Michigan State Basketball: Pass-Fail Marks for Spartans' Top Players in 2013-14

Adam Biggers@@AdamBiggers81Senior Analyst IIOctober 30, 2013

Michigan State Basketball: Pass-Fail Marks for Spartans' Top Players in 2013-14

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    Tom Izzo enters his 19th season at as head coach at MSU.
    Tom Izzo enters his 19th season at as head coach at MSU.

    If Tuesday night's 101-52 thrashing of Grand Valley State was an indicator, the Michigan State offense should be registered as a lethal weapon this season. 

    Sure, it was an exhibition romping of the Lakers, but it was an impressive first showing, nonetheless. 

    The Spartans are expected to win the Big Ten and gallop deep into the National Tournament. And on Tuesday night, coach Tom Izzo's team did what it was supposed to do to a lower-tier opponent. 

    That's a passing mark for the team. 

    Keith Appling scored a team-high 17 points, and Gary Harris chipped in 15—passing marks for those two. 

    Examining what to expect by using a pass-fail scenario for each key contributor is necessary. This slideshow will do just that. 

Keith Appling

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    Keith Appling is one of the Big Ten's top point guards.
    Keith Appling is one of the Big Ten's top point guards.Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

    Senior point guard Keith Appling, despite all of the talent that surrounds him, is the driving force behind the Spartans. 

    If he's off during a big game, consider Michigan State lost. If he's on, well, it's a completely different story. 

    If Izzo's team is to win the Big Ten or better, Appling must play up to his level of talent. He scored 19 points Jan. 22 during a 49-47 road victory over Wisconsin. On March 7, he turned in 19 in a 58-43 rattling of the Badgers at the Breslin Center. 

    He put up 15 during a 59-56 home triumph on Jan. 19 over Ohio State, but he contributed just three points during a 68-60 loss Feb. 24 in Columbus.

    He scored a combined nine points in two losses to Indiana. The trend has been evident: The Spartans go as Appling goes. 

    That being said, Appling can avoid a failing mark by simply being consistent against the upper-level competition (and doing so on the road). Every player has a down game, and Appling is no different.

    Now a senior, the ball is in Appling's court. It's time to lead or get out of the way. And Appling, who scored 16 points in a 2013 tourney loss to Duke, isn't the type to step aside. 

Adreian Payne

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    Adreian Payne has POTY potential.
    Adreian Payne has POTY potential.

    In reality, anything short of a double-double per night would be a shame. 

    Adreian Payne, the Spartans' senior big man, is most definitely capable of giving such contributions on a game-by-game basis. 

    Of course, there'll be nights when he finishes with 13 and eight, or something close to; it'd be difficult for Izzo to gripe about that, especially if Michigan State won. 

    A passing mark would be along the lines of the stat-plateau mentioned above, but it would have to be accompanied by conference and national player of the year mentions to fully satisfy. 

    If there's one player who can simply dazzle Izzo through and through, it's Payne, whose growth during the past three years has been one of the greatest stories of the Izzo era. 

    He'll kiss center court soon enough, but in the meantime, Payne has to defend his home floor at the Breslin. Failing to be the "warrior" of the team, especially at home, would result in a failing mark. 

Gary Harris

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    Gary Harris has reached four-year status at MSU in just one year.
    Gary Harris has reached four-year status at MSU in just one year.

    Long live the hype of Gary Harris. 

    It's been just one year, but it seems like the sophomore has been a staple of Spartans hoops for much longer. He's already carved out a reputation in the program's history. 

    What a shooter. And he's only getting better, despite shoulder and ankle injuries. 

    Izzo recently said that fans haven't witnessed the Harris that he recruited, according to CBS Sports' Gary Parrish. If that's true, then Spartans followers should brace themselves for one special performance. 

    Harris is projected as a first-round pick, which he'll certainly be should he declare for the NBA. It'd be great for fans to see Harris stick around, but the sophomore is ready for the pros. If anything, fans should want to see him make the jump. It's all about the personal success and growth of the player and team, not necessarily the wish of the fan. 

    If Harris wants to take the next step, his coach and teammates will likely be 100 percent behind him. The same applies to the people in the stands. Applaud Harris. 

    That being said, he'd get a failing mark if that scenario didn't pan out this season. If he regresses and drops out of lottery-pick talks, everything would seem for naught. 

    Anything short of "First-Round Gary" headlines would be a disappointment. 

Branden Dawson

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    Branden Dawson can jump out of the g...you know the rest.
    Branden Dawson can jump out of the g...you know the rest.

    If Branden Dawson doesn't hurt a few feelings on the way to a thunderous finish, then his junior year should be considered a total wash. 

    Maybe that's a little harsh. But the 6'6", 220-pound windmill-maker has NBA-level hops complementing a strong defensive skill set and overall touch of athleticism. 

    He's since improved his jumper. So, if he doesn't show at least that, this season won't be worthy of a passing mark for the former 5-star recruit, per Rivals

    Like Payne, Dawson is a double-double guy. Dawson's pure strength and ability to get to the rim make him a 20-point threat.

    Don't be surprised to see him drop 20 a couple of times this year. He's that proficient with the ball. 

    Dawson could be NBA-bound if he has a stand-up season. He should do that, so prepare to usher Dawson on to the next level, along with Harris, Payne and most likely Appling. 

    On the bright side for fans, the Spartans could have their top NBA draft class in 2014. That would make for a nice note on Izzo's list of career achievements—right next to the one that says "each four-year player has been to the Final Four."

    Dawson and Harris can help Payne and Appling fulfill the destiny. 

    MSU hoops exhibition tonight -- notice the jump and the shot from Branden Dawson. http://t.co/ARQahbns8q

    — Joe Rexrode (@joerexrode) October 29, 2013

Denzel Valentine

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    Denzel Valentine led MSU's bench with 5 PPG in 2012-13.
    Denzel Valentine led MSU's bench with 5 PPG in 2012-13.

    Denzel Valentine developed right in Izzo's backyard, staking claim as the Lansing-area's top talent while leading the Sexton Big Reds to titles and lopsided victories. 

    The prime passer wasn't the first to light up the Capitol City. No, Magic did the same for Everett in the mid-to-late 1970s. 

    Valentine has been compared to Magic. That's an honor to even be mentioned in the same league, let alone being compared. 

    At 6'6", Valentine possesses the needle-threading abilities that beckon head-to-head comparisons to Magic. But he's also athletic and can play anywhere, with the exception of center. A four-way threat, Valentine should prove to be a fantastic glue guy for Izzo. 

    The sophomore has a mix of everything. He can dunk, shoot, defend and block—if he were 6'9", he'd be Magic. 

    A passing mark for Valentine would fit the above description. He doesn't have to be identical to Magic, but he should demonstrate strong control of his vast skill set. A step backward would be a fail. That's a given. Look for a noteworthy leap in both production and understanding on the part of Valentine, a sure-fire sixth man anyone would love to have. 

Matt Costello/Alex Gauna

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    Matt Costello has fight.
    Matt Costello has fight.

    Matt Costello and Alex Gauna share a slide because they're basically filling one role: Derrick Nix Part 2. 

    Now that Nix is gone, Costello and Gauna, who are both 6'9" and 240 pounds, face the task of giving the Spartans Nix-like power in the paint. 

    Easier said than done, but Costello, a sophomore, and Gauna, a redshirt junior, are able to do that for Izzo. They're hard-nosed, and Costello really showed a mean streak during the National Tournament. 

    Soft? Far from it. Costello is a Big Ten brawler. 

    The tandem should give Izzo about 20 quality minutes per night, play physical roles and scrap for rebounds in order to achieve a passing mark. The Spartans will survive just as long as they replace Nix's offensive production and own the boards. 

Travis Trice, Role Players

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    Travis Trice had a rough year with injury in 2012-13.
    Travis Trice had a rough year with injury in 2012-13.

    Travis Trice has fought head trauma/concussion-like symptoms and is due for redemption. 

    Not that he has anything to prove to the Spartans—they know he's rock solid—but he likely has personal reasons motivating him to shine this year. 

    As usual, he'll be a solid reserve guard. That's not a question. He'll hit the floor. He'll fight for loose balls, and he'll take a charge for the good of the team. 

    That's a teammate. 

    He'll get a passing grade if he can stay healthy and contribute. Failing would consist of doing the opposite. 

    Future Star?

    Gavin Schilling is challenging for a starting role at forward, according to MLive.com's Diamond Leung

    Schilling said the following to Leung: 

    "I'm fighting for that fifth starting spot. Obviously, Coach wants to go with experience first, putting Matt [Costello] in, but we're going at it in practice. I've been doing a lot of good things so far."

    According to Leung, Izzo said the following about Schilling:

    Gavin is the best ball screen guy we've got. He was out there quicker than a cat. I thought he did a great job for a freshman getting up, getting back. That kid will be a hell of a player some day if he keeps improving. He's a little raw right now, but he's going to be very good. We're going to be able to use him in a lot of ways I think, plus he can rebound.

    Purposefully or not, Izzo has set the bar for Schilling, who'd get a passing grade if he plays remotely close to what Izzo describes. The Spartans could use a ball-screen pro who's been compared to Andre Hutson and Antonio Smith to set up room for Harris, Dawson and Alvin Ellis, a hot-shooting freshman guard. 

    “He’s like an Antonio Smith, with more skill maybe” - Tom Izzo on freshman forward Gavin Schilling http://t.co/BJLqBUr4fo

    — GreenandWhite.com (@LSJGreenWhite) October 23, 2013

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