THE BRESLIN CENTER, EAST LANSING, MICHIGAN
After what's seemed like the longest basketball offseason in recorded history (technically, it only lasted 212 days), Spartan basketball resumes. Cardinal bullets:
- Overall record of 16-12 last season, 13-9 in the GLIAC last season.
- Picked to finish 3rd (out of 7 teams) in the GLIAC North this season.
- Top returning players are 6'2" junior guard Greg Foster (13.0 points and 3.3 assists per game last season) 6'1" sophomore guard Chris Webb (10.4 points/game on .423 three-point shooting).
- Head coach Frankie Smith is in his fourth season. He was named the GLIAC Coach of the Year last season.
Saginaw Valley looks like a pretty solid GLIAC team--although not nearly as solid as that other GLIAC team that knocked MSU off in one of these exhibition tilts three years ago. (Sorry, that's an obligatory reference when previewing one of these things.) The team's main strength last season was on the defensive glass, holding opponents to an offensive rebounding percentage of 29.9%. Saginaw Valley is, however, dealing with some turnover on its front line:
When the team does take the court for the first time, there will be plenty of new faces. The team graduated leading scorer Avery Stephenson, an athletic forward who created matchup problems. Keithan Jackson, who averaged nearly a double-double last year, will be academically ineligible for the first semester. Smith said he hopes Jackson will be available to play in January.
Smith said he's hoping players will step up to fill the holes in his frontcourt. One of the candidates is former Arthur Hill star Mike Schaaf, who transferred from St. Peter's College in New Jersey during the offseason.
That final sentence is a little on the optimistic side, as Schaaf was a baseball-only player at St. Peter's.
For MSU, expect Tom Izzo to go deep into the bench as he starts to sort out a regular playing rotation beyond the big four of Kalin Lucas, Durrell Summers, Draymond Green, and Delvon Roe. Korie Lucious will sit the game out as the first leg of the suspension for his DUI incident (technically reckless driving); the one-exhibition-game/one-real-game determination by Izzo is now official.
Lisa Byington reports that Austin Thornton will be the fifth starter tomorrow night. Garrick Sherman would have been the guy (with Green moving over to the 3 spot), but recently suffered a concussion. I wouldn't read too much into those picks, other than that Izzo isn't going to hand a starting spot to Keith Appling or Adreian Payne right off the bat. When things get rolling, the odds are high that Lucious will, in fact, be the fifth guy--in terms of total minutes played and crunch-time minutes, if not in terms of a starting position.
With Lucious out and Lucas still working his way back to 100%, Thornton and Mike Kebler should get plenty of time on the court to try to win a spot in the regular rotation and Appling should get plenty of live-action experience at the point. Sherman's health situation means that Alex Gauna is likely to get an extended appearance [edit: assuming he's sufficiently recovered from his offseason bout with mononucleosis], as Izzo decides whether he'll play once official game action commences or sit out the season as a freshman redshirt.
The only potential contributor I haven't mentioned is Derrick Nix. Keep an eye on how long it takes before he wears down running the court in transition. Hopefully, the leap forward in his conditioning is for real and he's ready to give MSU a true big-man presence on the court for 15-20 minutes per game. (Late addition: Based on Rexrode's reporting on today's practice, all signs point to YES.)