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Preseason Musings: What's Left to Say?

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OR "Previewing the Season by Reviewing the Offseason"

With just barely more than a week until the regular season basketball opener, I feel like I should be providing more in the way of preview-like substance around here. But, frankly, after seven months of offseason basketball blogging, I think I'm out of things to say. This is the downside of blogging about college basketball for all 12 months of the year, I guess.

So instead of trying to manufacture something, I thought we'd just go back and look at the various statements I've made about the 2009-2010 Michigan State basketball team since April. All of you can then tell me what I've missed (or, perish the thought, been wrong about). Off we go.

On Kalin Lucas:

On offense, MSU will generally have a stronger offensive group on the floor than it did this season, as Korie Lucious, Chris Allen, and Durrell Summers consume the minutes Walton leaves behind. Hopefully, this will create more opportunities for Lucas to set teammates up for good shots and result in fewer instances in which he has to generate tougher shots late in the shot clock.

On the other end of the court, Lucas faces a substantial adjustment. During the first two years of his career, Lucas has had the luxury of not having to guard top opposing point guards most of the time, as Walton could be assigned to that task. Next season, Lucas will have to expend more energy on defense, as he becomes arguably MSU's top perimeter defender.

On Korie Lucious:

Look for Lucious to make major strides from his first season to his second. Specifically, he'll need to reduce his turnover rate and become a more consistent defender. He showed flashes of being a very good on-the-ball defender this year, but like most freshmen lacked focus at times.

The final three games of the season illustrate Lucious' potential: He scored 20 points in the 28 minutes he played against the three #1 seeds MSU faced to close the NCAA Tournament. If he can harness that scoring ability and become a more efficient ball-handler, it'll make MSU very hard to stop on offense. He'd give Tom Izzo the luxury of having an explosive point guard on the floor for all 40 minutes of every game and create defensive match-up issues for opponents when both he and Lucas are in the lineup.

On Chris Allen:

You'll note his minutes per game didn't drop as his shooting numbers fell. Tom Izzo's confidence in Allen actually seemed to grow as Allen's shooting problems increased. Defensively, his progress was particularly encouraging, as he became much less prone to mental errors. His progression was one of the keys in MSU's dramatic improvement in 3-point defense in conference play.

Going into next season, Allen's in a similar position to the one he was in last year: If he can become the consistent 3-point shooter he was billed to be entering college, he has the potential to be a 15-point-per-game scorer. The problem is that his college career is now half over and his career 3-point shooting percentage is just 33.3%. If he can move that number up near 40.0%, the potential remains for Allen to become an all-conference-level player, given the way he has progressed in other facets of the game.

On post player playing time:

Looking at the front court, this table provides further indication why Izzo will be looking for significant contributions from the trio of Sherman, Herzog, and Nix: All three are legitimate college centers. Draymond Green is obviously a 4-spot guy. He plays good positional defense but can't be expected to guard taller low-post scorers consistently (as noted by a couple commenters recently). Playing a smaller, quicker lineup with Morgan at the 4 would, then, mean Delvon Roe has to be on the floor. And at 6'8", Roe is not an ideal defender against players 6'10" and up (although Roe's improved athleticism as his knees continue to get back to 100% should help).

The math says SherHerzNix needs to contribute at least 15 minutes per game (to cover for Roe). And another 5-15 minutes will likely be needed in most games, depending on match-ups and foul trouble.

On Durrell Summers:

Unfortunately, after scoring 20 points in three games during that four-game stretch, Summers went into a prolonged scoring slump, scoring just 50 points in his next 11 games. He emerged to make some key contributions during the NCAA Tournament run, but never exceeded a scoring output of 13 points in a game.

Going into the 2009-10 season, here are the best/worse case scenarios for Summers:

  • Worst case: His junior year is like is sophomore year, with a tad more playing time: spectacular plays at times, inconsistent offensive contributions at others.
  • Best case: He makes a Morris Peterson-like jump from his sophomore to junior seasons. That four-game scoring explosion is evidence it could happen. He's got all the tools to be a consistent threat to score 15-20 points per game, grab key offensive rebounds, and become a shut-down defender.

On Raymar Morgan:

All in all, I think there's quite a bit for Raymar Morgan to build on going into his senior season--more than initially meets the eye in perusing the stats from his illness-marred junior season. If he can put the statistical efficiency from his sophomore season together with his improved attitude and aggressiveness from this past season, he could have a very special senior season.

Bigger picture, let's step back nine months in time. Last November, who would have though that MSU's top-billed preseason star would become such a limited factor in conference and postseason play and the team would still (1) win an outright Big Ten title and (2) advance all the way to the National Championship Game? There's the silver lining to Morgan's illness: It forced other guys (Durrell Summers and Draymond Green, in particular) to step up and make plays. Did that make MSU a better team last season? Probably. Will it make them a better team next season? Almost certainly yes.

On the 2009-10 Big Ten outlook:

. . . put all that together and you get the following three-months-out TOC Big Ten basketball power rankings:

  1. Purdue
  2. Michigan State
  3. Minnesota
  4. Michigan
  5. Ohio State
  6. Illinois
  7. Northwestern
  8. Wisconsin
  9. Penn State
  10. Indiana
  11. Iowa

With two potential national title contenders and up to nine teams with NCAA Tournament hopes, the conference looks to be as strong as it's been at least since the 2004-05 season (when two Big Ten teams advanced to the Final Four) and maybe as far back as the 1999-2000 season (when the conference last sent seven teams to the Big Dance).

