Nov. 9, 2013
EAST LANSING, Mich. -
The No. 20/18 Michigan State women's basketball team opens the 2013-14 season with a top-20 battle at No. 6/7 Notre Dame (1-0) on Monday night at 7 p.m. The Spartans, who were also picked third in the Big Ten, return five of their top-six scorers from last season and opened with two strong offensive performances in the exhibition games. MSU begins with a road game for the first time since 2009 and it is the highest ranked MSU opponent since Nov. 19, 2010.
ABOUT NOTRE DAME
The Fighting Irish return four starters and nine letterwinners from last year's team that went 35-2 and was ranked No. 2 in both national polls at the end of the season. Notre Dame won both the BIG EAST regular-season and tournament titles and advanced to the NCAA Final Four for the third consecutive season. They open the season No. 6 in the AP poll and No. 7 in USA Today coaches' poll.
Notre Dame, who will be competing as a member of the ACC for the first time, opened its season on Saturday with a 99-50 win over UNC Wilmington. The Fighting Irish, who shot 62.9% from the field, were led by 19 points and 11 rebounds from Jewell Loyd, and 19 points and six assists from Michaela Mabrey. Kayla McBride added 17 points. ND held a 54-24 edge on the boards.
AGAINST THE FIGHTING IRISH
Michigan State leads the all-time series with Notre Dame, 9-6. The Fighting Irish have won the last two meetings, in 2008 and 2009, but the games were decided by a combined seven points. The two schools last met in the Breslin Center on Nov. 19, 2009 with No. 5-ranked Notre Dame leaving with a 68-67 victory over the 21st-ranked Spartans. MSU is 4-3 all-time in South Bend.
All-time, the Spartans are 27-14 in season openers, and hold a 7-4 record when starting the season with a road contest. Coach Merchant is 4-2 in season openers at MSU, and has won 10 of her last 12, including her time at Eastern Michigan. It is just the second time since 1993 that the Spartans open the season with a road game (2009).
Senior Annalise Pickrel has been effective in her first three season debuts, averaging 10.7 points (including 18 last season), 4.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.0 blocks in only 19.7 minutes. She is 6-for-11 (54.5%) from the 3-point arc in those games. Classmate Klarissa Bell scored a game-high 19 points, while adding eight points, six assists and three steals, last season against UT Arlington. Junior Becca Mills has posted double-digit points in each of her first two season openers - 12 vs. Villanova and 10 vs. UT Arlington. She is also averaging 7.5 rebounds per game.
The Spartans' opener on Nov. 11, ties the second earliest calendar start (which is the same date as the last two seasons). The 2007-08 season began on Nov. 9.
IN THE MONTH OF NOVEMBER
The Spartans are 93-34 (73.2%) all-time in the month of November. Under Coach Merchant, Michigan State is 32-7 (82.1%) in November, with four of the seven losses coming against top-10 opponents. The Spartans have won eight-in-a-row in this month, including going unbeaten in 2012 (6-0) for just the sixth time in program history - 1983 (2-0), 1984 (1-0),1995 (3-0), 1999 (4-0), 2003 (4-0). The six wins set a new record for most wins in the month.
AGAINST THE NATION'S BEST
Under Coach Merchant, Michigan State is 17-24 against ranked teams, including a 5-8 record against top-10 teams. When MSU is also ranked, the Spartans are 7-11 in matchups with fellow ranked teams. No. 6/7 Notre Dame is MSU's highest ranked opponent since traveling to No. 2 Baylor on Nov. 19, 2010.
Monday will mark the first of two games against ranked opponents in the opening week of the season (MSU host No. 14/16 Dayton on Sunday). Michigan State is one of four teams in the nation to play two ranked teams in the first week (on or before Nov. 17), joining Alabama, Connecticut and UCLA.
Michigan State opens the season No. 18 nationally in the preseason USA Today coaches' poll and No. 20 in the preseason Associated Press poll. It is MSU's highest preseason ranking since beginning the 2009-10 season at No. 10 in both rankings.
