those holes. But Caper, who will be a senior, will be have to be one of the most important producers.

Buckeyes Beat Spartans 1-0 in Big Ten Opener

MSU Athletics
By Sean Gagnier

The Ohio State Buckeyes edged out a hard fought victory over the Spartans in the Big Ten Opener on Saturday 1-0. It turned into a pitchers duel with both pitchers playing exceedingly well, but the Buckeyes were able to get to the Spartans relief pitching late for the win.

Spartans starter Tony Bucciferro tossed eight scoreless innings while fanning nine and ultimately allowing just two hits. The Buckeyes broke up Bucciferro's no-hit bid in the seventh. But that performance wasn't good enough to beat Buckeye's starter Jaron Long who threw a complete-game, allowing only five hits.

Bucciferro had to be given the hook after the eighth inning as his pitch count was at 122, Head Coach Jake Boss, Jr. turned to David Garner in the ninth to keep things knotted at zero. Ohio State had other ideas however and scored the game-winning run in the top of the ninth.

Garner walked the first two batters he faced and was lifted for reliever Trey Popp. Popp lasted just one batter after Kirby Pellant sacrificed the runners to second and third. Coach Boss then turned to his closer to get his team out of the jam. Tony Wieber faced off against David Corna, and Corna won. Corna drove a 2-1 pitch to right field that brought home the game-winning run.

Wieber was able to stop the bleeding to just one run and strand Buckeyes on first and third, but the one run was all Ohio State would need to top the Spartans on Saturday.

Michigan State still had a chance in the bottom of the ninth when Andrew Cheky drew a leadoff walk - the only walk allowed by Long all game. However, Cheky got greedy and was thrown out attempting to steal second base for the first out of the inning. With the bases clear Ryan Jones hit a single but Jordan Keur ended the game by hitting into a double play.

Saturday's game was a classic pitchers duel with the Buckeyes collecting just three hits on the day and the Spartans only amassing five. Bucciferro has yet to allow a runner to score in his two outings at McLane Baseball Stadium, but has yet to earn a decision at home. No earned runs have been scored against Bucciferro since the first inning of the Spartans game against Cincinnati on March 16th.


Mar 30, 2012

Michigan State Spring Practice Storylines

From MSU Football Facebook Page
By Sean Gagnier

The post-Kirk Cousins era has begun in East Lansing, Mich and Junior Andrew Maxwell is at the helm. Cousins is coming off a very successful college career but he has said that the team is in good hands with Maxwell.

"He's (Maxwell) a lot farther along at this point in his career than I was," Cousins said at media availability earlier in the season.

While Maxwell has only attempted 51 passes in games during his Spartan tenure, Head coach Mark Dantonio has confidence in the junior. He is talented, no one is doubting that, the real thing is if he can get the team to coalesce around him.

MSU Football Facebook Page
Maxwell inherits a young receiving corps that includes Bennie Fowler, Juwan Caesar, Keith Mumphrey and Tennessee-transfer DeAnthony Arnett. While a group of inexperienced receivers may seem like a negative thing for most quarterbacks, Maxwell may be in luck. These are the guys that he has been working with for several years during practices while the big names were catching passes from Cousins.

That relationship and understanding of one another that was built during their time on the practice squad will end up helping both Maxwell and the receivers that are tapped as starters for this season.

The receiving corps is another point that is thought to be a weakness, but with Caesar being a touted recruit and Coach Dantonio's recent statements about the progression of Mumphrey, not to mention the experienced Fowler and Arnett - this team won't miss a beat, or a pass for that matter.

Michigan State enjoyed one of the best defense's in the Big Ten and country during the 2011 season and despite losing Jerel Worthy the Spartans "D" doesn't look to miss a beat.

The Spartans will have Marcus Rush, Tyler Hoover, Anthony Rashad White, William Gholston, Micajah Reynolds and Lawrence Thomas on the defensive line in 2012. And if opposing offensive lines can keep those behemoths back long enough their QB's will have to face linebackers Taiwan Jones, Max Bullough and Denicos Allen.

Michigan State looks to have only improved in the off-season despite losing many faces of their program, but that is a mark of a good program. Players come through and draw attention to the team as they succeed and are replaced by players who look to improve on what came before them.


Mar 29, 2012

UM AD Dave Brandon livid over MSU AD Mark Hollis' tweet at Trey Burke

By Sean Gagnier

Things in the Twitterverse got a bit tense between Michigan State Athletic Director Mark Hollis and his counterpart at the University of Michigan Dave Brandon.

It started when Wolverines freshman point guard Trey Burke who is considering leaving the school and make the jump into the National Basketball Association. Burke has expressed displeasure over outside influences and fans pushing him to either make the jump to the NBA or to stay with the Wolverines.

His displeasure bubbled over on his Twitter account when he put up a post saying;

"EVERYONE got something to say...smh I thought this was my life."

Minutes later Michigan State Athletic Director Mark Hollis retweeted Burke's tweet with the addition of the hashtag, "#respect." He then sent Burke this tweet;

"My advice, believe in YOUR heart & mind, everything else is interference. People u seek out is better than those that seek u."

A seemingly innocent tweet that encouraged Burke to ignore all of the outside influences on him and make the choice that he was most comfortable with. However, University of Michigan Athletic Director Dave Brandon didn't see it that way. Brandon sent out this tweet;

"Mark Hollis had good intentions-but made a mistake. Not appropriate to tweet on of our student-athletes. Won't happen again. End of story."

