[Or vice versa]
The season recaps from our favorite Spartan writers have been both comprehensive and co-signable, so I'll try to keep this part short. This Michigan State basketball season was, in short, as successful as a season that ends short of April can be. Given that Tom Izzo has made it to the final weekend of the college basketball season six times in the last 14 seasons, that makes this a barely-more-than-median-level success story, but such is the burden of regular success.
Briefly: preseason unranked team earns two banners for the Breslin rafters, beating the conference favorite (and eventual Final Four participant) two out of three times and the program's arch-nemesis three out of three times in the process of doing so. As an added bonus, you have the team's senior leader producing more basketball value than any other player in the country, recording one of the four greatest individual seasons in the history of the program.
(By the way, this is not a question. Two Final Fours. Three Big Ten titles. Conference player of the year, unanimous first-team all-American. Case closed. The more interesting case is still Kalin Lucas. By the standards of the jersey numbers currently hanging in the rafters, he's a slam dunk. But the bar may need to be raised for Izzo-era players. The new bar? Consensus All-American. If I recall correctly, North Carolina requires a player to be National Player of the Year to have his jersey retired. I think putting MSU's standard one step short of that is about right.)
This was a unique campaign for an Izzo team: an inexperienced team beats injuries and late-season depth concerns to earn a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament. (MSU's depth ratio post-Dawson injury: 3.95.) This team posted the fifth highest win total of the Izzo era. We're not used to the dice going cold in the Big Dance, but that's the way the thing is designed to work. Consider this our penance for the 2010 tournament run.
If there's anything to feel melancholy about here, it's that the Draymond Green era has come to a close. Darn you, college sports, with your enforced individual transitoriness. The archetypical Spartan cager must move on.
And so must we. Your preliminary 2012-2013 depth chart:
I'd bet on Trice to start over Harris early on, but you get the idea. Denzel Valentine will probably get some time at the point as the emergency #3 guy. There will be a lot of flexibility at the four spot. Expect to see Dawson and Byrd there at times. Nix and Payne probably won't play together a ton, but will hopefully see 5-10 minutes together in most games. If 40 minutes of Derrick Payne is good, 50 minutes should be even better.
There's a lot of talent there--four of the five guys shown as starters were elite recruits out of high school. There's also a lot of production to be replaced. It will take significant production increases from three or four guys just to replace everything Green did. And the flip side of Austin Thornton and Brandon Wood emerging as consistent contributors down the stretch, allowing the team to function efficiently without a lot of depth, is that they leave bigger holes to be filled next season.
Returning statistic percentages, using conference-only data:
|2-pt FG Made||68.0|
|3-pt FG Made||25.8|
On a full-season basis, the returning minute percentage is the fourth lowest of the last 16 MSU seasons. (This season's was the third lowest.) The holes are particularly noticeable for defensive rebounds and three-point shooting. Adreian Payne, and Matt Costello will be expected to pick up the slack on the defensive glass. Where the perimeter shooting comes from is a bigger question mark: Trice + ??.,
The offseason is always about individual progress, but this offseason seems to hold more uncertainty than usual at the individual level. Can Keith Appling take the next step--from primary point guard to all-conference-level leader? Can Travis Trice turn the flashes of brilliance into consistent playmaking? Will Gary Harris be an all-around performer right of the gate? How quickly will it take Dawson to get back to 90%+ athletically? Can Brandan Kearney add an offensive game to his early defensive contributions? How dangerous can Russell Byrd be with a full offseason of good health? Can Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne match last year's offseason gains? How quickly do Matt Costello and Kenny Kaminski adapt playing against to Division-1 bigs? Is Alex Gauna ready to become the pick-and-pop role player his game seems so well-suited to? Last but not least: Is comparing a three-star recruit to Magic Johnson too much, too early?
Only three players will be upperclassmen based on on-court experience next season. The ceiling will still be pretty high if the freshmen can make immediate contributions and the sophomores develop the way this past season's sophomores (and junior, and seniors) did. But there's also the possibility things don't come together as easily as they did this season and the 2013 season serves as a ramp toward a much bigger 2014 season, when everyone listed above but Derrick Nix should return.
Building teams one step at a time is what the Tom Izzo era has been about. By his standards, the 2012 team was seemingly built in a day. (Go back and read last year's version of this post.) Rebuilding the next elite MSU team will be no less exciting, but it may take just a bit longer.