An early spin through MSU’s football season: Rose Bowl encore begins with Friday night lights vs. Jacksonville State on Aug. 29

This is the first in a 12-day series looking at Michigan State’s opponents this football season and their chances against the Spartans.

Week 1: Jacksonville State
Time and Date: 7:30 p.m., Friday, Aug. 29
Venue: Spartan Stadium, East Lansing
TV: Big Ten Network

Gamecocks at a glance
Location: Jacksonville, Ala.
Coach: John Grass (first season)
Last season: 11-4, 5-3 Ohio Valley Conference
Returning starters: 15 (nine offense, six defense)

Preseason magazine predictions
Athlon: 1st, Ohio Valley; ranked No. 6 in FCS
Lindy’s: 3rd, OVC; ranked No. 19
Sporting News: 1st, OVC; ranked No. 4

Why they’ll beat the Spartans
If MSU treats its opener as a party, a last celebration and first get-together with its fans since the Rose Bowl, it could be in for an awakening. Jacksonville State isn’t the ideal opening opponent. Its brand comes with zero cachet, an FCS logo across its chest. But the Gamecocks are the equivalent of the most dangerous kind of FBS mid-major — experienced and offensive minded.

Jacksonville State, which won two games last season’s FCS playoffs, returns its star running back, DaMarcus James — who tallied school-records 1,477 yards rushing and 29 touchdowns last year — its dual-threat quarterback, Eli Jenkins, and its leading receiver, Josh Barge, among the nine starters back on offense. And the first-year head coach was last year’s offensive coordinator, so this isn’t a scheme change. This is a group that expects to score and will know how to execute its offense. If MSU isn’t dialed in, it just might.

Why they won’t
Beyond the obvious step up in division and talent, MSU is no longer the offensively inept football team that opened each of the last two seasons. Beating the Spartans now also means keeping pace with their offense — an experienced an emerging group of skill position players — and punching through a defense no one expects to be any worse than very good.

Jacksonville State’s other issue is its own style — it’s most efficient on the ground. That works against other FCS teams. But future foes won’t have better speed outside or strength up front than MSU’s defense. If Jacksonville State featured an air-it-out offense, moving the ball consistently would be more realistic. The wow-factor could be in play, as well. FCS teams rarely see big-time atmospheres and venues. And while the Gamecocks played at Arkansas and Florida two years ago — and didn’t embarrass themselves — they didn’t step outside of their own division in 2014. If this group of players are taking pictures with their phones when they arrive at Spartan Stadium for their first walk-through, the game is over.

Final analysis
This game will be a party for MSU fans, a first gathering since their pilgrimage to Pasadena. The Spartans shouldn’t shun the festive atmosphere. They earned it. But what ought to keep them focused is what’s waiting for them eight days later in Eugene, Ore. There is work to be done on this first Friday. The Gamecocks present some real challenges. That’ll be good for the Spartans. There will be plenty other games in which to build a resume.

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Counting down MSU’s top 50 basketball players all-time: No. 1 – Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson

This is the 50th and final day in a summer series, counting down the top 50 players in Michigan State basketball history, as I see them. The criteria is impact and performance at MSU only, professional career irrelevant. Have your own opinion? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

No. 1 – Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson
Point guard, 1977-79, Lansing

The Skinny: Magic put MSU on the college basketball map, and then stuck around for 35 years as a devoted ambassador. There has been no better player. No bigger name. No association with more credibility. No one more looked up to by the generations that followed.

Earvin “Magic” Johnson averaged 17.1 points and 8.4 assists in 1979, leading MSU to its first national championship. (MSU Athletic Communications)

He rescued the Spartans from the internal strife of the mid-1970s and quickly became their identity, leading the program to its first national championship in 1979, two years after he carried Lansing Everett High School to a state championship, and one year before he led the Los Angeles Lakers to an NBA title.

Magic was a two-time All-American at MSU, a consensus first-teamer as a sophomore in 1979. He averaged 17.1 points and 7.9 assists for his career, and still holds the program mark for both average career and season assists (8.4).

Magic won two Big Ten titles, ending a decade-long drought, and put MSU back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since the 1950s. Magic’s freshman year, the Spartans lost in the regional finals to Kentucky. The following year, they tore through the NCAA tournament field, winning all five games by double digits, and twice by more than 30. Magic made sure of it. He averaged 21.6 points, 10 assists and 8.8 rebounds, recording two triple-doubles along the way.

Why he’s No. 1: Because he didn’t simply disappear. Had Magic won the national title and then never been heard from again around East Lansing, his association only in memory and highlights, Mateen Cleaves would be No. 1, because his impact is ongoing, his era sustained.

Magic nearly averaged a triple-double in five NCAA tournament games in 1979, leading MSU past Larry Bird and Indiana State in the final. (NCAA photos)

But Magic’s impact on MSU basketball is also lasting. He gave the program basketball’s biggest star as an alumnus, something none of the Spartans’ more consistently elite on-court Big Ten brethren could claim. Every time the Magic-Larry rivalry is discussed, MSU is mentioned, highlights shown, the cursive “State” insignia back in vogue.

Magic campaigned for MSU, urged Marcus Taylor to come, was an an idol and blueprint for Cleaves. Without Magic, MSU basketball is Minnesota basketball. For 30 years, until the 2000 national title, Magic was the best thing MSU had going for it.

Rank MSU’s top 10 players yourself

Poll results will be updated at Greenandwhite.com.

