Over the next couple months, Con-T and I will be taking a look at each returning player on the MSU basketball roster--looking back at their performance last season and ahead toward their likely contributions in the 2012-13 campaign. First up: Travis Trice.
Despite the age of wall-to-wall recruiting coverage, Travis Trice was a fairly unknown quantity coming into his college career. When he committed to Michigan State, he was barely on the radar of the national recruiting services. At best, he was classified as a two-star recruit. It was, in fact, fairly fortuitous that a scholarship spot was even available for him.
Tom Izzo had, however, seen Trice play at length, since he was an AAU teammate of Branden Dawson. Izzo had made the judgment that Trice had the skills to play point guard behind Keith Appling. When Korie Lucious prematurely departed the program, that became an immediate necessity.
And Trice stepped right up, playing 20 minutes per game in the North Carolina and Duke games that opened the season. He showed no signs of hesitation due to his underbilled high school career. If anything, he may have been a tad too confident. In MSU's 13 nonconference games, Trice shot 47.5% on 40 three-point attempts and averaged 2.3 assists and 1.2 steals in 19.9 minutes of playing time per game. But he also turned the ball over 2.0 times per game. He showed flashes of brilliance, but also flashes of poor decision making.
As the season progressed, a few things happened:
- He was forced to battle through an ankle injury that cost him five Big Ten games and reduced his playing time when he was able to play to 15.4 minutes per game.
- He cooled off some from long distance, but still finished the season shooting 40.5% from beyond the arc. He was always the one guy on the roster who was clearly looking for shot from deep and wouldn't hesitate to shoot it when he had the space.
- His ball-handling decisions improved markedly. In MSU's 18 Big Ten and 6 postseason games, Trice averaged just 0.6 turnovers per game.
Overall, Trice's freshman campaign was clearly a success. Despite the nagging ankle issues, he was a key contributor in MSU's Big Ten Tournament championship run, scoring 14 points on 4-6 three-point shooting and posting 4 assists vs. zero turnovers in 43 minutes of tournament play.
Outside of three-point shooting, Trice's offensive numbers weren't staggering, but they compare favorably to the freshman production of other non-Kalin-Lucas MSU point guards in recent memory:
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. He also shot just 57.6% from the line; I think it's a solid bet that number will rapidly increase as his career progresses and he gets to the line more frequently. On the upside, Trice has shown an ability to disrupt opposing point guards on defense; that hasn't always been a strength of MSU point guards under Izzo.
In the upcoming season, expect Trice to play 20-25 minutes per game. He'll have a clear leg up on Brendan Kearney and Denzel Valentine in terms of on-court experience at the college level. He'll be the primary ball-handler whenever Keith Appling is getting a rest, and will see plenty of time on the court in tandem with Appling, as well.