(Note: I'd probably knock Minnesota down two spots in the projected Big Ten standings at this point, given recent events in Minneapolis--although there's still certainly plenty there for Tubby to work with. The rest of the rankings still seem about right.)

On the schedule (this is Pete talking):

  • The home/away Big Ten game balance seems fair. 4 out of 6 home games to start, and 3 of the last 4 games are also at home.
  • As to difficulty, I wouldn't say the schedule seems front or back loaded. The degree of difficulty's pretty even throughout the season.
  • Undoubtedly you noticed that Michigan's the last game of the season. You also might be wondering if it falls on spring break, and the answer is yes. The Purdue game was at the same time last year, and judging by the Izzone's turnout to see the Boilermakers, I wouldn't be worried about a Wolverine invasion.
  • The last nine games could be shown on national TV. I don't know if that qualifies MSU as elite (if they aren't already), but it darn sure doesn't hurt.
  • Four weekend home games out of a possible nine is about the definition of fair. No complaints there either.
  • As to the nonconference, I can't recall MSU having an opponent as big as Gonzaga that close to the start of the season. Gonzaga just lost Austin Daye, Jeremy Pargo, and Josh Heytvelt though, so hopefully the Spartans can take advantage of a bulldog team who will be learning to play without three of their biggest stars. Also note the trip to The Citadel this year.

On Draymond Green:

. . . to what extent does his lack of height limit his upside as an interior presence? There were certainly times this past season when an opponent would grab a rebound over Green's head or turn and shoot over Green's outstretched arms. But those instances were relatively rare. Meanwhile, Green showed a knack for using savvy and positioning to overcome his relative lack of length and he posted very good rebounding numbers playing for the best rebounding team in the country.

Offensively, he showed no fear in going to the basket when presented with the chance. Note that his 2-point shooting percentage increased significantly as the season progressed and the opponents got tougher.

The old basketball maxim is that you can't teach height. But I don't think you can teach teach what Green has, either. I've said it before: Draymond Green is a basketball player. He makes plays.

On Delvon Roe:

If Roe is really back to 100% physically, the sky's the limit for him. The experts are already starting to pay attention: Jeff Goodman has him at #8 on his list of the top 25 players fans need to get to know, and DraftExpress.com couldn't find much to criticize (other than the free throw thing) in ranking him as the #12 NBA prospect in the Big Ten.

Roe has already demonstrated that he's a tough, smart, versatile basketball player. Put those attributes together with the physical talent that made him a five-star recruit and you're going to have a player who will eventually be a contender for the title of Best Big Man of the Tom Izzo Era.

On Tom Herzog:

You don't get voted runner-up for Mr. Basketball without having some decent basketball-playing abilities. And, while you certainly don't want to read too much into statistics from less than two hours of time on the court (mostly against opposing bench warmers), the tempo-free numbers above hint at the fact that Tom Herzog can do some things with a basketball.

On the offense:

Going forward, the hope would be that Delvon Roe and Draymond Green can maintain their rebounding prowess as their minutes go up, making up for the graduation of Goran Suton and keeping MSU's offensive rebounding percentage above 40 percent.

And there's reasons to be optimistic that the team can improve on the other three factors.

  • Travis Walton's departure will help with shooting percentages. (The loss of Walton on the defensive end will be a different story.)
  • A full season of a healthy Raymar Morgan and more playing time for Delvon Roe could boost the free throw rate number even higher.
  • And maybe, just maybe, the turnovers go down as the perimeter guys all pick up another year of experience.

On the defense:

What doesn't show up in the numbers is the effect that losing Walton and Suton may have on our opponents' effective field goal percentage. Walton's ability to shut down opponents' top perimeter scorers is something that won't be matched by any of our returning guards. And Suton had developed a knack for frustrating opposing post players in establishing position and getting good looks at the basket.

While the experience of our core group of perimeter players (Lucas, Allen, Summers, Morgan) should help some with cohesion in playing Izzo's man-to-man scheme with an emphasis on help defense, I'd have to put my money on a slight regression by the team on the defensive end. An offsetting increase in offensive efficiency may be needed to match last season's win-loss results.

On team depth:

After "toughness" and "rebounding," the word "depth" ranks right up there when you're playing word association with the name "Tom Izzo." The 2009-10 team should have it (note that we haven't even mentioned Austin Thornton and Isaiah Dahlman, two players capable of being the 9th or 10th guys on a Big Ten contender). If anything, the challenge is to fit all the depth together, balancing out the relatively experienced group of perimeter players with the less experienced cadre of post guys.

While, of course, there really isn't a magic ratio that automatically leads to Big Ten titles and postseason success, I will posit that depth is a prerequisite for success for Izzo-coached teams. (Other coaches don't necessarily need it.) Based on what we know right now, that prerequisite has been met.

Man, am I prolific or what? (Ignore the fact that these posts were written over a period of approximately 200 days.) So what have I missed? What do you see as the key(s) to success this season? Which player's improvement is most integral to the team replicating the stupendous results of last season? Just how anxious are you to get this show started?