Previously …
No. 2: Mateen Cleaves
No. 3: Scott Skiles
No. 4: Steve Smith
No. 5: Shawn Respert
No. 6: Greg Kelser
No. 7: Johnny Green
No. 8: Mike Robinson
No. 9: Jay Vincent
No. 10: Morris Peterson
No. 11: Draymond Green
No. 12: Terry Furlow
No. 13: Ralph Simpson
No. 14: Julius McCoy
No. 15: Sam Vincent
No. 16: Charlie Bell
No. 17: Horace Walker
No. 18: Kalin Lucas
No. 19: Adreian Payne
No. 20: Drew Neitzel
No. 21: Lindsay Hairston
No. 22: Maurice Ager
No. 23: Paul Davis
No. 24: Andre Hutson
No. 25: Lee Lafayette
No. 26: Gary Harris
No. 27: Darryl Johnson
No. 28: Jack Quiggle
No. 29: Jason Richardson
No. 30: Stan Washington
No. 31: Antonio Smith
No. 32: Eric Snow
No. 33: Chet Aubuchon
No. 34: Mike Peplowski
No. 35: Keith Appling
No. 36: Shannon Brown
No. 37: Kirk Manns
No. 38: Goran Suton
No. 39: Alan Anderson
No. 40: Branden Dawson
No. 41: Bill Kilgore
No. 42: Pete Gent
No. 43: Al Ferrari
No. 44: Ken Redfield
No. 45: Chris Hill
No. 46: Raymar Morgan
No. 47: Kevin Smith
No. 48: Kevin Willis
No. 49: Matt Steigenga
No. 50: Marcus Taylor

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Counting down MSU’s top 50 basketball players all-time: No. 2 – Mateen Cleaves

This is the 49th in a 50-day summer series, counting down the top players in Michigan State basketball history, as I see them. The criteria is impact and performance at MSU only, professional career irrelevant. Have your own opinion? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

No. 2 – Mateen Cleaves
Point guard, 1996-2000, Flint

The Skinny: There is no more important player in MSU basketball history than Cleaves. His arrival sparked the beginning of everything that is today for Spartan basketball.

Mateen Cleaves is the only three-time All-American in MSU basketball history. (LSJ file).

It’s best to quantify Cleaves’ impact with an “It’s a Wonderful Life” approach — what life at MSU would be like if Cleaves hadn’t chosen “The University of Michigan State” at a press conference in 1996. Izzo would have been fired long ago, before the first Big Ten title or Final Four or the national title. Zach Randolph, Jason Richardson, Shannon Brown, Adreian Payne, Gary Harris, Brandon Dawson — these names would belong to other schools. Izzo’s son would have a different middle name.

Cleaves’ indelible imprint on MSU is both in the program’s sustained winning — a once-middling regional program now elite nationally — and the excitement and highs he brought during his final three seasons as the Spartans’ point guard. Cleaves has a hand in 17 NCAA tournaments, 12 Sweet 16s, six Final Fours, seven Big Ten championships and a national championship. He played in three of those NCAA tourneys and Sweet 16s, two of the Final Fours, won three of those Big Ten titles and, of course, the national title in 2000.

He is MSU’s only three-time All-American, a consensus first-teamer in 1999, a consensus second-teamer in 1998 and 2000, and a first-team All-Big Ten selection all three of those years. He remains the program’s career assists and steals leader, his 20 assists against Michigan as a senior a single-game school record, as are his nine steals against Minnesota as a sophomore.

Mateen Cleaves facilitated winning at MSU, short-term and long-term, better than any other player. (LSJ file)

Cleaves averaged 12.5 points and 6.6 assists for his career, molding his game around winning. As a sophomore in 1997-98, with a less-proven cast around him, Cleaves averaged 16.1 points and 7.2 assists, taking all of the big shots and leading MSU to a then-improbable Big Ten title, before averaging 21.6 in three NCAA tournament games for a young team, just finding the national radar.

Later in his career, as Morris Peterson, Charlie Bell and Andre Hutson matured, he became a facilitator first. To put it in perspective, his most individual national accolades came during a season in which he scored a modest 11.7 points per game. He was never a great 3-point shooter, but his flat shot seemed to be truest in the biggest moments.

Cleaves was a once-a-decade leader, as Izzo calls them, not replicated until Draymond Green, perhaps not seen since Magic. Cleaves was MSU’s swagger and its face.

His final moment at MSU was his finest. He scored 18 points in the first half against Florida in the 2000 national championship, before badly spraining an ankle on an malicious play by Florida’s Teddy Dupay. Cleaves returned, though, and hobbled through the final 10 minutes on one good leg, standing at the end as champion.

Why he’s No. 2: There is an argument that Cleaves is No. 1. Probably not a successful one. When I asked Cleaves to make it recently, he declined. Cleaves is not the most talented player or the best point guard ever at MSU. He doesn’t stack up to No. 1 in that regard. But the consequences of his commitment to MSU have been more lasting than anyone, even Magic … who didn’t make the top 50. Kidding.

Rank MSU’s top 10 players yourself

Poll results will be updated at Greenandwhite.com.