Six of MSU's 2013-14 opponents are also currently ranked - Notre Dame (6/7), Nebraska (17/12), Penn State (13/15), Dayton (14/16), Purdue (18/23), Oklahoma State (21/24). In addition, Florida State, Iowa and Minnesota are receiving votes in one of the two polls.
PRESEASON BIG TEN OUTLOOK
Michigan State was selected third in both the coaches and media preseason Big Ten polls, released prior to Big Ten Basketball Media Day on Oct. 31. Nebraska was selected as the preseason favorite by both, with Penn State holding the second spot.
Senior Klarissa Bell, a third-team All-Big Ten selection last season, was named to the five-member preseason All-Big Ten team, as voted by the coaches. She is the first Spartan named to the team since Lykendra Johnson in 2011. Bell was joined on the team by preseason Big Ten Player of the Year Maggie Lucas of Penn State, Minnesota's Rachel Banham, Nebraska's Jordan Hooper and Purdue's Courtney Moses.
- Michigan State went 2-0 in its exhibition games with wins over Ferris State, 100-52, and Grand Valley State, 91-47.
- The Spartans were efficient offensively, averaging 95.5 points per game, while shooting 53.0% from the field and 48.6% (18-for-37) from the 3-point arc. MSU also averaged 22.0 assists per game, while committing only 13.5 turnovers.
- Six Spartans averaged double-figure points over the two games, led by 20.0 points per game from freshman Tori Jankoska. Senior Annalise Pickrel and redshirt freshman Aerial Powers poured in 15.0 per game, while junior Becca Mills (13.0), senior Klarissa Bell (10.5) and junior Kiana Johnson (10.0) rounded out the six.
- Jankoska was 6-for-13 (46.2%) and Pickrel was 4-for-6 (66.7%) from behind the arc.
- Mills and Powers paced MSU with 7.0 rebounds per game, as the Spartans outrebounded their opponents, 48.5-28.5.
Seniors Klarissa Bell and Annalise Pickrel will have the honor of captains for the 2013-14 season. Bell will hold the position for the second-straight season.
Last season, Michigan State went 25-9 marking the 10th-straight season that the Spartans have won at least 20 games. The streak is the longest active streak in the Big Ten (Penn State is second with three-in-a-row). Entering this season, MSU is one of 11 teams in the nation to have won at least 20 games in each of the last 10 seasons - Baylor, Bowling Green, Connecticut, Duke, Green Bay, Marist, Middle Tennessee State, Stanford, Tennessee and Vanderbilt.
The Spartans' 25 wins were the third-most in program history (2004-05 - 33 wins, 2010-11 - 27 wins).
ANOTHER STREAK EXTENDED
The Spartans finished the Big Ten season at 10-6 and in a tie for third place last season. Michigan State has now won at least 10 Big Ten games in 11-straight seasons. It is the longest active streak in the Big Ten (with Penn State second at three). MSU is 127-55 (69.8%) in conference play over the last 11 seasons, trailing only Ohio State (136-46; 74.7%) in wins.
The Spartans have now finished third or better in the conference in each of the last five seasons - winning the title in 2010-11, and placing second in 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2011-12. In all, MSU has finished no worse than third place in eight of the last nine years.
During Coach Merchant's tenure, Michigan State has a 69-33 (67.6%) Big Ten record. The win total is second in the conference over that span (Ohio State-71), while her winning percentage is 12th-best in the 32-year history of the Big Ten Conference. More recently, MSU has won 44 of its last 59 Big Ten regular season games (74.6%).
FIVE CONSECUTIVE INVITATIONS TO THE BIG DANCE
Michigan State made its fifth-straight NCAA Tournament appearance in 2012-13, and its 10th in the last 11 years. Overall, the Spartans qualified for their 12th straight postseason. The five appearances in a row tie the longest stretch in program history. MSU has won at least one game in eight of its last nine NCAA Tournament trips.
