This means MSU will return its starting backcourt and at least three starters for next season. We do not have an official word yet on Adreian Payne's decision.
I said in my Freep column earlier this week that we shouldn't judge players' decisions. Harris seemed to be a sure lottery pick, and since he's not going to grow, it's hard to know if his NBA stock will get any higher. That's tough to pass up.
Harris was MSU's No. 2 scorer at 12.9 points per game and had the best offensive rating (114.7, which is 0.3 ahead of Payne), and that was while dealing with shoulder injuries for nearly the entire season. MSU said in the release that Harris would not undergo offseason surgery. That was surprising, as it seemed to be the biggest reason he would return to MSU. Instead, it was just his love of playing college basketball, or something. Barring an unforeseen circumstance, chances are high this will be Harris' last season at MSU.
Tom Izzo said we never got to see the real Gary Harris this season, which should excite Spartan fans moving forward. He has a smooth shooting stroke (41 percent from 3), can drive to the hoop and finish, holds onto the ball (15.2 TO%) and plays great defense. And it sounds like he won't miss all summer recovering from surgery. Izzo loves this kid to death, and that love is reciprocated.
Keith Appling will be a senior in his third season as a true point guard, and having Harris with him in the backcourt should help immensely. MSU's inconsistent scoring outside was its biggest weakness, and with at least Derrick Nix definitely gone, the backcourt scoring will have to pick things up.
Denzel Valentine will be a sophomore and Travis Trice and Russell Byrd will be juniors. All should be better with healthy offseasons (fingers crossed). If Payne comes back, MSU will have the ability to go big and small, which any coach loves. Expect lineups to include Trice or Valentine on the court running the point with Harris and Appling.
Between Harris and Payne, I felt it was more important for MSU to get Harris back, given the number of bodies available at each position and the importance of a backcourt in college basketball. Harris should be one of the early favorites for Big Ten Player of the Year.
Now we wait for official word on Payne. If he comes back, MSU is a top-five team and the favorite in the Big Ten. If he doesn't, MSU is probably in the 10-15 range and in the mix with Michigan and Ohio State for the Big Ten, but there will be questions about the offense.
We'll review the frontcourt when Payne makes a decision, but Thursday was a good day for MSU basketball.