It was a season that finished with disappointment; the worst season for Michigan State in a long time. The Spartans didn’t see the 20-win plateau for the first time since the 2003-2004 season. Luckily, Tom Izzo was still able to lead his beaten troops to the NCAA Tournament for the 14th straight season. Michigan State was able to enter the tournament as a 10-seed against an iffy UCLA team. Even though the Spartans were able to make a great comeback after being down 18 at halftime, they still fell short and the season was over.
But, that’s history now. Kalin Lucas, one of the most consistent Spartans under Tom Izzo, graduated. The same goes for Durrell Summers. Delvon Roe had to leave the team for health concerns. And, Garrick Sherman transferred. Truth be told, this Spartan team doesn’t have much of an identity heading into the new season.
The past is the past. This is the present.
There may not be a bigger present than the stability of Draymond Green. Green wasn’t the most highly recruited guy out there. A three-star via Rivals still needed a ton of help on the offensive end when he came into East Lansing. But, as Green went from his freshman year to his sophomore season, he developed a steady jumper to go along with immense intensity on the defensive end. Now in his senior season, Green is the leader of the Spartans.
Along with Green, Michigan State will be relying heavily on a freshman in McDonald’s All-American in Branden Dawson. The youngster from Gary, Indiana will become a starter right away after the departure of Roe. Dawson was a beast snagging rebounds in high school and will continue that state of mind under coach Izzo. According to Rivals, Dawson is the best incoming freshman NBA prospect in the Big Ten.
The projected starting lineup will be Keith Appling, Branden Dawson, Draymond Green, Adreian Payne, and one other Spartan. It’s a tough lineup to predict for Michigan State because they have the versatility to switch it up each game to get the best matchup.
The true x-factor for Michigan State this season will be the play of Payne. The lanky center out of Dayton, Ohio only averaged nine minutes a game during his freshman year, but the frontcourt for the Spartans is spotty. Derrick Nix seems to always be in the doghouse of coach Izzo while Sherman transferred to Notre Dame. Payne played 17 minutes in a game only once during his freshman campaign, so his stamina is in slight question. But, Payne will be a great contributor for the Spartans. (He had offers from Kansas, Kentucky, and Ohio State.)
Three huge storylines:
- Can Draymond Green handle being the lead Spartan for Tom Izzo?
- Will Keith Appling be able to handle the point guard position?
- Does Tom Izzo and company have a team that can contend in the B1G?
Answers according to this blogger…1. If there were one person I had to trust this season in the Big Ten, it would be Green. His has fantastic leadership qualities while being solid on both ends of the court. Green has the height and strength of a power forward as well as having the sweet stroke of a shooting guard. He will be the leading scorer of the team unless Appling decides to be a shoot-first point guard.
2. Good transition to the second question! Appling is good. During Big Ten play, he was one of the most underrated players in the entire conference. In four of the final five B1G games, Appling scored in double digits. Now, he has to take on a completely different role. The point guard position was trusted upon Lucas during his entire campaign so Appling has huge shoes to fill manning the team up the court. He should be able to handle it, but expect growing pains especially at the beginning of the season against North Carolina and Duke.
3. Yes and no. Izzo has a team with the upside of contending for the Big Ten title, but as it stands right now, he has a team that should finish around fourth in the Big Ten. He will have two All-Americans starting with another five-star recruit as the starting center. The main issue is consistent scoring with the Spartans. Luckily, they have the defense to keep it afloat.
The Spartans have a rather tough non-conference schedule as usual. They play the top three teams in the ACC including North Carolina on an aircraft carrier on 11/11/11 in San Diego. Everything is going to be on Izzo’s shoulders with such a young team at his fingerprints.
Izzo has been a master of Midnight Madness. This year was no different. On Friday night, he dressed up as a fighter pilot a la the game against North Carolina. The intro video was a trailer of Top Gun with Izzo as Maverick. It was all smiles.
But will it stay all smiles in East Lansing? If they can pull off the upset against two of the best teams in the NCAA, Izzo will give a little smirk. Yet, he will keep his team grounded all season long as they try to thread through the Big Ten in better shape than a year ago.