Big Ten Season Wrap-Up: Michigan StatePosted by jnowak on March 29th, 2012
Besides the fact that Michigan State bowed out of the NCAA Tournament in the Sweet Sixteen as a #1 seed, it was an incredible year for Tom Izzo‘s group for no other reason than the fact that the Spartans were a #1 seed at all. Michigan State began the year unranked and lost its first two games but worked its way to a share of the Big Ten regular season title, the Big Ten Tournament title, and the program’s fourth #1 seed in the Izzo era. And as far as that era is concerned, this year’s group may be one of its best in terms of chemistry, defensive tenacity, and the other qualities that have come to define Michigan State basketball. Here’s a look back at the year that was:
- In a nutshell: It sounds like a broken record by now, but this team really recaptured what has made Michigan State basketball so great over the years — defense, rebounding, toughness, and chemistry — after it had been lacking, particularly with last year’s group. Draymond Green emerged as one of the best players in college basketball, not to mention the most valuable, with his incredible arsenal of capabilities. Role players like Austin Thornton and Brandon Wood as well as freshmen Travis Trice and Branden Dawson produced. Izzo was not shy in saying how much he loved this team and he had good reason to.
- Overachievement: Without Delvon Roe, who “retired” before the season after battling chronic knee injuries, it wasn’t clear how the Spartans’ frontcourt would fare. Green is a talented forward who can produce from the left block pretty much at will, but the inside presence of Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne together was really what took the Spartans to the next level. Nix has slowly been progressing over the last two years, but Payne really took a giant leap from his freshman season. Nix jumped from 8.2 minutes per game and 2.7 PPG last year to 18.9 and 8.1, respectively, this season. Payne jumped from nine minutes to 17.9 and 2.5 PPG to seven a night. What made them particularly dangerous, though, was their contrast in styles. Nix is a more traditionally-styled, big-bodied center while Payne is a long, athletic big man.
- Underachievement: It may be a stretch, because this entire campaign was generally an overachievement, but sophomore Keith Appling seemed lost at times while demonstrating the ability to take over games at others. Appling made the switch to a more true point guard this season, but struggled with his shooting. He’s as fast from coast to coast as anybody in the country, but it became disconcerting to see him score 20 one night then just four the next. Moving forward, Appling will be a huge part of Michigan State’s plans and Izzo knows he will need him to take some steps forward this offseason.
- Defining moment: It really became clear that this team was a Big Ten force to be reckoned with when the Spartans went to Columbus on February 11 and handled Ohio State. Michigan State already had good wins in the bank — against Florida State, at Gonzaga, and against Indiana — but had stumbled at Northwestern, Michigan, and Illinois. The win at Ohio State was part of a seven-game winning streak that catapulted the Spartans to the top of the Big Ten standings and into the national conversation.
- Final grade: When you look at what the expectations were for this team entering the season, and what many must have thought after the Spartans started off 0-2, the fact that this team was in such a position by season’s end is remarkable. That said, this was Izzo’s first #1 seed not to reach the Final Four (though six of the last eight NCAA Tournament losses have come at the hands of an eventual Final Four team including Louisville this year) and the Spartans also failed to capitalize on an opportunity to win the Big Ten outright. We are nitpicking here, so for a final grade: A-