Michigan State Basketball: 5 Lessons Learned About Spartans This Offseason
The offseason is a time in which teams pose questions.
The regular season is when they are answered.
Tom Izzo's Michigan State Spartans are preparing for what promises to be a fruitful 2013-14 campaign. Other than the departure of Derrick Nix, Izzo's team should be similar this year as it was during this past season.
Leadership is always a concern for Izzo, a coach whose methods of developing floor generals is tried and true. Michigan State is in the process of learning who will carry it through March (and maybe April).
The Spartans have also learned that they have a legitimate superstar—not just a local hero—on their hands. Well, they may have more than one, actually.
This slideshow will highlight five of the top storylines and lessons learned during the offseason.
Izzo Is Still Searching for a Leader
It's not easy to replace leaders like Mateen Cleaves, Drew Neitzel, Kalin Lucas and Draymond Green. But the Spartans have made do. Finding the "next" guy isn't always a quick process, but it's typically something that's taken care of during the offseason.
This past year, the Spartans saw Derrick Nix evolve into a vocal senior. He frequently called for the ball and hardly shied away from pressure-cooker situations.
Now that Nix has departed, who will be the go-to guy? The Spartans should find out in the coming months.
Per MLive.com's Diamond Leung, Spartans coach Tom Izzo said the following about his team's search for a leader:
We've got a lot of veteran players, and I think the big key for us was, "Do we have a leader now?" And that's what this summer's for -- someone evolve as a leader for this team because those are very important if you're trying to make a championship run.
By "veteran players," Izzo was surely referencing seniors Keith Appling and Adreian Payne. Appling wasn't as take-charge as the Spartans probably would have liked him to be this past season. He was inconsistent, thus forcing Nix and Payne to shoulder more of the load.
But Branden Dawson is a veteran, too. Now a junior, he'll be called upon when Michigan State needs him most. He didn't dazzle as expected as a sophomore. He'll have to prove himself this year. He set the bar incredibly high as a freshman—his time is now.
Gary Harris Is a Real Star
Message boards are evil.
Don't rely on them for "news"—they're for entertainment only.
That being said, there are varying opinions on Michigan State sophomore Gary Harris. Some feel he is overrated, some feel he is underrated, and some feel that he's worthy of praise.
Harris proved as a freshman that he wasn't just a star high schooler playing college ball; he showed that he was a true college star playing college ball.
Although he averaged just about 13 points per game, Harris demonstrated the ability to dismantle defenses with his accurate range. Not only a great Big Ten player, Harris threw his name into national conversations during his first year with the Spartans.
The Sporting News recently named Harris as the nation's top shooting guard—not just the top shooter in his conference or on his team, but in the land.
There shouldn't be a debate, really. Harris is by far one of the game's top talents.
Izzo Needs to Nail Down 2014 Class ASAP
Now it's the waiting game.
Most of the high-end 2014 recruits probably won't commit until the late stages. Tom Izzo has his sights set on three 5-star players, so don't expect to hear any big news anytime soon.
Guard Tyus Jones, forward Cliff Alexander and center Jahlil Okafor would be the ultimate trifecta for the Spartans. Landing just one of them could put Izzo in the driver's seat for a national title.
The Jabari Parker saga showed that waiting isn't necessarily the best way to operate. Parker, a 2013 5-star phenom, was considered a shoo-in for Michigan State. But he changed his mind at the last minute, choosing Duke over the Spartans.
Drake Harris initially committed to Michigan State. But he chose to play football at Michigan instead.
That's just how recruiting goes these days.
Izzo needs to lock down at least one commit before fall, just for comfort's sake.
View Michigan State's list of 2014 targets at 247Sports.com.
Adreian Payne Is in Limbo
Adreian Payne showed that he was a multitalented big man during his junior year. He hit jumpers. He blocked shots. He brought...excuse the poorly executed play on words...the "Payne."
OK. We're done with the humor.
Payne was a great supporting cast member. As a senior, he has to be the guy, not just a guy. He'll have help from Gary Harris, but the Spartans are Payne's to lead.
Payne has come so far; it would only be right to see him end his collegiate career as a real-deal superstar. He was named as the No. 5 power forward in the country by The Sporting News' Mike DeCourcy, who wonders if Payne will be the No. 1 option for Michigan State in 2013-14.
DeCourcy is spot-on with his question. Payne was an excellent complement to Michigan State's offense. But a real star isn't just a complementing player. Payne is in-between being a great player and becoming a Spartans hero.
Branden Dawson Will Likely Be a 4-Year Player
Branden Dawson was a 5-star recruit coming out of Lew Wallace High School (Gary, Ind.).
The writing was on the wall: He'd probably only be with the Spartans for two, maybe three, years tops. However, an ACL injury suffered late during his first go-round slowed him down as a sophomore. His so-so second year guaranteed that he'd stick around for at least one more try.
Dawson's NBA buzz has seemed to take a backseat. Not to say that he was a clear pro candidate from the start, but at 6'6" and 220 pounds, his frame certainly is that of an NBA player. A great junior year probably won't guarantee him a pro career—especially after what happened in 2012-13.
Dawson needs to have at least two solid years of college hoops before making the leap to the Association. He was great as a freshman. He'll need to do the same for the next two years before he runs a pro court.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan State Spartans basketball writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.
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