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College Basketball Preview: 2. Michigan State Spartans

2. Michigan State Spartans

As usual, the Spartans dominated through much of the Big Ten and rolled into the NCAA tournament with a quality seed. Michigan State once more made the Sweet 16 before a tough loss to a good Duke team. Massive center Derrick Nix is gone but nearly everyone else returns from that Sweet 16 squad. Tom Izzo has one of his best teams here in East Lansing and the expectations are a national championship.

Backcourt: Senior point guard Keith Appling is back to lead the Spartans' offense. Appling has proven that he can be a reliable scorer and can score anywhere on the court. Appling is also a good ball handler who can finish in traffic or in space. Sophomore Gary Harris had an impressive freshman year and could even improve in 2013-14. Harris proved to be valuable shooter who plays with smarts well beyond his years. Harris also has good size (6-4) and has the versatility to play a number of different roles this season. Junior Branden Dawson can also play at a number of different positions. Dawson has great size (6-6) but can still handle the ball well for his size. If Dawson does stay healthy and improves his perimeter shot he could have a big year. Junior Travis Trice is also healthy and brings a lot of leadership. Where he will see minutes is a question; Trice isn't a true point guard but is too small to spend a lot of time at shooting guard. Trice is a sharpshooter who plays hard and is a good defender. The addition of Chicago product Alvin Ellis should give Michigan State a lot of athleticism and great IQ on the perimeter. Sophomore Denzel Valentine is a big threat who should improve in '13-'14. Valentine uses his size to finish through contact and rebound his position well.

Frontcourt: The loss of Derrick Nix will hurt because he gave Michigan State, a shot-blocking big man with loads of experience. Senior Adreian Payne who plays big and do a lot of different things. Payne is an average scorer but it looks like he could improve this year. Payne is big and mobile and is an extremely good rebounder. He doesn't have All-American talent but he is a very serviceable center who is very productive. Junior Russell Byrd will likely spend time at small forward. Byrd is athletic and can make a lot of different plays but health may be an issue for him. Byrd isn't an elite scorer yet; but he has the size and playmaking potential to be a huge year. Junior Alex Gauna will fight for minutes at the power forward spot and has the size and rebounding ability to have a strong year. Gauna isn't too much of a scorer yet as well, but he the ability to score when given the chance and is quite the rebounder. Sophomore Matt Costello, who was pretty quiet in his first year, could have a breakout sophomore season. Costello is good-sized forward who has proven he is a strong rebounder and good defender. He has to improve his touch around the rim and isn't very polished yet but has room to improve in big ways. Sophomore forward Kenny Kaminski is also a polished rebounder and gives Izzo hustle off the bench. With Nix gone and Payne the clear cut starter at center, the backup will likely be three-star center Gavin Schilling, another Chicago talent. Depth could prove to an issue for the Spartans too, especially if Gauna or Byrd continue to struggle with injuries.

Recruiting Rundown (according to
3 Star Prospect Alvin Ellis, SG from Chicago, Illinois
3 Star Prospect Gavin Schilling, C from Chicago Illinois

PG Keith Appling, Senior
SG Gary Harris, Sophomore
SF Branden Dawson, Junior
PF Alex Gauna, Junior
C Adreian Payne, Senior
Sixth Russell Byrd, Junior

Michigan State doesn't have the star power Kentucky does or some other teams have. But, Tom Izzo is a great coach and always gets the best out of his teams. The Spartans will play smart, rebound well and play great defense. Even in the Big Ten, which will be brutal once again this season, Michigan State has the talent and smarts to win the Big Ten and fly into the Final Four.

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