Michigan State Basketball Looking to Improve on Last Year's Sweet 16 Appearance
As the Michigan State Basketball squad lands in Germany for their 2012 season opener, the team looks to move on from the departure of one of the most productive Spartans in school history, Draymond Green. Led by Coach Tom Izzo, it's final four or bust for the group, and with plenty of experience to coincide with younger top recruits, it should be an exciting year in East Lansing.
PG: Keith Appling (Jr.) — The 6'1 ballhawk will once again be running the floor for the Spartans. After a year in which he saw his three-point shooting dip to 25%, he'll be relied on to make, and create shots for others. His 11.4 points-per-game was respectable, but it was the 1.7 assist to turnover ratio that will need to improve if the Spartans want to become the run-and-gun team that has been seen in small doses during the exhibition circuit.
SG: Gary Harris (Fr.) — Arguably the most heralded recruit at the guard position since Shannon Brown, Harris comes to town with all of the characteristics that make NBA scouts drooling over him. At 6'4, and 205 pounds, he sports an NBA body, with the athleticism needed to overpower Big Ten defenses. Known as a slasher, he also possesses the tools to create his own shot, and does it rather effectively (53% from the field last year). Harris may not just contend for Big Ten Freshman of the Year, but also at the national stage.
SF: Branden Dawson (So.) — Coming off a brutal ACL tear in which he saw his promising freshman campaign come to an end, Dawson looks to increase his role, taking many of the minutes Green had last season. Pre-ACL tear, Dawson was easily the most explosive player on the team, and looks like he hasn't lost that step during exhibition play. With a 58% mark on field goals last season, he'll look to expand on that by being more consistant with his mid-range jumper, which should help improve on his 8-points-per-game.
PF: Derrick Nix (Sr.) —The 6'9 bruiser down low looks to have combated weight issues that plagued him in years past, and will be looked on as Coach Izzo's main low-post player. With an average of 18 minutes a game, Nix managed to put up 8 points and 4 rebounds per contest. If he can increase his conditioning to a level of his counterparts, look for possible double digit totals in both categories.
C: Adreian Payne (Jr) — As one of the most versatile big men in the B1G, Payne has the ability to knock down the mid-range jumper, and according to Izzo, has been working on his three-point shot, rather effectively. Payne experienced breathing issues last season, which lowered his minutes to around 17 per game. Much like Nix, if he can maintain his conditioning, he'll improve on his 57 percent mark from the field, and guarantee a shot at the NBA.
Keys From The Bench:
Coach Izzo should be pleased with the talent he has coming off the bench, including the sharpshooter from Fort Wayne, Russell Byrd. Byrd, who has been plagued by foot issues during his tenure in East Lansing, is known for his pure stroke that had Kentucky and John Calipari after him. As a bit of a surprising call, Byrd was named captain, and looks to lead the Spartans in the way Green did last year. Behind Appling, the Spartans boast two guards capable on handling the rock in freshman Denzel Valentine, from nearby Lansing Sexton, and Travis Trice who showed blips of promise during an injury ridden season.
Coach Izzo has plenty of tools, and possibly the most talented team since the Flinstone unit of 2000. If the team is able to cohere as one without a definitive on-court leader, then the 2014 Final Four should be theirs.
After all, who else would you rather have in March than Tom Izzo?