Previously …
No. 3: Scott Skiles
No. 4: Steve Smith
No. 5: Shawn Respert
No. 6: Greg Kelser
No. 7: Johnny Green
No. 8: Mike Robinson
No. 9: Jay Vincent
No. 10: Morris Peterson
No. 11: Draymond Green
No. 12: Terry Furlow
No. 13: Ralph Simpson
No. 14: Julius McCoy
No. 15: Sam Vincent
No. 16: Charlie Bell
No. 17: Horace Walker
No. 18: Kalin Lucas
No. 19: Adreian Payne
No. 20: Drew Neitzel
No. 21: Lindsay Hairston
No. 22: Maurice Ager
No. 23: Paul Davis
No. 24: Andre Hutson
No. 25: Lee Lafayette
No. 26: Gary Harris
No. 27: Darryl Johnson
No. 28: Jack Quiggle
No. 29: Jason Richardson
No. 30: Stan Washington
No. 31: Antonio Smith
No. 32: Eric Snow
No. 33: Chet Aubuchon
No. 34: Mike Peplowski
No. 35: Keith Appling
No. 36: Shannon Brown
No. 37: Kirk Manns
No. 38: Goran Suton
No. 39: Alan Anderson
No. 40: Branden Dawson
No. 41: Bill Kilgore
No. 42: Pete Gent
No. 43: Al Ferrari
No. 44: Ken Redfield
No. 45: Chris Hill
No. 46: Raymar Morgan
No. 47: Kevin Smith
No. 48: Kevin Willis
No. 49: Matt Steigenga
No. 50: Marcus Taylor

Posted in Uncategorized | 24 Comments | | |

Counting down MSU’s top 50 basketball players all-time: No. 3 – Scott Skiles

This is the 48th in a 50-day summer series, counting down the top players in Michigan State basketball history, as I see them. The criteria is impact and performance at MSU only, professional career irrelevant. Have your own opinion? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

No. 3 – Scott Skiles
Guard, 1982-86, Plymouth, Ind.

The Skinny: Skiles was at his best when he was challenged. That began with coach Jud Heathcote’s recruiting pitch of sorts — that Skiles was too slow and too small, but he’d offer him a scholarship anyway.

Scott Skiles averaged 27.4 points per game in 1985-86, leading MSU to the Sweet 16, where it lost to Kansas controversially, a stalled clock partly to blame.

Good decision.

Skiles brought winning basketball back to MSU for the first time since the 1979 national title. He left as the Spartans’ all-time leading scorer, and remains third, behind Steve Smith and Shawn Respert. If Skiles had the 3-point line available to him all four years, he’d probably still be the school’s top scorer. He hit 25 of 50 3s as a freshman, when the NCAA tested the line in 1982-83. It didn’t return for good until the year after he left.

Skiles’ senior season in 1985-86 is arguably the most impressive season in MSU history. With Sam Vincent in the NBA and new sidekick Darryl Johnson the only other consistent scorer, Skiles averaged 27.4 points and 6.5 assists, leading MSU to a 23-8 record, third place in the Big Ten, and to the Sweet 16, where the Spartans lost the infamous “clock game” to Kansas.

He was the Big Ten’s scoring champion, at 29.1 points per game in conference play, and a first-team All-American by multiple publications.

Skiles’ 850 points as a senior remain the most in season by any Spartan, and his single-season scoring average is third all-time behind Terry Furlow in 1975-76 and Ralph Simpson in 1969-70.

During Skiles’ final year, he scored 40 in win over No. 3-ranked Michigan, besting trash-talking Wolverines’ guard Antoine Joubert. In one three-game stretch, Skiles scored a career-high 45 against Minnesota (on 20 of 28 shooting), 40 against U-M (making 15 of 20 shots) and 36 against Wisconsin (18 of 21).

His .554 field goal percentage in 1986 is the best of any guard to lead MSU in scoring.

Skiles wasn’t just a scorer. He is No. 2 at MSU all-time in assists (seven per game as a senior) behind only Mateen Cleaves, and he’s No. 3 in steals behind Cleaves and Draymond Green.

The Milwaukee Bucks selected Skiles 22nd overall in the 1986. He played a decade in the NBA — his 30 assists in a single game are still an NBA record — and later was the head coach for the Phoenix Suns, Chicago Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks.

Why he’s No. 3: It’s the highest spot available. The debate between Skiles and Steve Smith, however, is difficult. Both carried MSU to needed heights in an era when winning wasn’t an every-year occurence. What gives the nod to Skiles, however slightly, is something Heathcote said recently: He only ever coached two players who could will a team to victory — Skiles and Magic Johnson.

Rank MSU’s top 10 players yourself

Poll results will be updated at Greenandwhite.com.

Previously …
No. 4: Steve Smith
No. 5: Shawn Respert
No. 6: Greg Kelser
No. 7: Johnny Green
No. 8: Mike Robinson
No. 9: Jay Vincent
No. 10: Morris Peterson
No. 11: Draymond Green
No. 12: Terry Furlow
No. 13: Ralph Simpson
No. 14: Julius McCoy
No. 15: Sam Vincent
No. 16: Charlie Bell
No. 17: Horace Walker
No. 18: Kalin Lucas
No. 19: Adreian Payne
No. 20: Drew Neitzel
No. 21: Lindsay Hairston
No. 22: Maurice Ager
No. 23: Paul Davis
No. 24: Andre Hutson
No. 25: Lee Lafayette
No. 26: Gary Harris
No. 27: Darryl Johnson
No. 28: Jack Quiggle
No. 29: Jason Richardson
No. 30: Stan Washington
No. 31: Antonio Smith
No. 32: Eric Snow
No. 33: Chet Aubuchon
No. 34: Mike Peplowski
No. 35: Keith Appling
No. 36: Shannon Brown
No. 37: Kirk Manns
No. 38: Goran Suton
No. 39: Alan Anderson
No. 40: Branden Dawson
No. 41: Bill Kilgore
No. 42: Pete Gent
No. 43: Al Ferrari
No. 44: Ken Redfield
No. 45: Chris Hill
No. 46: Raymar Morgan
No. 47: Kevin Smith
No. 48: Kevin Willis
No. 49: Matt Steigenga
No. 50: Marcus Taylor

