The Michigan State football team is 6-2 after getting waxed by Ohio State this past Saturday, and Spartans basketball coach Tom Izzo has noticed.
"I was just talking to Mark Dantonio," Izzo said last week, referring to Michigan State's football coach. "It's probably one of the most exciting years we've had here, as far as football goes, in a while. I told him he's put the pressure on me to have a good season, too, and that's fine. It's a good way to start the season. You should want to start every season with expectations."
Expectation are indeed high for a program that has been to four Final Fours in the last ten years and made it to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA tournament last season before being bounced by eventual runner-up Memphis. With three starters returning from last year's 27-9 team, Michigan State seems poised to challenge for the Big Ten Conference title and make a run deep into the NCAAs.
"Most people have us in the top ten, top 15 anyway, and I do think it is deserved, a privilege and respect for the program," Izzo said. "I think all of those things are positive things that are going to benefit us. Expectations being high, I think with a few more veterans and with a little bit more quality of depth that has played, we'll be able to handle those expectations."
Michigan State seemingly has everything it takes to get to the Final Four, including a veteran frontcourt that welcomes one of the top freshmen in the nation, an extremely quick backcourt and a deep bench. Topping it off is Izzo, who has a 305-130 record in 13 seasons, capped by a national championship in 2000.
Michigan State has two veterans in the frontcourt in junior forward Raymar Morgan, the team MVP last season, and senior center Goran Suton. Morgan averaged 14.0 points and 6.1 rebounds last season while developing into the Spartans' go-to guy on offense. Suton, a beast on the boards, averaged 9.1 points and 8.2 rebounds. Morgan was 154th in the nation in effective field goal percentage (57.3) and 178th in free throw rate (53.7) while Suton was 42nd in offensive rebounding percentage (13.5) and 72nd in defensive rebounding percentage (22.6).
They will be joined by highly touted freshman forward Delvon Roe, who is recovered from August arthroscopic knee surgery. Many Michigan State observers believe Roe is the missing piece that could send the Spartans back to the Final Four.
Sophomore guard Kalin Lucas takes over as the leader of the backcourt after a fine freshman season in which he scored 10.3 points a game. Durrell Summers, another sophomore, is expected to take a step up after averaging 4.9 points last winter.
Michigan State also has quality depth with senior guard Travis Walton, sophomore guard Chris Allen, freshman guard Korie Lucious, senior forward Marquise Gray and sophomore center Tom Herzog. Walton (84th, 30.3) and Lucas (92nd, 30.0) both ranked in the top 100 in the nation in assist rate last season.
It would be quite fitting for Michigan State to get to the Final Four this season, as it will be held at Ford Field in Detroit, The Spartans will get a chance to play at the home of the NFL's Detroit Lions on Dec. 3 when they face consensus No. 1 North Carolina as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Izzo, unlike most coaches, won't downplay the importance of the Final Four being played in the Spartans' home state. In fact, he relishes the idea of what it would be like to play in front of what would certainly be a partisan Michigan State crowd with a chance to win the national championship. After all, Izzo grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and was a long-time assistant coach at Michigan State under Jud Heathcote, taking over as head coach when Heathcote retired.
"I always dream of the Final Four," Izzo said. "If you don't dream it, you don't achieve it. I always figure this program should be in a position where we always have a chance and I do feel we have a chance this season. We went a lot of years here when we had no chance.
"I've been through enough that I understand how good you've to be, how lucky you've got to be and how the stars have to line up. I think there would be nothing better than when my career is over to consider my greatest day as a coach here as the weekend we were in Detroit and got to play in the Final Four. That would be bigger than when you won the national championship because it states how important the family atmosphere, the hometown, and the state of Michigan are to me and our program."
Big Salary Questioned
Dalonte Hill isn't a well-known name to casual fans and he has not landed on the list of hot young head coaching candidates.
Yet, according to Rivals.com, the Kansas State assistant is making a whopping $420,000 this season. While coaches' salaries at private schools are not available through public records, Hill is believed to be earning more than any assistant in the country. His salary is more than the entire three-man assistant coaching staffs at such powers as Ohio State, Washington State and Wisconsin.
Hill made $400,000 last season and will make $420,000 each of the next four years as part of an unprecedented five-year, $2.08-million contract.
So, how exactly did Hill put himself in position to be so well-compensated? Well, he was Michael Beasley's former AAU coach in the Washington, D.C. area and former Kansas State coach Bob Huggins brought Hill to Manhattan in 2006 to lure his star pupil to the Wildcats. The move worked as Beasley helped lead the Wildcats to the NCAA tournament last season for the first time since 1996 before entering the NBA draft following his freshman year.
