The Michigan State Spartans enter the 2014-2015 season needing to replace two NBA first round picks in Adreain Payne and Gary Harris, as well as four year starting point guard, Keith Appling. Throw in the dismissal/departure of Kenny Kaminski, who was thought to be rotational player this season, and it appears as though there is some uncertainty in East Lansing as they prepare for the upcoming year. Nevertheless, Tom Izzo doesn't believe in transitional years and with a man like that at the reigns there's always going to be a buzz around the Spartans. Let's take a look at five reasons to be optimistic this season if you're an MSU fan.
1) Tom Izzo
College basketball, much more then the NBA, is a coaches league, if you will. Think about the icons that come to mind when you think of collegiate hoops. The Coach K's, Jim Boeheim's, Bobby Knight's of the world come up way more then say, Michael Jordan in college. Why is this? Well, for starters, many of these legendary coaches establish themselves at their respective schools for decades on end, while players last only a few seasons on campus at most. Tom Izzo is rapidly approaching that group of all time great coaches and for good reason. Since his time in East Lansing, the Spartans have only failed to make the tournament twice. It is well known his demand for his teams to be tough, physical and defense orientated. With Tom Izzo leading your program, there's always room for optimism.
2) Transfer Talent
Eron Harris made national news when he decided to leave West Virginia to come play in East Lansing. Harris won't be eligible to contribute this season per NCAA rules, however, he goes a long way towards setting up Michigan State to contend in the future. Where Tom Izzo and his staff have whiffed on top recruits the last two seasons (Jabari Parker, Tyler Ulis) Harris gives the Spartans a scoring threat and excellent defense from the guard position. A less publicized transfer but perhaps more impactful is Bryn Forbes, who came over from Cleveland State. Reports are he looks phenomenal in practice and can immediately help MSU win games.
3) Senior's at Key Spots
Earlier I talked about how coaches are easily the most important piece to a successful college basketball program, well point guard might be second. Point guards in college are the ultimate extension of coaches and generally when that combination is in sync, a team is right in the thick of contention. Michigan State is fortunate to have senior Travis Trice return to be the floor general on an otherwise fairly young squad. Trice has proved invaluable to the Spartans in his career backing up Keith Appling and it appears he's ready for a full time role. Having pick and roll partner, do it all forward Branden Dawson in the mix helps ease the burden on Trice as well. These two seniors will try to accomplish what last year's crew fell short on, a Final Four appearance.
4) Young, Hungry Bigs
Sophomore Gavin Schilling comes from one of the most prestigious high schools in the country in Findlay Prep (NV), so he's used to competing at the highest level. In sporadic time last year, Schilling exhibited a soft touch around the hoop and the type of toughness and rebounding that Izzo and Co. love. Schilling is a prime candidate to break out this season as a sophomore. Matt Costello is in a similar spot. After claiming the state of Michigan's Mr. Basketball award his senior year of high school, Costello has shown glimpses of what makes him so good on the inside. He was limited last season at points because of an illness but with Payne moving on to the NBA, this is Costello's year to step up and continue the tradition of productive Spartan bigs.
5) Big Ten is down
Sugar coat it however you'd like, the Big Ten is going to take a step back this season compared to recent years. The conference lost 7 players to the first two rounds of the NBA draft including five first rounders overall. Not to mention college superstars like Aaron Craft among others moving on (finally) because of graduation. The fact of the matter is, the Big Ten is going to be young across the board. With new players needing to step up and much uncertainty about how good each team will be, this is the year for a team like Michigan State to be somewhat down and still have a chance to win the crown come March.
After some early season tests, the Spartans should be battle tested come conference play, and that's just how Tom Izzo wants it to be. With enough upperclassmen experience to balance out the young talent arriving in East Lansing it is sure to be an exciting season, even if there is some uncertainty. I've never been one to distrust Coach Izzo, now's not the time to start.