2013-2014 ITH season preview: Michigan State Spartans

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With the start of college basketball season on the horizon, we’ll be taking a long look at the conference at large as well as Indiana’s roster over the next month. Today, we continue our look at the Big Ten with the Michigan State Spartans.

When Michigan State coach Tom Izzo says his future team reminds him of his 2000 National Champion squad, watch out. He said just that in July to MSU’s student newspaper, The State News.

In fact, heading into the 2013-2014 season, Izzo might have his best squad in East Lansing since that legendary team more than 13 years ago.

There’s Gary Harris, Keith Appling and Adreian Payne, who return to comprise the Spartans’ core. All three were recognized as all-Big Ten last season. Harris and Payne gave up potential first round NBA draft selections to make a run at a national championship in 2014.

Appling, a 6-foot-1 senior guard, was the Spartans’ leading point-scorer and assist-leader last season and has been a pivotal part of the MSU offense in his past three years in East Lansing. He’s worked to become more of a floor general this offseason. Harris, a 6-foot-4 sophomore, is the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year after he averaged 12.9 points per game and shot 41.1 percent from 3-point range. Payne, a 6-foot-10 senior, led the team in rebounds (7.6 per game) and overall shooting percentage (54.6), while averaging 10.5 points per game as well. In addition to Appling’s experience at point guard and Harris’ skill at the wing, Payne gives the Spartans a dominating post presence that few teams can even match.

Branden Dawson, who started 35 of the Spartans’ 36 games last season, is back; as are rotation-regulars Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice. In other words, Izzo lured his most-talented and experienced players back to Michigan State for another year, and he added depth to go along with it.

Where Michigan State must improve before it takes its next step in competing for a national title, though, comes in the assist-turnover margin battle. MSU ranked 11th in the Big Ten last season at a -1.17 clip per game. In comparison, all of last year’s Final Four participants had a positive assist-turnover margin, and three of those four teams were ranked in the top 40 in the nation. Of course, having plenty of returning pieces could help reduce that issue.

Bottom line: The 2013-2014 season has the potential to be a special one in East Lansing. Michigan State has five of its six leading scorers from a Sweet 16 squad back, and expectations are high as those returning pieces include three 2012-2013 all-Big Ten honorees. The Spartans should be able to hit the ground running both offensively and defensively, and if they are able to limit their turnovers in the most critical scenarios, a Big Ten and possible NCAA title are certainly not out of the question.

Quotable: “We have talent, we have depth, we have experience, we have the ingredients. We just have to get people back and keep them healthy. Having Appling and Trice back will certainly help. Valentine improved as the season went on and should be better as well.” — Izzo to The State News in July.

  • IUfanToby

    Playing this team twice in January is going to be a tough test.

  • N71

    It’ll be interesting to see how we defend Harris. I have a sneaky suspicion Devin Davis will be our best defender along with Will. Harris was good as a freshman but the “sophomore leap” will create a beast. I think the same will be true for Jeremy Hollowell as well but Harris and Hollowell shouldn’t guard each other, at least in theory. I see the Big Ten as a toss up between IU, UM, MSU, and OSU and Purdue having a decent chance at finishing last. That would be quite a year for the Purdue AD, last in football and basketball. Mitch would need to make some moves at that point.

  • CreanFaithful

    Not sure I would call it a toss up. With all those returning players/talent, this has to be MSU’s to lose. I think that OSU/UM both have a few questions that have to be answered before determining their strength. Guessing they fight for the 2nd spot. Obviously I hope these Hoosiers are fighting for another title, but that certainly isn’t my expectation. Looking like Iowa/IU/Wisky fighting for the 4th spot in the conference.

  • Kyl470

    I have a sneaky suspicion that Devin Davis doesn’t play any minutes in Big Ten play with the exception of garbage time. Look for Sheehey and Williams to get the assignments on guarding the top wing players for IU’s opponents. Also Robinson could guard some of the better shooting guards as well.

  • SCHoosier

    If Appling improves off last year (he was VERY disappointing in a number of games) and just one of their touted freshman comes thru..Izzo should win the B-10 and be a formidable contender for the Final-4. Haven’t checked their schedule..but I assume he has the usual tough pre-conference schedule early in the year. Everybody can hurt you offensively…and u know the Sparties will be tough on D and “board beasts”. I like their chances to win it all…even if Coach Cal can get all his “one and doners” NBA draft choices to play as a team.

  • CreamandCrimson

    Evan Gordon was apparently ASU’s second best perimeter defender and often drew tough assignments in the PAC-12. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get some minutes against Harris.

