Big Ten Summer Check In: Michigan State SpartansPosted by jnowak on July 12th, 2012
Tom Izzo knows what the summer means. The legendary Michigan State coach always talks about how valuable the hottest months of the year can be. For one, it gives him the chance to get out and evaluate recruits to lay the groundwork for the future of the program. But back on campus, it’s when players develop and grow — both physically and psychologically — in preparation for next year. Whatever he’s got them doing, it’s worked masterfully over the years. Here’s our Summer Check In with the defending Big Ten champion Spartans:
- Evaluating Last Year: Michigan State is one of those programs that you can never count out, no matter what the pundits believe at the beginning of the season. MSU entered the year without Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers, eacah of whom left a huge scoring void (Lucas, especially) but many were left wondering if the chemistry of the club changed with addition by subtraction. There were plenty of questions, particularly when Delvon Roe announced his early retirement, and the team lost its first two games of the season. Then All-American and Big Ten Player of the Year Draymond Green grabbed the reins and put the team on his back, leading the Spartans to another Big Ten Championship and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They fell short of reaching another Final Four, but when all was said and done, it could have very well been Izzo’s best work yet.
- State of the Program: Steady as she goes. Izzo continues to string together winning seasons — it’s now three Big Ten regular season titles in the last four years — but if one thing became very clear last season, it’s not so much about the level of talent as it is who is leading the way. Last year’s squad had considerably less talent on paper but had the right cohesiveness to battle in the Big Ten. Right now, it’s unclear how the Spartans will move forward without the leadership of Green, who was without a doubt one of the best captains Izzo has ever had. To determine how the next season goes, players like Keith Appling, Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne will need to take advantage of the summer months to not only work on their games but to build on their leadership amongst their teammates. It’s their team now and it’s up to them in which direction the ship sails.
- Players Not Returning: You could make the argument that no team in the country will miss one single player more than the Spartans will miss Green. He was the heart and soul of this group, statistically and in the locker room, and there will be a huge void. But don’t overlook the presence that fellow senior and co-captain Austin Thornton had. Green finished among the conference’s top 10 in points, rebounds, steals, assists and blocks, while Thornton was a calming presence on the floor, an underrated defensive stopper and an exceptional free throw shooter down the stretch. Michigan State also loses transfer Brandon Wood, who was a valuable experienced scorer. Aside from Green’s versatility, those players are not tremendously difficult to replace on the stat sheet. It’s their intangibles that will surely be missed.
- Key Player(s) That Need to Step Up: We mentioned Nix and Payne earlier, and they’ll be crucial for a variety of reasons. Without Roe and Green in the paint, the Spartans will need those two to keep Michigan State’s inside-out game fluid. Nix is a tremendous passer with incredible hands and good feet, and Payne brings a totally different, athletic element to the game. They’ll both be upperclassmen and looked to as leaders. Nix really didn’t get his summer off to a good start with a brush with the law, so he’s already got some ground to make up after entering the offseason poised to become one of the Spartans’ leaders.
- Conclusion: You hardly ever have to worry about a Michigan State team being there when all is said and done. It’s just a matter of how elite the Spartans can be on any given year. They overshot expectations last year thanks to an exceptional job by Izzo and a cohesive unit on the floor. They’ll lose their all-everything captain in Green, but have the weapons to bounce back. So much depends on the summer workouts for to-be leaders in Appling and Nix, as well as the physical growth of emerging players like Russell Byrd and the rehabilitation of Branden Dawson. Tom Izzo’s a smart man, and he knows just how important these summer months can be.