Posted in Uncategorized | 15 Comments | | |

Counting down MSU’s top 50 basketball players all-time: No. 4 – Steve Smith

This is the 47th in a 50-day summer series, counting down the top players in Michigan State basketball history, as I see them. The criteria is impact and performance at MSU only, professional career irrelevant. Have your own opinion? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

No. 4 – Steve Smith
Guard, 1987-91, Detroit

The Skinny: Smith had Kevin McHale’s shoulders, Magic’s height and Scott Skiles’ shot. And he brought MSU back to the top of the Big Ten in 1990 after a title-less 1980s. Smith left as the Spartans’ leading scorer, and has been eclipsed only by Shawn Respert since.

Steve Smith dribbles up court in either the first or second home game played at Breslin Center, against either Nebraska or Austin Peay in late fall of 1989. (MSU Athletic Communications).

Smith’s senior season in 1990-91 was his best individual year. He averaged 25.1 points per game, at one point hitting a Big Ten-record 45 consecutive free throws, finished as the Big Ten’s scoring champion, and was selected a consensus second-team All-American (and named to several first teams).

But Smith’s junior season — when he averaged 20.2, points, shot 53 percent, and tallied career-bests 7.0 rebounds and 4.9 assists — is the season the Spartans so badly needed a quarter-century ago. He was first-team All-Big Ten and an All-American that year, too. More importantly, his efforts led to 28-6 record, 15-3 in the Big Ten, a top five ranking and the elusive conference title. MSU had placed better than fifth in the Big Ten only once since the Magic-led national title in 1979.

The Smith era represented the end of old-school and the beginning of modern. He closed out Jenison Field House as a sophomore, leading MSU in scoring (17.7 ppg) and to the NIT Final Four — back when that was an important step — and opened Breslin Center as an upperclassman, taking the Spartans to the NCAA tournament Sweet 16 in the building’s first year.

There, Smith’s missed free throw — the front end of a bonus situation — late in regulation against Georgia Tech, added to MSU’s heartbreak in a controversial defeat that likely cost the Spartans a trip to the Final Four.

Smith scored 32 in the game, however, and a year later, was more clutch. His buzzer-beater in the first round in 1991 allowed the Spartans escape Wisconsin-Green Bay, and seven points in overtime in a second-round loss to Utah extended MSU’s season, well, another overtime.

Smith was the fifth player selected in the 1991 NBA draft, the highest a Spartan had gone since Magic 12 years earlier.

Why he’s No. 4: The Big Ten title in 1990, on the back of Smith, puts him ahead of Respert, who came close but couldn’t quite win a weaker Big Ten. Keep in mind, when MSU won in ’90, there were several mega programs in the league — Michigan coming off a national championship, Illinois just removed from the Flying Illini, etc. MSU seemed inferior. Had since Scott Skiles left campus in 1986. Smith defeated that perception temporarily and raised a banner.

He could be higher on this list. I don’t think he can be lower.

Rank MSU’s top 10 players yourself

Poll results will be updated at Greenandwhite.com.

Previously …
No. 5: Shawn Respert
No. 6: Greg Kelser
No. 7: Johnny Green
No. 8: Mike Robinson
No. 9: Jay Vincent
No. 10: Morris Peterson
No. 11: Draymond Green
No. 12: Terry Furlow
No. 13: Ralph Simpson
No. 14: Julius McCoy
No. 15: Sam Vincent
No. 16: Charlie Bell
No. 17: Horace Walker
No. 18: Kalin Lucas
No. 19: Adreian Payne
No. 20: Drew Neitzel
No. 21: Lindsay Hairston
No. 22: Maurice Ager
No. 23: Paul Davis
No. 24: Andre Hutson
No. 25: Lee Lafayette
No. 26: Gary Harris
No. 27: Darryl Johnson
No. 28: Jack Quiggle
No. 29: Jason Richardson
No. 30: Stan Washington
No. 31: Antonio Smith
No. 32: Eric Snow
No. 33: Chet Aubuchon
No. 34: Mike Peplowski
No. 35: Keith Appling
No. 36: Shannon Brown
No. 37: Kirk Manns
No. 38: Goran Suton
No. 39: Alan Anderson
No. 40: Branden Dawson
No. 41: Bill Kilgore
No. 42: Pete Gent
No. 43: Al Ferrari
No. 44: Ken Redfield
No. 45: Chris Hill
No. 46: Raymar Morgan
No. 47: Kevin Smith
No. 48: Kevin Willis
No. 49: Matt Steigenga
No. 50: Marcus Taylor

Posted in Uncategorized | 16 Comments | | |

Counting down MSU’s top 50 basketball players all-time: No. 5 – Shawn Respert

This is the 46th in a 50-day summer series, counting down the top players in Michigan State basketball history, as I see them. The criteria is impact and performance at MSU only, professional career irrelevant. Have your own opinion? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

No. 5 – Shawn Respert
Guard, 1990-1995, Detroit

The Skinny: If you were to create an all-time team at MSU, Respert is your shooter. No Spartan has ever been more prolific from beyond the 3-point line, and better at making that line irrelevant. But he was also a sensational all-around scorer, with better explosion and creativity on the drive than perhaps his reputation.