While tweeting at another school's athlete may not be quite kosher, in this case it does not violate NCAA rules and Hollis should not face any sanctions because of it.

Mar 28, 2012

Spartans Walk-Off Against Chippewas

Photo from MSU Athletics

By Sean Gagnier

With the game tied at five apiece in the bottom of the ninth Spartans Head Coach Jake Boss Jr. tapped Jared Hook as the pinch-hitter and he delivered. Hook stepped into the box against Central Michigan's Dietrich Enns, a Cape Codd League All-Star, and launched a fly ball into the outfield that allowed Torsten Boss to tag from third base and score the game winning run giving the Spartans a 6-5 victory.

Wednesday's win is the Spartans 11th in their last 12 and their third straight over the Central Michigan Chippewas.

The game was anything but clean defensively as the teams combined for seven errors, which may or may not have been due to the nearly constant 25 mph winds.

Mick VanVossen made his first collegiate start for the Spartans - he spent 4.1 innings on the mound. During his time on the rubber VanVossen gave up six hits and five runs, only two of which were earned. He used his 86 pitches to fan two Chippewas while issuing four walks.

VanVossen did not however earn the victory, Jeff Kinley earned that honor after throwing 4.2 innings of relief. Kinley did not allow a run while striking out four on the day.

Central Michigan countered VanVossen with Matt Trowbridge who went five innings while giving up four runs, two earned, eight hits while striking out five batters.

After four innings the Chippewas held a 5-3 lead over the Spartans but Michigan State caught up with runs in the fifth and sixth to tie the game. Justin Scanlon delivered an RBI in the fifth before Boss hit a sacrifice fly in the sixth to tie the game.

The Big Ten Conference opener begins on Friday when the Spartans host the Ohio State Buckeyes for a three game series.

Spartans Win Seventh Straight, Beat Bowling Green

From MSU Baseball Facebook Page

By Sean Gagnier

The Spartans racked up their seventh consecutive victory on Tuesday afternoon when they beat up on the Bowling Green Falcons 13-3. Michigan State piled up 16 hits off Falcons pitching including four from Jordan Keur.

David Garner took the mound for the Spartans but only lasted three innings despite fanning a season high seven batters. In his three innings Garner surrendered just four hits and gave up one unearned run to Bowling Green.

The Falcons jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the 1st before the Spartans went on to score nine unanswered through six innings. Blaise Salter earned his first collegiate RBI in the 2nd that scored Joel Fisher.

Junior Trey Popp came in as relief of Garner in the fourth inning and gave the Spartans three more innings. Popp fanned three and gave up just one hit in his three scoreless innings of work.

The Falcons cut into the lead by scoring two in the seventh to make the score 9-3 but the Spartans tacked on four additional runs in the bottom of the seventh to extend their lead to 13-3. With the win the Spartans have won 10 of their last 11 games.

Michigan State takes on Central Michigan today at 3:05 p.m. with Mick VanVossen making his first collegiate start for the Spartans.

Former MSU Spartans basketball great Magic Johnson buys MLB's LA Dodgers

Photo: IBN Live -- Former MSU Spartans basketball star Magic Johnson now owns the LA Dodgers, according to

By Adam Biggers

Los Angeles Dodgers fans were probably hoping for a little magic this year, and they got it Tuesday. announced late Tuesday night that Magic Johnson, a Michigan State Spartans and LA Lakers basketball legend, bought the reeling Dodgers for a reported $2 billion.

Former Dodgers owner Frank MCourt put the team up for sale last June after reportedly going $600 million into debt during a messy split with his wife Jamie.

Johnson, a five-time NBA champion, three-time MVP and 12-time All-Star with the Lakers, helped lead the Spartans to an NCAA title in 1979. He also owns a chain of movie theaters which carry his name.

From Forbes:

Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt announced an agreement Tuesday night to sell the team to a group that includes former Los Angeles Lakers star Magic Johnson and former baseball executive Stan Kasten for $2 billion, a record price for a North American sports franchise.

The Johnson group’s bid was bankrolled by Guggenheim Partners, a privately held financial firm that manages over $125 billion. If the deal is approved in federal bankruptcy court, Guggenheim CEO Mark Walter would become the controlling owner.

Mar 25, 2012

MSU Spartans need the most out of QB Andrew Maxwell in 2012

Photo: -- Andrew Maxwell has a significant role to fill in 2012 as quarterback of the MSU Spartans.

By Adam Biggers

Andrew Maxwell doesn't have to be as good as Kirk Cousins was last season.

He has to better.

Although the soon-to-be-junior only appeared during mop-up duty for the Spartans, he's shown glimpses of incredible promise. In a 44-0 win over Florida Atlantic, he went 6-for-10 with 63 yards, including a pass for 30 yards. He completed 69.2 percent of throws and touted a nearly 7-yard per completion average (18-26, 171 yards, 1 TD).
There have been mixed reviews on Maxwell, a former four-star prep quarterback at Midland High. Some are satisfied, while others think he needs to develop more.

However, Cousins, who holds nearly every quarterback-related record at Michigan State, has said Maxwell's game is further along than his was at the same stage.

"Andrew's a guy who doesn't need a whole lot of advice from me," Cousins said "He's very mature. He's been around the block. He knows what's going on, so I don't have to sit down and have any mentoring talks with him. He knows what he's doing.

"I'm excited for him, the team, the talent that will be around him, and I'm excited to see all of that put in display. I think he's going to have a great career and a great first year starting coming up this fall."