MSU is one of 19 schools in the country (and one of only two in the Big Ten) to make the NCAA Tournament the last five seasons - Baylor, Connecticut, DePaul, Duke, Fresno State, Georgia, Gonzaga, Green Bay, Iowa, Iowa State, Michigan State, Middle Tennessee, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, South Dakota State, Stanford, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt.
In head coach Suzy Merchant's first six seasons at Michigan State, a total of 20 Spartans have earned All-Big Ten honors, leading the conference in that span. In addition, MSU has had five major award winners, four Big Ten All-Freshman team recipients and four Big Ten All-Defensive team honorees.
Last season, Klarissa Bell was a third-team All-Big Ten choice by the coaches, while Bell, Jasmine Thomas and Kiana Johnson were honorable mention selections by the media. All three Spartans earned All-Big Ten honors for the first time in their careers.
In Coach Merchant's first six seasons at MSU, the Spartans have gone 140-62 (69.3%). Her winning percentage is the 10th-best all-time among Big Ten coaches, and second among active conference coaches. Her 140 wins were the fourth-most by a Big Ten coach in their first six seasons. During her span, the 140 wins are second among Big Ten schools, trailing only Ohio State (149). Merchant has won at least 20 games in nine-straight seasons, not including the shortened 2006-07 season due to her maternity leave. In her career, she has 10 20-win seasons.
In conference games, she is 69-33 (67.6%), ranking her 12th all-time in career winning percentage in Big Ten games and second among active coaches. During her Spartan career, her 69 conference wins are second to only Ohio State (71).
Last season was Suzy Merchant's sixth trip to the NCAA Tournament, posting a 5-6 record. She has guided the Spartans to the last five tournaments, advancing to the Sweet 16 in 2009 and the second round in 2010, 2011 and 2013. Merchant ties Joanne P. McCallie for the most NCAA appearances as a MSU head coach (five). Over the last five NCAA Tournaments, her five wins are second among Big Ten schools (Purdue has six). Merchant also took Eastern Michigan to the tournament in 2004.
BIG TEN LEADERS
Michigan State led the Big Ten in scoring defense (52.1 points allowed), rebound margin (+6.9) and 3-point field goal percentage defense (28.2%) last season, and were second in field goal percentage defense (36.6%), assist-to-turnover ratio (1.0), fewest turnovers (14.0) and offensive rebounds (13.2). Among NCAA leaders, MSU was 13th in points allowed and 21st in rebound margin.
The Spartans' 52.1 points per game allowed last season led the Big Ten and was 13th in the nation. The mark was the third lowest in program history, and the lowest since the first two seasons of Spartan women's basketball - 1973-74 (38.4) and 1972-73 (38.9).
Michigan State held 18 teams under 50 points, the most in the single season (1973-74 team did it 14 times). The Spartans also held six opponents below 40 points last season, second all-time behind the 1973-74 team (nine times). Entering last season, the Spartans had only held 32 opponents under 40 points in the first 1,124 games of the program.
In total, the Spartans held 30 of their 34 opponents below their scoring average last season.
Last season, Michigan State finished second in the Big Ten in points allowed in conference games with 58.8 points. The Spartans had previously led the Big Ten in conference games in points allowed for the last three seasons.
CRASHING THE BOARDS
Michigan State led the Big Ten in rebounds margin for the third-straight season, and for the fourth time in the last five years, last season. The Spartans have been top-40 in the country in rebound margin each of the last six seasons, getting as low as ninth nationally in 2010-11.
MSU has out-rebounded 76 of its last 91 opponents (83.5%), including 28 of the 34 teams last season.
The Spartans led the Big Ten in conference games this season with a +6.3 margin. MSU has led the league in three of the last five seasons in conference games only.