Shawn Respert is the only MSU basketball player to score more than 2,500 point in his career. (LSJ file)

Respert is MSU’s all-time leading scorer, with 2,531 points, ahead of fellow 2,000-point scorers Steve Smith (2,263), Scott Skiles (2,145) and Greg Kelser (2,014). Yes, Respert had the benefit of the 3-point line (which Skiles didn’t) and of four years of playing (which Mike Robinson didn’t). But he didn’t score more than 2,500 points cheaply.

There was no better college guard in the country in 1995. Respert averaged 25.6 points per game that season and made a standing school-record 119 3-pointers — many from NBA range — at a clip of better than 47 percent. He also hit 87 percent of his free throws that season. Respert was the Big Ten’s scoring champion and its player of the year, and also selected national player of the year by both Sporting News and the National Association of Basketball Coaches. And he was a consensus first-team All-American — Magic Johnson, Mateen Cleaves and Draymond Green are the only other Spartans ever to be consensus first-teamers.

It didn’t come out of nowhere, either. As a junior, Respert was first-team All-Big Ten, scoring 24.3 points per game, after averaging 20.1 as a sophomore and 15.8 as a redshirt freshman. No MSU freshman, other than Magic, has ever averaged more.

Respert scored more than 35 points six times in his career, reaching 40 three times, his career-high 43.

Postseason success was fleeting for Respert, though not insignificant, as the final star of the era before Final Fours became commonplace at MSU.

He played in five NCAA tournament games, scoring 27 as a freshman in a second-round loss to Cincinnati, 25 as a junior in a win over Seton Hall, 22 that season in second-round loss to Duke, and 28 in the loss that still stings — the first-round upset at the hands of Weber State as a senior.

Why he’s No. 5: Respert didn’t have any more talent around him than Mike Robinson (No. 8 on this countdown) or Terry Furlow (No. 12), or some other stars of mediocre teams. Respert not only scored, he maximized MSU’s winning capabilities, at least until the final defeat.

The Spartans finished 22-6 in 1994-95, winning 14 times in Big Ten play, one less than champion Purdue. MSU had modest talent on the front line, with Respert and point guard Eric Snow, “Fire & Ice,” making it all go. A year earlier, MSU won 20 games, with Respert carrying even more of the load.

For the essence of Respert at his best, watch this YouTube highlight package from MSU’s 1995 win at Michigan. It’s worth your time.

Rank MSU’s top 10 players yourself

Poll results will be updated at Greenandwhite.com.

Previously …
No. 6: Greg Kelser
No. 7: Johnny Green
No. 8: Mike Robinson
No. 9: Jay Vincent
No. 10: Morris Peterson
No. 11: Draymond Green
No. 12: Terry Furlow
No. 13: Ralph Simpson
No. 14: Julius McCoy
No. 15: Sam Vincent
No. 16: Charlie Bell
No. 17: Horace Walker
No. 18: Kalin Lucas
No. 19: Adreian Payne
No. 20: Drew Neitzel
No. 21: Lindsay Hairston
No. 22: Maurice Ager
No. 23: Paul Davis
No. 24: Andre Hutson
No. 25: Lee Lafayette
No. 26: Gary Harris
No. 27: Darryl Johnson
No. 28: Jack Quiggle
No. 29: Jason Richardson
No. 30: Stan Washington
No. 31: Antonio Smith
No. 32: Eric Snow
No. 33: Chet Aubuchon
No. 34: Mike Peplowski
No. 35: Keith Appling
No. 36: Shannon Brown
No. 37: Kirk Manns
No. 38: Goran Suton
No. 39: Alan Anderson
No. 40: Branden Dawson
No. 41: Bill Kilgore
No. 42: Pete Gent
No. 43: Al Ferrari
No. 44: Ken Redfield
No. 45: Chris Hill
No. 46: Raymar Morgan
No. 47: Kevin Smith
No. 48: Kevin Willis
No. 49: Matt Steigenga
No. 50: Marcus Taylor

Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments | | |

Counting down MSU’s top 50 basketball players all-time: No. 6 – Greg Kelser

This is the 45th in a 50-day summer series, counting down the top players in Michigan State basketball history, as I see them. The criteria is impact and performance at MSU only, professional career irrelevant. Have your own opinion? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

No. 6 – Greg Kelser
Forward, 1975-79, Detroit

The Skinny: Kelser is the best player, that wasn’t a guard, in the history of MSU’s program. He was a star before he was Magic Johnson’s running mate, averaging 21.7 points and 10.8 rebounds as a sophomore in 1976-77. And once Magic arrived, Kelser was the perfect complement — wiry, quick, a terrific leaper and finisher around the basket, a smooth and coordinated offensive player.

Greg Kelser was a star before Magic Johnson arrived at MSU. When Magic did, the duo – and Jay Vincent – led the Spartans to their first national championship in 1979. (LSJ file)

His career averages of 17.5 points and 9.5 rebounds are unmatched by any forward or center in the era of four-year college basketball (beginning in 1972). He remains fourth on MSU’s All-Time scoring list, behind only Shawn Respert, Steve Smith and Scott Skiles. Kelser was three times All-Big Ten, twice on the second team, and a first-teamer and first-team All-American as senior.

