Why this MSU basketball team will be better than 2010-11’s
Yes, the Michigan State men’s basketball team has started its season 0-2 for the first time since the 1970s, but I’m feeling good about the Spartans’ potential to be a solid team this year. They won’t be great by MSU standards, but they’re going to be a fun group to watch develop and should have a better season than the uber-hyped Spartans that entered the season ranked No. 2 last year.
Last year proved that if you don’t have chemistry (A cliched and overly used word I hate as a sportswriter, yet undeniably important to a team) and if there’s locker-room drama, any amount of talent can’t help you win. This year, the opposite is true. This looks like a cohesive squad — one with low expectations from outside and fresh starts from the inside.
When you have two players on the entire team, Draymond Green and Keith Appling, as the only guys who averaged at least 20 minutes per game the previous season, players will have to quickly adjust to new roles.
That’s why losing to top-ranked North Carolina by 12 and sixth-ranked Duke by five has me encouraged, to say the least. BUT WAIT! As MSU basketball fans we should be able to beat elite teams! We are an elite program! While Tom Izzo has built something special in East Lansing, this year is far from normal.
Consider the attrition: Delvon Roe (retired due to injury), Korie Lucious (transfer) and Garrick Sherman (transfer). That’s two starters, Roe and Lucious, and another big body to spell Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne down low. Instead, they’ve left an unforeseen void in the same year the talented — if not embattled — backcourt mates of Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers graduated.
So MSU fans should be prepared to expect some bumps in the road this season. For me, personally, they are already exceeding expectations and I have no doubt the Spartans will earn their 15th consecutive NCAA Tournament bid with a chance to make some noise in March.
Why so optimistic? The first two games have revealed a foundation of building blocks for the team, as well as several areas needed for improvement.
True freshman wing Branden Dawson is the real deal. His body is already in Big Ten shape. While I thought he’d contribute on the boards right away, I didn’t expect him to help out much on the offensive side early, but so far he’s done both. He has a decent jump shot and has great ability to finish at the rim. Through two games, he’s shooting 50 percent and has 19 points and 10 rebounds. But more than that, he always seems involved and has three steals and three blocks as well. He’s going to be a key piece of this squad for years to come (if he doesn’t leave too early!)
Another true frosh, point guard Travis Trice, looks comfortable running the team and is going to give Appling a run for his money as the starting point. His passing ability has already shown to be superior. Appling has more upside as a scorer, as evidenced by dropping 22 on Duke, but he seems awkward and like he’s thinking too much. Except when the Spartans got down big, he played like there was nothing to lose and went into the attack mode that reminded me of watching him score 49 points on Kalamazoo Central in the MHSAA Class A state final game his junior year.
Payne is showing flashes of that potential that earned him status as a five-star recruit. His defense seems improved over last year and his rebounding has been better.
In fact, rebounding as a whole has been a great sign. The Spartans beat the Tar Heels by 15 on the glass and Duke by one. Dominating the boards is a staple of Izzo teams, and their inability to do it was one of last season’s primary downfalls.
Tough team defense has kept them in the game with two of the nation’s most potent offensive teams.
Valparaiso transfer Brandon Wood, despite disappearing for much of the UNC game looked to be settling into the offense against Duke, scoring 15 points, including a beautiful teardrop floater from the baseline to end the first half.
The Bad (AKA who is going to make some shots this year?)
Derrick Nix and Payne can’t finish at the rim, but they’re getting great position.
Green isn’t making his shots, but he’s making his impact felt everywhere else.
Appling’s rocky start at point guard, but the way he played in the second half against UNC leads me to believe he can still play a special role on this team.
The careless fouls and turnovers. Nuff said.
In the end, these are all correctable problems. I’m most concerned about who is going to score for the team, but I’d rather have the defense, rebounding and chemistry on display early in the season and work on the offense than vice versa.
Izzo has made a name for himself transforming teams and having them peak in March. Spartan fans still don’t know exactly what they have for a team yet, but watching this team figure it out should be fun to watch.