This is the second in a series of posts by KJ and me on the returning Spartan basketball players, their performance last year and their prospects for this one. KJ's first piece on Keith Appling can be found here.
Travis Trice's last and upcoming seasons can be summed up in one word: health. After a promising freshman campaign in which he exceeded expectations as a relatively unheralded recruit, Trice did not take the step forward that many had hoped for, largely due to setbacks from health and injuries. The key to this season for Trice will be getting strong, staying healthy and providing solid minutes backing up Keith Appling at point guard.
Trice's season got off to a bad start before it even started, so to speak. Reports from summer workouts were that Trice had contracted a virus that was preventing him from participating. Despite repeated testing doctors couldn't tell what was causing Trice's persistent headaches and weight loss. After enduring eight weeks of tests and discomfort he had dropped 20 pounds from his already slight frame and been unable to practice at all. Tom Izzo made the extent of it fully clear after the season:
Travis Trice should have been a captain. When we voted for him in July, there were a lot of us worried about not whether he was going to play. It was way worse than that. Way worse. They couldn't figure out what it was. It was in his head, the headaches. It made everybody believe of tumors and cancer and problems. I mean, there were some scary things and then all of a sudden the drastic weight loss.
Although he recovered in time to make the trip to Germany to play Connecticut, he missed a lot of the key development time he should have had in June and July. And, as (bad) luck would have it, he was injured in that first game, sustaining a concussion and broken nose when he was inadvertently head-butted by Shabazz Napier. He left the game, was unable to participate even in time-out discussions and was doubtful for a time to be able to fly back with the team. He did make the flight but didn't return to the court until the game at Miami on November 28, missing a stretch of five full games plus the remainder of the first.
Forced to wear a Rip Hamilton-style shield to protect his injured face, Trice managed to get back in the flow and midway through the conference season he was playing effectively as backup at the point, reaching season highs of 30 minutes and 5 assists in a loss to Indiana. But he took another blow to the head in the Illinois game, was diagnosed with a second concussion, and missed all but eleven minutes of that game and all of the next four as well. Returning from this second setback proved more challenging for Trice, and he averaged only 16 minutes per game the rest of the way.
Trice's numbers from the last two seasons are shown below:
In fact, Trice's numbers were uncannily similar to the prior year, with only a couple of exceptions. He solved his problems at the free-throw line, moving up to a solid 72% (although he didn't get to the line as much). The other primary difference was his well-known 2-point shooting woes, largely responsible for the dip in his offensive rating and overall shooting numbers.
KJ noted in last year's Shootaround on Trice that "the biggest area for potential improvement on offense is his scoring efficiency around the basket: he shot just 34.6% on two-pointers this past season. But that will likely never be a major strength for a player with his relatively slight frame." Not only did Trice not improve in this area but he shot a team worst 21.4% from 2-pt range and that included making his last 3 of 3 in the NCAA Tournament. The disparity between Trice's two- and three-point shooting was extreme enough to garner some national attention: Luke Winn featured his conference-leading gap in Sports Illustrated's weekly power rankings in January.
The numbers provided by Jeff Haley at hoop-math.com provide some detail on the issue. Trice was, by far, the team's least effective finisher at the rim, posting a field goal percentage of 39%. The perplexing thing, though, is that his percentage on two-point jumpers was even worse at 14%: of the rest of the team only Alex Gauna at 27% was even below 30%. Since 29% of Trice's shots were these inefficient 2-pt jumpers, this suggests that shot selection and decision-making remain an issue for him.
This holds true for running the offense as well, where his assist and turnover rates both stayed nearly the same with the latter being higher than the former. This was occasionally an issue when he was spelling Appling at the point and ball-hawking opposition point guards would come after Trice trying to cause disruption.
The keys for Trice this season are pretty clear:
Trice is a role player but also a leader. A successful season for him would mean primarily getting closer to the 22-25 minutes per game that Izzo's backup point guards typically play. That would probably also be reflected in fewer minutes for Appling and more games where Trice can actually participate and demonstrate the leadership qualities Izzo sees in him. Continuing to shoot 40% from three wouldn't be a bad thing either.
Here's a little reminder that, in spite of the numbers last year, Trice can finish at the rim:
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