The 2011-12 Michigan State men’s basketball team began their regular season on an aircraft carrier against the nation’s top-ranked team, North Carolina. While they weren’t literally played off the ship, they lost, 67-55. They ended their regular season in more familiar territory, at home against the tenth-ranked Ohio State Buck-something. After jumping out to an early 15-point lead, a stalled offense, questionable officiating, and ridiculous fallaway jumper made by Ohio St.’s William Buford with less than two seconds left resulted in a 72-70 loss for Sparty. In between all of that was a second consecutive loss (to punk ass Duke) to begin the regular season, “good wins” over Gonzaga and Florida State, a split with resurrected in-state rival Michigan, “bad losses” to both Northwestern and Illinois by one point each, head coach Tom Izzo’s 400th win, and an obliteration of conference newcomer Nebraska. Currently, the Spartans are ranked 8th by the Associated Press and find themselves 5th in RPI rankings.
In my years of watching and being a fan of MSU men’s basketball, it was usually Izzo who was the driving force behind the team, whether in the regular or postseason. This year, senior 6’8″ G/F/C and Wooden Award finalist Draymond Green led the troops. Before this season, Green was the best role player in the country. He did whatever was asked of him just well enough to help Sparty win games. While not a top pro prospect even after a great regular season, he has supplanted himself as the nation’s best all-around player, averaging 16.2 points, 10.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.2 steals per game. Despite some pretty bad shot selection at times, Green has still managed to shoot 45% from the field and 41% from 3. He may not win the Wooden Award, which is given annually to the country’s best player, but if there were an award for its most valuable, he would win in a landslide. Senior F/C Delvon Roe was shelved for the entire season before even practicing, and a dismissal and transfer had many–including myself–figuring 11-12 would be a down year for MSU. After their 0-2 start, Green led the Spartans to a 24-5 finish, and AP ranking as high as fifth after they started the season unranked.
Yes, Green was essentially a one-man wrecking crew for the most part, but he did have a bit of assistance from his supporting cast. Sophomore PG Keith Appling settled down after a rough start,and the diminutive yet speedy point man finished the regular season with averages of 11.5 points, 3 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game. Appling needs to better harness his speed, which leads to far too many unforced turnovers, but it also serves to his advantage. There aren’t many point guards in the country who are faster with the ball in their hands, let alone the oft-grinding, methodical Big 10. Before suffering a torn ACL in the finale against Ohio St., freshman G Branden Dawson was their best reserve, averaging 8.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and almost a steal and block per game to go with shooting a highly efficient 58% from the floor. Bigs, junior Derrick Nix and sophomore Adreian Payne will need to step their games up, as Dawson gave the Spartans 21 solid minutes a game. Nix and Payne combined to average 14.5 points and almost 8 rebounds per game on 55% shooting from the floor. The stronger Nix should get more touches down low and the more athletic Payne will have to be even more active in transition and in the lane, defensively, as he is the team’s best shot-blocker. Bulldog senior G Austin Thornton is nowhere near the most talented, but he does a lot of the grunt work. The Spartans will also lean more on Valpo transfer guard, Brandon Wood, and true freshman point guard, Travis Trice, who has mostly gotten spot duty this season.
The Big 10 tournament starts today, in Indianapolis, Indiana. Sparty will play the winner of the Iowa/Illinois game tomorrow at 11 AM. Both Illinois and Iowa are desperate to “beautify” their tournament resumes, and most likely know that only one conference tournament win won’t have them dancing. I fully expect the winner to give MSU all it can handle. The loss of Dawson will undoubtedly hurt Sparty, but I don’t see why it should prohibit them from at least reaching the final and getting closer to locking up a 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Go Green. Go White. Sparty On.