After an improbable run to the Final Four in the 2015 NCAA Tournament, Tom Izzo's squad has a lot to live up to in the 2015-2016 season. They also have a few big names to replace after losing Travis Trice and Branden Dawson to graduation. Today, we look at three story-lines that will dominate the headlines in East Lansing as Michigan State tries to repeat a run to the FInal Four.
1. Can Denzel Valentine be a Wooden Award Candidate?
After a very impressive junior season, Denzel Valentine will have to shoulder even more of the load for the Spartans in 2015. With Travis Trice and Branden Dawson graduating, Valentine will be expected to be even better than he was last year when he set career highs in points, rebounds, and assists. In 2014-2015, the Lansing native averaged 14.5 points, 4.3 assists, and 6.3 rebounds for Tom Izzo’s squad and showed a mature and developed game.
While underclassmen have dominated college basketball headlines in recent seasons, the Wooden Award has gone to a senior 3 of the last 5 seasons including Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky last year. If Michigan State wants to have another special season, Valentine will have to be in the conversation. He will not only have to score more himself, but also create for his teammates, as Travis Trice’s 5.1 assists per game will no longer be there.
Of course, there will be a lot of competition with other upper-classmen like Marcus Paige and Kris Dunn and under-classmen like Ben Simmons and Melo Trimble, but with his talent and the high volume of opportunities that will come his way next season, Valentine has the ability to put himself in the conversation for the Wooden Award in 2015-2016.
2. Deyonta Davis Arrives in East Lansing
Arguably Tom Izzo's best recruit since landing Gary Harris in 2012, Deyonta Davis will have a lot of opportunities to succeed in his freshman season on campus. Davis comes with a lot of hype surrounding him as the top prospect in the state of MIchigan and a top-25 prospect in the nation. The 6'9'' power forward will most likely slide right in to the starting lineup for Tom Izzo and will have big shoes to fill with the departure of Branden Dawson from Michigan State's front line.
While Davis has good size for a freshman and is very athletic, his effectiveness away from the rim may be how he can set himself apart. If Davis can stretch the floor, it could open up the offense for a Michigan State team that may struggle to score at times without 2 of their top 3 scorers from 2014-2015. With Denzel Valentine, Spartan fans know what they will get next year, but the unknown production that Deyonta Davis may bring in his freshman season has fans in East Lansing buzzing about another possible trip to the Final Four.
3. Can Izzo Reach Final Four Number 8?
Fans in East Lansing have grown to expect deep runs from Tom Izzo's teams in the NCAA Tournament. Since taking over in 1995, Izzo has reached 13 Sweet Sixteens and 7 Final Fours. An eighth Final Four, however, would move Izzo above Rick Pitino and Roy Williams on the all-time list, putting Izzo at #4 behind just Coach K, John Wooden, and Dean Smith. That's pretty impressive company for a former Division II basketball player from a small town in Michigan.
While Izzo has some holes to fill from his 2014-2015 FInal Four team, he has more than enough talent to make another run. Davis brings talent to East Lansing from the recruiting trail, but it is unknown if Izzo will have talented transfer Eron Harris. Following an excellent 2 years at West Virginia, including averaging 17.2 points in his sophomore season, Harris transferred to Michigan State in 2014. After sitting out the 2014-2015 season, Harris was charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated in July and indefinitely suspended from the team. It is unknown at this point what Izzo plans to do with the talented guard, who could provide the talent needed to replace Travis Trice in the backcourt.
Like always, Michigan State has a lot of story-lines heading in to the 2015-2016 season. From a possible Wooden Award candidate to a highly talented freshman, it is certain that Michigan State has the talent to once again be a force in the Big Ten. While this team may have some hiccups early on, Tom Izzo always has his squads playing their best basketball heading in to the tournament, and I wouldn't expect anything different in 2015-2016.