He was the first Big Ten player to tally more than 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in a career, and remains the only MSU player ever to reach both of those marks.

Kelser was most brilliant during two NCAA tournaments. As a junior, he averaged 21.6 points and 12.3 rebounds in wins over Providence and Western Kentucky, and a loss to Kentucky in the regional finals. A year later, during the national championship run, he averaged 25.4 points and 10.6 rebounds in five games, including 34 points in against Notre Dame to send the Spartans to the Final Four. That output stood as the school’s NCAA tournament scoring record until last season, when Adreian Payne scored 41 against Delaware.

Kelser nearly left East Lansing after his freshman season, staying mostly because fired coach Gus Ganakas told Kelser MSU was the place for him. It worked out.

Kelser was the eighth overall pick in the 1979 NBA draft, selected by the Detroit Pistons. Bad knees cut short a six-year pro career.

Why he’s No. 6: Whether this is justifying Kelser’s ranking as too high or too low is in the eye of the beholder. He could be argued as high as No. 3 or as low as No. 8. What keeps Kelser from being higher is he was a sidekick. Not his fault, but he won big with Magic and played on two forgettable teams before him. What puts him ahead of Robinson is the winning, and that MSU doesn’t win a national title with Magic without Kelser. And how different MSU basketball history would be if that didn’t happen.

For nearly two decades after this duo finished playing at MSU, they provided an enormous sense of pride and credibility to an often middling program. Both were (and remain) present and part of Spartan basketball. Kelser’s program impact is immense.

Rank MSU’s top 10 players yourself

Poll results will be updated at Greenandwhite.com.

Previously …
No. 7: Johnny Green
No. 8: Mike Robinson
No. 9: Jay Vincent
No. 10: Morris Peterson
No. 11: Draymond Green
No. 12: Terry Furlow
No. 13: Ralph Simpson
No. 14: Julius McCoy
No. 15: Sam Vincent
No. 16: Charlie Bell
No. 17: Horace Walker
No. 18: Kalin Lucas
No. 19: Adreian Payne
No. 20: Drew Neitzel
No. 21: Lindsay Hairston
No. 22: Maurice Ager
No. 23: Paul Davis
No. 24: Andre Hutson
No. 25: Lee Lafayette
No. 26: Gary Harris
No. 27: Darryl Johnson
No. 28: Jack Quiggle
No. 29: Jason Richardson
No. 30: Stan Washington
No. 31: Antonio Smith
No. 32: Eric Snow
No. 33: Chet Aubuchon
No. 34: Mike Peplowski
No. 35: Keith Appling
No. 36: Shannon Brown
No. 37: Kirk Manns
No. 38: Goran Suton
No. 39: Alan Anderson
No. 40: Branden Dawson
No. 41: Bill Kilgore
No. 42: Pete Gent
No. 43: Al Ferrari
No. 44: Ken Redfield
No. 45: Chris Hill
No. 46: Raymar Morgan
No. 47: Kevin Smith
No. 48: Kevin Willis
No. 49: Matt Steigenga
No. 50: Marcus Taylor

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments | | |

Counting down MSU’s top 50 basketball players all-time: No. 7 – Johnny Green

This is the 44th in a 50-day summer series, counting down the top players in Michigan State basketball history, as I see them. The criteria is impact and performance at MSU only, professional career irrelevant. Have your own opinion? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

No. 7 – Johnny Green
Forward, 1957-59, Dayton, Ohio.

The Skinny: Known as Jumpin’ Johnny Green, no MSU player pre-Magic-Kelser is more celebrated. Green was extraordinary statistically and won at an unprecedented level. The 6-foot-5 power forward, a Marine veteran who didn’t begin on MSU’s varsity until he was 23, is famous for two things: rebounding and the 1957 Final Four, MSU’s first Final Four.

Johnny Green’s 16.4 career rebounding average, set from 1957-59, remains by far the best at MSU. (MSU Athletic Communications)

Green’s career rebounding average of 16.4 dwarfs every other player in the history of the program. Horace Walker is next at 13.8, followed by Bill Kilgore at 11.3. Green three season averages (14.6, 17.8 and 16.6) are Nos. 4, 1 and 3 in the MSU record books.

He and Walker both are tied for the most and second-most rebounds in a single game, each with games of 29 and 28 rebounds. Green also had at least 10 other games of 20 or more rebounds.

His 1,036 career rebounds remain third all-time at MSU, behind Greg Kelser (1,092) and Draymond Green (1,096), despite playing 52 fewer games than Kelser and 82 fewer than Draymond Green.

Johnny Green also scored plenty, mostly around the rim, averaging, 13.2, 18 and 18.5 points during his career, during which he was a first-team All-Big Ten selection all three years. His last two, he was also an All-American.

As a sophomore in the 1957, Green led MSU past Notre Dame, 85-83, in its NCAA opener, with 20 points and 27 rebounds.

Two games later, in the Final Four, Green finished with 11 points, 19 rebounds and eight blocks, as MSU lost to eventual champion North Carolina, 74-70, in triple-overtime.

Green also led MSU back to the NCAA tournament in 1959, where in his final game he scored 29 points and pulled down 23 rebounds in a loss to Louisville in the regional finals. The Spartans wouldn’t return to the NCAA tournament until Magic arrived on campus nearly two decades later.

