Michigan State Basketball: 5 Storylines to Monitor During Spartans' Offseason
The Michigan State Spartans' quest for a 2014 national championship ended the moment that they lost in the 2013 Sweet 16 to the Duke Blue Devils.
As usual, the Spartans are expected to be one of the Big Ten's upper-echelon programs this season. With a lofty No. 1 preseason ranking, according to ESPN's Seth Greenberg, Michigan State certainly has pressure to make a run for glory.
With Adreian Payne sticking around for another year, Spartans coach Tom Izzo has an elite-level big to complement scoring machine Gary Harris, who opted to stay in East Lansing for his sophomore session.
Factor in Keith Appling and Branden Dawson, and Izzo has a sturdy foursome to rely upon during the upcoming gauntlet.
There are important areas to focus on between now and tipoff 2013-14. We'll highlight those areas in this slideshow.
The Health of Gary Harris and Keith Appling
Michigan State's top two guards suffered shoulder injuries this past season.
Senior-to-be Keith Appling and will-be sophomore Gary Harris are key to the Spartans' push. Having them healthy and at 100 percent next season is imperative to success.
It'll be interesting to see just how each bounce back from their pesky shoulder ailments. Shoulders are tricky, and, in certain instances, the recovery process is up-and-down, back-and-forth.
Harris is a preseason All-American, according to USA Today. Monitoring his progress will surely occupy the time of Spartans followers during the offseason.
Appling is the engine of Michigan State's offense.
How the Newcomers Adjust
The overall complexion of the team will vary on how newcomers Alvin Ellis and Gavin Schilling adapt to the fold.
As of now, the existing members of the Michigan State basketball team know what's expected of them. It'll be their job to guide Schilling and Ellis, making their transition from high school to college comfortable and seamless.
Both Schilling and Ellis play AAU basketball. Keeping tabs on their summer sessions will give Spartans followers an idea of what's to come this winter.
Ellis told SpartanMag.com's Paul Konyndyk that he's excited to play at Michigan State.
The chance to play with those guys in East Lansing is a great opportunity. I know that Coach Izzo is going to push me, that is one of the things he said to me, and the assistant coaches said the same thing.
Ellis told SpartanMag.com (in the same interview) that an earlier visit in April made him comfortable. After that, he knew Michigan State was the place for him.
"I felt good about the coaches and the players," said Ellis. "The players were all playing together and having fun. I didn't feel out of place or anything like that, I fit well with the team."
Maintaining that level of energy over the summer will be Ellis' key upon entry to the Big Ten ranks. Schilling, presumably, feels the same way about playing for Izzo.
Will they up their games during the summer, or will they rest comfortably knowing that they're headed to an elite program?
Hype Machine Around Gary Harris
Gary Harris was projected as an early first-round pick by many analysts. Some, like ESPN's Chad Ford (h/t Josh Slagter of MLive.com), went as far to forecast Harris, who just completed his freshman year in college, as a lottery pick in the 2013 NBA draft.
It's all but certain that Harris will leave after his sophomore year. That's inevitable, especially if he has another solid season under coach Tom Izzo. As a frosh, Harris was Michigan State's leading scorer, averaging just under 14 points per game.
Keeping Harris around for his junior term would be close to impossible. Izzo probably knows that. The hype machine surrounding Harris will certainly shift into full gear come summer. As the 2013-14 campaign approaches, Harris' name will be among the hottest mentioned in draft circles.
He could have been a lottery pick in 2013. Harris may be a top-five pick if he explodes during his second year at Michigan State.
Keep on an open ear. Talks about Harris are just getting started.
Who Takes over Physical Role?
Adreian Payne can do it all, it seems. However, he may not be able to fill the void left by Derrick Nix, one of the Big Ten's most physical players in 2012-13.
Who will step into those shoes? Who will bang around in the paint and mix it up with other teams' centers? Payne will surely take on some of those duties, but Alex Gauna and Matt Costello seem like logical replacements.
They're both about 35 pounds lighter than Nix was, but at 6'9" and 245 pounds, Costello and Gauna are two of the Spartans' most imposing figures. Costello showed during the national tournament that he wasn't afraid to get dirty. Gauna, perhaps Michigan State's most improved big, also showed tenacity and a willingness to take charges.
What's Going to Happen with Russell Byrd?
Will the formerly high-flying sharpshooter Russell Byrd ever come to form?
He was rated as a 3-star prospect in high school, but he's yet to show his team what he's capable of doing—outside of practice, that is.
Michigan State Spartans coach Tom Izzo told MLive.com's Diamond Leung that he still has faith in Byrd.
I guess it doesn't bother me if anybody believes in him, but give him a chance because this will be the first true summer where he is going to be 99 percent healthy. There's no question that kid can still help us because we need a shooter.
He lives, eats and sleeps the game, and then I have to listen to him talking to me about Twitter and how people are just ripping him on this and that -- people who have no clue and no understanding.
I disappointed in Russell Byrd? Two hundred percent. I'm disappointed because I had a guy who was a gym rat, who loves the game, who is a good kid and was dealt a bad set of cards
In two years at Michigan State, Byrd, who has battled setback after setback, averages about 1.55 points per game and 6.5 minutes per outing—numbers far from what were expected of him prior to his arrival to East Lansing.
Byrd was supposed to be a marksman. So far, he's yet to deliver in game scenarios. Pay close attention to his development, as this year stands to be the year that'll make or break Byrd.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan State Spartans basketball writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81
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