Cousins' confidence in Maxwell should be reassuring for Spartans fans. But remember, there are just two returning wide receivers with any type of real experience: Tony Lippett, who can play both sides of the ball, and Bennie Fowler, who suffered a foot injury for the majority of the 2011 season.

And also take into account that Michigan State lost offensive linemen Joel Foreman and Jared McGaha to graduation, which will put a dent in depth.

Maxwell simply has to make the transition as smooth as possible. Some quarterbacks step in and have initial success. Some freeze up and do poorly.

Cousins, although a sophomore at the time, didn't come in and immediately dazzle. It took some time getting comfortable—and he split snaps with Keith Nichol that year.

There's no doubting that Maxwell has a significant role to fill. He'll be a player looked to continue Michigan State's success under Dantonio. The Spartans have reloaded talent, and Dantonio feels they'll be competitive—even with a new quarterback.

"There were questions as we left 2010," Dantonio said. "Can we replace Greg Jones and Eric Gordon? Could we replace our punter, Aaron Bates, or [wide receiver] Mark Dell? We were able to do that and progress, so there are great possibilities. Our football team is poised for that, but at the same time we need to guard against being complacent and understand we're going to be judged game-to-game.

"It's important we bring our energy with us in everything we do, but there's no question we have confidence. There's no question we have continuity. We've built a great foundation to springboard us forward."

Follow Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

Bennie Fowler could emerge as top WR for MSU Spartans in 2012

 Photo: Orlando Sentinel -- Bennie Fowler could emerge in 2012 as one of MSU's top targets.

By Adam Biggers

Assuming he's made a full recovery from last season's foot injury, Bennie Fowler could prove to be a valuable asset at wide receiver for the Michigan State Spartans in 2012.

Fowler, a 6-foot-1, 215-pound soon-to-be junior, only appeared in two games in 2011 for Michigan State (11-3), which lost the Big Ten Championship Game to Wisconsin in December. He had just two catches (an 18- and 2-yard reception) in what could have been his break-out year if not for injury.

In 2010, as a freshman, Fowler proved his big-play ability, along with an ability to be a steady target for then-quarterback Kirk Cousins, who graduated this spring. Though he had just 14 catches and 175 receiving yards, Fowler's production came in chunks, evidenced by a 49-yard touchdown catch in the Spartans' 49-7 2011 Capital One Bowl loss to Alabama and a 24-yard grab in a 31-8 win over Minnesota, a team he had an 18-yard catch against in the 2011 regular season.

While the sample size is quite small, it does suggest that Fowler could maximize his potential as a junior come fall. He'll likely see an increase in action, too, as Keith Nichol, B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin have all moved on from Michigan State.

Fowler returns with Tony Lippett as the Spartans' two most experienced wideouts, furthermore fueling the speculation that he could be a main target in Michigan State's offense.

Considering that Michigan State was second in the Big Ten with 252 yards per game, receivers will get their fair share of chances to make plays. The Spartans had the third-highest scoring offense in the league at 31 points per game, also a good sign for receivers like Fowler—teams that score often do so by way of the air.

Follow Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

Mar 24, 2012

Former MSU Spartans LB Greg Jones reflects on rookie year with New York Giants, Super Bowl XLVI victory

Photo: Associated Press -- Former Michigan State Spartans All-American linebacker Greg Jones had a respectable rookie season with the NFL's New York Giants, who won Super Bowl XLVI.

By Adam Biggers

It wasn't draft day when Greg Jones finally realized he was in the NFL. It wasn't the day he signed his first pro contract, either.

No, Jones, who was an All-American linebacker at Michigan State, says his first "I'm here" moment came when he first stepped on the field with the New York Giants during a preseason game against the Carolina Panthers.

"I was just so excited to be out there," Jones said. "I just wanted to take advantage of that moment that I had."

Getting acclimated to the most elite level of football wasn't easy for Jones. Then again, it was probably difficult for most rookies, considering the NFL had a labor dispute that held up player meetings and didn't allow for contact with teams.

"My rookie year was definitely a learning process," Jones said. "I do wish I could have come in during OTAs and learn my defense, better understand my coaches. I was behind the eight ball a little bit the first four or five games."

The learning curve, however, was one that Jones would overcome. Although his Giants lost their season-opener 28-14 to the Washington Redskins, Jones finished with four tackles. During Week 4's 31-27 victory over the Arizona Cardinals, Jones turned in a season-high six tackles (three solo, three assisted).

The desire to constantly improve fuels Jones, who was known as a "high-motor" player while at Michigan State. He ended the season with 31 tackles after a respectable showing on the Giants' special teams unit.
Jones added seven more tackles in the preseason, including three in the Giants' 20-17 NFC Championship Game victory over the San Francisco 49ers.

"Every time I'm out there, I believe in myself. I believe in my teammates. I believe we can win. It's constant excitement. I'm just happy to be out there," Jones said.

The Giants' run to a Super Bowl XLVI title put the stamp on a productive rookie season. However, getting there was a test for Jones and his teammates. The Giants didn't run away with an NFC East title and struggled just to make the playoffs, finishing the regular season at 9-7.

But the Giants bonded behind the play of quarterback Eli Manning. And the rest took care of itself.

"We got tired of losing," Jones said with a laugh. "I think the New Orleans game (a 49-24 loss) was a wake-up call for us. The next game, we played Green Bay (then 11-0) and almost beat them (lost 38-35).

"Everyone was like 'Man, we were right there.' We just started to buy in, next think you know, we were in the playoffs. We never got too far ahead of ourselves. We took the time to prepare for the team we were up against and gave our best effort."

