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Getting Some Retrospective: The 2011 Spartan Senior Class

Wednesday night is senior day for the Michigan State basketball team.  Basketball rosters are a lot smaller than football rosters, so we can do better than witty poems.  It's all after the jump.

Mike Kebler: The (Not so) Little Engine who Could--and Did

Mike Kebler as a freshman:

GOOD! JUMPER by Morgan, Raymar                  02:38  82-47  H 35
02:14 TURNOVR by Pringle, Stanley
SUB IN : Kebler, Mike 02:13
SUB IN : Dahlman, Isaiah 02:13
SUB IN : Gray, Marquise 02:13
SUB OUT: Morgan, Raymar 02:13
SUB OUT: Lucas, Kalin 02:13
SUB OUT: Allen, Chris 02:13
MISSED JUMPER by Gray, Marquise 01:48
REBOUND (OFF) by Summers, Durrell 01:48
GOOD! LAYUP by Summers, Durrell [PNT] 01:44 84-47 H 37
REBOUND (DEF) by Gray, Marquise 01:20 MISSED JUMPER by Jones, Andrew
SUB IN : Crandell, Jonathan 01:09
SUB OUT: Gray, Marquise 01:09
GOOD! JUMPER by Kebler, Mike 00:51 86-47 H 39

Mike Kebler as a senior:

MISSED 3 PTR by Armelin, Gerald                 00:13
00:11 REBOUND (DEF) by Kebler, Mike
FOUL by Mbakwe, Trevor (P3T9) 00:11 48-51 V 3 GOOD! FT SHOT by Kebler, Mike
00:11 48-52 V 4 GOOD! FT SHOT by Kebler, Mike

Both of those are late game situations in which Kebler made the most of the opportunity presented to him.  In the first case, the situation was preceded by the Izzone chanting, "We want Keb-ler! We want Keb-ler!"  In the second case, the situation was preceded by tens of thousands of MSU fans screaming, "Pleeeeeease, for the love of God, we want to go to the NCAA Tournament! AHHHHH!" at their TVs.

Kebler got the full Sunday paper profile treatment this past week, so I won't recount the entire odyssey of his time in East Lansing.  Here's a summation in numbers, though: Prior to last season's game at Penn State--the 95th game for which Kebler had put on an MSU basketball uniform--he had never appeared in a game for more than 5 minutes.  Starting with that game, in which he was the only MSU guard who could stay in front of Talor Battle, Kebler has crossed that PT threshold 20 times.  The last 9 of those appearances (which have come consecutively) have all been double-digit affairs.

Over the past four games, Mike Kebler is MSU's third leading scorer (with 20 points, edging out Appling with 19 and Summers and Payne with 18).  For the season, Kebler actually leads the team in offensive rating (albeit with a miniscule usage rate).  It's not a good thing that MSU has been in the position that's required the team to rely on Kebler to be such a major contributor.  But it's a very good thing that he was there to be relied on.

Not bad  for a guy who came in with a level of expectations such that no one thought about redshirting him as a freshman.  (Not that you can blame anyone.  We're talking about a player who averaged 5 points/game as a high school junior.)  He'd have been a great asset to help bring along all the freshman guards coming in next year.  (How about a grad assistantship?)

Durrell Summers: Exhilaration and Exasperation

To state the obvious: Durrell Summers has had a brutal senior season.  His scoring average is actually up slightly from last season (11.9 vs. 11.3), but he's only scored more than 13 points in a game once since January 8.  His offensive rating is down below 100.  He's hit just 13 of his last 50 field goal attempts.

I don't think anyone should pretend to know exactly why things have gone as far south as they have for Summers this year.  Maybe off-the-court stuff has been a factor.  Maybe the nature of the offense, without the balance of last year's team, has allowed defenses to key on him.  Maybe it's just a matter of shots not falling for a guy who's mainly a jump-shooter in the half-court offense (regardless of what we'd like him to be).  There's been a lack of effort at times, but I think that been more a response to a lack of success than a cause of it; by all accounts (including Tom Izzo's) he's continued to put in the work behind the scenes.  More than likely, it's been a combination of all those things.

Summers hasn't handled adversity in an ideal manner.  The question, I guess, is how high a standard you're going to hold a 21-year old college student to.  The TOC writing staff has taken the approach that he very likely feels bad enough about the way things have gone on without us piling on.

