Last spring, upon hearing the news that both Durrell Summers and Kalin Lucas would return for their senior seasons, I wrote that the Michigan State Spartans should be considered the favorites to win the 2011 NCAA Championship. Not exactly a bold prediction, but a prediction nonetheless.
A lot has changed since that post was penned, particularly in East Lansing.
Tom Izzo flirted with the Cleveland Cavaliers coaching job. Chris Allen was dismissed from the team and landed at Iowa State. Two unidentified Spartans were accused of sexual assault, but charges were never filed. Korie Lucious was arrested for drunk driving and as a result, suspended for the season opener.
That’s not exactly, if memory serves correct, a typical off-season for the Michigan State program under the leadership of Izzo.
And that brief summary does not include the question marks surrounding Lucas’ recovery from a torn Achilles and the fact that freshman shooter Russell Byrd required surgery and will miss the entire season. There were also these injuries, as compiled over at The Only Colors:
Lucious – arthroscopic surgery for meniscus tear
Summers – “tweaked” knee
Austin Thornton – unspecified back injury
Delvon Roe – offseason knee surgery
Garrick Sherman – screws removed from foot
Adreian Payne – recovering from dislocated shoulder
Despite this laundry list of controversy and injuries, Michigan State enters the season as the unanimous favorite to win the Big Ten.
Their big three — Lucas, Summers and Draymond Green — matches up favorably with any trio in the country. Lucas, if 100 percent healthy, should contend for another Big Ten player of the year award. Summers, although inconsistent at times, put together a remarkable string of performances in last year’s NCAA Tournament run. And Green, the league’s sixth man of the year, is a dynamic big that possesses the ability to step out and knock down jumpers as well as finish in the post.
Izzo also adds Keith Appling, a McDonald’s All-American guard and Payne, a 6-10 center from Dayton (OH), who is a consensus top 20 recruit. Appling’s role, as pointed out by Izzo at Big Ten media day, will be escalated with the departure of Allen and the injuries to Lucas and Lucious.
Bottom Line: The biggest question about this year’s version of the Spartans is their depth at guard. The loss of Allen is big, particularly because of his ability to knock down shots from the perimeter and also defend. And their top two returning backcourt players, Lucas and Lucious, are recovering from injuries and will need time to work into the swing of things. That said, this is an incredibly talented team that could stumble a bit early, but should be primed for another deep run come March.
Quotable: “Our team, I think, is very good. I think we have some key players back. I think we’ve had an incredible rash of injuries since last spring through the summer, and that’s probably our biggest dilemma right now, is really getting a feel for our team and trying to get them ready in a short period of time. We’re healthy now but not to the speed we need to be, and yet I think working hard to get there.” – Izzo at Big Ten media day