RINGING THE BELL FOR THE LAST TIME
Patience and progression have been two common words to describe Klarissa Bell's first three seasons at Michigan State. Growing up in East Lansing and being named Michigan's Miss Basketball as a high school senior, she came to MSU with high expectations. However, through her first 48 games as a Spartan, she struggled to find a role and a spot on the floor. Bell averaged just 2.2 points, 1.8 rebounds and 0.6 assists in 10.2 minutes during that time. However, Merchant inserted her into the starting lineup on Jan. 29, 2012 vs. Penn State and she has started every game since.
As a starter, Bell has helped Michigan State to a 33-12 record, while averaging 9.9 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 34.1 minutes.
Each season, Bell has seen progression in her stat lines, including averaging career highs of 10.5 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.0 steals and 0.6 blocks as a junior. Her points and rebounds led the team, while her blocks were second, and her assists and steals were third. Because of a shortened bench, Bell was relied upon to play extended minutes, ranking fourth on the MSU single-season list in minutes (1,196) and sixth in minutes per game (35.2). Her play earned her third-team All-Big Ten honors, and placed her on the coaches' preseason All-Big Ten team.
The Spartans' success last season was weighed heavily based upon Bell's play. In Michigan State's 25 wins, she averaged 12.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists and shot 45.1% from the field, while in the nine losses, she scored only 6.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.0 assists and shot just 29.5%.
PICK AND POP
Senior Annalise Pickrel made a huge breakthrough last year in her junior season. After averaging 3.3 and 2.5 points in her first two seasons, Pickrel increased her scoring output to 9.3 points per game, which tied for third on the team. Her +6.8 point increase ranked third in the Big Ten last season.
Her greatest asset last season was her production from the 3-point line. Leading the team in both categories, Pickrel ranked ninth in the Big Ten in 3-point field goal percentage (36.7%) and 3-point field goals made per game (1.8) last season. Pickrel made a career-high 65 3-pointers, which is the seventh most in a Spartan single season. Entering the year, she was just 19-for-63 (30.2%) from the 3-point arc in her first two seasons at MSU.
Entering her senior season, Pickrel is currently 12th in Spartan history with 84 3-point field goals made, while ranking seventh with a career 35.0% 3-point field goal percentage.
TAKING CARE OF THE ROCK
Junior Kiana Johnson has orchestrated the Spartan offense through her first two seasons in green and white. Johnson has led MSU in assists in each of her first two seasons, and ranks sixth on the Spartan career list with 4.1 assists per game. Johnson led MSU in assists in 13 of the last 19 games last season. She has been equally careful with the ball, posting a career assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.78 (233:131), which is second in the MSU record books.
An honorable mention All-Big Ten choice last season, Johnson has also been effective scoring the ball, averaging 9.3 points as a sophomore, tying for third on the team. She led MSU in free throw percentage (81.6%) and was second in 3-point field goal percentage (33.0%).
Defensively, Johnson led MSU with 1.9 steals last season, and enters the year fifth on the MSU career steals per game list at 1.9.
HOLDING DOWN THE POST
Early in the 2013-14 season, junior Becca Mills is going to be asked to fill a lot of minutes in the post due to some early season injuries. Head coach Suzy Merchant has praised Mills' offseason work ethic and early season effort. In her first two seasons, Mills has totaled 552 points (8.2 points per game), so she is accustomed to shouldering the expectations. Over her final 11 games last season, she scored in double figures in seven games and averaged 9.7 points.
Junior Jasmine Hines came to East Lansing as Michigan's high school career points and rebounds record holder, but her minutes have been limited over her first two seasons at Michigan State. However in those minutes, her production has been effective, averaging 6.4 points and 3.7 rebounds in only 14.2 minutes. Hines has led MSU in field goal percentage in each of her first two seasons.
Freshman Tori Jankoska came to Michigan State with a laundry list of high school accolades, highlighted by being named a PARADE High School All-American, Michigan's Miss Basketball and Michigan's Gatorade Girls Basketball Player of the Year. She shattered Freeland's career scoring record, totaling 2,333 points, while averaging 24.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 3.6 steals in her career. As a senior, she averaged 30.9 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 4.8 steals.
