Denzel Valentine may be the Michigan State basketball team’s MVP, but Bryn Forbes is the Key to the Spartans’ National Championship chances.
To which anyone reading this will respond, “Duh”.
The Wooden Award candidate is the team MVP by a long shot. He’s leading the squad in scoring and assists and is second in rebounding. He’s setting records and drawing comparisons to newly-minted NBA All-Star Draymond Green from a head coach who has been around some decent players. He already has two triple-doubles, flirted with several more and his season will go down as one of the best in Michigan State basketball history.
All of the above is going to make this next thought seem a little crazy but…Bryn Forbes is the Spartans’ most important player.
The numbers bear it out. In wins, Forbes is dropping 16.1 points and shooting a ridiculous 55% from 3-point range. In losses, those numbers plummet to 5.4 ppg and a paltry 16% from deep.
Valentine is incredible but the player that makes MSU a championship-caliber outfit plays shooting guard and has a wispy mustache. As #5 goes, so go the Spartans.
The last two games are a microcosm of his importance. In the 89-73 dismantling of rival Michigan, Forbes logged 29 points, shooting an absurd 8-10 from long distance. In that same game, Valentine dropped a cool 21-9-8 line.
Just three days later in West Lafayette against Purdue, Valentine put up an even more impressive 27-8-10 but Forbes was ice cold shooting 1-7 from beyond the arc and scoring only 7 points. MSU lost that game in overtime.
The reason the teams second-leading scorer has such an impact is because he dictates floor spacing. When he is on, an inch of room may as well be a mile. Defenders stick like glue, giving Valentine more room to get to the bucket and bigs like Matt Costello and Deyonta Davis space to operate on the block. Baskets become much easier to come by and MSU morphs into an extremely efficient team capable of beating anyone in the nation.
When Forbes is off and defenders can hang back an extra step, things get much more cramped. Bigs have more arms reaching for the ball and the offense becomes far too reliant on Valentine doing everything.
If you break it down, Forbes throws up a total clunker about once every five games. Based on that logic, it’s fair to assume MSU is going to have to survive at least one stinker in the NCAA Tournament, if they are to win the National Championship.
It’s not to say that MSU can’t overcome an off night or a cramped lane — Valentine is that good, MSU has solid bigs and wings Eron Harris and Matt McQuaid each shoot 40% or better from deep — but a team with its eyes on a National Championship will need its difference makers to, well, make a difference.
Tom Izzo’s MSU teams are famous for being able to win in a variety of ways, especially in March, and don’t get it twisted, this team is more than capable. But if and when Forbes can’t hit, someone else not named Denzel will have to step up.
If Izzo wants to hang his second National Championship banner, his troops will have to adapt when their rainmaker is coming up dry.