Michigan State Basketball: Biggest 2013-14 Goal for Each Projected Starter
As a team, Michigan State's ultimate milestone is to reach the Final Four and win a national championship.
Individually, the Spartans most likely have personal business to care of this season. Some look to improve draft stock, while others look to end their tenure with career-high numbers.
But make no mistake, winning it all is the goal of every player on the roster.
Entering 2013-14 with an "X" on their back should provide plenty of motivation to achieve success. Favored by such analysts as Dick Vitale and magazines such as Lindy's, Tom Izzo's club has player of the year candidates Gary Harris and Adreian Payne contributing to a familiar preseason buzz.
This slideshow will assess each starter's goal from a statistical perspective, as well as highlight personal issues driving each of Izzo's top Spartans.
F/G/Wing/ATH Branden Dawson
Categorizing Branden Dawson gets tricky, so let's go with a new term for college basketball, "ATH"—as in athlete, which is exactly what he is.
At 6'6" and 230 pounds, the junior's aggressive styling on offense and tremendous rebounding make him one of the top threats in the Big Ten. His stats, however, don't always reflect ability. As a sophomore, he averaged 8.9 points, 5.9 rebounds and 26.9 minutes per game. Those are solid numbers, but not up to par with Dawson's potential.
Second among starters with .538 field goal percentage, Dawson stands to be much more proficient in scoring once he refines a jumper, which has been one of the major offseason storylines.
An attainable goal, scoring closer to 12 points and getting eight rebounds per game would be an ideal contribution from Dawson. This could be the last season for Dawson at Michigan State, so it's safe to assume that he's going to up his game in order to secure a pro contract.
PG Keith Appling
NBA Draft Net projects Keith Appling as the No. 42 pick of the 2014 draft (Toronto Raptors).
If the senior soars this season, he could be go earlier in the second round. Appling is another double-digit-capable scorer who doesn't always deliver 10 or more points. He's among the fastest guards in the country and an incredible slasher in the lane.
But Izzo doesn't want his as a primary scorer. He wants Appling to pass more. Developing into a better point man has been Appling's challenge since arriving to Michigan State.
During a 71-61 loss to Duke in the national tournament, Appling lacked on the defensive end and was lit up by Blue Devils sharpshooter Seth Curry, who scored 29 points. In the past, he's been able to lock down big-time scorers.
At 6'1" and 190 pounds, tenacious defense could help overshadow his lack of size. One of his goals should be to improve in that area, but also continue working on the passing game, as instructed by Izzo.
SG Gary Harris
There isn't much more for Gary Harris to do at Michigan State.
As a sophomore, he's one of the most-coveted college players in the nation. A year ago, he won Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors and is now projected as a lottery pick in the 2014 draft.
Already known as a dynamic scorer, Harris put up 23 points during a 70-48 dismantling of Memphis in the national tournament, further boosting his reputation and increasing the value of his professional stock. He's a national player of the year candidate and arguably the best shooter of his class.
After just one year, he's already cemented himself as one of the best shooters of the Izzo era. This past season, he finished second in team scoring with an average of 12.9 points per game. He shot .456 percent from the field and shot .755 from the line.
Raising the free-throw average closer to 80 wouldn't hurt Harris' game. That could be an extra two or three points per night. Leaping up to around 50 percent from the field could add a few more, too. With slight increases in those areas, Harris could be a steady 15-point scorer.
Rob Dauster of NBC College Basketball Talk recently saw Harris compete during workouts at the Kevin Durant Skills Academy in Washington, D.C. Dauster described Harris' game as scary good, meaning that the sophomore appears to be twice the player he was last year.
That's not a good sign for college basketball, Dauster wrote. Most would tend to agree with his assessment. Harris could be the player to watch this season.
C Matt Costello
Izzo will probably rotate Matt Costello in and out of the center and power forward positions. That being said, look for the 6'9", 245-pound sophomore to get most of his minutes at center, where he's physically equipped to handle such rigors.
Costello, a former Bay City Western star who won 2012 Mr. Basketball honors, demonstrated a lot of toughness toward the end of 2012-13. On Feb. 12, he scored eight points and had six rebounds in 11 minutes during a 75-52 trampling of Michigan.
At that moment, Spartans followers knew Costello was indeed the real deal.
Coming off the bench, Costello provides a noticeable blue-collar style that basketball purists can appreciate. Subtract points for smooth execution, because he's not that guy. He's gritty, not pretty. He's a guy who can pick up where Derrick Nix left off, doing the dirty work in the paint and establishing dominance at the basket.
Costello just has to remain constant. He's in a great position to succeed, no real need to rush.
PF Adreian Payne
The story of Adreian Payne has taken Spartans followers for a ride.
For starters, he entered Michigan State as a 5-star recruit, per Rivals (No. 3 center). He was expected to become a monster over night because of his reputation, but a slow start kept him from showcasing his true skills until his sophomore year.
Then a year later, as a junior, Payne made a little noise. Instead of being known as a good player in the Big Ten, he was referred to as a national-level star in the making.
This season, the senior is primed to lead Michigan State to the Final Four. Izzo has sent every four-year player to at least one Final Four, so that's an obvious motivating factor to Payne, who probably doesn't want to be known as a guy who snapped the streak.
At 6'10" and 240 pounds, Payne's length is difficult for opponents to work against. Whether on defense or offense, his reach and athleticism allow him to compete for rebounds that typically escape most. He can dunk and rebound, but he's also developed a perimeter shot and touch near the basket.
It's taken three years, but this is the season that Payne shows Spartans fans that he was truly worth the 5-star hype.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan State Spartans basketball writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81