Follow Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

NBA draft board has MSU's Draymond Green as 28th overall pick of 2012 draft

Photo: Associated Press -- Draymond Green (right) had a fine four-year career with the Michigan State Spartans. He appeared in one national title game (2009) and two Final Fours (2009 and 2010). He's a candidate for the 2012 Naismith Award.

Adam Biggers

After a spectacular four-year career and 2012 NCAA Tournament with Michigan State, NBA draft experts are giving senior Draymond Green a second look.

The 6-foot-6 senior, who won the Big Ten Player of the Year Award, was once thought to be a late second-round draft pick. However, NBA Draft Net's latest 2012 NBA Draft projection has Green being selected 28th overall by the Miami Heat.

Green demonstrated an much-improved accuracy from beyond the arc this year and was the first player from a major conference since former Wake Forest star Tim Duncan to average 15 points, 10 rebounds and three assists per game.

Green did it all this season for the Spartans, who were ousted from the NCAA Tournament on Thursday night after a 57-44 Sweet 16 loss to the Louisville Cardinals. He is widely regarded as one of the finest leaders to play at Michigan State under coach Tom Izzo.

NBA Draft Net says this about Green:

Green came into Michigan State without any perceived NBA potential, but has steadily grown on NBA scouts. He lacks ideal size and athleticism but is one of those "strong willed" players that finds a way to overcome his athletic shortcomings. His basketball IQ and feel for the game are off the charts. He's a little ball dominant, and there are questions whether he really has the speed to play the 3, but as a high intangibles guy, there's a good chance a team in the late first round rolls the dice on this savvy senior.
NBA Comparison: Jared Dudley

Michigan State Spartans should continue to work Derrick Nix into game plan next season

Photo: Associated Press -- Derrick Nix was a valuable contributor for the Michigan State Spartans this season. He should continue to be valuable next season if the Spartans stay committed to an inside game.

By Adam Biggers

Derrick Nix was a key to the Michigan State Spartans' success this year, and he should be even more valuable next season.

The slimmed-down, 6-foot-9, 270-pound junior improved his overall game, but relied mostly on his sheer girth to power his way to baskets around the rim. Nix, who played his prep ball at Detroit Pershing, helped re-establish a post game the Spartans lacked for years.

In the past, Nix appeared to play below his potential. He would get frustrated and put himself in foul trouble. But this season, Nix fouled out just once (74-69 loss to Duke) and demonstrated a matured comprehension of his role with the Spartans and improved understanding of the game in general.

Nix put up nearly eight points per game as the Spartans marched their way into the Sweet 16, more than doubling his average from his sophomore season of 2.7 points per game.

Nix's left-handed hook near the basket was the best weapon in his arsenal. However, he was able to attack the basket and rebound the ball with more authority, too.

A main concern is consistency, though. While Nix quickly became a fan favorite this season, he didn't have the game most would have expected him to Thursday, when the Spartans fell 57-44 to the fourth-seeded Louisville Cardinals in a Sweet 16 battle in Phoenix.

Nix had four points and four rebounds in 19 minutes, but was a non-factor in the paint. The Cardinals became one of few teams to out-rebound the Spartans this year and seemingly eliminated any inside advantage the Spartans thought they had. Nix didn't have one foul Thursday. That could be viewed as disciplined play, but it could also suggest that Nix wasn't as aggressive as he should have been.

Typically a guard-driven offense, the Spartans greatly benefited from their inside game in 2011-12. Much of that success was due to Nix, who scored in double-figures 14 times, including a career-high 18 in the Spartans' 89-67 second-round tournament victory over LIU-Brooklyn.

He'll be a senior next season, and there are more guards on the way. However, the Spartans should remain committed to the inside game and further explore Nix's potential. He could become one of the most dominant big men in the Big Ten.

Follow Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

Mar 23, 2012

Spartans Take Home Opener Against Oakland

Photo from Sean Gagnier

By Sean Gagnier

Tony Bucciferro toed the slab at McLane Baseball Stadium at Kobs Field for the first time this season and he refused to give up an earned run to the Golden Grizzlies of Oakland. The Spartans ace took the ball from Coach Jake Boss Jr. and went seven solid innings in a 2-1 Spartans win.

Oakland was able to plate their only runner of the game in the first inning when Tim Ryan reached base on a throwing error by Justin Scanlon. From there the Grizzlies showed how aggressive they play ball as Ryan stole second followed quickly by another swipe of third. Aaron Cieslak then singled Ryan in, an unearned run, before himself stealing second. Bucciferro was then able to get Spencer Marentette to ground out to end the inning.

Michigan State was unable to get a runner home until the third when Jared Hook hit a lead off double to center ahead of a Anthony Cheky sacrifice bunt to move him to third. With Hook on third Ryan Jones flew out to center to allow Hook to tag and score.

Bucciferro took advantage of the aggressive Oakland team, picking two runners off first base during his seven innings of work. During his time on the mound Bucciferro allowed seven hits, even pitching out of a bases loaded one out jam in the second, while walking two and fanning four.

Jeff Kinley entered the game in relief of Bucciferro in the eighth and retired Oakland without allowing a hit while walking one. Tony Wieber, the designated hitter for the game, drove in Jordan Keur on a double to left. Keur reached base on a walk before being plated by Wieber. Jimmy Pickens then struck out looking before Kevin Goergen grounded out to third.

