Michigan State Basketball: Ranking Spartans' 5 Most Indispensible Players
The prime-time starters carry the team. The second and third guys off the bench help complete it.
Entering the 2013-14 season, the stars for Michigan State are obvious and known on a national level: senior forward/center Adreian Payne and sophomore shooting guard Gary Harris.
Spartans coach Tom Izzo can't live without them. Unfortunately for him, this season is the last for Payne and most likely the end for Harris. A seventh run to the Final Four will largely depend on the duo's production.
Harris and Payne are expected to contend for Big Ten player-of-the-year honors. National-player-of-the-year accolades aren't out of the question, either.
Picking the top two is the easy part. Naming three more must-haves can get difficult. Players on this list had to have played meaningful minutes during the 2012-13 season. That means 2013 recruits Gavin Schilling and Alvin Ellis, although needed, won't make the list.
Two have already been given away, but thumb through this slideshow to find out the identities of the other three essential Spartans.
5. Travis Trice, G
Now a junior, Travis Trice has a solid and reliable background.
Effort-wise, the Spartans know they'll get Trice's all, which is the upside of the equation. His production, however, isn't always steady.
Truth be told, he is a double-digit scorer who lacks a double-digit scoring average. In 2012-13 as a sophomore, he averaged 4.8 points per outing. But he had two 11-point games and two 12-point games. He scored eight or more points five times. His finest outing was an eight-point, five-rebound showing during a 75-70 loss to No. 7 Indiana.
As a freshman, he put up a career-high 20 points during an 89-69 throttling of Central Connecticut State. Scoring ability is there.
In all likelihood, he won't be a highlight-a-night player. He may go unnoticed by the majority of Big Ten followers as well. Simply put, he's just not a household name. But for Izzo, Trice, a 6'0", 170-pound guard specializing in hustle, is a necessary part of the rotation.
4. Branden Dawson, F
This past season, Victor Oladipo defined the term "athletic wing" while leading the Indiana Hoosiers. Skilled in multiple areas, he had one thing that Dawson continues searching for: a jumper.
Hops. Both had them. Finishing moves. Yeah, Oladipo and Dawson had those. The only glaring difference—one that kept Dawson from boosting his stock—was the ability to spot up and shoot the ball.
If successful in harnessing the art of the J, Dawson will only increase the Spartans' chances of sparking a Final Four run. At 6'6" and 220 pounds, he has a pro-ready frame waiting to be complemented by a pro-level skill set. A former 5-star recruit per Rivals, Dawson, now a junior, was expected by many to be a two-and-through. He's in the prime of his NBA window, so look for an inspired go from the former Lew Wallace High (Gary, Ind.) sensation.
Izzo needs Dawson to be the All-American that he recruited.
3. Keith Appling, PG
An upper-echelon point guard is always the most indispensable player of an Izzo-coached Michigan State team.
Although close, Keith Appling isn't there yet. Sure, he's one of the better point men in the Big Ten, but he's not at the level of past 1-guards such as Kalin Lucas, Drew Neitzel or Mateen Cleaves. They competed for Big Ten player-of-the-year honors, and with the exception of Neitzel, were the topic of several national conversations.
They were also big parts of Final Four appearances.
Now a senior, the time is now for Appling to stake his claim in program history. His talent has never been in doubt, but his ability to consistently dominate has been. The 6'1", 190-pounder set an MHSAA record with 49 points in a 2009 Class A Finals victory over Kalamazoo Central, an impressive feat at any level of play.
It's a wonder that he hasn't topped 30 in college. He's scored 25 twice, topped 20 points 10 times and has had several 17-to-19-point stat lines.
This past year's 13.4-point per game average doesn't begin to explain the potential of a hot-handed Appling.
2. Gary Harris, SG
Players such as Gary Harris don't often choose Michigan State. Never lasting long in the college game, talents comparable to Harris typically opt for one-and-done friendly programs such as Kentucky or UCLA.
Izzo caught a real star when he recruited Harris, a former 5-star prep who won 2012 Mr. Basketball honors in Indiana. In what should be his final year with the Spartans, he is a key player for Final Four No. 7 for Izzo.
About half of a point behind Keith Appling, Harris' 12.9-point average helped fuel Michigan State's trip to the 2013 Sweet 16. Expected to surpass that mark this season, the Spartans are national title contenders who need Harris to be at his peak.
Harris' career has been about quality, not quantity. Two years, three years... who knows. Pedal to the floor, the former Hamilton Southeastern standout hasn't let up on the gas since he's arrived in Michigan.
1. Adreian Payne, F/C
Four years have come and gone so quickly, and Adreian Payne's development has been quite the interesting story to follow.
Along with fellow senior Keith Appling, Payne, a 6'10" stretch-4/center/power forward, shoulders a heavy but welcome burden: Under Izzo, each four-year player has made it to the Final Four. The clock is ticking for Payne. That fact bears repeating because of the sheer magnitude of that statistic. For those who stay, a national semi will be played.
Payne has morphed his skill set into a versatile bag of tricks that includes a budding jumper, effective touch in the lane, great hands with exceptional athleticism around the basket and the ability to finish at the rim.
He's the total package, and an NBA team will select him in the first round of the 2014 draft.
Without Payne, the Spartans are a good team. With Payne, they're a title favorite.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan State Spartans basketball writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81