After an improbable Final Four run as a #7 seed in 2015, Michigan State lost 2 of its top 3 players to graduation. Tom Izzo's squad will have to have multiple players step up and play a much more important role in 2015-2016 if they want to have the same success in a second straight season. The 3 key players for Michigan State in the upcoming season include 2 starters from their Final Four run along with a newcomer on campus.
#1. Denzel Valentine (6'5'', Senior, Guard)
While Valentine has played over 20 minutes per game each of his 3 seasons at Michigan State, he really broke out in his junior season. The Michigan native scored 14.5 points per game last season while shooting an impressive 41.6% from deep. With the departure of senior leaders Travis Trice and Branden Dawson, Valentine will not only have to produce big numbers on the court, but also provide leadership for a team that will have a lot of eyes on them after a final-four run last season.
I would expect Valentine to be the leading scorer on this team and a Big Ten Player of the Year candidate. As a junior, Valentine averaged 14.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 4.3 assists. His all around game is rare in college, and he shoots the ball efficiently from deep and the free throw line (83%). Valentine will be the focus of the offense while possibly leading the Spartans in points, rebounds, and assists. The team will go as Valentine goes, and if he has an off-night, Tom Izzo's squad could have a very hard time scoring.
#2. Deyonta Davis (6'9'', Freshman, Forward)
With leading rebounder Branden Dawson graduating, Michigan State is going to need a couple players to help fill the void left by the team's leading rebounder. While freshman don't always play a huge role on Tom Izzo's teams, as he sometimes leans toward more experienced players, he may have no choice but to give Deyonta Davis big time minutes in his first season at East Lansing. Davis is the #6 ranked power forward in the class of 2015 and the #1 player out of the state of Michigan. The former Michigan Mr. Basketball has good size and should be able to play power forward and some center for the Spartans.
Davis should play a lot next to senior Matt Costello and junior Gavin Schilling, but the freshman has the most potential out of this group. If he can fill the majority of the 30 minutes a game left by Dawson, it will help Michigan State once again compete for the Big Ten title. While Dawson was a leader and solid player for Michigan State, Davis already does a few things better than the current LA Clipper. Davis has shown the ability to step behind the 3 point line and shoot, which could give Izzo more options on offense if he has a big who can stretch the floor like he has in the past with Adreian Payne and Draymond Green. Davis also won't shoot 49% from the line like Dawson did in his senior season. The key in Davis' freshman season will be to develop the body that it takes to consistently rebound in the Big Ten, but if he does that, the Spartans have a centerpiece for a few years to come.
#3. Lourawis Nairn Jr. (5'10'', Sophomore, Guard)
The best recruit in Michigan State's 2014 class had a decent, but not great freshman season, averaging just 2.2 points in 19.4 minutes per game. Tom Izzo, however, showed that he believes in the Bahaman native as he started 17 games as a freshman including all 5 NCAA Tournament games the Spartans played in.
As a sophomore, however, it will be important that Nairn Jr. takes his productivity to the next level. He'll have to fill a lot of the void left by Travis Trice, who averaged over 15 points and 5 assists per game last season. Nairn will have to improve his shooting, which was under 32% including just 3-10 from deep all season.
I would look for him to come back with a much more consistent shot and with a more aggressive offensive style alongside Valentine and Bryn Forbes in the backcourt. Both Valentine and Forbes are excellent 3 point shooters, so if Nairn Jr. can create open opportunities for them, this Michigan State offense will be dangerous with what promises to be a solid Tom Izzo defense like always.