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Michigan State Spartans (Last Year: 27-9, 13-5 in Big Ten)
2013-14 Projected Depth Chart:
F/C: Matt Costello (Soph)/Alex Gauna (Jr)
PF: Adreian Payne (Sr)/Gavin Schilling (Fr)/Kanny Kaminski (Fr)
SF: Branden Dawson (Jr)/Russell Byrd (Jr)
SG: Gary Harris (Soph)/Denzel Valentine (Soph)/Alvin Ellis (Fr)
PG: Keith Appling (Sr)/Travis Trice (Jr)
Gone: C-Derrick Nix, G/F-Brandan Kearney (transfer-Arizona State)
With only one player gone from a year ago, it is easy to see why the Michigan State Spartans are one of the top-ranked teams heading into this season. If everything goes as expected, Tom Izzo should earn his seventh Final Four appearance with a shot at winning it all.
“I do think we’ve got a good team,” Izzo admitted at Big Ten Media Day. “I think we’ve got a veteran team. I think we’ve added some pieces. We’ve got some guys back healthy. You put all those things together, I think it gives you a shot.”
It also gives you a shot when you bring back your talented starting backcourt which Michigan State does in Keith Appling and Gary Harris. Appling isn’t a true distributing point guard, and tends to play sloppy at time, but his experience and scoring ability make him a key component to the team.
The Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year, Harris battled injury throughout most of last season and was never truly 100%, yet still had a very productive freshman campaign. Now that he is healthy, his explosiveness and aggressiveness in attacking the hoop should be on full display along with his improved outside shooting. Harris is an early favorite to be one my college basketball man-crushes this season.
Izzo has quality depth at guard with Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine. Each guy can play either backcourt position with Trice being a three-point threat off the bench, and Valentine’s versatility allowing him to play multiple positions.
Branden Dawson was in the same boat as Harris last season since he was recovering from a torn ACL that he suffered the previous March. Long removed from that injury, Dawson should be more productive this year while also being a valuable glue guy-type player since he really is the fourth option offensively. Seldom used Russell Byrd and freshman Alvin Ellis will compete for any leftover minutes on the wing.
Up front, Adreian Payne returns after a bit of a breakout junior year. He is an inside/outside threat who can stretch defenses with his perimeter shooting but can also use his height, length and athleticism to get buckets in the paint and protect the rim defensively.
Several guys are competing to replace the big body of Derrick Nix inside. Matt Costello and Alex Gauna each saw spot minutes last season, but are expected to get increased playing time this year with Costello likely starting at the five. Gavin Schilling is another physical, high-energy post player who adds some toughness and rebounding off the bench. Kenny Kaminski redshirted last season due to a shoulder injury, but could earn some time as a stretch four. Izzo also has the option of sliding Dawson to the four and using a three-guard look, which I would expect him to do quite frequently.
With the talent, depth, and experience across the roster, the Michigan State Spartans really don’t have a glaring weakness entering the season. With all of that in the Spartans’ favor, I’m sure as heck not betting against Izzo and neither should you.
Player to Watch: Gary Harris, SG
After interviewing Harris at the Big Ten Media Day, he instantly became my favorite player in the Big Ten. Even though his freshman year was hampered by injury, he could have turned pro and likely been a lottery pick. Instead, Harris chose to return to East Lansing, and now that he is at full go, should be one of the elite players in the country.
Key Non-Conference Games:
Predicted Big Ten Finish: 1st
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