Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Big Ten Basketball Preview: #7 Michigan State Spartans

It feels very weird putting the Spartans this low in the conference rankings, but losing Adreian Payne, Gary Harris, and Keith Appling will do that.  Michigan State has suffered heavy and significant defections before, but this time the holdovers and replacements aren't strong enough to bring Sparty back to the top of the conference.  They should still be in the mix for an NCAA bid and will likely get one, it'll just be more of a struggle than years past when it was basically locked up by February, especially since Kenny Kaminski was dismissed from the team, leaving Sparty extremely thin in the bigs department.

Without Kaminski the big men are Branden Dawson, who is awesome, Matt Costello, who isn't, and Gavin Schillling, who is untested at best but being Shane Schilling's brother doesn't bode well for him, and that's it.  Dawsen they don't have to worry about assuming he doesn't break his hand punching a wall again or doing something else stupid.  Usually when a player is thrust into a position to go from supporting player to go-to guy like Dawsen I'd consider it a big question, but Dawsen is totally awesome and should be a monster this year.  It would probably help if he could develop any kind of jump shot, but he'll be just fine and be in the running for conference player of the year.  Beyond him?  It's dicey.

Matt Costello is the leading returnee at 14.7 minutes per game last year, and he was pretty productive in that time averaging 4.0 points and 3.3 rebounds per game while shooting 60% from the field.  He doesn't seem like the type to blossom into a star, but the Big Ten specializes in the whole Big White Stiff to Star transformation - look no further than Frank Kaminsky last year - so nothing would really surprise me.  The other legit option in the front court is Gavin Schilling, younger brother of Shane and Cody   He played sparingly last year, just 238 total minutes.  He gives them size (6-9, 240) and a complete inability to make free throws (11-21 last year) if nothing else.  Other than that the only size is a collection of unknowns, most of which are pretty underwhelming, though freshman Marvin Clark is at least interesting, in a hasn't been disappointing yet way.

As unsettled as the bigs are, the littles are in about as good of shape as they could be after losing both starting guards.  Travis Trice is back and should be able to slide into Appling's role with no issue whatsoever.  He's a better shooter than Appling was, if not quite as good a creator.  Should be an easy transition.  Denzel Valentine is also back on the wing, and he's one of the more underrated all around players in the conference, probably because he's so depressingly ugly.  He averaged 8 points, 6 rebs, nearly 4 assists, and 1 steal per game last year and I'm guessing there wouldn't be more than a handful of players who hit all those marks last season.  Fun Fact:  In our Fantasy Big Ten league he finished third in the league in scoring among returning players behind Frank Kaminsky and Rayvonte Rice, and he should better his numbers with more opportunity this year.  Sparty also adds two interesting freshmen on the perimeter on Lourawls Nairn (traitor) and Javon Bess, and has almost Gopher Alvin Ellis who looked good in a limited role last year, so the perimeter is really not a concern.

Michigan State has as many unanswered questions as anybody in the conference this year, yet I saw one magazine preview had them ranked as high as second in the conference.  That makes no sense to me, and I have pretty close to blind faith in Izzo, but somewhere from 5-8 feels about right.  That should put them in line to pick up a bid with a low single digit seed and then inevitably march to the Elite 8 because Izzo is a complete wizard in March.  Hate him.


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