Anyway, the point here is to look back at the full four years these guys have put in as Spartans.  And Summers has had some pretty dandy moments:

  • 15 points in a 3-point win over Purdue in the second Big Ten game of his career.
  • A four-game stretch in conference play as a sophomore in which he scored 77 points to help push MSU into the lead in the Big Ten title race even as Raymar Morgan went down with a lengthy illness.
  • Later that season, this:

  • 94 points in five NCAA Tournament games as a junior, without which the program's eighth Final Four banner would not hang from the Breslin rafters.
  • Key three-pointers, despite game-long shooting slumps, late in wins over Washington and Minnesota--MSU's two best wins away from home this season and two reasons an NCAA bid remains a likelihood at this point.

Durrell Summers' college career has been a roller coaster ride.  But, keep in mind, that the plunges have only been so steep because the peaks were so high.

Kalin Lucas: A Big Player Filling Big Footsteps

Michigan State is a tough place to be an all-conference point guard.  The standards are pretty high: a guy who helped transform the game of basketball and a guy who helped transform a basketball program--both of whom won national titles in the process.

Before we talk about the legend/intangibles side of the ledger, let's go to the numbers.  Lucas v. Cleaves.  (I do think you have to put Magic in his own category.  He was a once-in-a-lifetime talent, and the 1979 team exists as something of an island in the history of the MSU basketball program.)

Cleaves Lucas
Games 123 135
Points 1,541 1,886
Assists 816 536
Points/Game 12.5 14.0
Assists/Game 6.6 4.0
Avg Poss% 27.9 25.5
Avg Off Rating 101.0 108.7
2pt FG% 45.4 44.6
3pt FG% 31.3 37.1
FT% 73.8 79.2
FT Rate 32.4 40.2
Avg Assist% 42.0 27.1
Avg TO% 27.3 17.9
Avg Steal% 2.9 2.1
First-team All Big Ten 3 2
Big Ten POTY 1 1
First-team All American 1 0
Big Ten Titles 3 2
Final Fours 2 2
NCAA Champs 1 0


Focusing on the pure stats, Lucas holds his own, and then some.  Cleaves was the superior passer by a wide margin.  But Lucas has been the better shooter--both from the free throw line and from 3-point range--and turns the ball over much less regularly than Cleaves did.  Overall, Lucas has clearly been the superior offensive performer from a statistical standpoint.

Of course, Cleaves also had to take on a larger role in the offense early in his career, and he was a superior defender.  Lucas has always been nondescript as a defender--neither a liability nor a substantial strength, whereas Cleaves was a difference maker on defense.

Ultimately, though, two things set Cleaves apart.  First, he was the quintessential Tom Izzo leader: driven, vocal, and emotional.  Lucas' drive has never been questioned (witness what he's done to keep this team afloat this year, even coming off a major injury), but his personality has never jived with the Izzo model.  That's created an unfair perception in my view--people can lead in different ways--but it is what it is.  Second, Cleaves got that "1" in the final row of the table above.

You can argue that the 2009 team's NCAA run was actually more impressive than the 2000 team's from a pure quality-of-opponent standpoint.  The 2009 team beat a 3-seed and two 1-seeds before succumbing to one of the most dominant teams of the last decade in the national championship game, while the 2000 team beat an 8-seed and a 5-seed in the Final Four.  But that's ultimately just a technical footnote.  A ring is a ring, and a banner is a banner.  Lucas has done as much as you can do in a college career without winning a national championship, but that will nonetheless be his missing trump card in the "Who's the greatest?" debate.

In a world where Mateen Cleaves's MSU career doesn't exist, though, Kalin Lucas would be in a league of his own in the annals of MSU basketball--a four-year starter who packed in a plethora of clutch moments.

(And, yes, I know: In a world where Cleaves as a Spartan doesn't exist, who knows what else from the Tom Izzo era exists.  Chalk up another X in the "intangibles" column for Cleaves.  On the other hand, you can argue that the program's mini-resurgence under Lucas [remember that Big Ten title drought we used to obsess over?] has helped create two upcoming top-notch recruiting classes that may not have come together otherwise.)

Two of the best such moments:


When asked earlier this week, Tom Izzo would only say that Lucas has "put himself in the conversation" for a banner raising.  I think he was playing coy.  When Lucas' career is over 4+ games from now, he will almost certainly rank as the program's fifth leading scorer (he's 28 behind Jay Vincent) and has a shot to rank in the top five in assists, as well (19 to catch Travis Walton; 25 to catch Mark Montgomery).  Those statistical achievements, combined with the numerical indicators of team success we'll get to in a moment, are fully banner-worthy.

In Closing

Kebler, Summers, and Lucas currently own:

  • 49 regular season Big Ten wins
  • Two Big Ten championships
  • 11 NCAA Tournament wins
  • Two Final Four appearances

Only a few other classes of Spartan seniors--all of them ending between 2000 and 2002--can match those cumulative accomplishments.  As disappointing as this final year has been, it's been a fantastic four years for these three Spartans.