Michigan State Basketball: 5 Biggest Reasons to Buy Spartans as a 2014 Contender
There's a reason as to why the Michigan State Spartans are almost always considered capable of winning an NCAA national championship: coaching.
Starting with Tom Izzo, a Spartans cornerstone, Michigan State has leadership second to none—at any level. Izzo is arguably one of the finest coaches in all of basketball, not just at the collegiate level.
That being said, count that as a factor that revs the Spartans' engine heading into 2013-14, a season in which they're once again among favorites to conquer the Final Four.
The Spartans have two returning stars in sophomore guard Gary Harris and senior forward/center Adreian Payne that have conference player of the year potential—the lack of offensive firepower shouldn't be a problem for Izzo this season.
This slideshow will examine other strengths that could drive Michigan State to Cowboys Stadium in April.
The Breslin Center
A pleasant environment is conducive for production and wanted results.
Simple enough, right?
How can an arena play into a team's chances of success? For Michigan State, playing at the Breslin Center in East Lansing can be an unfair advantage over the visitors. Izzo has been spectacular when defending the integrity of his home court—he's won .911 percent of the time there.
Racking up winning streaks does wonders for teams heading into the postseason. Teams with 10- and 12-game runs during the regular season certainly increases chances of stringing together a six-win streak in March and April.
Because of the Breslin, the Spartans are able to start and sustain said runs—the runs that are trademarks of champions.
Enjoy his play while you can, Spartans fan—Gary Harris is entering what looks to be his final year at Michigan State.
The former 5-star recruit has far beyond lived up to his hype; he's a legitimate Big Ten star after having a stellar freshman season.
Harris could have been a lottery pick in the 2013 NBA draft, according to Chad Ford of ESPN (via MLive.com's Josh Slagter). Considering all of that, Michigan State is lucky to have him around for another run in March.
Because of Harris' scoring ability and incredibly dangerous range, Michigan State has a threat capable of competing with the other guys' No. 1 player.
Having a sophomore with an NBA-like skill set isn't common for Izzo. No, that's something Kentucky's John Calipari—when he has a sophomore—is accustomed to. Izzo has to take full advantage of Harris' services this year.
It's now or never with Harris.
Spartans Will Contend If Branden Dawson Emerges
Let's just erase his sophomore year, because Branden Dawson is far better than what he showed in 2012-13.
The former 5-star standout's struggles can be attributed more to recovery from an ACL tear than regression. If Dawson's play is anything like it was during his first year under coach Tom Izzo, Michigan State will have one of the more athletic wings in the country.
He can dunk. He can rebound. He can play defense.
He can't, however, shoot a consistent jumper.
If Dawson develops steady range, it'll be difficult to count out the Spartans, who already have two premier athletes in the lineup: Gary Harris and Adreian Payne.
Go ahead and pencil in Adreian Payne as a top-five player of the year contender.
Because he is one.
Now entering his senior year, Payne may be the most versatile big man in the NCAA. There aren't many 6'10" players that can shoot the ball with accuracy, rule the boards, pass with efficiency and leap to the rim like Payne.
His multifaceted skill set alone could take a lesser team deep into March. Pair that with surrounding weapons, and Payne has more than enough to make his senior year something to remember.
Expecting somewhere in the range of 17 points, 12 rebounds, three assists and a pair of blocks on a regular basis isn't out of the question.
Rivalry with Michigan Helps
Michigan is fresh off a national title game appearance.
The loss to Louisville may have stung a bit, but the Wolverines benefit by going almost all the way and are considered a contender this year.
In recent years, the Big Ten's only other real national threat other than Michigan State was Ohio State and, at times, Wisconsin and Illinois. Adding another juggernaut—and an in-state competitive hatred with Michigan—to the fold only provides more preparation for the Spartans.
Spartans coach Tom Izzo plays Michigan at least twice a year. With the way things are going—and how brackets shape up—the Spartans could face the Wolverines in the Big Ten Tournament title match, or even as far down the road as the Final Four or national championship.
Izzo said the duel is now a "good" one (via MLive.com's Diamond Leung).
I liked them better when they were down [Izzo joked]. Michigan-Michigan State's a rivalry. I've been on both sides of the rivalry. I've been on it when we couldn't win a game, and then I've been part of it when they didn't win many games. Those really aren't rivalries. I think now every game is a game, and it doesn't matter what one team has done or the other, it's probably going to be a good game. I guess that's what you hope.
If you're going to have a good rivalry, then you've got to have two good teams. Right now, we've got two good teams. Hopefully that means that'll be some great water cooler conversations throughout the state
Two "good" teams?
How about two excellent teams?
The in-state war just a got little more interesting and meaningful. There is more on the line, more bragging rights to be claimed.
Izzo is notorious for scheduling heavy hitters like Kansas, Syracuse, UConn and Duke in pre-Big Ten play. The conference is stronger than ever, so maybe he's scheduling Michigan- and Ohio State-like competition before setting foot on a Big Ten floor.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan State Spartans basketball writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81