  • IUMIKE1

    Think this team takes the B1G title and it doesn’t come down to the last few days of the season to prove it. The conference title has to be won by someone and if it isn’t going to be IU I would just as soon it be the Sparties as anyone else in the B1G.

  • IUfanPurduePhD

    I like the idea of someone with length (Williams) covering Harris, but maybe a smaller, speedier(?) Gordon would keep Harris in front of him.

  • CreamandCrimson

    Unless we have someone step up and come somewhat close to the shutdown ability of Victor Oladipo (I said somewhat close, not identical to), I think we’ll see Tom Crean using a lot of looks to throw offensive players off their rhythm. Throw length at them with Williams and Davis. Show them some speed with a guy like Robinson. Strength and experience with Gordon (and maybe Etherington if he’s 100%). I think it’s fair to say we don’t have a stopper like we did last season so I think relying on a committee approach to keep elite perimeter scorers from torching us.

  • Oldguyy

    I’m not sure of a lot regarding the coming season, but I’m sure Purdue won’t finish last in the conference.

  • CreamandCrimson

    Agree completely. We can hate on Purdue but there’s no way they can be expected to finish last. Hammons is a talented, traditional big man and he’s a matchup problem for most teams in the conference. Ronnie Johnson is a solid PG (but not nearly as good as Purdue fans think he is). Terone Johnson is a decent player. I think Raphael Davis will improve quite a bit this season and they have some freshmen who are intriguing (mainly Kendall Stephens and Bryson Scott). If they can develop any kind of outside shooting presence and consistently give effort, they’ll be much closer to us than they will be to the bottom of the league. I will say this, they are going to miss Sandi Marcius. He was serviceable and always played hard and they don’t have hardly any depth behind a foul-prone Hammons.

  • The_Real_Assembly_Hall

    We still beat them at Assembly Hall this year. JMO

  • Kyl470

    I also agree. Purdue isn’t close to contending for a Big Ten title, but they also are not going to be the worst team. I think people forget how bad Nebraska is and once Rutgers joins the league they will be at the bottom with them. Purdue will most likely be somewhere between 5th and 9th place.

  • Thomas Clark

    MSU alum and fan here. Just wanted to say that I’m impressed with the comments below. You IU fans keep it classy, on point and civilized. Now, game day in Assembly Hall is a different story… :)

  • PDXHoosier

    I think Gordon is being overlooked a little bit by the fans so far. At least at the beginning of the season I think he will get major minutes. We just don’t have anyone else with experience.

  • PDXHoosier

    Here’s to anyone besides UK winning it this year.

  • Aiken_Hoosier

    Well, by and large, the same can be said for most MSU fans I’ve run into. Funny how respectful, knowledgeable fan bases typically respect each other……and then some other fanbases have zero indications of class or concept of reality……good luck to you on all games other than those that involve candystripes on the opposing bench…..

  • BC

    Robinson is a heck of a defender already. I bet he sees some minutes out there.

  • BC

    Well, know one knows what we have in this team, no one has seen them play. It really is all speculation. And I’m sure he team will evolve over the course of the season.

  • BC

    UK should win it on talent alone. But even they can’t win it all even with the perpetual squad of top ten players every year.

  • BC

    We’re a normal bunch till the ball touches the court.

  • HoosierBballNut

    Does this team kinda remind you guys on last year’s Hoosiers in terms of the potential that existed pre season ???

  • HumbleHoosier

    Thanks for reading the site Thomas!

  • Ole Man

    Wow. You took the post right out of my mind! LOL!

  • marcusgresham

    Ah, Mitch. Thank you for reminding me of one more reason to loathe the Toiletmakers.

  • marcusgresham

    Intelligence and civility tends to reside north of the Ohio River, so that includes you guys (but quit stealing our damn players!!!!!!!!!!!! Then again, far better East Lansing than Lexington.)

  • Hoosier Hall

    Depending on how dominant Andrew Wiggins really is, Kansas could handle pUKe in the tourney. If I had to make a prediction right now I’d say Louisville for the repeat or Izzo will grab another title. Maybe FGCU though… Lol!

  • Hoosier Hall

    Biggest difference between this team and us last year? Senior PG.

  • E Foy McNaughton

    I disagree on Devin. I think you will see he will get Remy type minutes as a Freshman. I know he isn’t hyped, but when you go back and listen to what players have said about him, they rave… I agree Sheehey & Williams will dominate minutes at the SG or SF, but I could see Devin coming in to play the PF, moving Noah to Center, and using Devin to guard some SG’s.

  • Rie

    Although I agree with most of what you have said, Devin will never play the four, only the two (if he can improve his ball handling/security) and three.

