Michigan State Basketball: Final Report Card for Spartans' 2012-13 Season
It's sometimes difficult to forecast the fate of the Michigan State Spartans.
Underrated teams overachieve, while teams expected to reach the Final Four prematurely fall out of the NCAA tournament—that's the nature of the game.
In 2012-13, there was plenty of hype surrounding Tom Izzo's program. Freshmen Gary Harris and Denzel Valentine fueled Spartans followers' optimism, while the returns of Branden Dawson, Adreian Payne, Keith Appling and Derrick Nix afforded a sense of comfort.
This year, like others, would be a year in which the Spartans would yet again be a force to contend with, would shine without former star Draymond Green and make a healthy run into March (or some thought).
The Spartans were right in the thick of the Big Ten regular-season championship race. They weren't completely amiss without Green. They reached the Sweet 16, too.
Not an awful year by any stretch of the imagination.
However, Friday's 71-61 Sweet 16 loss to the Duke Blue Devils stopped Michigan State in its quest for a seventh Final Four under Izzo. Duke exploited Michigan State's weaknesses and stamped its ticket to the Elite Eight, while the Spartans were sent packing for East Lansing.
No matter how it's dissected, analyzed or broken down, there's no doubting that Michigan State did everything in its power to dance for as long as possible. Winning two games in the tournament with battered and bruised stars like Harris and Keith Appling may have been the best-case scenario.
In this slideshow, we'll do things a bit differently than past grade-related pieces. Instead of assigning grades to areas like rebounding and scoring, we'll focus more on the individual aspects, leadership and meaningful stretches of the season.
There are certain responsibilities that come with being a captain.
This year, the Spartans never really seemed to have standout leadership, but captains Derrick Nix and Russell Byrd carried out duties to the best of their abilities.
It seemed that way, anyway.
Nix, a senior, has had an up-and-down tenure in East Lansing. Once Izzo's whipping boy, Nix evolved into a floor general in his own right. He wasn't a Draymond Green- or Drew Neitzel-caliber front man, but Nix was far from his previously selfish self.
In March of 2012, Izzo tried a new approach to assigning the role of captain to his players (via former MLive.com columnist Graham Couch, who is now with the Lansing State Journal). Instead of picking his usual star senior to take the reins, the Spartans coach decided to look a little deeper before handing out the title.
Izzo's new way led to picking Nix and Russell Byrd—and that was a bit of surprise.
In February of 2013, while the Spartans were clicking along, Izzo said that the team lacked leadership (via MLive.com's Diamond Leung).
During 2012-13 media day, Izzo didn't sound too sure about how Byrd and Nix would pan out as captains, saying "It's either gonna be a huge, huge success story or egg on my face" (via the Detroit Free Press).
Byrd rarely saw the floor this season. However, it's difficult to measure his influence on his teammates. Leaders don't need to play 30 minutes a game if their support helps others reach a higher level. Nix, though, certainly developed into a respectable player, no longer a bad boy with a propensity for temper tantrums.
Due to the lack of obvious leadership, the Spartans get a final grade of "C-" this year. And that may be a little generous.
The Freshmen: B+
Gary Harris was named the Big Ten's Freshman of the Year.
His outstanding campaign was highlighted by 23 points in Michigan State's 70-48 round of 32 March Madness victory over Memphis. He stumbled against Duke in the Sweet 16 (partly due to shoulder issues), but considering the opponent and Harris' experience level, that wasn't so devastating in the long run.
Harris showed that he's absolutely one of the best youngsters in the game. He needs at least another year in college to hone his skills, but he'll leave Michigan State as arguably one of the program's best pure shooters and defenders.
Harris was the Spartans' second-leading scorer, averaging just under 13 points per game.
Denzel Valentine was a different story. Izzo compared the former Lansing Sexton star to Lansing Everett, Michigan State and Los Angeles Lakers legend Magic Johnson, but he wasn't as Magic-like as expected. However, Valentine was one of the Spartans' top bench producers, averaging five points and four rebounds each outing.
But he also averaged two turnovers.
Valentine was timid, to say the least, this season. He lacked confidence and often second-guessed himself. Although he wasn't as assertive as he could have been, Valentine had a respectable frosh session in East Lansing.
The Spartans' first-year players get an overall grade of "B+" because one was the league's best and the other (Valentine) showed immense promise.
Keith Appling: C+
Keith Appling has increased his scoring average each season. While not a true point guard, he's been serviceable while handling the ball for Michigan State.
As the Big Ten's 14th-leading scorer, Appling paced the Spartans with an average of 13.4 per night.
Appling hit a rough stretch during the regular season and scored just two points against Duke in the Sweet 16. But the junior put up 15 and 16 points, respectively, in the Spartans' first two victories of the NCAA tournament.
A lot was expected from Appling this year. Only in his third year, Appling was looked at as more of a senior because of Michigan State's lack of veterans.
His efforts weren't always where they needed to be, but Appling completed a successful season and was a factor for Michigan State. He could explode for 25 or finish the night with six points—his inconsistencies were his biggest faults.
Appling gets a final grade of "C+" because of his up-and-down play. He was good—no doubting that—but he could have been better.
Branden Dawson: D
Branden Dawson was primed for a phenomenal sophomore season after averaging 8.4 points per game as a freshman in just 20 minutes.
Dawson's minutes increased to about 26 per outing, but his scoring average tilted to just 8.9 per game.
His defense, at times, was great. But his turnovers grew from 1.4 a game to two a game. Dawson had trouble finding a rhythm and was essentially a no-show during March for Michigan State; he scored 12 points in three tournament matchups (high of seven against Valpo).
Considering that Dawson had to recover from an ACL tear, his sophomore season was OK—just OK. He appeared to be on the fast track to success but never displayed an ability to contribute on a regular basis to the offense.
For that, Dawson gets a final grade of "D."
Adreian Payne: A
Adreian Payne finally lived up to his 5-star billing and evolved into one of the best centers in all of college basketball.
The 6'10" junior dunked and blocked with authority. He stepped out, knocked down shots and improved his overall skill set. Payne, simply, was a pain for the opposition.
He averaged a career-high 10 points and seven rebounds per game. Should he return for his senior year, Payne will surely be the Spartans' top threat next season. That's all there is to it. His dominant junior year didn't start out so dominant, but he finished with power.
Payne gets an overall grade of "A" because of his development. But he also gets an "A" for his personal growth. The gentle giant was an inspiration to a young girl named Lacey Holsworth, who courageously battles a life-threatening disease.
There are times when athletes transcend the sport they play, and Payne did that this season. His All-Academic honors and sharpening of basketball skills were great to see, but nothing trumped his contributions to his biggest fan.
Me and my lil princess Lacey... twitter.com/Adreian_Payne/…— Adreian Payne (@Adreian_Payne) March 11, 2013
Overall Team Grade: B
They fought for a conference title, made yet another trip to The Big Dance and were once considered national title contenders.
The Michigan State Spartans achieved all of that without any true leadership and no true go-to player. Gary Harris, Keith Appling and Adreian Payne each had their moments, sure. But Michigan State operated on a star-by-committee basis, it seemed, as the season progressed.
Izzo got what he could out of the personnel at his disposal.
Because of the circumstances, the Spartans get a "B" for their overall performance in 2012-13.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan State Spartans basketball writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81