Gary Harris decided to put his NBA dreams on hold for one more year. Adreian Payne flirted harder with the instant NBA dollars, but after a talk with his high school coach, Payne also decided to come back for another season in East Lansing. On paper this Michigan State Spartans team has very few holes but still has a few questions that will need to be answered.
Derrick Nix was the only senior on last years team, everyone else is back. Keith Appling and Gary Harris are widely considered to potentially be the best backcourt in the Big Ten and arguably one of the best backcourts in the country. Keith Appling still struggled with his jump shot at times but still was great on defense and didn’t shy away from the late game free throws. Gary Harris had an excellent first season in East Lansing. Harris gave the Spartans that outside shooting threat that was needed and also showed his toughness by playing through several shoulder and back injuries. Adreian Payne came on strong in the second half of the season and found his outside jump shot that was rumored when he came to East Lansing out of High School. Denzel Valentine had a really surprising season. He struggled offensively at times, but was solid on the defensive side of the ball and was terrific at finding the open man. While Valentine started the first handful of games, he found his role by coming off the bench and being that great 6th man that every team needs. Branden Dawson really struggled this past season to find his rhythm. Matt Costello was not an offensive threat, but played good on the defensive side of the ball holding his own against potential first round draft pick Cody Zeller. Travis Trice was a good scoring guard off the bench but he battled injuries most of the year. Alex Gauna and Russell Byrd played a few minuets here and there but had no real contributions to the team.
After making it to the sweet 16 and losing to the Duke Blue Devils, the Michigan State Spartans know that they have some questions that need to be answered.
Who will step into the vacated spot left by Derrick Nix?
Matt Costello should take over the Center position now that Nix has graduated. He played a solid defensive game and rebounded the ball well last season. However his offensive game was non existent and really struggled on that side of the ball. Costello needs to have a great summer and develop an inside game and a solid 15 foot jump shot which he has in his arsenal, I saw him play in high school he does have a solid jump shot. He also needs to put on about 15-20 pounds of muscle to bang with the big boys down low.
Alex Gauna will not compete for the center position. Gauna is more suited to be a power forward with the potential to have a similar style of play that Goran Suton had during his time at Michigan State. I would not be surprised to see Payne get more time at the center position as well next season.
Will Branden Dawson develop a perimeter jump shot?
Lets just make this simple. Branden Dawson can not shoot the ball from the perimeter consistently, that’s no secret, I know it, Izzo knows it, the Big Ten teams know it. Dawson has all the athletic ability in the world and can jump out of the gym, but he does not have good shooting mechanics. He shoots the ball from way to high above his head, he needs to lower the release point where he can control the ball more. He also needs to work on his ball handling, he had way to many turnovers last season from trying to drive through the lane and would end up getting the ball stolen. If Dawson can develop a consistent 12-15 foot jump shot, this Spartan team becomes more dangerous.
Can Adreian Payne pick up where he left off?
The second half of the 2012-13 season was a memorable one for Payne. He played great. He shot the ball from 3 point land at 38%, his free throw percentage was great, 84.8%. He had 9 double-doubles for the year and averaged 7.6 rebounds a game on the year to go along with almost 10.5 points a game. Payne is a great rebounder, he will fly to the ball no matter where he is on the court when the shot is released. If Payne can play the entire 2013-14 season like he did for half of the 12-13 season, which I think he will, he will lead the Spartans to big things in 2014 and will be a first round pick in the 2014 NBA draft.
The Spartans will open the season ranked anywhere from #2 to #5 in the country. The Spartans should be favorited to win the Big Ten Title and grab a 1 seed in the NCAA tournament for the second time in three seasons. Dick Vitale said this team could be the best team Izzo has ever coached. Adreian Payne and Gary Harris could find themselves on pre-season All American lists. With these expectations, Izzo isn’t making it any easier on his players. The Spartans will be playing arguably the top ranked Kentucky Wildcats in Chicago as part of the champions classic. The Spartans will also host North Carolina in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge and travel to Austin to face the Longhorns of Texas. The Big Ten season will be no cake walk either with Michigan, Ohio State, Indiana, and Iowa all challenging for the Big Ten Title.
We all know what happened in 2010 after big expectations were placed on that team following a final four run in 2009. If Izzo and the players can ignore the talk surrounding this team, the 2013-14 season has the makings of a special one in East Lansing.