In the ninth Coach Boss turned to David Garner who walked one and retired one before being hit by a throw from catcher John Martinez.

With an Oakland player on first he took off for second and Martinez rose and fired towards second base to try to catch him stealing, but instead caught Garner square in the back causing him to double over. He attempted to get back on the mound but was unable to which meant that Tony Wieber took over for the last 2/3 of the inning.

Wieber faced two batters in his time in the ninth, he struck one out looking before getting Todd Dunham to pop out to third to end the game.

Former Spartans WR Keith Nichol ready for next step after Pro Day; Greg Jones gives Nichol shining endorsement

 Photo: Associated Press -- Keith Nichol hauls in a touchdown catch against Western Michigan.

By Adam Biggers

Keith Nichol couldn't help but be pleased with his performance March 14 during Michigan State's NFL Pro Day in East Lansing.

The multi-tooled former Spartans wide receiver set out to show scouts what he was capable of—and he did. Shuttle runs, sprints, catching drills—Nichol excelled at them all, displaying his A-game to those on-hand at the Spartans' training facility near Spartans Stadium.

"I did what I thought I was capable of doing—stuff people weren't sure I was able to do, or do as well," said Nichol, who is best known for his game-winning Hail Mary catch against Wisconsin in October. "I think I showed up and did well. I think I really proved that I am one of the most, if not the most, versatile in this draft class."

However, Nichol is elated that his Pro Day is in the past.

"It was a good day, and I'm glad that I was able to perform the way I did—but I'm glad I have it behind me," Nichol said.

The NFL Draft is just weeks away in April. There has been a "growing interest" in Nichol, but he doesn't want to get ahead of himself, so he didn't disclose the names of the teams he's talked to. The draft is like a "poker game," he says. Although he's optimistic about his chances come April, he's staying humble and awaiting the outcome.

He could be taken as a special teams player, or he could be taken as a utility player. But getting to the NFL is all that matters.

"Everything I've read is (that I'm considered) a late-round pick or free agent," Nichol said. "It's very realistic. I'm prepared for both. At the end of the day, it's about making the team, making the roster and being productive."

Greg Jones, a former All-American linebacker at Michigan State, is more than confident in Nichol, his good friend. Jones was a late-round draft pick taken by the New York Giants in 2011. He went on to win Super Bowl XLVI with the team as a valuable contributor on special teams, finishing the season with 31 tackles.

Like with Nichol, there were doubts about Jones' potential in the NFL. At 6-feet-even and 248 pounds, he was considered undersized for an NFL linebacker. Critics weren't sure where he would find his niche. But he proved them wrong, and he feels Nichol will do the same.

"He's just a pure athlete," Jones said. "He also played quarterback for awhile, he played wide receiver. I think (his potential) is endless—what he can do. Not to mention, he can play special teams. He can do it all. He's probably one of the most versatile guys out there."

Jones was impressed on how quickly Nichol picked up Michigan State's offense after transferring from Oklahoma in 2009. Nichol's aptitude, along with athleticism, will serve him well at the next level, says Jones.

"He can basically do anything—wherever you want to put him at," Jones said. "He's definitely going to be a utility player. As a far as a receiver, I think he's a guy who can come in on third down and keep the chains moving. I think he's somebody (NFL teams) can use."

Regardless of what happens, or what position he ends up playing, Nichol is ready to meet upcoming challenges head-on. He's become used to proving his abilities, and doing so in the NFL won't be any different than what it was in college.

"Ultimately, you don't do it to prove people wrong, you do it for yourself,' Nichol said. "You do it for the people around you, your family, the people I really care about. You do it for yourself."

Spartans' Sweet 16 loss to Louisville was 'hard to watch' for ex-Spartans football players Greg Jones and Keith Nichol

Photo: Adreian Payne (left) and Draymond Green celebrate a Big Ten title. Their Spartans were ousted from the NCAA tournament Thursday night after a 57-44 loss to Louisville.

By Adam Biggers

Loyal Michigan State Spartans fans were justifiably upset about their team's 57-44 Sweet 16 loss Thursday night to the fourth-seeded Louisville Cardinals in Phoenix.

The Spartans, who were the West Region's top-seeded team, were primed to make a run to the 2012 Final Four, primarily due to the spectacular play of senior Draymond Green, who won the Big Ten Player of the Year Award and was named one of four finalists for the Naismith Award, given to the country's top performer.

The Cardinals propped coach Rick Pitino's Sweet 16 record to 10-0 and seemingly did everything right against the Spartans. They stopped Michigan State's high-powered offense with an overwhelming defensive presence, led by center Gorgui Dieng's seven blocks, and dictated the tempo from the opening tip.

But Spartans fans weren't the only ones taken by surprise Thursday night. Keith Nichol and Greg Jones, both former Michigan State football standouts, were heartbroken as well. The pair of good friends watched the game together in Nichol's East Lansing apartment and couldn't believe their eyes as the Cardinals walked off the court as victors.

The Spartans' loss was difficult to digest, to say the least. However, seeing Green, a player both Nichol and Jones have the utmost respect for, go out on the losing end was the toughest part.

"It was really hard for the whole team, but (especially for) one of the key guys: Draymond Green," said Jones, who won Super Bowl XLVI with the New York Giants in February. "All the work he's done… it was tough to watch. I was almost sick to my stomach. I never like to see a Spartans team go down. They just didn't have the magic they normally have."

The loss was a little more personal for Nichol, who lives "right down the hall" from Green, Brandon Wood and Adreian Payne. Nichol ran into the trio on a almost-daily basis and frequently exchanged words with Green.