"I'm sure there is some resentment," Hill said. "There are some guys in the business who have accomplished a lot of things. This just shows it's a new day and age. You know, for a long time Michael Jordan was paid just $2 million a year. There are some great assistants out there who deserve it but it's not my place to give it to them. I just hope they're not mad at me for getting what I got."
When Frank Martin was promoted to head coach prior to last season after serving as an assistant under Huggins--who left to take the head coaching job at West Virginia, his alma mater--Hill was given the big contract to keep from jumping to the Mountaineers and ensuring that Beasley would stay. Kansas State athletic director Bob Krause says he does not regret paying Hill that much, nor is he worried it will have a ripple effect on the salary structure for assistants throughout college basketball.
"It was a unique set of circumstances at a given point in time," Krause said. "It met our institutional needs as well as our staff's needs and was the right thing to do for us."
The General Lurks
Bob Knight, college basketball's all-time winningest coach, says he is not necessarily retired although he stepped down at Texas Tech last Feb. 4 and handed the program over to his son and top assistant, Pat Knight.
"I got nothing else to do. It would depend on the circumstances," Knight said of a possible return to coaching while appearing on "Mickey's Corner" on Indianapolis public television station WFYI.
Knight is remembered as much for his temper tantrums than his 902 career victories. However, he said he does not worry about his legacy.
"I simply tried to do what I thought was right," Knight said. "I never really particularly cared about what other people thought except those I knew who knew what they were talking about."
Phil Martelli has often said he wants the Saint Joseph's coaching job to be his last. It very well could be now that the 54-year-old has signed a four-year extension that keeps him under contract through the 2015-16 season. Martelli, who is beginning his 14th season with the Hawks, has 261 career wins and an outstanding relationship with Saint Joseph's president Father Timothy Lannon and athletic director Don DiJulia.
"There's always been an atmosphere by Father Lannon and by Don to acknowledge not just the results on the floor but maybe the way Saint Joseph's is represented," Martelli told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "They're always keeping any eye on what's going on in the (Atlantic 10). We want to be thought of as a program that is at the top of the league.
"That involves the facilities upgrade, the assistant coaches' contracts and other considerations that go with that. It's really been an ongoing effort to say we want to be at the top of the league and that's just not on-the-court performance."
- In some terribly sad news, North Carolina-Asheville 7'9" senior center Kenny George's career appears to be overly after he was forced to have part of his right foot amputated because of an infection. He averaged 12.0 points, 7.4 rebounds, 3.3 blocked shots and 19.8 minutes a game last season. George was third in the nation in percentage of blocked shots (17.3), seventh in defensive rebounding percentage (29.8), 131st in offensive rating (117.5) and 171st in percentage of shots (28.4).
- Louisville senior forward Terrence Williams will miss four to six weeks after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. Williams averaged 11.1 points, 7.2 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 35.9 minutes last season. He was 43rd in the nation in percentage of minutes played with 89.5.
- Virginia junior guard Calvin Baker is out indefinitely with a stress reaction in his foot. He averaged 8.6 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists and 25.3 minutes a game last season.
- Providence junior center Ray Hall's career is over because of an injury, details of which the school declined to provide because of medical privacy laws.
- Georgia freshman guard Ebukah Anyaorah will miss the season after undergoing surgery to repair a stress fracture in his leg.
- Charlotte freshman guard Shamarr Bowden will miss the season with a fractured kneecap.
Odds and Ends
Southern California is still waiting to see if the NCAA will grant North Carolina transfer Alex Stephenson a waiver that will allow him to be eligible this season instead of having to sit out a year. Stephenson, a Los Angeles-area native, feels he should be given a hardship waiver because he transferred to be closer to his father, who has heart problems. Stephenson averaged 4.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 14.5 minutes last season for the Tar Heels … San Diego State senior forward Lorenzo Wade has been suspended indefinitely by coach Steve Fisher after pleading not guilty to a felony charge of stealing a television from a woman's home. Wade averaged 14.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 32.3 minutes a game last season while ranking 118th in the nation in percentage of possessions (28.2) and 171st in assist rate (26.0) … Utah State coach Stew Morrill signed a contract extension that runs through the 2014-15 season. He has a 237-86 record in 10 seasons with the Aggies ... ESPN Regional has announced the creation of another in-season tournament, the Diamond Head Classic, an eight-team affair that will be played during the Christmas holidays and hosted by the University of Hawaii in Honolulu. Hawaii will also continue to host the Rainbow Classic, a December staple for 45 years, though it is expected to be reduced to a four-team tournament and be played during the first weekend of the season … The Dallas Cowboys' new stadium, which will open in Arlington, Texas, next year, is expected to play host to its first college basketball game, between Texas and North Carolina, in December, 2009. Texas is also expected to play a return game against North Carolina, likely in Greensboro, N.C., during the 2010-11 season.
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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