Jankoska did not seem to be overwhelmed with the transition to collegiate basketball, leading the Spartans in scoring in the two exhibition games with 20.0 points per game in 30.5 minutes off the bench. She shot 58.3% from the field, including 6-for-13 (46.2%) from the 3-point line. In her debut, Jankoska poured in 27 points vs. Ferris State.
DON'T CALL IT A COMEBACK(S)
Redshirt freshmen Branndais Agee and Aerial Powers return from season-ending injuries. Agee, a high school All-American, played in only five games last season, averaging 2.8 points and 3.6 rebounds in 13.2 minutes, before tearing her right ACL. Powers, who was a top-100 recruit and a two-time Michigan AP Class B Player of the Year, missed the entire season after tearing the Achilles tendon in her left ankle during preseason practice.
Both players are expected to be major contributors this season. Powers started both exhibition games, and averaged 15.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.5 steals in 22.5 minutes. She was also able to get to the line 13 times. Meanwhile Agee played 15.0 minutes per game off the bench, averaging 7.5 points and 5.5 rebounds.
THREE TIMES A CHARM
Michigan State suits up three of the last four Michigan's Miss Basketball this season - Klarissa Bell (2010), Jasmine Hines (2011) and Tori Jankoska (2013).
Michigan State welcomes back five of its top-six scorers from last season, including leading scorer and rebounder Klarissa Bell. In all, the Spartans return 71.6% of their scoring, 69.1% of their rebounds, 59.5% of their assists, 61.5% of their assists and 76.3% of their blocks from last year's squad. MSU's 71.6% scoring return is fourth in the conference, trailing Wisconsin (88.9%), Minnesota (80.5%) and Nebraska (73.4%).
WHO THEY PLAY
The 2013-14 schedule features nine teams that played in last year's NCAA Tournament and three other postseason qualifiers. In the Big Ten, MSU plays Illinois, Ohio State, Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin twice, while playing Indiana, Penn State and Purdue at home only, and Iowa, Michigan and Northwestern on the road only. The 2014 Big Ten Tournament will return to Indianapolis at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
CLOSING IT OUT
The Spartans have been extremely effective closing out games over the last couple years, winning 81 of their last 82 games (98.8%) when leading with five minutes left, including a 25-0 record in 2012-13. In Coach Merchant's tenure, Michigan State is 123-5 (96.1%) when holding a lead with five minutes left.
In head coach Suzy Merchant's tenure, when two numbers on the scoreboard were achieved it typically has been a sign of a MSU win. When the Spartans have scored at least 70 points, their record is 57-4 (93.4%), including winning their last 39 games, while when they hold opponents to 60 points or less, their record is 110-10 (91.7%).
BOUNCE BACK ABILITY
In Coach Merchant's six seasons, the Spartans are 46-14 (76.7%) following a loss, including a 8-1 record last season.
ALL ABOUT THE 3-POINT LINE
Michigan State had success both offensively and defensively behind the 3-point arc last season. MSU led the Big Ten in 3-point field goal percentage defense (28.2%), while allowing only 138 3-pointers (4.1 per game), a conference low and top-25 in the nation. On the flip side, the Spartans made 179 3-pointers last season, the third most in a MSU single season.
ON THIS DATE
Michigan State is 1-1 all-time on Nov. 11, losing to Villanova in 2011 and beating UT Arlington last season.
SUZY MERCHANT RADIO SHOW
The Suzy Merchant Radio Show will begin on Tuesday, Dec. 3. The show, typically held on Wednesdays if no conflicts, is held 12-1 p.m. at Reno's East on Abbott Road. It can be heard locally on WVFN 730AM or at SpartanSportsNetwork.com. This season shows will be Dec. 3 (Tues.), Dec 11, Jan. 2 (Thurs.), Jan. 8, Jan. 15, Jan. 22, Jan. 29, Feb. 4 (Tues.), Feb. 12, Feb. 19, Feb. 26 and March 4 (Tues.).