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Replacing Gary Harris: Ellis and Trice must step up

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Spartans will miss Harris's perimeter shooting, defense

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

There was serious speculation last year that then freshman star shooting guard Gary Harris of Michigan State would forgo his remaining three years in East Lansing and enter the 2013 NBA Draft. Instead, Harris opted to return for his sophomore campaign and help lead the Spartans to this year’s elite eight. When it came time to make the same decision a year later, his decision to leave was viewed as more of a foregone conclusion. With Harris out of the fold for Tom Izzo, the Spartans are charged with the task of replacing one of the most productive two-way shooting guards in the country over the last two years. That being said, let’s take a closer look at how the returning Spartan players and the 2014 incoming recruiting class will look to replace the projected lottery pick.

Replacements from the 2014 Recruiting Class:

This year’s crop of talent coming into East Lansing features two guards who will likely see big minutes this upcoming season with the departure of Gary Harris and Keith Appling’s graduation. Lourawls "Tum Tum" Nairm is a smaller, quicker combo guard who’s an excellent slasher and has the quickness to get in the lane with ease. His stature would suggest he’s better fit for the point guard position moving forward but he could see time at the two depending on the lineups. The more likely candidate to step in and fit at the shooting guard position is Javone Bess. Bess has elite size for the 2 spot even though he played small forward in high school. He’s a strong, physical guard who attacks the rim and defends the perimeter at a high level as well. The biggest weakness for Bess is his perimeter shooting. Harris provided great spacing for the Spartans with his ability to knock down open jump shots. Bess will have to eventually become a similar threat to prevent defenses from clogging the lane to stop next year’s primary option: Branden Dawson.

Replacements From Within the Program:

The interesting question Tom Izzo will have to answer next year is what he is going to do with his backcourt. Travis Trice returns for his senior year and one would think Izzo would hand him the keys to the offense at the point guard position. However, Trice will be the best shooter of any guard in the program so he could see time at the two depending on the development of Alvin Ellis. Ellis showed flashes this year that indicate he could be a stud for the Spartans if he sticks around all four years. Ellis displayed great strength at the rim and defensive abilities in his limited role this past season but the concern should be his development as a jump shooter. Not that Ellis is a poor shooter from the perimeter (he shot 6-13 on the season) but he hasn’t shown that he can consistently score outside of the paint. That will be critical if the Spartans look to avoid a transition season this winter.

The biggest thing Michigan State will need to replace that Gary Harris brought was his shooting ability. The Spartans will always be good defensively, it’s just a standard that Tom Izzo holds each of his teams to. But Harris provided the best shooter to go through the program since arguably Drew Neitzel so finding someone to fill that role will be crucial to the 2014-2015 team’s success.