Michigan State Basketball: Ranking Spartans' Most Likely March Madness Heroes

Adam BiggersSenior Analyst IIMarch 14, 2013

Michigan State Basketball: Ranking Spartans' Most Likely March Madness Heroes

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    Kalin Lucas knew how to get the job done in March, and his seven points during the final 49 seconds of Michigan State's 67-62 thrilling triumph over the Kansas Jayhawks in the 2009 Sweet 16 was proof positive of that.

    Lucas, the 2009 Big Ten Player of the Year, led the Spartans to a Final Four appearance and seemingly channeled a different level of consciousness in the postseason. Simply put, big games were Lucas' playground, and he indeed made things look "too easy." 

    Korie Lucious' game-winning three-pointer in the Spartans' 85-83 2010 second-round victory over the Maryland Terrapins made him a legend and helped stamp another Final Four ticket for Tom Izzo. Now with Iowa State, Lucious' bombing of Maryland is still one of the most talked about shots in Michigan State basketball history.

    And who could forget Mateen Cleaves' gutsy display in the 2000 national title game versus the Florida Gators. The Flint native is arguably one of the greatest college basketball players the game's ever seen, and he immortalized himself in Spartans lore with one good ankle prior to cutting down the nets in Indianapolis. 

    March is when heroes step forward and unsung talents make a name for themselves. Now that it's that time of year, it's only right to look at who could potentially send Spartans followers into a frenzy with a game to remember during the NCAA tournament. 

    Will it be a late leaner in the lane to push them forward, or will the Spartans vault past their opponent thanks to a clutch free throw or raucous, last-second dunk? 

    We'll examine the playmakers at Michigan State's disposal and rank their probability of making a little magic in the Month of Izzo. 

5. Branden Dawson

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    The sophomore hasn't had the season most expected him to have, but Branden Dawson has the pogo-legs to posterize an opponent like Durrell Summers did to UConn's Stanley Robinson in 2009. 

    Huge shots in March aren't always of the game-winning variety. Sometimes they're momentum-shifting layups, or in the case of Summers, a nasty one-handed slam that pads a lead late in the second half. 

    Dawson put on his cape and went to work in January with 18 points and 13 rebounds in Michigan State's 48-47 win over the Wisconsin Badgers—he has the capability to make a difference. Without Dawson, the Spartans wouldn't have escaped Madison. 

    Ranking Dawson at No. 5 may seem a little low, but his trend of inconsistency in 2012-13 casts a shadow of doubt on his clutch abilities. Even if it's just one game, one shot, Dawson can have an immense impact on Michigan State's postseason fate. 

4. Derrick Nix

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    Imagine that the game's on the line and the Spartans need something to happen. 

    Shooters aren't making shots, and the only option that seems worth trying is feeding the ball to Derrick Nix and hoping that he uses his left-handed tactics in the paint to Michigan State's advantage. 

    Nix calls for the ball, puts it on the floor and goes up to the rim with nothing on his mind but drawing a foul and getting to the line. The plan works, and Nix sinks his freebie after his layup somehow rolls through the twine—Michigan State lives to fight another day and Nix is the Man of the Hour. 

    It could happen. It's not the most likely scenario, but that's why Nix is ranked as Michigan State's No. 4 most likely March Madness hero. 

3. Adreian Payne

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    Adreian Payne has asserted himself as one of the Big Ten's premier centers; his length, shot-making abilities from just about anywhere on the floor and rim-attacking ferocity has afforded the Spartans plenty of benefits during the past two months. 

    If the Spartans face a team with dominant big, Payne could be the only answer—and he could answer in a big way with a 17-point, 15-rebound showing. 

    Throw in a couple of key blocks—let's say a block as the clock winds down to zero—and Payne would live on forever in the hearts of Spartans followers. 

2. Keith Appling

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    Spartans guards have a history of showing up in key moments, especially in March. 

    Although Keith Appling has mightily struggled this season, he should still be considered hero-worthy in March Madness. If the situation presents itself, Appling could seal the game with a mid-range jumper or shot from the line to send the other team packing. 

    The former Detroit Pershing sensation scored nine points in the final 2:30 of Michigan State's second-round loss to UCLA in 2011. He has the clutch gene in him. Watch out for something special from the junior this March. 

1. Gary Harris

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    Though only a freshman, Gary Harris has played like a veteran in crunch time.

    Late layups, dunks and three-pointers have been a part of his arsenal in this, his first year of college ball, and he has the stroke to crush the dreams of any team in the Big Dance. 

    Something about Harris just says "hero." He's been too reliable to doubt at this point, and if he can carry his momentum into the postseason, Izzo could land in his seventh Final Four. 

    A sustained run by Michigan State definitely rides on Harris' ability to play up a level and show why he's one of college basketball's top froshes. 

Reliving March Madness Heroics: Korie Lucious

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    Greivis Vasquez's layup gave Maryland a one-point cushion, but Draymond Green ran the floor, laced a prayer of a pass to Korie Lucious—and it was over with. 

    Lucious' shot was about as clutch as it gets. 

Reliving March Madness Heroics: Durrell Summers

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    It's really a shame that Durrell Summers was unable to showcase his incredible hops in the NBA, but it's a safe bet to say that neither Michigan State nor UConn fans will forget this dunk any time soon. 

    Stanley Robinson won't. 

Reliving March Madness Heroics: Mateen Cleaves

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    Before knocking off Florida in 2000, the Spartans had to deal with Iowa State. 

    Mateen Cleaves' alley-oop to fellow Flintstone Morris Peterson helped just a little. 

    It was a beautiful pass from Cleaves, one of the greatest Spartans in history, but it may have been a better finish by MoPete, another Michigan State basketball hero. 

    Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan State Spartans basketball writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81