Right now, Michigan State is supposed to be gearing up for a run at the national title. However, it's fair to say the future looks a little uncertain at the moment as the team struggles to come together. So, we're going to use this opportunity to forget our current problems and talk about the future of the program, particularly how things are going to shape up next season including the arrival of some new players.
There's no doubt that next year's roster is not exactly what some fans once hoped for. There's no Kevon Looney or Cliff Alexander in the post and no package deal of Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor. What we do have are two players that Michigan State should be grateful for being able to land late in the process after brief recruitments. Lourawls Nairn is a jet of a point guard as fast as anyone in his class. Though he's under 6' tall, Nairn is strong and physical and shouldn't have any problem using his body effectively as he gets into the lane. Nairn has talked about how much he loves Izzo and Michigan State so maybe everything has aligned perfectly to bring the Spartans a new general on the court who embodies toughness and leadership. With Travis Trice a senior next year and even the best 5'10" players rarely leaving early to the NBA, the Green & White should be looking at a three-year starter at point guard.
Michigan State has also signed Gahanna, Ohio wing Javon Bess. While Bess was once underrecruited, he became a hot commodity in the fall of 2013. The MSU staff thought enough of his emerging game to extend an offer while players like James Blackmon, Devin Booker, and Trevon Blueitt were still available. That tells you something about what MSU thinks of his ability. A strong senior season, including recognition as the Ohio Central District POY, shows that the staff may have been right on. Bess is going to arrive and play the utility wing role at Michigan State recently handled by Brandon Kearney and now occupied by Alvin Ellis. Bess's versatility and size (6'5") will allow him to drive, rebound, defend, and shoot all while playing and defending multiple positions.
Neither player is necessarily expected to start and it'll be interesting to see how much time they earn. I'll throw out a stab at the starting lineup and bench rotation. Appling, Payne, and Harris are gone and, despite his missed time, the bet is still that Branden Dawson leaves for professional basketball, NBA ready or not.
2014-2015 Michigan State Spartans
PG: Travis Trice (Sr.)
W1: Alvin Ellis III (So.)
W2: Denzel Valentine (Jr.)
PF: Kenny Kaminski (Rs So.)
C: Matt Costello (Jr.)
B1: Lourawls Nairn (Fr.)
B2: Gavin Schilling (So.)
B3: Javon Bess (Fr.)
B4: Russell Byrd (Rs Sr.)
B5: Alex Gauna (Rs. Sr.)
My guess is that Nairn gets lots of minutes running the team next year. I think Denzel Valentine spends most of his time on the wing opening the minutes for Lourawls to back-up Travis Trice. Javon Bess will almost certainly earn playing time if he can surpass the more experienced but limited Russell Byrd. It's also possible that he could put some pressure on Alvin Ellis for the second starting wing spot.
This could receive a shake up if MSU adds more players to the 2014 class. We're supposed to get a decision from Kansas forward Marvin Clark next week and MSU has a very good chance to beat out Indiana and others for his services. He feels like he could be a depth/redshirt candidate, but Izzo will definitely give Clark a chance to earn minutes ahead of Alex Gauna and Russell Byrd for the No. 9 spot in the rotation. MSU is also after guard Montaque Gil-Caesar who could reclassify to enter college next season and add "star power" to the roster. If he does and does so for MSU, "Teki" would battle both Ellis and Bess for a starting role.
No matter how the season ends this year, I'm excited about next season. MSU is going to a massive shift back to a blue collar roster of numerous 3-star players in major roles. Big timers like Appling, Payne, Harris, and Dawson will be gone. I've read some comparisons to MSU's 2006-2007 team that featured Drew Neitzel in a career year, a scoring freshman in Raymar Morgan, and some eventual key sophomores who weren't yet ready to carry the load. I think next year's team should have more firepower and experience than that edition but it requires every player making forward strides. Denzel Valentine will be the man, expected to harness a serious scoring load. Travis Trice will have the opportunity to make the team his and Kaminski and Ellis will be looked to for greater offensive contributions. Matt Costello needs to be the player he's been in flashes in his first two years. In any case, it'll be a different type of exciting next year with more unknowns and I won't rule out MSU making some noise in the Big Ten.