Next up on our previews are the mighty Spartans, who endured a pretty substandard season last year (where “substandard” = still dancing. Must be nice.).
10-11 Overall Record: 19-15
10-11 Conference Record: 9-9
10-11 Conference Efficiency Margin: -0.04
Percent of Returning Minutes: 50.9%
Percent of Returning Freshman Minutes: 17.3%
Looking back now, it seems simple. With Raymar Morgan and Chris Allen gone, the Spartans lost two of their most efficient scorers. While Derrick Nix was too raw to chew up minutes, Korie Lucious was too out-of-control (both on and off the court), and the Michigan State offense cratered. The team traditionally built on interior play was suddenly the worst shooting Big Ten team inside the arc. When you can’t shoot, you can’t score, and MSU’s offense too often last season was “pass it to Kalin, and see what happens.” Kalin had a fine senior year despite coming off an injury, but even that wasn’t enough.
Still, it counts for something that a bad year for Tom Izzo is one in which he leads his team to a tournament berth. Things won’t be quite as dire this season, but there are several concerns:
1. Who is the point guard? The early reports from East Lansing point to Tom Izzo giving sophomore Keith Appling the first shot at being floor general. Frankly, I’m not in love with the idea. Appling held a turnover rate of what you’d expect out of a freshman point guard, except it wasn’t combined with the assist numbers of a freshman point guard. In other words, despite creating for his teammates on a Jon Diebler rate, he was turning it over like Tim Frazier. If he’s asked to do more, that turnover rate could spiral completely out of control. For an offense that lives and dies by the turnover (since the days of the Wonk), that’s bad news. The good news is that there are other options. The obvious one being incoming transfer Brandon Wood, who at least holds a combo guard-like statline in regards to assists and turnovers. But I live over here in Crazy Land, and I’ll tell anyone who asks that Draymond Green is already the Spartans’ point guard, but he just lets someone else bring the ball up. Seriously, pretend Draymond was 20 pounds lighter, and this is a non-story.
2. Is the defense still good without Roe? The defense was a relative strength of the team last year, thanks in no small part to Delvon Roe. Roe is no longer playing basketball (though he may be coming to your local theater sometime), but there’s a plug-in in the form of Adreian Payne. Payne is currently fighting Derrick Nix for the last starting spot, which is going to put Izzo to a decision of offense (Nix) versus defense (Payne). The hope here is that, either way, incoming freshman Branden Dawson makes up for any shortcomings.
3. Will the Spartans get back to interior play? Between Kalin Lucas, Durrell Summers, and Korie Lucious, about 400 three-point attempts walked out the door. Appling will likely consume about 100-150 of those, and another 150 probably go to Wood. That still leaves about a 100-shot gap. The Spartans frankly, don’t need to replace those. MSU was more perimeter-oriented than usual last season, and getting back to those basics (assuming they can make the two-pointers) could be what the offense needs. The following chart graphs the number of three-point attempts as a percentage of total field goal attempts for Michigan State over the past nine seasons. The higher this number is, the more three-pointers the Spartans are attempting.
While Tom Izzo has won with a team that took a fair number of perimeter shots in the past (that 2004-05 team landed in the Final Four), it’s clear that’s not how he prefers his team to play. And this is probably the most important piece, because MSU featured the second-worst offense in the Big Ten last season, in large part due to poor interior play. Improving that part of the offense–and doing so without a corresponding uptick in turnovers–will be Izzo’s most difficult challenge this season.
4. Will Draymond Green bounce back? Day-Day was one of the conference’s best players last season, even though he was terrible shooting inside the arc. Green hit just 45 percent of his two-pointers in 2011, a tremendous decline from his 55 percent mark as a sophomore. With Lucas gone, Green is unquestionably the Michigan State’s best player, and as he goes, so too will the Spartans.Even though Michigan State has plenty of concerns, there’s no denying the amount of sheer talent on the roster. And frankly, everyone in the Big Ten has warts (excluding Ohio State). At least with the Spartans, there’s no mystery. Overall, I expect some improvement from last season, but there are enough concerns (especially on the offensive end) that likely leave the Spartans out of the Big Ten title hunt.