After an offseason of heavy blows, especially to the backcourt, Michigan State seemed to be lacking significantly in the guard position. Starting point guard Keith Appling had graduated while leading scorer Gary Harris was off to the NBA. This left Cleveland State transfer Bryn Forbes and senior Travis Trice to man the Spartan backcourt. While Tom Izzo and Spartan fans didn't know exactly what to expect from Bryn Forbes, it was obvious that Travis Trice could lead this team in the absence of last year's guards. Appling and Harris led their team to the Elite Eight in 2014 before falling to the eventual champion UCONN Huskies, but without a superstar in the backcourt, many doubted how far this Spartan team could actually go.
Early season losses prolonged these doubts. Falling to Duke and Kansas in the early going was no surprise, but a home loss to Texas Southern really raised eyebrows for this Spartan team. Trice was just 3 of 13 from the field in that game for 6 points, and he picked up 4 fouls in the frustrating loss. At that point in the season, things certainly weren't going exactly how the Spartans wanted them to go, with weaknesses in the backcourt beginning to rear their ugly head. In Michigan State's four non-conference losses Trice was just 16-55 (29%) from the field, but the Big Ten was a different story for the senior.
Travis Trice was a rare bright spot for a Michigan State team that struggled at the beginning of their conference schedule. In the Spartans Big Ten Home Opener against the Maryland Terrapins, Trice was the only Spartan in double figures with 26 points. Michigan State fell just short 66-68 in overtime. Trice scored 27 in a 2 point loss to Nebraska, 25 against Iowa, and 18 against Northwestern.
Despite Trice's high-level scoring performances, his team was not playing at the level Tom Izzo wished to see them playing at. Trice was doing what he could to set his teammates up, but there wasn't much chemistry on the court between the point guard and his team. Trice had a particularly frustrating game against Illinois where he shot just 2 of 10 from the field and what Tom Izzo did next saved his team from a downward spiral towards the NIT. He put Trice on the bench.
Was Izzo crazy? Why would be bench his starting point guard and leading scorer? Two reasons: to give his senior motivation to step up his game and to provide his team with something different to spark them out of a mid-season slump. And believe it or not, Tom Izzo actually knows what he's doing (maybe 17 straight NCAA Tournament appearances has something to do with it). Lourawls Narin Jr. gave the team the spark they needed as a starter, and Trice changed his game completely.
Trice didn't do what most seniors would do when they lose their job as a starting point guard to a freshman. Most seniors would sulk on the bench and complain about their minutes to their coach, but Trice knew better than that. Travis Trice upped his intensity as a complete player off the bench. He kept his scoring numbers up while playing better defense and setting his teammates up with better looks as well. Despite struggling with his shooting during a home game against Ohio State, Trice dished out 5 assists and proved his ability to impact the game without putting up all the points for his team.
The biggest part of Trice's improvement is intangible. Off the bench, Trice provided energy and leadership that Izzo's team direly needed. Trice played with more urgency than any of his teammates, and just from his body language, it was obvious that he wanted to lead his team to the post-season and beyond. Come March, Trice was back in the starting lineup with a new level of intensity, and the Spartans finished the season winning seven of their last nine.
Now the Spartans sit two games away from winning a National Championship. As a 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament, Michigan State is back in the Final Four after beating some of the nation's toughest teams in Virginia, Oklahoma, and Louisville. A major reason for this success has been their leader Travis Trice.
Travis Trice is averaging 19.8 points per game in the NCAA Tournament, but Travis Trice has matured to where he is no longer just a scorer, but also a team player. Trice is averaging 3.5 assist per game and is only turning the ball over 2 times per contest. Travis is the guy that gets his teammates going and has the experience to preform in pressure situations. He knows the expectations and knows what he has to do for his team. He is no longer just a good player but also a team player.
Just by the way he plays, you can tell how much Travis Trice wants to win a national championship, not just for himself, but for his teammates and coaches. Travis is playing the best ball he's played throughout his entire career and even though the Michigan State Spartans weren't expected to succeed like they have, Travis Trice has led them to the biggest stage of them all: The Final Four in Indianapolis. The Spartans face Duke in a rematch on Saturday and if you don't think Travis plans to leave it all on the floor, then you better think Trice.