Nichol had a stellar NFL Pro Day on March 14 in East Lansing, where he's staying to work out prior to the NFL Draft. But he won't be around too much longer. He would like one last chance to tell Green, Wood and Payne how well they played this season.

He wants to tell Green how exciting it was to watch him play in a Michigan State uniform.

"I hope I get an opportunity to see those guys, and Draymond, before I go," Nichol said in a somber tone. "I really feel for him, and I hope he's able to smile about his career at Michigan State. It was incredible. He deserves to smile."

Every NCAA athlete wants to end their career with a win—an intense competitive drive won't allow anything less, says Nichol, who felt the exactly the same prior to his final game, the Spartans' 33-30 overtime win over the Georgia Bulldogs in the 2012 Outback Bowl.

"The only thing you want to do is go out on top," Nichol said. "As a Michigan State athlete, you want your final senior game to be a victory. The only way that would happen for them would be if they were national champions. I wanted that for them.

"When we won, when I walked off the field for the last time, I was happy. I'm sure (Green) has a bittersweet feeling. But the sweet part is finishing out as a Spartan."

Follow Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.

Mar 20, 2012

Michigan State Spartans coach Tom Izzo is 'extremely valuable,' especially in March, says MSU legend Shawn Respert

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

By Adam Biggers

The value of a great coach can never be underestimated, especially during the NCAA Tournament.

Tom Izzo, Michigan State's head coach, is renowned for his sideline savvy and ability to get the most out of his players—and that becomes all the more evident each March when Izzo, who has coached his way to a national title and six Final Fours, continuously has his Spartans in the hunt for glory.

For the 10th time during his tenure, Izzo has Michigan State, the West Region's top-seeded team, in the Sweet 16. He's two wins away from the 2012 Final Four in New Orleans, but first has to derail Rick Pitino's fourth-seeded Louisville Cardinals on Thursday in Phoenix.

Izzo's presence alone is probably worth at least a few points each game. He knows what to do, and when to do it. Far from just a coach, Izzo is an institution—a figurehead of the hardwood worth his weight in gold come March Madness.

"He's extremely valuable," said Spartans legend Shawn Respert, who remembers Izzo as a determined assistant under the iconic Jud Heathcote.

In the trenches year-in and year-out, Izzo's mastery of managing talent is quite difficult to contend with. Out-witting "Mr. March" is nearly as challenging as winning the tournament itself. It's safe to assume that potential opposing coaches would rather see the Spartans bow out early than devise a game plan to knock Izzo out of his comfort zone.
"He's been (to the NCAA Tournament) 15 straight times and has 17 years of head coaching experience—he's at the point where he's seen it all," Respert said. "You're not going to surprise Tom Izzo with a new offense or new out-of-bounds plays."

At times, however, Michigan State doesn't benefit from Izzo's tact for Xs and Os. Instead, players reap reward from digesting what they're told and making their own wise decisions on the court.

"Coach Izzo's magic is that it's not about him knowing it all—it's how he can relate that (to players)," said Respert, who now works for the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves as a player mentor and developer. "That's where Michigan State sets itself apart from a team that makes the tournament every now and then."

Follow Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.

Mar 19, 2012

Draymond Green is the 'epitome' of great Michigan State Spartans basketball players, says MSU legend Shawn Respert

Photo: Associated Press via


By Adam Biggers

Michigan State Spartans basketball followers have already dubbed senior Draymond Green as one of the program's greatest players, and his career hasn't even ended.

Coach Tom Izzo has spoken highly of Green, who won the 2012 Big Ten Player of the Year Award and is in the running for the 2012 Naismith Award, given annually to the country's top player.

Fans, media, coaches, and analysts alike, all agree that "Day-Day" is a special talent. But don't take their word for it—because in such a case, perhaps the old saying "It takes one to know one" comes into play.

Enter Shawn Respert, who is without a doubt a Michigan State legend. He holds the program's career-scoring record with 2,531 points and was voted as The Sporting News' Player of the Year in 1995. Many view Respert as the premier pure scorer to ever wear a Michigan State jersey.

Respert, who was a two-time All-American, is well aware of his former school's rich basketball history, citing players like Scott Skiles, Eric Snow, Steve Smith, Magic Johnson and Greg Kelser, among others, as the benchmark players in Michigan State lore.

And when it comes to the discussion of Michigan State's best-of-the-best, Respert's opinion carries an elephant's weight.

"I think Draymond is the epitome when we talk about Spartans greats," Respert said Monday. "He came in is as a highly-touted recruit, but there was nothing that would guarantee that he'd have the type of career he has had.

"He continued to improve and make his teammates better. That's the key when you talk about Spartans basketball—the guys who come in and blue-collar their way to greatness. I have a huge level of respect for him."

Green has essentially put the Spartans on his back during the NCAA Tournament, serving as a do-all tool which has the Spartans in the Sweet 16 for the 10th time under Coach Izzo. Michigan State, top-seeded in the West Region, has the opportunity to make it to the Final Four in New Orleans, but it has to first oust the fourth-seeded Louisville Cardinals on Thursday in Phoenix.

Green opened March Madness with a triple-double last Friday against LIU-Brooklyn and promptly followed with a double-double in a hard-fought 65-61 victory Sunday over the ninth-seeded St. Louis Billikens.

Respert says that Kentucky's shot-blocking phenom freshman Anthony Davis might be the "best" player in the country when it comes to pure dominance at a single position. However, he says that Green is the most valuable to his team, and one of the most versatile.

