Michigan State Basketball: 5 Biggest Wildcards for Spartans' 2013-14 Season
Entering 2013-14 as national championship contenders, Michigan State will yet again face the obstacles that come with being an elite program.
That attention alone can play for or against a team with expectations as high as the Spartans'.
With the loss of Derrick Nix being the major casualty of the offseason, coach Tom Izzo returns Adreian Payne and Gary Harris. Each of them have conference and national player of the year potential. They're both projected early first-rounders in the 2014 NBA draft.
Adding to the fold are 2013 commitments Alvin Ellis, a 6'5" wingman, and Gavin Schilling, a 6'9" power forward. Immediate contributions from them could skyrocket the Spartans' production in both scoring and rebounding.
Having two able freshmen makes the bench longer, the rotation deeper and the coach happier.
With several unknowns waiting, including the full 2013-14 schedule, Michigan State must find its identity early if Izzo is to get to his seventh Final Four.
As a freshman in 2010-11, Travis Trice proved willing to do whatever it took to get minutes.
Most noticeable because of his hustle, the 6'0", 170-pound junior is one of Tom Izzo's best defenders. To say Trice wasn't productive this past season would be wrong.
He was productive.
He was when he was healthy, however.
Concussion-like symptoms plagued Trice, who averaged 4.8 points per game, for nearly the entire 2012-13 season. He missed nine games and was held scoreless nine times.
Trice is more than capable of giving the offense more than five points per night. Far from a prime scorer, he's much too crafty to end up with zero in the scoring column.
Returning to form may not be too far away for Trice, who had eight points and two rebounds this past spring's 71-61 Sweet 16 loss to Duke. If he boosts his scoring average by a couple of points and continues his trademark defense, he could be the wildcard for the Spartans.
So far, only a portion of the schedule is known.
In May, the Big Ten released single-play schedules. Michigan State has Nebraska and Minnesota at home and travels to Wisconsin and Purdue.
The Kohl Center and Mackey Arena constitute hostile territory. Those won't be walks in the park.
The Spartans are known for their rigorous non-conference battles, and this season will be more of the same. Tom Izzo once said he was crazy for assembling such early tests.
He's right. He is. In 2012-13, the Spartans had the No. 3-ranked strength of schedule. Typically in that range, that was nothing new for Izzo.
It's always a great game when these two programs meet, and it'll give Izzo an accurate idea of where his team stands.
Kept out of the lineup due to shoulder injury this past season, redshirt sophomore Kenny Kaminski is most definitely a wildcard for the Spartans.
Either way, being a top-100ish player commands a certain level of expectations. Kaminski has nice touch, both passing and scoring, from the perimeter. He should be one of Izzo's best in-and-out threats.
Another hot hand with range never hurts.
Injuries are always an unknown.
For one reason or another, Michigan State guards have fallen late in the season. Spartans fans saw it with Kalin Lucas, who played on a bum ankle as a senior. And this past year, during the national tournament, Keith Appling and Gary Harris were banged up and not at 100 percent.
Appling is one of the Big Ten's best guards, and Harris is the top shooting guard in the nation, according to The Sporting News' Mike DeCourcy.
Injuries are serious and shouldn't be joked about. However, Izzo would probably rather have anyone else but a guard—and Adreian Payne—sidelined during critical stretches. After all, his offense is guard-driven. He needs guards for that whole thing to work.
Michigan State struggles when Branden Dawson isn't at his best.
The strife may not always be evident, but without Dawson at full speed, the Spartans lack energy in the rebounding department. Without Dawson running wild, scoring suffers.
Simply put, Michigan State is a more well-rounded program with Dawson living up to his 5-star hype. The 6'6", 220-pounder is valuable on the wing. Once he nails down a jumper, he'll be on his way to becoming a complete threat.
Leading the frontcourt is Adreian Payne's job. Providing steady backing on the boards and establishing rhythm in transition is Dawson's.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan State Spartans basketball writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81