Going into Branden Dawson’s senior year, he was named a first-team preseason All-American by Sportingnews based on his dominant play in the 2014 Big Ten Tournament, where he was named the MVP and his excellent play in the 2014 NCAA tournament, where he scored a combined 50 points against Harvard and Virginia. This was the year where Dawson was expected to make the jump from rebounding-energy role player to legitimate college star. The result was a bit of a mixed bag in which he struggled on the offensive end while trying to take on a larger role.
Using this player comparison tool created by MGoBlog’s Alex Cook, these are the B1G players with the highest similarity scores (dates back to 2008):
Lots of green and there would be even more if I listed the top 12 as Nix’s senior season is #11 and Dawson’s junior season is #12. What’s interesting is how much he plays like a big man as everyone on this list (with the exception of the sophomore version of Draymond Green) were 6’9" or taller. One very interesting fact I found: Dawson finished his senior year with the highest block rate of anyone in the B1G 6’6" or shorter for the 4th straight year. He was also 2nd in the B1G in DReb% behind NPOY Frank Kaminsky and 5th in OReb% which was his 4th straight year finishing in the top 13.
Dawson was named 2nd team All-B1G in a year where he averaged career highs in points, rebounds, assists, and blocks along with being named to the All-Defensive team. He set the MSU record for most blocks in a career and his conference-leading 9.1 rebounds/game was the highest average since Draymond Green averaged 10.6 in the 2011-12 season. One underrated stretch by Dawson came against Georgia in the second half when he made 5/6 of his field goals (four of those were jumpers) and converted two And-1’s giving him 12 points in under 10 minutes of play. Frankly he hadn’t shown that ability for most of his career and seeing that come together for him was really great to see. His single biggest play, however, was likely his tip-in against Louisville with 36 seconds left in OT to put the Spartans up 74-70. While that first sequence I described showed some of his development as a player, that single play epitomized most of Dawson’s career: a glue guy who made the hustle plays to help his team win (he made an almost identical play in 2013-14 against then #1 Kentucky).
Due to the trio of Appling, Harris, and Payne departing after last season, Dawson had to increase his offensive role and somewhat predictably his offensive efficiency regressed. However, the issue wasn’t that it regressed, it was to the degree that it regressed as his ORtg went from a very good 123.3 to a very average 104.3. In the beginning of the season that number was even lower as he was sometimes forcing his offense rather than playing in the flow of it. His FT% hit a career low at 49% and consequentially his TS% was at a career low 53.3% which isn’t ideal when it’s a player who spends most of his time near the basket. Although he did improve shooting the ball on jumpshots, he still didn’t pose as a much of a threat from the outside (15-18 footer range) as some would’ve hoped.
Dawson had a very solid if not spectacular senior season. I do think next year the combination of Marvin Clark and Deyonta Davis at the power forward position will be able to replace most of what Dawson did as far as offensive production and defensive rebounding. However, they won’t have the same defensive versatility to switch onto other players effectively or the ability to guard a player one-on-one as well as Dawson did the past few years. At 6-6 Dawson was always a potential mismatch at power forward in that he was strong enough to guard most post players but quick enough to switch onto guards when he needed to (that reminds me a little of someone). Then when he ran the floor he was as effective as anyone in the country at finishing in transition which also opened up shooters on the wings. He’s easily one of the better players that have through East Lansing in the past few years but he was still just the third option on offense last year.
(Author’s note: I acknowledged all the critiques about Trice not getting an A grade and realized that it was fair criticism. It was more to do with my somewhat harsh grading scale than what Trice did or didn’t do last year. Going into this process I had intended that Trice would at the very least tie for the highest grade on the team based on him vastly exceeding expectations. For some reason I made that grade an A- rather than an A and that has since been changed. In the end this actually works out for me because I now have more discretion when grading other players.)