I'm not a fan of Kentucky or Indiana, but I also don't hate either school, mainly because their basketball teams are supported by blogs that write about basketball all year. Me being a Spartan Basketball enthusiast 24/7/365, I respect that. Plus I read a lot of the stuff on their blogs during the long, boring wait for Midnight Madness. Here I've decided to borrow an idea from one of their articles, projecting the 2013-2014 starting 5.
The most likely scenario probably includes Branden Dawson retaining his spot in the lineup with Matt Costello stepping in too. But will one or both of them be enough of a scoring threat to complement the Big 3? One of the flaws of the 2013 Spartans was having Dawson and Nix in the same lineup. Two players who needed to be next to the basket in order to score. That ruins spacing and those 2 should've never been on the court together even if it was the best defensive pairing.
If we take the 2013 versions of Dawson and Costello and put them in the lineup together, I'm afraid we'd have the same problem. Dawson was clearly a limited player in his attempt to overcome his knee injury and Costello looked disturbingly overwhelmed whenever attempting to score. Those guys would not improve the lineup at all unless the Big 3 average 60 points and all Dawson and Costello would have to do is defend and rebound.
My hope is that we will have something better than the 2013 versions of each player. Costello's high school and AAU background suggested he was a guy with significantly more advanced offensive skills than we saw last season. Perhaps an offseason of working on his game with a year of experience under his belt will help him fully adapt to the college game and make a mini "leap".
As for Dawson, the "leap" train is scheduled to arrive for him any second now. Spending a summer rehabbing is obviously detrimental to basketball skill development. He should now have the same opportunity that guys like Rodney Williams and Sam Thompson had, a summer to improve ball handling and shooting to go with insane hops and dunking ability. Thompson turned himself into a decent 3 point threat last season. Decent 3 point shooting may not be in Dawson's future but if he can add a mid range shot to his game he'd do himself and his team a huge favor.
But what if the hope doesn't pan out and neither player is ready to make a shot outside the paint. Would it make sense to start a player like Alex Gauna instead of Costello? Gauna is probably going to blow a few defensive assignments and lose several rebounding battles but he can shoot. This may sound crazy but I thought Gauna was seriously under utilized last season. The guy does one thing well, hit mid range jumpers, yet he never seemed to be involved in any plays when he was on the court. Gauna could be a guy that opens up the floor by pulling a defender away from the rim creating driving lanes for Harris, Dawson or Appling. This will be his 4th year in the program, he's a grownup now. Maybe he's ready to be a full time contributor.
If not Guana how about Trice or Valentine? Run, run, run. Coach Izzo wants to run, so he often says. Inserting one of these guys into the starting lineup can help with that. Both guys should do well starting the break and either one of them would be the best passer in the lineup. Potential problems with this idea, whoever doesn't start would inherit all of the backup PG minutes, Dawson has to play the 4, Payne has to play center(something Coach Izzo doesn't want for some strange reason). Although I'm thinking that the most effective lineups will probably have Payne at center.
It's probably a safe bet that Dawson will continue to start, who should join him: Costello, Gauna, Valentine, Trice, someone else?