Kentucky would likely survive and contend in the tournament without Davis, who is surrounded by four- and five-star recruits.

Green, on the other hand, transforms Michigan State from a "top 15 or 20 team" to a national contender. And for that, he should be greatly considered for the Naismith Award.

"Draymond Green gets a little bit of an edge in terms of value to a team that could be average without him," Respert said.

Seeing "Day-Day" excel on the court has been enjoyable for Respert. However, seeing Green flourish after his time at Michigan State—whether it be on the court in the NBA, or life in general—is what Respert looks forward to most.

"We want our guys to go out in the world and do great things, whatever it is," said Respert, who works for the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves as a player mentor and developer. "He's a guy that you don't worry about being successful after the game basketball."

Follow Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81, or, reach him by e-mail at Adam would like to extend a special "thank you" to Shawn Respert for taking time to talk Spartans basketball.

Michigan State commit Matt Costello shows skill in recent video by @PrepHoopsTV

Jay Jensen, founder of @PrepHoops TV, never fails to deliver high-quality footage of some of the area's top prep basketball players.

Jensen's latest installment is of Michigan State commit Matt Costello, Bay City Western's do-all senior and Mr. Basketball candidate. Costello had offers from a handful of Division I programs but ultimately chose to don the green and white for coach Tom Izzo.

Follow Jensen on Twitter @PrepHoopsTV, and check out the video of Costello doing what he does best.

Mar 18, 2012

Spartans Sweep Cincinnati Before Homestand

From the Lansing State Journal

By Sean Gagnier
Saturday, Mar. 17   Spartans v. Cincinnati        Game 2 of 3

Last week the Spartans endured a 16-inning marathon of a game, started by Andrew Waszak, who went seven of those innings, and beat Seton Hall. On Saturday, Waszak was once again on the mound and the Spartans game against the Cincinnati Bearcats extended all the way to the 14th inning where John Martinez drove in the winning run to give the Spartans the 5-4 victory.

After being swept in College Station, Tex. in Feb. the Spartans have won five of their last six games and with their latest extra-innings win improve to 3-0 in extra inning games on the season.

Waszak again went seven innings on Saturday, giving up two runs on five hits while fanning four Bearcats. It was another quality start for the Spartans No. 2 pitcher who now boasts a 1.34 ERA on the season.

Michigan State was leading 4-3 heading into the bottom of the ninth and with their shutdown closer Tony Wieber toeing the rubber the Spartans thought they were in the clear. Wieber however struggled in his outing and the Bearcats were able to scratch two runs across off the pitcher who hadn't allowed a run in his last seven appearances.

With the game tied at four the Spartans called on Bryce Jenney out of the bullpen to keep the Bearcats from rallying in extras - he did just that. Jenney tossed three scoreless and handed the ball to the eventual winning pitcher Ryan Martin, his first career win.

The Bearcats threatened but did not score off Martin in the 13th. Martin allowed a single which due to an error and a flyout placed a runner on third with two outs, but Martin was able to get the next batter to pop out.

Torsten Boss reached base in the 14th when the Cincinnati shortstop bobbled the ball and allowed him to reach first on an error on a fielder's choice. With one out Jordan Keur bunted Boss over to second where he was able to score off a Martinez single up the middle.

Sunday, Mar. 18     Spartans v. Cincinnati    Game 3 of 3

The Spartans came out swinging on Sunday, compiling 16 hits off Cincinnati pitching while scoring nine runs in a 9-4 victory.With the win the Spartans have won the last six of seven and completed a sweep of the Bearcats.

Mike Theodore made his third start of the season for the Spartans but was still looking for his first win despite having allowed just one earned run and boasting a 0.89 ERA. Theodore had not enjoyed much run support in his previous starts, but Sunday was different.

Michigan State was able to plate five runs in the first two innings and give Theodore the support he needed. Theodore allowed two runs off six hits on the day and came home with his first victory as a Spartan.

John Martinez continued his hot streak and drove in another RBI in the seventh to give the Spartans a 7-2 lead before Jordan Keur singled in another in the eighth. With the score at 8-2 Jimmy Pickens drew a bases loaded walk later in the eighth to drive the score to 9-2.

Sunday was the first collegiate appearance for Mick VanVossen, drafted in 2011 by the Texas Rangers, when he relieved Theodore in the sixth inning. In his 2.2 innings of work VanVossen allowed just one run on four hits while fanning and walking two apiece.

The sweep of Cincinnati was the 11th sweep of a series for the Spartans under Coach Jake Boss Jr., which continues to allow Boss to add to the school record in that category.

Michigan State's Draymond Green is a worthy Naismith finalist because of well-rounded game

Classic photo of a young Draymond Green found on an Internet search.

By Adam Biggers

Michigan State senior forward Draymond Green has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that he's one of the most valuable players in all of college basketball.

The Big Ten Player of the Year is having a monstrous 2012 NCAA Tournament, evidenced by a 24-point, 12-rebound and 10-assist showing in the Spartans' 89-67 win Friday over LIU-Brooklyn and a 16-point, 13-rebound and six-assist performance Sunday in the Spartans' hard-fought 65-61 win over the ninth-seeded St. Louis Billikens.

Michigan State's unquestioned, heart-and-soul leader has his team primed for a run to the Final Four in New Orleans, but Green and the Spartans must first oust coach Rick Pitino's fourth-seeded Louisville Cardinals on Thursday in a Sweet 16 pairing in Phoenix.

