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College Basketball Preview: 16. Michigan State Spartans

16. Michigan State Spartans 29-8 in 2011 (13-5 Big Ten)

Keith Appling
It seems it is almost a crime to not place the Spartans in the preseason top 20, whenever Tom Izzo is directing them. Last season, the Spartans did what the Spartans do, losing tough games early but then getting hot and gaining a high tournament seed. This year's squad looks much the same even with some significant losses including Draymond Green and Brandon Wood. Green was an important scorer and Michigan State's all-time leading rebounder. Izzo should keep this team competitive and likely a tournament team but somebody must step up in order for the Spartans to make a deep tournament run.

Backcourt: Izzo is hoping Keith Appling can continue to mature in his junior season after two strong seasons in East Lansing. Appling is a leader and can score if needed but with the rest of the talent on this roster he may not need to. Sophomore Travis Trice will likely start alongside him in the backcourt and gives Izzo one of the best shooters he has had in a while. Trice averaged 40.5 percent from long range in his freshman year, numbers that could increase with more minutes and opportunities. Junior Russell Byrd will come off the bench this season after two injury filled seasons and is huge for a shooting guard. Sophomore Brandon Kearney should get a lot more minutes this year and his versatility is much needed. He can play some minutes at point but is more comfortable at shooting guard. Freshman Gary Harris will get some minutes but will be relied on mostly for depth.
Branden Dawson
Frontcourt: Rebounding could be an issue without Green, unless junior Adreian Payne or senior Derrick Nix can step up. Payne has an intriguing mix of size and athleticism, as he has a back to basket game and can shots in the mid range occasionally. Nix is huge and takes him a lot of space in the paint but he has had various issues that have kept him out of the starting rotation. If he can learn how to use his big frame to his advantage he could have some success. Sophomore Branden Dawson should have a fantastic year after a solid freshman campaign. He has the size to play in the backcourt or up front and can make shots nearly anywhere. He is also a decent rebounder averaging 4.5 a game in 2011-2012. Sophomore Alex Gauna didn't played occasionally in his first year coming off a redshirt and can help in a number of different ways. Freshman Matt Costello is an interesting prospect that could get playing time.

Top NBA Prospect: Branden Dawson
Big Ten Rank: 4th
PG Keith Appling- Junior
SG Travis Trice- Sophomore
SF Branden Dawson- Sophomore
PF Derrick Nix- Senior
C Adreian Payne- Junior
Sixth Russell Byrd- Junior

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