No matter what you think of Keith Appling and his tenure at Michigan State -- whether he was overrated, too inconsistent, or an explosive weapon -- the experienced point guard has graduated and the Spartans have to find a way to replace him. Add to that the production hole that NBA Draft choice Gary Harris leaves in the lineup, and Tom Izzo has quite an issue on his hands. The coach, has, however, imported some helpful pieces that could launch Sparty back into the Big Ten title hunt sooner than some expect.
Travis Trice has been a useful player for Michigan State in his prior three years with the program. He's been able to pop up off the bench and handle the ball for a little while or knock down some threes from the shooting guard spot. That versatile nature will make Trice even more valuable to Izzo during the combo guard's final season of eligibility. Now pushed into a full-time role by the departures of Appling and Harris, Trice can be a lethal weapon if he continues to hit 40 percent of his three-point shots. He might be used more as a distributor, though, at least until top recruit Tum Tum Nairn is deemed ready to take over at point guard.
Bryn Forbes, a transfer from Cleveland State, was granted a waiver to play this season by the NCAA over the summer. The timing couldn't be better for Michigan State, a team that needs a scorer to complement Trice and Nairn. Forbes averaged 15.6 points per game in the competitive Horizon League last season, and he did that while shooting 42 percent from beyond the arc. Although his two-point efficiency wasn't as impressive, Forbes should be able to take fewer bad shots while surrounded by a talented cast at Michigan State.
Although he's loaded with talent, Tum Tum Nairn will likely start the season on the bench due to the experience of Trice and Forbes. Even so, Izzo might not be able to hold him back for long. At 5'10" and 170 pounds, Nairn is low on size but high on quickness and athleticism. He should be able to cut to the basket and create opportunities for the Spartans like Kalin Lucas did back when he was wearing the green and white. Nairn is coming into the Michigan State program at the perfect time and his lack of NBA size gives him a chance to be a star in East Lansing for quite some time.
Alvin Ellis is another guard off the bench who can provide depth for Izzo this year. Coming off of a freshman season in which he played just eight minutes per game, Ellis has a chance to let his talent shine in 2014-15. Even though Nairn is the more highly touted player, Ellis brings some three-point shooting to the table that differentiates himself from the point guard. Ellis' 6'4" frame is another factor that makes Izzo's guard rotation a bit more versatile.