Team Preview: Michigan State Spartans
By: Fraser Lockerbie
2011-12 Record: 29-8, 13-5 in the Big Ten
Coach: Tom Izzo, 412-169 at Michigan State, 412-169 overall
Don’t tell the Big Ten, but Tom Izzo might prefer the depth necessarily afforded to him in the absence of Draymond Green. Granted Green takes his 16.2/10.6/3.8/1.5/1.0 slash line with him to the Golden State, his departure also opens up the floor for a more balanced Michigan State attack, the up-tempo, transition-type offense Tom Izzo has had success with in year’s past when his team’s fates aren’t intrinsically tied (and rightfully so) to a 33-minute-a-night monster.
Strongside: OK. Maybe that’s looking a little too hard for a silver lining; no one wants to say goodbye to a versatile forward like Green, but Michigan State can now go 11 deep on defense and can afford to (indeed, will have to) go a little deeper on the glass.
Upfront, senior center Derrick Nix and forward Adreian Payne will be charged with putting up points in the paint; both are proficient low-post scorers who should benefit from more opportunities while Brendan Dawson, a true transition player with speed and power, will work to improve his shooting should Nix and Payne need an out.
In the backcourt, Keith Appling will retain his position at the point despite an off-year in 2012 offensively. He could be spelled by Travis Trice, but coach Izzo might want to see how the sophomore guard fares at the two spot; should he succeed there, Michigan State could have two terrific ball-handlers carrying their transition game with incoming freshmen Gary Harris being subbed in when the Spartans need a true scorer. If not, Harris, with his size and speed will carry the workload as their starting shot guard.
Weakside: Outside Brendan Dawson, no one Spartan is a terrific rebounder, and Dawson’s primary job certainly won’t be getting boards. Any sloppy play in the paint could slow down what should be a very good transition offense. In that same vein: without a bonafide big man to bring down them boards, the Spartans will have to work extra hard to avoid turnovers and the points accrued from them; if they can’t at least keep pace in the possession battle (something that can certainly get out of hand playing up tempo like they do) they could find themselves in a hole they can’t crawl out of.
All Told: For a team that lost one of the best players on the floor in 2012, the Spartans are actually looking pretty good. Offensive focus will move from the front court to the back where Appling will have to reestablish himself as an offensive presence and Dawson will have to prove he hasn’t lost a step after an ACL tear. Gary Harris brings another level to an already fast-paced program and if even one of their starters can creep up to the 9.0 RPG range they should be tough out in the Big Ten and a potential fixture for the Final Four.