Branden Dawson Leading a Michigan State Resurgence

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 22nd, 2015

One of the teams that no one wants to see on their side of the bracket next month is getting better. Michigan State has managed to keep its efficiency rating high (currently #19 on KenPom) despite being classified as a bubble team by many bracketologists (Sparty is a #8 seed at Bracket Matrix). A shaky non-conference slate along with two early Big Ten losses to Maryland suggested that this might turn out to be a very disappointing season in East Lansing. Not so fast. The Spartans have quietly won four out of their last five games and have worked their way up to a three-way tie in the loss column (four) at second place in the league. The primary reason for this team hitting its stride at just the right time is senior forward Branden Dawson. The 6’6″ workhorse leads the league in rebounding and has been wreaking havoc all overt the floor defensively. His scoring touch around the rim has also returned, reminiscent of his postseason numbers from last year when he averaged 15.7 PPG and 8.1 RPG on 68.1 percent shooting from the floor.

Branden Dawson is making a push to be a First-Team All Big-Ten selection. (Maddie Meyer, Getty Images)

Branden Dawson is making a push to be a First-Team All Big-Ten selection. (Maddie Meyer, Getty Images)

Dawson struggled early this season before missing two games right before conference play. In looking at his statistical splits on a month-by-month basis, it’s easy to see that he’s playing his best ball at just the right time.

  • November: (10.2 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 0.7 BPG, 52.8% FG)
  • December: (11.2 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 0.8 BPG, 42.4% FG)
  • January: (13.1 PPG, 12.3 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 1.6 BPG, 58.0% FG)
  • February: (15.2 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 3.0 BPG, 66.7% FG)

Against Michigan on Tuesday night, the Wolverines had no answer for Dawson’s 23 points, 13 rebounds and four assists. Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling help him clean the offensive glass (the trio ranks in the top four in Big Ten offensive rebounding rate), while he, Costello and Denzel Valentine take care of the glass on the other end (all top 20). When someone other than Dawson grabs a defensive board, that allows the high-flying senior to get out in transition. His post play has also improved, even extending out with the addition of a reliable little fadeaway jumper. Defensively, Dawson’s athleticism and strength gives him the ability to adequately guard multiple positions. He ranks with Ohio State’s Sam Thompson and Purdue’s Raphael Davis in terms of perimeter defense, and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if he finds his way on to the league’s All-Defensive Team.

Written off by many pundits a month ago, Michigan State now sits at 18-8 overall and 9-4 in the league with five somewhat difficult games remaining. The Spartans have three chances left to pick up quality road wins (at Illinois; at Wisconsin; at Indiana) as well as a chance to make a run in the Big Ten Tournament. They’ve probably blown any realistic chance of receiving an NCAA Tournament seed better than #6, but with their experience led by Dawson playing his best ball at just the right time, chances are good that this team will end up causing some headaches for a couple of teams in a few weeks.

Brendan Brody (307 Posts)

Brendan Brody is in his fourth season covering the Big Ten for RTC. Email him at, or follow him on twitter @berndon4.

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