Michigan State started off the 2011 season on an aircraft carrier, their 2012 season will kick off in a similar fashion. The Spartans will play the first game of the 2012 college basketball season at the Rammstein Air Base in Germany. Remember the camouflage jerseys? Well a similar version will be worn by Michigan State in this college kick-off game.
The 2011 season did not start off the way the team or fans had hoped, as the Spartans dropped the first two games to North Carolina and Duke. But the team responded by ripping off a 15 game win streak, while staying in the national spotlight. The Tom Izzo led team ended up sharing the B1G title, winning the B1G tournament, and received a number one seed in the NCAA tournament. The Spartans made it to the sweet 16 before faltering to an eventual final four team in Louisville. Michigan State finished the season 29-8, and lost one of their best players of all-time in Draymond Green.
Before we go into the 2012 season, we must give Draymond his dues. This guy has been to two final fours, and was the 2010 Big Ten sixth man of the year. He was also the 2012 National Association of Basketball Coaches player of the year, and a first team All American. The first Spartan since Kalin Lucas’ sophomore year to win Big Ten Player of the year in 2012 and of course was on the first team all-B1G. This guy has done it all for the Spartans and he will be missed, he leaves the program as its all-time leading rebounder. Oh, and he also won the 2012 Jesse Owens Male Athlete of the Year in the Big Ten.
Now what? Well the Spartans return a solid core including Keith Appling, Branden Dawson, Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix. Tom Izzo was also able to add four ESPN100 recruits with Gary Harris, Kenny Kaminski, Matt Costello and Denzel Valentine. The Spartan coach has stated in the off-season that he likes this team, and they will be the Oregon of college basketball. In other words, they will run. Expect a high-tempo offense, unless the Spartans defense struggles while running.
Coach Tom Izzo has stated his goal to make this program elite, “This is a very good program, when it hits elite status, that’s when I’m going to hang up my whistle”. With the potential talent coming to East Lansing in the next few years, (Jabari Parker, Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Cliff Alexander all interested in MSU) Izzo could be on his way.
But let’s not overlook this year’s team, as the Spartans could be in for a great season. Having said that it's time to dive into what could be an interesting team in 2012-13.
2011-12 Record: 29-8 (13-5)
Postseason: Sweet 16
Head Coach: Tom Izzo (17th season, 412-169, all with MSU)
Returning Starters (games started): 4
G Keith Appling (37), C Derrick Nix (1), F Branden Dawson (31), C Adreian Payne (36)
- Gary Harris: 6-4 205lbs., Guard (Fishers, Ind./ Hamilton Southeastern HS)
- Denzel Valentine: 6-5, 220lbs., Guard (Lansing, MI/ Sexton HS)
- Matt Costello: 6-9 245lbs., Forward (Bay City, MI/Bay City Western HS)
- Kenny Kaminski: 6-8, 240., Forward (Medina, Ohio/ Medina HS)
Check here for the full Michigan State Roster
Projected Starting Lineup:
G – Keith Appling (Jr.)
G – Gary Harris (Fr.)
F – Branden Dawson (So.)
F – Adreian Payne (Jr.)
C – Derrick Nix (Sr.)
In the absences of Draymond Green the leadership role of the frontcourt is going to be a key thing to watch for on this team. Helping to fill that leadership void will be returning starters Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne. Payne, the forward/center started all but one game last year but he only averaged 17.9 minutes a game and 7 points a game as well.
Dawson started 31 games before suffering a torn ACL, but all indications are that he is back and could be the real driving force for this team on the wing. He is the 2nd leading returning scorer afterall, putting in 8.4 points per game last year.
The biggest question mark is what will Derrick Nix contribute now that he is a full time starter this year? He started one game in 2011-12 and averaged just over 18 minutes a game. He was an effective scorer from his center position though, averaging 8.1 points per game. They'll need more along the lines of 10-11 points a game from him if they are going to be successful this year.
Payne and Nix will need to shoulder a lot more of the burden up front in the rebounding department too with the loss of Draymond Green, but Dawson should excel rebounding from the small forward position. Dunking and rebounding are what Dawson does best, we should still wait and see if the injury had any effect on his rebounding ability.
It will be interesting to see how long the combo of Nix and Payne can stay on the court together as both have had conditioning issues in the past. Payne because of a lung condition and Nix because he couldn't control his weight at times.
That means minutes will be open for some others up front and the most likely to see those extra minutes are the likes of Russell Byrd and Alex Gauna. Both of them saw very limited time at best last year as freshman, but if you know anything about Tom Izzo coached teams that doesn't mean they can't make big jumps quickly and be major players.
Thankfully they will have three exhibition games to sort things out for a rotation and roles up front.
This is the area that's easiest to pin down and the most likely area you're going to see a star emerge early on. Keith Appling is the leading returning point scorer, averaging 11.4 points a game last year, but he was also a player that wasn't expected to carry the load last year.
Fast forward and Appling needs to be more like the player he was in his freshman year. The junior saw his shooting slip quite a bit, shooting 42.7% from the field and just 25% from behind the arc. He needs to find his touch again and climb up closer to the 41% he shot two years ago to become more than just a ball handler and facilitator for this year's Spartans.
Lucky for him he'll have a hell of a player alongside of him in freshman Garry Harris, one of the top recruits in the country and last years Mr. Basketball in Indiana. Harris should be a dynamic scorer for this team and is most likely the fuel that's needed for the transition game that's made past Spartan teams so deadly. He has range, can get to the rim and has a knack for playing with the ball in his hands as well.
The other player to really keep an eye on is sophomore Travis Trice, who will be backing up Appling at the point this year. He needs to prove he can be a better decision maker with the ball. What we do know is he can score, averaging 4.5 points a game while seeing about 17 minutes a game last season. Not bad for a back up with all of that guard talent around the team last season.
Either way, expect this group to really be the dynamo behind this team and it could be a fun group to watch develop together. Lord knows they'll be thrown to the fire early on.
Strength of Schedule: 10
The Spartans should get a 10 for the traveling required for their first two games alone. Michigan State will travel to Germany to play Uconn, they leave November 7th, play on the 9th and leave the 10th. MSU players will stay in East Lansing the 11th before departing on the 12th to play Kansas the 13th of November. Michigan State will also play Boise State, Oakland University, Miami and Texas. The typical “tough” Tom Izzo schedule.
Swing Games (non-conf.): vs. Uconn, @ Kansas, vs. Texas
- Izzo doesn't shy away from tough games and while playing Kansas in the Georgia Dome could be a tough task this younger team needs to find a way to win two of these three to help gel this team together and give them confidence as they head into the horrendously difficult Big Ten schedule
Swing Games (conf.): @ Iowa, @ Indiana, @ Wisconsin
- We all know how good this team is at home, but winning on the road at Indiana and at Wisconsin are really tough propositions. If Sparty wants to find themselves in the top 4 of the conference come seasons end they have to have these key road games and at a minimum of two. Don't sleep on Carver-Hawkeye being a tough place to play either (just ask Wisconsin).
Record: 23-7 (12-6)
Big Ten Finish: 5th
Postseason: NCAA tournament
Beer Pairing: Founders Dirty Bastard
It's one of the best breweries in the world, a fitting choice for one of the best programs in college basketball history as well. Dirty Bastard is one brew that packs a strong punch and that also aptly describes a Tom Izzo coached team. They'll never back down from a physical challenge, but they can equally run and gun with you as well. This beer is similar in that it packs a hell of a punch but also hides it well enough that you may not see it coming until it's too late. Two of these brews during a game should suffice and playing this team twice in 2012-13 is more than enough for their opponents in Big Ten play too.