Why he’s No. 7: The winning separates him from Mike Robinson and Terry Furlow. The era keeps him out of the top six. Fair or not, Green played in an era of missed shots and mostly below-the-rim basketball. A leaper like Green stood out — and cleaned up. In 1957, Hal Greer recorded the fifth-best field-goal percentage in college basketball at 54.6 percent. Last season, 36 players were better than that.

But until Magic, no player was more important to MSU’s program. And one could argue, beyond Magic and Mateen Cleaves, Johnny Green is still No. 3.

Rank MSU’s top 10 players yourself

Poll results will be updated at Greenandwhite.com.

Previously …
No. 8: Mike Robinson
No. 9: Jay Vincent
No. 10: Morris Peterson
No. 11: Draymond Green
No. 12: Terry Furlow
No. 13: Ralph Simpson
No. 14: Julius McCoy
No. 15: Sam Vincent
No. 16: Charlie Bell
No. 17: Horace Walker
No. 18: Kalin Lucas
No. 19: Adreian Payne
No. 20: Drew Neitzel
No. 21: Lindsay Hairston
No. 22: Maurice Ager
No. 23: Paul Davis
No. 24: Andre Hutson
No. 25: Lee Lafayette
No. 26: Gary Harris
No. 27: Darryl Johnson
No. 28: Jack Quiggle
No. 29: Jason Richardson
No. 30: Stan Washington
No. 31: Antonio Smith
No. 32: Eric Snow
No. 33: Chet Aubuchon
No. 34: Mike Peplowski
No. 35: Keith Appling
No. 36: Shannon Brown
No. 37: Kirk Manns
No. 38: Goran Suton
No. 39: Alan Anderson
No. 40: Branden Dawson
No. 41: Bill Kilgore
No. 42: Pete Gent
No. 43: Al Ferrari
No. 44: Ken Redfield
No. 45: Chris Hill
No. 46: Raymar Morgan
No. 47: Kevin Smith
No. 48: Kevin Willis
No. 49: Matt Steigenga
No. 50: Marcus Taylor

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments | | |

Counting down MSU’s top 50 basketball players all-time: No. 8 – Mike Robinson

This is the 43rd in a 50-day summer series, counting down the top players in Michigan State basketball history, as I see them. The criteria is impact and performance at MSU only, professional career irrelevant. Have your own opinion? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

No. 8 – Mike Robinson
Guard, 1971-74, Detroit

The Skinny: If Mike Robinson had arrived at MSU two years later, when the NCAA began allowing freshmen to play, he’d be a household name. He should be anyway among MSU fans. He is the greatest career scorer in Spartan basketball history, averaging 24.2 points over his three seasons — three full points better than the next in line, Shawn Respert, the school’s all-time leading scorer and, more fairly, almost a point higher than Respert’s average for his final three seasons.

Mike Robinson’s 24.2 career scoring average is the best at Michigan State by a full three points per game, among players who played at least two seasons. (MSU Athletic Communications)

Robinson remains 10th in scoring at MSU with 1,717 points and is the only three-year player in the top 20. Julius McCoy is No. 22, with 1,377 points.

Robinson, a guard shy of 6-feet, arrived at MSU two years before the NCAA allowed freshmen to play. He averaged 24.7 points as a sophomore in 1971-72, 25.7 as a junior, and 22.4 as a senior. Had he not played through an injury for a week during that final season, he’d have been a three-time Big Ten scoring champion — a feat accomplished only four times by anyone in the conference, dating back to the early 1900s. As it stands, Robinson, teammate Terry Furlow and Jay Vincent are the only Spartans to lead the Big Ten in scoring twice, with Robinson and Johnny Green the lone three-time first-team All-Big Ten selections in Spartan history.

Robinson four times scored 35 points or more, with a career high of 40 against Northwestern in 1973.

Why he’s No. 8: The easiest argument is that Robinson belongs higher, in the top five. The reason he’s not is he simply didn’t win enough.

Robinson played two seasons each alongside Furlow (No. 12 on this countdown), Lindsay Hairston (No. 21) and Bill Kilgore (No. 41). All four were together during Robinson’s junior season, with Kilgore and Hairston as starters. His senior year, Furlow and Hairston were in the lineup with him.

And yet in all three of Robinson’s seasons, MSU finished with an identical 13-11 record, never better than tied for fourth in the Big Ten.

A 2008 quote from Robinson to Jack Ebling best explains what went wrong, especially that senior year, as Furlow came into his own as a scorer.

“It was pretty frustrating at the time,” Robinson told Ebling for a profile on MSUSpartans.com “I really think we had more talent than Magic (Johnson) did five years later. But we had a lot of distractions and too many politicians on the team. Some egos were way out of control.”

Robinson also said that if he had been there in 1974-75, the player walk-out against coach Gus Ganakas wouldn’t have happened.

Nonetheless, in a program with a legacy of tremendous winning, especially recently, Robinson’s legacy is only points — albeit a ton of them.

Rank MSU’s top 10 players yourself

Poll results will be updated at Greenandwhite.com.

