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2012-13 Preview: #2 Michigan State Spartans (#14/#14)

Draymond Green led the Spartans to a Big Ten co-championship last season, but is now a rookie with the Golden State Warriors. The do-it-all forward averaged 16.2 points, 10.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game. He’s simply irreplaceable.

Nonetheless, Michigan State returns a number of talented players and welcomes an impressive freshmen class. There is a fair amount of risk that this year’s team falls short of expectations and we think both the team’s offensive and defensive efficiency may be slightly down this year, but Tom Izzo’s track record is too strong to bet against.

Glass Half Full

“McDonald’s is my spot” 

Michigan State went six years without bringing in a McDonald’s All-American, but Tom Izzo has now done so in each of the past three recruiting classes.

Keith Appling (2010 McDonald’s All-American, 30.8 mpg, 11.4 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 3.9 apg) took a nice step forward last season and should be able to build his game up by reducing turnovers and finding his 3-point stroke again (25.0% 3FG last year, 41.1% as a freshman). The 6’1” point guard is very good at taking the ball to the rack, which earned him frequent visits to the free throw line. Becoming a consistent deep ball threat would be especially helpful to this year’s squad which loses its top three 3-point shooters (3FGs made) from a year ago.

Prior to arriving in East Lansing, Branden Dawson (2011 McDonald’s All-American, 20.6 mpg, 8.4 ppg, 4.5 rpg) looked like a future NBA player to us. At 6’6”, 230, he’s long, strong and athletic, all of which help make him an impressive rebounder and a defender who can stop multiple positions.

Dawson had ACL surgery in March, but his rehabilitation efforts have been tremendous and he has looked great this fall. His perimeter offensive game isn’t yet as good as it will become, but other than that it’s hard to find flaws in Dawson’s game.  He’s an absolute pleasure to watch with or without the ball.

The top man in the 2012 recruiting class is McDonald’s All-American Gary Harris. At 6’4”, 205, he’s got good size out on the wing and is able to score at all three levels. On defense, Harris really gets after it and uses his length to create havoc. The true freshman is an absolutely legit talent and will make an immediate impact.

Experienced big men

The issue we see with 6’10”, 240 pound Adreian Payne and 6’9”, 270 pound Derrick Nix is that we’re not sure how often they can get their minutes together. Certain match ups will likely dictate that they’re not on the court together, but if they gel it’s a combination that can be scary good.

Payne, with his 7’1” wingspan, is an exceptional shot blocker and very good rebounder inside. Not a primary offense weapon last year, but he did convert 56.7% of his 2-point attempts and was used in about 20% of the team’s possessions while on the floor. Payne can face up and score away from the bucket.

Derrick Nix (18.9 mpg, 8.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg) is the only Spartan senior and is in far better shape than he was as a freshman. Although more fit, Nix is a still tough, wide body that can go toe to toe physically with anyone in the Big Ten. His soft hands and nice footwork combined with his size will continue to cause problems under the basket for opponents.

Glass Half Empty

Leadership 

This team needs to find its own identity post-Draymond Green. We believe it will, but there could be some bumps along the road. As you might expect, Michigan State’s nonconference schedule is challenging and may actually help this team answer some questions very early on. With Izzo leading the way, things should work out just fine, but Green meant a tremendous amount to this basketball program.

3-point shooting and 3-point defense

The Spartans aren’t usually heavy on 3-point shooting, but a solid team 36.2% 3-point field goal percentage helped last year.

Three of their top shooters – Draymond Green, Brandon Wood and Austin Thorton – were seniors and combined for 130/329 or 39.5% 3FG shooting. The rest of the team went 70/226 for 31.0%.

That said, Keith Appling (25.0% 3FG) can be better this year and other long-distance threats like sophomore Travis Trice (30/74 for 40.5%) and 6’7” redshirt sophomore Russell Byrd (9/33 for 27.3%) can help.

Michigan State’s opponents last year shot only 29.9% 3FG overall and a stunning 27.5% 3FG in regular season conference games. We believe that MSU’s Big Ten 3FG percentage defense will rise at least 2.0%.

Other Comments 

  • In addition to Gary Harris (#16 RSCI), this year’s incoming class includes 6’9” big Matt Costello (#86), 6’8” forward Kenny Kaminsky (#98) and 6’5” guard Denzel Valentine (#88). A shoulder injury will keep Kaminsky out of the lineup for much, if not all, of the season.
  • 2013 Recruiting: Michigan State, who loses only Derrick Nix to graduation after this year, has no commitments but is in the mix for prized prospect Jabari Parker. 

A Look Back at 2011-12 Preseason Preview Quote(s)
“(Picked #2) True freshman Branden Dawson is an exceptional talent and likely will start on the wing…Dawson must make strides in parts of his game to become an elite player, but if he can be steady with the ball, play good defense and do what he does on the glass, he’ll be very good this year. In future years, he will be great.”

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