  • hoosier1158

    Not with all those freshmen that haven’t played together. They should be decent, but i think it will be another 1st round flame out in the NIT for them.

  • hoosier1158

    Yep, U of L should be awfully good. This will be the year for VanTreese(a Hoosier) to make a big impact.

  • hoosier1158

    I agree, Devin loves to rebound,

  • N71

    I’m betting on the lack of character that Painter, Hammons, and others have resulting in an implosion. The wheels fall off so-to-speak like us with Sampson. Instead of illegal recruiting Purdue will have to deal with extra marital issues, drugs, bad grades, etc.

  • CreamandCrimson

    So…he’d be playing power forward and guarding the shooting guard?

  • CreamandCrimson

    If Kentucky doesn’t make the tournament this season Calipari will be the worst coach of all time. They have way more talent than they had last season and I see absolutely no way they don’t make it to the Big Dance.

  • IUMIKE1

    Kinda falls in line with my thinking.

    My two favorite teams: IU and whoever is playing Calislimy & crew.

    Trey Lyles has his choices down to UL & pUKe…..boy there’s a real surprise. dws Still insisting that there was ever another destination other than the big blue cesspool.

  • Kyl470

    Thank you CreamandCrimson for pointing that out.

  • Kyl470

    Let’s be serious for a second. How many guys do you honestly think will be in the rotation? I can’t recall any successful team that played 10+ guys unless they were an all out pressing team which up to this point IU has not done under Crean. My guess is they use a 8 or 9 man rotation during Big 10 play. I see Yogi, Gordon, Stanford getting the guard minutes, Will, Troy, Hollowell getting the wing minutes, and Noah, Luke, and Hanner getting the bigs minutes. That is 9 players so unless foul trouble happens I don’t see anyone else on the team getting major minutes. Maybe Austin if he comes back healthy.

  • jpniles

    I would actually say that the difference is the lack of liability. They have no physical liabilities. I hate to bring back this dead horse but our biggest liability last year was Jordy. Love the guy but being honest. Attitude (mostly that of Payne and Appling) will be the biggest challenge for this MSU team. They are my among my top picks to win it all.

  • E Foy McNaughton

    It is hard to argue with you on the rotation being limited to 8-9 players playing more than 10 min a game. I just think Devin will surprise people and be one of the 8-9 in the rotation. Early in the year, Luke & Troy are sidelined with injuries. Another injury will probably happen. I don’t know who will fall out of the 9 you mentioned, but I think 1 will and I think Devin will be a Calbert Chaney type surprise.

  • E Foy McNaughton

    Yes, Watford was often guarding SG and even some PGs as a PF

  • Kenneth234

    Your absolutely right. In the biggest games, we should be surprised to see more than 9 players getting significant time. And those nine are certainly the most likely of the bunch, unless Austin is a go and has continued develop even further.

  • CreamandCrimson

    I understand that but if Devin is playing power forward and guarding a shooting guard, who is everyone else guarding? That would be my issue with that lineup. Let’s say Sheehey at the 3, Gordon at the 2 and Yogi at point. Devin Davis is 6’6″ and a freshman (doesn’t have his “man” body yet) and I think having him at the 4 would give us some size problems. Who knows though, anything is possible with so much versatility and so many unknowns heading into the season.

  • E Foy McNaughton

    That would be a pretty darn small lineup. Which CTC seems to like to go with small lineups sometimes IDK really, I just think Devin will surprise and crack the 9 man rotation. I do agree with Kyl470, the rotation won’t realistically be more than 9. This entire discussion illustrates just how deep and talented this team may end up being. The injuries to Troy & Luke could be catastrophic in prior years or for other teams. With this team, next 2 up may not be a very significant drop. Everyone raves about AE’s athletic ability an shooting touch. Maybe he fills in well?
    Bottom line, I’m really excited to be an IU Fan!!!!!!!!!

  • CreamandCrimson

    It is very exciting. “This entire discussion illustrates just how deep and talented this team may end up being…with this team, next 2 up may not be a very significant drop.” You are probably right, there doesn’t appear to be a big drop-off amongst most of our roster (at least that’s how it looks right now). However, I would caution there is a devil’s advocate, and perhaps realistic, way of looking at that. There is talent on this roster but the lack of a drop-off might be an indication that this roster lacks elite talent. A lot of good but nothing great. Nobody capable of taking over in a tight game against a big-time opponent. I don’t know if that’s the case or not. Maybe Will can fill that role. Maybe Yogi can do it, or Noah becomes that or someone else. Anyway, having a bunch of similar guys might just mean no one is that great. Just something to keep in mind for those who are convinced this year’s team will be better than last year’s.

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