The Michigan State Spartans seem ready for another good season under head coach Tom Izzo. After reaching the Final Four last season, there are high expectations for this Spartan team to make a return trip. With key returners and a plethora of solid incomers, the Spartans have what it takes, but here are three questions that still remain for Michigan State heading into the next season.
1. Can the Spartans fill the void left by Travis Trice?
Travis Trice was undoubtedly a huge reason why Michigan State made it all the way to the Final Four as a 7 seed last season. His 23 points helped knock out the 2 seed Virginia, and 24 against Oklahoma led the Spartans to the Elite Eight. While Travis Trice struggled mid-season, he's the quintessential example of a player who didn't quit down the stretch, despite being taken out of the starting lineup at one point in the season by Izzo. It was arguably Trice's toughness and ability to make plays down the stretch that led Michigan State into the Final Four.
While Travis Trice is now gone, Tom Izzo still has a number of weapons to utilize at the guard position. Lourawls "Tum Tum" Narin Jr. will be back to run the point, and a huge addition of West Virginia transfer Eron Harris should give Sparty one of the most formidable backcourts in the Big Ten conference. But will skill be enough? Travis Trice just had that special something towards the end of the season, and if Michigan State can find that kind of leadership and toughness again this year, it will be poised to be a dangerous team come March.
2. Can Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling take that "Next Step"?
Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling have been key pieces to Michigan State's success over the past few seasons. The two big men have provided quality minutes for Izzo in the paint, and with another season of experience under their belts, they'll look to do greater things this year.
Without Branden Dawson in the lineup, Costello and Schilling will need to step up and get their fair share of rebounds. Michigan State doesn't get out-rebounded. Ever. And freshman Deyonta Davis should help make sure that that doesn't change. But Costello and Schilling could certainly take the next step with their games and become huge contributors. It starts with more efficient rebounding, better free throw shooting, and staying out of foul trouble. If the two Spartan big men can enhance these areas of their games, then watch out.
3. Will the Free Throw Line be a Friend or Foe?
Michigan State ranked last in the Big Ten in free throw shooting. A pitiful team average of 63.3% from the line cost the Spartans a few games, and there are certain games that you can point to where sub-50% free throw shooting was the only reason Michigan State didn't get a victory. Branden Dawson wasn't a very good free throw shooter at 49%, but even with his absence, Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling remain who went 67% and 47% respectively last season.
Michigan State must become much better from the charity stripe if they want to be a legitimate team in the Big Ten next season. Free throw shooting can hold a team back, and it kills coaches because it is one of the easiest things to get better at. Look for Izzo to have placed an emphasis on making free throws this offseason because it is crucial that the Spartans knock down more of their free ones if they want to win games.