It may be the off-season for the Lions, but that doesn't mean there isn't something to discuss especially coming off a 10-6 season. Check here for commentary and updates on roster moves, free agency and, yes, the draft.
Neitzel a pro?
Had an interesting discussion yesterday during MSU's post-practice interviews and Tom Izzo's weekly press conference on whether Drew Neitzel is a future NBA player.
Izzo, to no one's surprise, said yes, he believes Neitzel, all 6-foot of him (OK, probably more 5-11, but he's listed at 6-foot) is a future pro point guard, and Neitzel, MSU's leading scorer at 18.6 ppg, said he hopes to play in the NBA one day - and prove another legion of doubters wrong.
I was skeptical at the start of the year. Neitzel isn't the quickest guard in college hoops, he's not great at getting his own shot, and he's not a lock-down defender, though he's more than adequate in that area.
Still, the more I think about it, the more I'm convinced Izzo is right. Look around the NBA at guys like Travis Diener (in his second year with the Magic after a successful career at Marquette) and even one-dimensional former Duke gua
rd J.J. Redick, the 11th pick in last year's NBA draft. Neitzel compares favorably to both. He has great court vision, even better basketball instincts, and was shooting a solid 43 percent from 3-point range entering Tuesday's game.
NBAdraft.net predicts Neitzel as an early second-round pick in the 2008 NBA draft. I'm not forecasting all-stardom for MSU's leading man, but he'll carve out a nice little career for himself as a backup point guard who goes for the occasional 15 points, mark my words.
Didn't get a chance to squeeze it into my basketball story yesterday because of all the craziness surrounding the Michigan State-Chicago State game, but the loudest cheers of the night came when new MSU football coach Mark Dantonio was introduced at halftime.
Dantonio talked for only a minute or two, said he was "very, very happy to be back in green," then said he has three goals for the program: to graduate players, make them fixtures in the community after their eligibility is done, and win a championship.
"We'll see how we're going to measure up in Spartan Stadium on Nov. 3," Dantonio said, referring of course to MSU's home date with Michigan, quite possibly the nation's preseason No. 1 team next year.
On the recruiting front, Dantonio already is making his presence felt having secured more than a half dozen commits since his hiring three weeks ago. My friends at Spartan Magazine, the best in the recruiting business, report that MSU has made up ground with two of the nation's top 100 prospects, cornerback Ronald Johnson of Muskegon and defensive tackle Joseph Barksdale of Detroit Cass Tech. I won't believe the Spartans land either one until I see it, but doing so would make up for the loss of blue-chip quarterback Keith Nichol to Oklahoma. Already, it speaks volumes that Dantonio has made MSU at least part of the discussion.
The (Jake) Long and short of it
Great news for Michigan yesterday when offensive tackle Jake Long and quarterback Chad Henne said they'll return for their senior seasons, and tailback Mike Hart said he was 99 percent sure he'd be back. None of the announcements was a surprise, though Long would have been a first-round pick and Hart might actually go higher this year than next, when Arkansas' Darren McFadden, West Virginia's Steve Slaton and Oregon's Jonathan Stewart are draft-eligible.
If I was a Michigan fan I'd be a tad concerned I didn't hear the same sort of proclamation out of defensive tackle Alan Branch. Another likely first-round pick, Branch's early departure would be a huge hit for the Wolverines defense, which is already losing cornerback Leon Hall, defensive end LaMarr Woodley and linebackers Prescott Burgess and David Harris to the NFL.
If Branch declares, we'll find out exactly how good Michigan defensive coordinator Ron English is. He'll have a young nucleus next year spliced with vets like Terrance Taylor and Shawn Crable. Of course, with the returning firepower on offense - remember, Michigan's best receivers are back as well - and all their marquee games at home (Oregon, Notre Dame, Ohio State), I still would expect an Ohio State-like season out of the Wolverines, who should contend for the national title.
Where's the MoJo?
No word on the severity of Maurice Joseph's right foot injury yet, but any time Joseph misses is too much time for the dangerously thin Spartans.
Joseph hurt his foot in Saturday's 76-61 win over BYU when he landed awkwardly on a 3-pointer near the end of the first half. He made his second consecutive start Saturday in place of freshman wing Raymar Morgan, who is out one to four more weeks with a stress fracture in his shin. If both players are sidelined, true freshman Isaiah Dahlman will slide into the starting lineup, leaving walk-on DeMarcus Ducre as MSU's first backcourt option off the bench.
MSU should be able to survive the rest of its non-conference slate without both Joseph and Morgan � games against Chicago State, Belmont, Wisconsin-Green Bay and Loyola remain � and enter the Big Ten season with a school-record 13 preseason wins and a top-20 ranking.
But the amount of minutes starters Drew Neitzel and Travis Walton log now could come back to haunt the team in March. We saw how overuse cut short the Pistons' championship run last year, and Neitzel and Walton are averaging 33.5 and 32 minutes, respectively. They played a combined 71 minutes against the Cougars Saturday (38 by Neitzel), and those numbers will become common once the calendar flips to January.
MSU is an NCAA tournament team, but one with a limited ceiling because of its lack of offense. To reach their full potential, the Spartans need a full compliment of players.
Michigan or Florida?
It may sound like I'm writing out of both sides of my computer here, but I'm really not. I voted Michigan No. 2 and Florida No. 3 in my final regular season AP poll, a vote I cast earlier this morning, because I think the Wolverines are the better team. Michigan and Florida have comparable defenses, but offensively and in the kicking game I give the Wolverines the edge. That said, I think Florida is more deserving of the spot opposite Ohio State in the BCS title game. Why? A couple reasons. Florida won its conference and no one can argue the SEC is the toughest conference in the nation. Second, Florida played a tougher overall schedule than Michigan giving it a more complete resume. Florida's wins over LSU and Arkansas are more impressive than Michigan's victories over Wisconsin and Notre Dame. As an AP voter, my job is to rank the best teams in the country as I see them, subjectively. If I was a Harris Poll voter, I might have put Florida No. 2 and Michigan No. 3. I still think the Wolverines are better and would beat Florida head-to-head, but Harris Poll voters are charged with helping put the two most deserving teams in the title game and that would be Florida and OSU.
Answering your questions
Got a letter from John Ball of Farmington Hills the other day asking me to expand on my reason for ranking USC over Michigan in my latest AP poll. No problem, John. Here goes:
First, let me say USC, Michigan and Florida are inches apart and really, I wouldn't argue with whoever played Ohio State in the title game. I know Florida has been the least impressive of the three, but they remind me of the Ohio State team that won the championship a few years ago. Great defense, a solid enough QB (or in this case two) to win most games, some pretty good skill talent and a schedule with zero breaks. That said, in the eyeball test they come in third.
So between Michigan and USC, I give the nod to USC because I think the Trojans have done more against a better schedule. They beat Big 12 North champ Nebraska, SEC West champ Arkansas and Notre Dame in the non-conference; Michigan beat Notre Dame, Little Debbie and Hostess. USC beat a Cal team I personally think is better than Wisconsin inside its conference, and neither the Big Ten nor Pac 10 has much else to speak of this year.
I know Michigan's loss - by three on the road at Ohio State - is a "better" loss than USC's to Oregon State, but as great as the Michigan-OSU game was, I don't think it was a three-point game. Like I said, you can slice it any way you want. When I hand out my final vote Sunday, barring a USC upset to UCLA, I'll be voting the Trojans No. 2, Michigan No. 3, and dreaming of a playoff so these discussions can be settled on the field.