What’s Next: Michigan St. Spartans, 29-8 (13-5 Big 10)

I wouldn’t necessarily call the season of the Michigan St. men’s basketball team disappointing, seeing as how they started the season unranked in both major polls, but to see them ascend to Big 10 regular season co-champs and conference tournament champs and then fall in the Sweet 16 to Louisville was indeed a bit heartbreaking.

Departing:

Draymond Green, G/F/C: All-American and all-everything stud Draymond Green came a long way from his reserve role on the 08-09 team that was walloped in the national title game by North Carolina. This year, Green established himself as arguably the nation’s best all-around player and also, leader. The epitome of a floor general, Green was an extension of head coach Tom Izzo on the floor and this team wouldn’t have been half as good without him. I doubt he’ll be a star in the NBA and probably won’t start on any of the elite teams at the moment, but he will definitely be a solid contributor, and with a little development and some weight loss, could be one of the NBA’s better players in a few years.

Austin Thornton, G: The guy I seemingly loved to hate did almost all of Sparty’s grunt work this season. Whether it was diving for loose balls, committing a hard foul, taking a charge or knocking down clutch free throws, sharpshooter Thornton had a solid four-year career in the green and white.

Brandon Wood, G: The Valpo transfer was inconsistent at times, but finally found his rhythm towards the end of the season. A hard-nosed perimeter player who is not adverse to playing defense and knocking down a jumper or two, Wood’s one year at MSU was a good one, considering he went from a very small program to one of the elite programs in the nation.

Joe Sweeny, G: The diminutive Toms River, NJ native barely played during his career at MSU. In fact, he played only 11 minutes in four years, all of them this season.

Anthony Ianni, C: 6’9″, 260-lb sparsely used Ianni got tick during garbage time, and that’s all I can say about his career in the green and white.

Key Returnees:

Keith Appling, PG: The 6’0″ point man drew the ire of Izzo many times this season, but the sophomore grew into his role as Sparty’s primary ballhandler and distributor by the time the season was near its end. Unlike previous MSU PGs, Appling’s speed and quickness give them a dimension that the program hasn’t always enjoyed. With so many dominant guards manning the point for the nation’s elite programs, it’s nice to know MSU will put the ball in the hands of such a dynamic player for possibly the next 2 seasons.

Derrick Nix, C: Despite his recent arrest for marijuana possession and suspension from the team, if sophomore Nix is a Spartan for the 2012-13 season, it will help the team maintain it’s top-10 status. An awkward, but incredibly strong post player, Nix is key to MSU’s future success…again, if he’s a Spartan next season.

Branden Dawsen, G: A guy I’d consider MSU’s most promising player, Dawsen tore his ACL in the regular season finale against Ohio St. A true freshman, the 6’6″, 220-lb Dawsen could follow in Green’s footsteps as its best all-around player. As a reserve, Dawsen averaged 8.4 points and 4.5 rebounds, to go along with just under a block, steal and assist per game. If Dawsen can be healthy and in uniform by the start of the 12-13 season, look for him to be an even bigger force than he was this year.

Adreian Payne, PF/C: If Nix is the thunder in MSU’s frontcourt, then the 6’10”, 240-lb sophomore is the lightning. While you can find Nix primarily operating from the low post, Payne is most effective when using his athleticism to run the floor and crash the offensive glass. He’s not as offensively gifted down low as Nix, but scores his points a la Joakim Noah. He’s even more effective when the opposition has to worry about Nix’s touches, and it will be interesting to see what kind of production Izzo gets from him if Nix is no longer a member of the team next season.

Travis Trice, PG: 19 year-old freshman Trice will be the backup to Appling next season, most likely. Like Appling, he is small, but very fast and quick, and also like Appling, sometimes that gets him into a bit of trouble. In a conference that is known for wanting to slow down the pace as much as possible, Trice is a change-of-pace point man who loves to push the tempo and put pressure on the opposition to make a play that they don’t always feel comfortable making.

The Recruits:

Gary Harris, SG: Indianapolis native Harris is probably MSU’s best incoming freshman since Maywood, IL native Shannon Brown, who now plays for the NBA’s Phoenix Suns. Harris is ranked by many recruiting services as the nation’s top shooting guard, and the McDonald’s All-American will give Sparty the perimeter scorer that it so desperately needed this season when things bogged down on the offensive end.

Kenny Kaminski, PF: The undersized, but very strong frontcourt player from Medina, Ohio, suffered a fairly serious shoulder injury early in 2012, but recovered in time to make a cameo appearance in his high school’s Senior Night game. Payne suffered a similar shoulder injury, but it didn’t really slow him down, so expect the same from Kaminski.

Matt Costello, PF: The long, 6’9″, 225 forward is much better than most know, and the 2012 Mr. Basketball in the state of Michigan could rival Harris as Izzo’s best recruit when all is said and done. Costello averaged 25 points, 18 rebounds, and 4 assists and 4 blocks per game during his senior season, and he would definitely make things easier for Izzo’s troops.

Denzel Valentine, SF: The chief rival to Costello for Michigan’s Mr. Basketball, Valentine is an extremely versatile player who some are saying could play the point guard position for MSU. While that is unlikely with Appling returning and also backup (soon-to-be) sophomore point guard Travis Trice, Valentine may, like Dawsen, find himself playing multiple positions for Sparty. Valentine has clearly stated that he likes to create, and the logjam in the backcourt is a problem that I’m sure Izzo doesn’t mind having.

Yes, losing Green will hurt, immensely. However, with a legit 5-star recruit in Harris on the way, along with fellow preps Costello, Kaminski and Valentine, MSU could actually be better than they were this year. ESPN ranks MSU’s incoming class as the 6th-best in the country, and with “veterans” Appling and Co. healthy and on their game, don’t be surprised to see MSU at the top of the conference, and advancing deeper into the NCAA tournament than they did in 2012.

SPARTY ON.

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