Going into the NCAA Tournament last year everything looked good for the Michigan State Spartans (28-9, 14-4 Big Ten). They finished tied for first with Purdue in the Big Ten and in last NCAA Tournament had made it to the national title game. Thus, most folks expected the Spartans to go all the way. But it all came to a screeching halt when Michigan State lost to Butler 52-50 in the Final Four. How good are the Spartans this year? There’s a lot expected of this team that has not missed a bid to the Big Dance since 1997. One thing is just about certain, they won’t miss one this season either.
When you talk about Michigan State you have to talk about its big, tough frontcourt and when you discuss the frontcourt, you have to talk about Draymond Green (6-6, 235 lbs., JR, #22, 9.9 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 3.0 apg, 25.5 mpg, .525 FG, .125 3PT, .672FT). Green is an amazingly smart player, who starts this season 15 pounds lighter than he was last year, which should enhance his quickness. What makes him especially effective is that he can score, rebound and dish it off. The guy is multidimensional. Additionally, Green is a solid defender. His experience and leadership are essential ingredients to Michigan State’s success.
Joining Green will be junior forward Delvon Roe (6-8, 280 lbs., JR, #10, 6.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 1.2 apg, 20.6 mpg, .553 FG, .000 3PT, .661 FT). Roe has bulk and power but due to injuries has underperformed in his first two seasons. If his knees are healthy, then the forward will prove to be an effective weapon from ten-feet away and closer. Roe is one of those guys who has tangibles such as quickness and strength, but he also possesses important intangibles, including the heart and drive to win. Roe is a true gamer. His downside is his lack of an outside shot.
Starting at center this season will be sophomore Derrick Nix (6-8, 280 lbs., SO, #50, 2.3 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 0.3 apg, 7.8 mpg, .507 FG, .000 3PT, .271 FT). Nix is not a standout player, but he does offer nice footwork and reliable, skilled hands. The center has some good inside scoring chops. Plus, in the off-season, he worked hard to lose weight and bulk up, making him more of force in the paint. Because he is primarily an inside player, any ability he has to draw fouls is wasted with a charity stripe shooting percentage of .271. If he can improve this facet of his game, Nix will become a much more important player. Until he does, players can simply maul him.
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Last year, point guard Kalin Lucas (6-0, 190 lbs., SR, #25, 14.8 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 4.0 apg, 31.1 mpg, .453 FG, .354 3PT, .772 FT) ripped his Achilles tendon in March, putting an early end to what had been a premium season. Lucas, who last year played more than any other Spartan, can hit from downtown, sink a 15-foot pull up jump shot or drive to the basket and score. Once he is fully healthy, he could prove to be one of the best in the nation at his position. But that probably won’t be until partway through the year as he continues to mend at the start of the 2010-2011 season. If he does not come along as planned, the backcourt does have some quality options off the bench.
If the Spartans are looking for points, then their extremely athletic shooting guard Durrell Summers (6-4, 205 lbs., SR, #15, 11.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 0.8 apg, 26.2 mpg, .455 FG, .358 3PT, .795 FT) can serve them up and often in bunches. Durrell is the best free throw shooter on the team. But last season, he played unevenly and was often unfocused. In March, he broke out of his slump, scoring points from downtown at will and being named the Midwest Region’s Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA Tournament. The hope is that Durrell continues from where he left off.
The reserves are very strong. Korie Lucious (6-0, 190 lbs., SR, #34, 5.6 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 3.3 apg, 22.9 mpg, .341 FG, .317 3PT, .739 FT) is a combo guard who brings starter potential off the bench. Lucious can play a slew of minutes, holding his own against just about anyone. In the frontcourt, Garrick Sherman (6-10, 235 lbs., SO, #41, 7.2 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 1.6 apg, 7.2 mpg, .596 FG, .000 3PT, .616 FT) can give quality, competitive minutes. The incoming class is very talented and includes talented and accomplished center Adreian Payne and sure-shot guard Keith Appling. Appling was the State of Michigan’s Mr. Basketball in 2009-2010.
Last season, Michigan State was solid on both sides of the ball. They team’s offensive efficiency was at 112.9 (28th) and its defensive efficiency came in at 91.1 (30th). Their offensive rebounding was at 39.7% (10th), which aided in their ability to put points on the board. Their total rebound margin was +8.6, ranking them tops in the conference. On defense, they were especially effective versus the two-point shot, as opponents hit just 45.1% (64th).
They were very effective in connecting on two-point shots, as they got 59.2% (23rd) of their overall points from that area while sinking 51.6% (40th) of them. Although they were a decent free throw team overall, hitting 68.5% (194th), only 19.7% (248th) of their points were from the line. Drawing more fouls will give them a real advantage at the charity stripe. The good news regarding fouls was on defense, as opponents got just 19.3% of their scores from the foul line.
For head coach Tom Izzo (364-146 in 15 years at Michigan State and overall), there has been just one home—Michigan State. Under Izzo, the Spartans have been to the NCAA Finals twice, winning once, and have been to seven Elite Eights and nine Sweet 16s. He’s won six NCAA Regional Division Championships, six Big Ten titles and two Big Ten Tournament Championships. Izzo is not afraid to make the tough decisions. Talented shooting guard Chris Allen, who was suspended from last year’s Big Dance, was finally dismissed from the team in August. He will be replaced.
The Spartans must makeup for Allen’s contributions and also for the departure of forward Raymar Morgan, who graduated this past spring. Allen averaged 8.2 PPG and Morgan had 11.3 PPG and 6.2 RPG. Will Michigan State be able to find those lost points and rebbies somewhere?
The Spartans have as solid a starting lineup as you’re going to find, an extremely talented bench and four top recruits. Izzo’s landing Payne, an elite NBA prospect, is as big as it gets. Payne will go a long way in filling the gap in the frontcourt. And Appling is another huge asset. This Spartans team has an excellent chance of winning the Big Ten and going deep into the NCAA Tournament. It’s tough to say what can stop them. If Roe and Lucas can’t come back fully that will be a hindrance. But even in that event, there’s enough talent onboard for this team to vie for the conference title. They will, once again, battle with the top teams in the nation for the top spot. They start the season at number two just behind Duke and just ahead of Kansas State.
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