Previously …
No. 9: Jay Vincent
No. 10: Morris Peterson
No. 11: Draymond Green
No. 12: Terry Furlow
No. 13: Ralph Simpson
No. 14: Julius McCoy
No. 15: Sam Vincent
No. 16: Charlie Bell
No. 17: Horace Walker
No. 18: Kalin Lucas
No. 19: Adreian Payne
No. 20: Drew Neitzel
No. 21: Lindsay Hairston
No. 22: Maurice Ager
No. 23: Paul Davis
No. 24: Andre Hutson
No. 25: Lee Lafayette
No. 26: Gary Harris
No. 27: Darryl Johnson
No. 28: Jack Quiggle
No. 29: Jason Richardson
No. 30: Stan Washington
No. 31: Antonio Smith
No. 32: Eric Snow
No. 33: Chet Aubuchon
No. 34: Mike Peplowski
No. 35: Keith Appling
No. 36: Shannon Brown
No. 37: Kirk Manns
No. 38: Goran Suton
No. 39: Alan Anderson
No. 40: Branden Dawson
No. 41: Bill Kilgore
No. 42: Pete Gent
No. 43: Al Ferrari
No. 44: Ken Redfield
No. 45: Chris Hill
No. 46: Raymar Morgan
No. 47: Kevin Smith
No. 48: Kevin Willis
No. 49: Matt Steigenga
No. 50: Marcus Taylor

Posted in Uncategorized | 19 Comments | | |

Counting down MSU’s top 50 basketball players all-time: No. 9 – Jay Vincent

This is the 42nd in a 50-day summer series, counting down the top players in Michigan State basketball history, as I see them. The criteria is impact and performance at MSU only, professional career irrelevant. Have your own opinion? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

No. 9 – Jay Vincent
Forward / center, 1977-81, Lansing

The Skinny: If Vincent had been healthy, MSU’s lopsided 1979 NCAA tournament run could have been a series all-out drubbings, Larry Bird’s Indiana State club included. Vincent, a 6-foot-7, 230-pound sophomore and MSU’s starting center, suffered a stress fracture in his right foot in the NCAA tournament opener against Lamar. He’d already scored 11 points in 13 minutes.

Jay Vincent starred at Lansing Eastern High School, won a championship at Michigan State with cross-city rival Magic Johnson, and then was a two-time Big Ten scoring champion as a junior and senior. (MSU Athletic Communications)

Paired with his crosstown high school rival Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Greg Kelser, this was among the great trios ever in college basketball. Vincent, who averaged about 13 points most of his sophomore season, played a combined 31 minutes the rest of the tournament after the injury. That scoring total was misleading. Vincent sacrificed much of his offensive game his first two seasons on campus — as great talents also have in the Tom Izzo era.

His best years offensively were his last two. Vincent was twice the Big Ten scoring champion, averaging 22.1 and 24.1 in conference play as a junior and senior, and was an All-American in 1980-81. The personal accolades came on losing teams, the performances despite defenses tailored to stop him.

Vincent remains MSU’s sixth-leading scorer all-time, behind Shawn Respert, Steve Smith, Scott Skiles, Kelser and Kalin Lucas. His three performances of 35 or more points are the most ever by an MSU big man. Vincent was an incredibly skilled and versatile interior player, the 24th overall pick in the 1981 NBA draft, before a nine-year NBA career.

Why he’s No. 9: Vincent is one of only three MSU players to win two Big Ten scoring titles. The others, Mike Robinson and Terry Furlow. His prime at MSU was wasted on otherwise bad teams, but he was the best forward in the country, Jud Heathcote said at the time. And, most importantly, the Spartans don’t win a national championship with Magic, without Jay. They wouldn’t have even made the NCAA tournament in 1979, because they wouldn’t have won nine straight in Big Ten play to win a share of the conference title and the league’s automatic bid to the 32-team NCAA tournament.

Vincent was talented enough to carry bad teams to upsets. In 1980, as junior on an ninth-place Big Ten squad, he scored 21 and pulled down 14 rebounds as MSU beat No. 6 Ohio State by 20. MSU defeated Michigan twice that year and came close twice against league-champ Indiana. A year later, on an eighth-place team, Vincent tallied 24 points and 10 rebounds in an overtime win against an Iowa club with 13 Big Ten wins.

Rank MSU’s top 10 players yourself

Poll results will be updated at Greenandwhite.com.

Previously …
No. 10: Morris Peterson
No. 11: Draymond Green
No. 12: Terry Furlow
No. 13: Ralph Simpson
No. 14: Julius McCoy
No. 15: Sam Vincent
No. 16: Charlie Bell
No. 17: Horace Walker
No. 18: Kalin Lucas
No. 19: Adreian Payne
No. 20: Drew Neitzel
No. 21: Lindsay Hairston
No. 22: Maurice Ager
No. 23: Paul Davis
No. 24: Andre Hutson
No. 25: Lee Lafayette
No. 26: Gary Harris
No. 27: Darryl Johnson
No. 28: Jack Quiggle
No. 29: Jason Richardson
No. 30: Stan Washington
No. 31: Antonio Smith
No. 32: Eric Snow
No. 33: Chet Aubuchon
No. 34: Mike Peplowski
No. 35: Keith Appling
No. 36: Shannon Brown
No. 37: Kirk Manns
No. 38: Goran Suton
No. 39: Alan Anderson
No. 40: Branden Dawson
No. 41: Bill Kilgore
No. 42: Pete Gent
No. 43: Al Ferrari
No. 44: Ken Redfield
No. 45: Chris Hill
No. 46: Raymar Morgan
No. 47: Kevin Smith
No. 48: Kevin Willis
No. 49: Matt Steigenga
No. 50: Marcus Taylor

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments | | |