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Michigan State Basketball: Biggest Challenges for Tom Izzo in 2013-14

Adam BiggersSenior Analyst IIOctober 21, 2013

Michigan State Basketball: Biggest Challenges for Tom Izzo in 2013-14

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    Tom Izzo has team ready to conquer the NCAA tourney this spring.
    Tom Izzo has team ready to conquer the NCAA tourney this spring.Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

    This season marks Michigan State basketball's 19th year of being controlled by coach Tom Izzo, a four-time national coach of the year. 

    Throughout the years, with hyped teams and sleeper squads, Izzo has found ways to get the most out of each player. That formula has produced grand results, coming in the form of six Final Fours and a national championship. 

    Whether they're laden with stars or comprised by modestly rated recruits, the Spartans rarely enter the ring without being prepared. 

    Mr. March has the knack of rallying his men when he needs them most. This season shouldn't be any different, as Michigan State is once again considered among the nation's elite. 

    This slideshow will examine the twists and turns that Izzo may encounter in 2013-14, a season which promises to have some of the best Big Ten basketball seen in years. 

Managing the Hype

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    Izzo has a solid PG in Keith Appling, a savvy senior.
    Izzo has a solid PG in Keith Appling, a savvy senior.Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

    A seasoned vet such as Izzo doesn't need to be told how to manage his team. 

    And that's not the intent. 

    However, as the Spartans roll into 2013-14 as a juggernaut favored to play well into March, Izzo must be careful not to let his players get too emotional about the preseason ranking. 

    As a matter of fact, Izzo would probably the first to say that the preseason props mean nothing. And he's right. Simply put, the rankings are just educated speculation attached to a team's potential. Yes, Michigan State has the talent to win it all. 

    But that was the case in 2010 as well.

    After falling to North Carolina the year prior, the Spartans were supposed to cash in on what was rightfully theirs, and that was a national title. The Tar Heels were something like a team of destiny, so seeing them win the title shouldn't have caught anyone by surprise. 

    Maybe not a team of destiny, the but 2009-10 Spartans were loaded and played a well-rounded game. The 2013-14 edition of Izzo Ball has the same type of aura. It'd be difficult not to forecast a team with Gary Harris, Adreian Payne, Branden Dawson and Keith Appling to the Final Four. 

    Throw in supporters such as Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine, along with a couple of up-and-coming recruits in Gavin Schilling and Alvin Ellis, and Michigan State appears to have the bases covered. 

    The key here is simple: Temper the group when needed, but also let it know how special this season could be. 

    Izzo is a master of his craft. He'll most certainly have his guys ready come tipoff time. 

    CBS Sports' Matt Norlander came to interesting conclusion after sifting numbers. 

    Just crunched some #s. Izzo era: MSU avg. AP preseason ranking (when ranked): 7th. MSU likely to be #2 (3rd time in 4 yrs) in 10/31 AP poll.

    — Matt Norlander (@MattNorlander) October 18, 2013

    Teaser fact: Michigan State was ranked in the preseason top 10 prior to five of six Final Fours. Just something to think about. 

Don't Worry About Gary Harris

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    Gary Harris is among the top NBA prospects.
    Gary Harris is among the top NBA prospects.Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

    Conventional wisdom suggests that this season will be a farewell tour for Harris, a sure first-rounder come the 2014 NBA Draft. 

    He may even be the first shooting guard taken. Should the Spartans reach the Final Four or better, Harris' NBA stock would skyrocket to unseen heights. 

    And then he's gone, gone, gone.

    But Izzo can't worry about that. Sure, he's not recruiting at the pace that some would like, but Spartans followers have to believe that Ellis was meant to be Harris' successor in the scoring department. 

    Spartans followers also have to believe that Izzo has planned for Harris' departure. It's possible that he's aware of the upcoming decision. In that case, sweating Harris' status this season may not be an issue. 

    However, if Harris' place in college is widely discussed while Michigan State makes its way toward March, Izzo may grow tired of answering constant questions. 

    Instead of inquiries about the game, let's say a big tourney win, reporters may choose to focus on the "will he stay or will he go?" angle when it comes to Harris. 

    Fair enough. That'll be a hot question that'll need an answer. 

    Putting all of that on the back burner, as he did this past year, would serve Izzo well. 

Kentucky

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    John Calipari's Wildcats could be Final Four-bound.
    John Calipari's Wildcats could be Final Four-bound.Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

    Nov. 12 will tell Michigan State a portion of what it needs to know about itself during the Champions Classic in Chicago. 

    The Wildcats have yet another 5-star smorgasbord to offer up just days before Thanksgiving. 

    The Spartans will either chow down or serve as Kentucky's meal. It's all how they play it, obviously. 

    Early games against powers are nothing new. Izzo always puts the Dukes, Kansases and North Carolinas on deck to see what he has to work with.

    After that point, it's about making adjustments, which he's done with great success since taking over as head coach in 1995. 

    Win or lose, Izzo will see how his group stacks up against other title contenders. Same story, different year. But it never gets old. Get ready for one of the year's best games just days into the season. 

    And for all of the recruiting nuts, Izzo will face one that got away, former Rochester High sensation James Young, who entered Kentucky as the No. 10 player of the 2013 class, per 247Sports.

    It's not quite Izzo versus Duke and Jabari Parker, which could happen in March, but when paired with the magnitude of the game, it could make for an interesting back story. 

    Kentucky is #1 in first USA Today Coaches Poll. Michigan State #2, Louisville #3, Duke #4, Arizona #5. http://t.co/NYGtBOEyYj

    — Dan Bodner (@KYHoopsBuzz) October 17, 2013

The Big Ten

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    Thad Matta's Buckeyes should pose a problem for Big Ten competition this season.
    Thad Matta's Buckeyes should pose a problem for Big Ten competition this season.Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

    The Big Ten is getting stronger. And with that additional strength, it's pushing more and more teams toward the top 10. 

    With the likes of Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio State, among others, the league could easily provide six or seven teams for consideration come tournament selection time. 

    Izzo has praised the Big Ten in the past. The national media has done the same. 

    CBS Sports' Gary Parrish picked Michigan State to win a conference title. The following quote wasn't directly attributed to Izzo by Parrish, but the placement and phrasing suggests that it could have been something said by Izzo.

    The quote is preceded by "Coach's Take." Izzo is the first coach mentioned in Parrish' piece and the quote sits directly above the Spartans' section of the article.

    If the shoe fits, wear it. 

    I don't know if the Big Ten has ever been stronger than it is right now, and what I mean by that is … just look at all of the programs. Most, and maybe all, have the right coaches, and I wouldn't be shocked if four or five [Big Ten coaches] are someday voted into the Hall of Fame. The only bad thing is that not everybody can win. So some good coaches are going to lose.

    Whether or not Izzo said it is irrelevant. Someone in the know said it, otherwise Parrish probably wouldn't have quoted them. The comment makes sense, and it's certainly something that a coach would report. 

    Not only does Izzo put his best five against the other guys, but he also competes against coaches such as Bo Ryan of Wisconsin, Thad Matta of Ohio State and John Beilein of Michigan. 

    That trio is hard to beat. Izzo has to do it each season. 

Finding a Replacement for Adreian Payne

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    Adreian Payne can't be "replaced," but Izzo can do well by getting Cliff Alexander.
    Adreian Payne can't be "replaced," but Izzo can do well by getting Cliff Alexander.Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

    Coaching this year's team this year is the objective. 

    But assuming that Izzo thinks a lot about the future is logical. People who plan ahead tend to have success, or so we're led to believe. Izzo plans. He's successful. 

    And it makes perfect sense to think that Izzo ponders the what-ifs when it comes to personnel. 

    This season is Adreian Payne's last at Michigan. The senior is slated to graduate, and he has an NBA future waiting in the wings, a pair of nearly seven-foot long wings, that is. 

    The 6'10" power forward, perhaps, is the Spartans' key component. Harris is important. So is Appling, who's developed into one of the better point guards in the Big Ten. But Harris and Appling can't do what Payne does. Not many can. 

    Getting Cliff Alexander, a 5-star power forward out of Chicago Curie, should be one of Izzo's main focuses. As the nation's No. 3 prospect of 2014, per 247Sports, Alexander stands to benefit most programs in the land. 

    He'd be perfect at Michigan State.

    What coach doesn't want an athletic big who can dominate the paint and own the boards? Scoring helps, and Alexander is capable of doing that too. 

    Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan State Spartans basketball writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

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