Big Ten basketball previews: Michigan State Spartans

Before we get to Michigan State, I'd like to thank all of the Big Ten fans who have stopped by to read the various previews (you can read all of them by clicking here). Let's take a look at a few reviews:

Not the greatest breakdown I've seen.

Meh.  An ok write up for Northwestern fans, I guess.  I prefer writers who know something about our team.

The beer belly comment on Cougil was crap. Prob bitter we knocked them out of tourney last year.


It looked to me that the blog was by Black Heart Gold Pants, not someone who covers Northwestern.

Sounds like the jerk is still steaming over being one of Iowa's victims last year.

Ouch, tough crowds on the Illini and Hawkeye fan message boards (the BHGP comparison guy was trying to insult me; I'll take it as a complement). But the reviews weren't all bad:

HA!!!!!!!!  A complete non-sequitur of an Xzibit reference in the middle of a Northwestern blog, of all places.  That pretty much made my day.  +100 cocktails to this man (despite his grim assessment of our team).

Thank you, kind mgoblog commenter.  The lesson here: more 1990's rap references, less actual basketball talk. Ok, enough preamble before people interested in a Michigan State preview direct their browsers elsewhere.

Blog Representation

The Only Colors

Last season

Coming off an appearance in the national title game, expectations were very high for the Spartans, as they were ranked #2 in the preseason polls. The non-conference record of 10-3 was a bit of a disappointment, but once Big Ten play started the Spartans caught fire, as they raced out to a 9-0 record and appeared to have the regular season title all but locked up. But a loss to Wisconsin at the Kohl Center (a house of horrors for Sparty over the years) combined with an injury to star point guard Kalin Lucas sent the Spartans into a late-season tailspin, as they finished 14-4 and had to share Big Ten title honors with Ohio State and Purdue. And after they were upset in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals by Minnesota, Sparty slipped to a #5 seed in the NCAAs, and a deep tourney run seem like a long shot.

Of course, given Tom Izzo's incredible NCAA track record (he's now an other-wordly 35-12), you'd have been foolish to count out Michigan State, and once again they rose to the occasion in March and reached the Final Four before finally falling to Butler. They certainly benefited from some good luck (not having to face any of the top 3 seeds in their region, 32% 3-point shooter Korie Lucious hitting a do-or-die three in the second round to beat Maryland), but it was still an incredible accomplishment, especially considering that Lucas went down with a season-ending knee injury in the Maryland game. Izzo pushed the right buttons throughout Michigan State's run, and with most of last year's team back to go along with a highly regarded freshman class, you'd have to like Sparty's chances to make a third straight Final Four.

Players not returning

Michigan State loses two rotation players; Raymar Morgan graduated and Chris Allen was kicked off the team. The 6'8" Morgan looked like he'd be a future star during his freshman, but he never really improved the way people expected him to (he was right around 12 points and 6 rebounds on 50% shooting in all 4 years). Still, he was certainly a solid contributor throughout his Spartan career and will be missed.

Allen was supposed to be a starting guard and senior leader this year, but over the summer Izzo kicked him off the team for unspecified reasons and he's since landed at Iowa State. He was the Spartans' best 3-point shooter (40% last year) and also a fantastic athlete (as seen by this dunk), and will also be missed.

Backcourt

Even without Allen, Michigan State still has a ton of talent and depth in the backcourt, led by senior point guard Kalin Lucas, who was player of the year in the Big Ten as a sophomore and All-Big Ten as a junior. His 15 points and 4 assists per game were tops on the Spartans a season ago, and he's an excellent floor general and leader who always seems to play his best in big games. The big question for Lucas this season is his health, as he tore his Achilles tendon in the NCAAs last year, but it appears he'll be ready to go to start the season.

Senior Durrell Summers will start at shooting guard, and he appears poised for a breakout year after averaging 19 points per game during the NCAA tournament. He might be the best athlete in the Big Ten and is also a decent perimeter shooter; opponents will have their hands full.

Junior point guard Korie Lucious and freshman combo guard Keith Appling also figure to be in the guard rotation. Lucious was the backup last year, and struggled mightily during Big Ten play (shooting under 30% and turning the ball over a lot), but when Lucas went down in the NCAA's, Lucious did an excellent job filling in, most notably hitting the game-winning buzzer beater vs. Maryland. I would expect him to improve a lot this season and get plenty of minutes, although if he keeps drinking and driving he'll find himself back on the bench.  Appling was a top recruit from nearby Detroit and figured to make an immediate impact. Redshirt junior Austin Thornton and senior walk-on Mike Kebler also figure to get some playing time.

Frontcourt

Junior Draymond Green is their top returning forward and may contend for All-Big Ten honors. Although he's a bit under-sized at 6'6", he's an excellent rebounder (8 per game in only 25 minutes a night), a great passer out of the high post (3 assists per game) and a solid mid-range scorer. He's joined by 6'8" junior Delvon Roe, the kind of big, physical power forward that Tom Izzo teams always seem to feature. Sophomore centers Derrick Nix (currently best known for his absymal 27% free throw shooting) and Garrick Sherman will also contribute, and highly regarded freshman Adreian Payne should get some run off the bench as a rebounder and shot-blocker.

Expectations

Anything short of a third straight Final Four appearance will certainly be seen as a disappointment; the Spartans are ranked #2 nationally in the preseason polls and are loaded as usual. The backcourt could be one of the nation's best, and the frontcourt isn't exactly lacking in talent either. Combine that with one of the best coaches of all-time in Tom Izzo, and you're looking at one of the favorites to cut down the nets in Houston. However, I expect Michigan State to be slow out of the gate. The non-conference schedule is extremely difficult as usual, and several Spartans are recovering from off-season injuries. And as Izzo said on media day:

we make a concerted effort that even if we don't have the players to add depth, we play them and sometimes lose some games early, but it benefits us in the end.

So it will take some time for Michigan State to come together, and the likely non-conference losses may cost them a #1 seed come March, but once this team gels, the pieces are there to reclaim the outright Big Ten title and make the Final Four for the seventh time in thirteen seasons (I still can't get over how impressive that stat is).

SoP Prediction: 1st in the Big Ten, #2-#5 seed in the NCAAs.

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