Green is the first player since former Wake Forest star Tim Duncan to average 15 points, 10 rebounds and three assists per game. He is widely considered one of the most versatile players in the nation.

He's certainly worthy of the Naismith Award—which is given annually to college hoops' top player—and his efforts were recognized Sunday night by the Metro Atlanta Chamber, which named Green as a finalist for the coveted honor along with Kentucky's Anthony Davis, Creighton's Doug McDermott and Kansas' Thomas Robinson.

One could argue the idea of Green being more important to his team than the aforementioned finalists. But Creighton probably wouldn't have made the tournament without McDermott, and Kansas wouldn't be as dangerous without Robinson.

Kentucky, full of blue-chip athletes, would likely still be a national title contender—at least a Final Four-worthy team—without Davis, in all likelihood. The Wildcats are stacked with four- and five-star recruits that most schools would drool over.

But who is the most valuable out of the bunch?

Davis is averaging about 15 points, 10 rebounds and 4.5 blocks per game in the tournament. His block average is a bit skewed, though, since he had seven in the Wildcats' 81-66 second-round tournament win over 16th-seeded Western Kentucky.

Davis, who has an astonishing 166 blocks this season, is a menace in the paint. The 6-foot-10 freshman is almost impossible to contain and is a nightmare to match up with. He's the most dominant player in the game by far.

But like NCAA football's Heisman Trophy, the Naismith Award doesn't always go to the "best" player. And one could argue that Davis' game is limited compared to the likes of Green, who contributes in a vast variety of ways each and every game. When is the last time you saw Davis mop the floor during a game? Green really does it all.

Robinson is averaging about 15 points and 11 rebounds per game. He's a bit more versatile than Davis, who is a blocking machine, but his game is more of the post variety. He's a bruising scorer—getting to the rim and living in the paint is his bread and butter. Robinson doesn't routinely run the break like Green, nor does he have the knack for delivering Magic Johnson-like assists (a skill Green has flashed now and then).

If the Naismith Award was designated for the most valuable and most versatile player, Green would be the logical choice to win it. Maybe the Naismith committee will reward Green for his Swiss Army Knife-like skill set. Duncan was a jack of all trades for the most part, and he won the Naismith in 1997.

Follow Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

Michigan State Spartans outlast St. Louis Billikens, advance to 10th Sweet 16 under Tom Izzo

Photo: Associated Press

By Adam Biggers

After Friday's physical 61-54 win over the Memphis Tigers, the No. 8-seeded team in the West Region, St. Louis Billikens forward Brian Conklin said his team's game plan was going to be the same Sunday against the top-seeded Michigan State Spartans.

"We’re going to muck up the game like we did yesterday and play dirty basketball,” Conklin said.

And the ninth-seeded Billikens executed their strategy to near perfection Sunday in Columbus, only to fall short to the Draymond Green-led Spartans, 65-61.

St. Louis fought as hard as legendary heavyweight boxer Joe Louis during the loss, creating opportunities to score points at the line and maximizing an inside advantage due to the absence of Spartans 6-foot-5 freshman Branden Dawson, who is sidelined with an ACL injury.

St. Louis' Dwayne Evans scored just seven points, but four of them came late and in the paint -- where he would have likely been checked by Dawson.

Blow after blow, hit after hit, St. Louis appeared ready to stop Michigan State in its tracks. But with 1:37 remaining, Keith Appling hit a 3-pointer from the right corner -- assisted by Green, who finished with 16 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and two steals -- to give Michigan State a 58-51 lead.

Although coach Rick Majerus' Billikens scrapped to the end, they couldn't wear down the Spartans, who are headed to their 10th Sweet 16 under coach Tom Izzo. Michigan State faces the fourth-seeded Louisville Cardinals on Thursday in Phoenix for a trip to the Elite 8.

To expect the Spartans to completely ravish the Billikens would have been illogical, considering they topped an athletic Memphis team just two days ago -- a team most had slated to face Michigan State, which had just one full day of rest after Friday's 87-69 win over LIU-Brooklyn.

However, most would agree that St. Louis turned in one of the gutsiest performances of the 2012 NCAA Tournament. The Billikens just wouldn't go away, hitting late 3-pointers to keep the game interesting and using timeouts to extend it. Majerus wasn't going to fade out, and he did an admirable job managing what little time he had left.

The Spartans probably didn't deserve to win Sunday. But then again, who really "deserves" to win in March Madness? Nothing is a given, just ask Duke and Missouri, both No. 2 seeds which fell to 15th-seeded teams over the weekend.

Sunday's win raises a couple questions regarding Michigan State's probability of going to the Final Four.

1.) How will the Spartans respond if they run into another team that poses a mismatch, especially at the three and four positions? Louisville has seven players as tall, or taller, than Dawson. One could expect that Cardinals coach Rick Pitino will use that perceived advantage against the Spartans, who have five regulars that are 6-5 or taller.

2.) Are the Spartans capable of escaping with another close win? Well, that could be debated. A team as talented as Michigan State is most definitely equipped to fight through games like Sunday's duel with St. Louis. However, the Spartans won't have the luxury of doing it against one of the "little guys."

If Michigan State gets past Louisville, it then has to prepare for either Marquette -- which has 6-6 Jae Crowder, a challenge to guard, to say the least -- or Florida. Playing like they did Sunday -- shooting just 64 percent from the line and narrowly winning the rebound battle, 29-25 -- won't be enough for the Spartans against the Gators or Golden Eagles.

Follow Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.