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. Read the rest of this entry »