Michigan State Basketball: How Spartans' Role Players Fit in Championship Puzzle

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Michigan State Basketball: How Spartans' Role Players Fit in Championship Puzzle
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Championship teams come in all shapes and sizes.

Michigan State has two components that every title contender needs: big-time stars and self-sacrificing role players.

Shooting guard Gary Harris, power forward Adreian Payne and point guard Keith Appling provide a majority of the Spartans' scoring punch, but this talented trio cannot do it all by themselves.

MSU head coach Tom Izzo has a capable core of complimentary individuals who work hard to do the myriad of things that lead to team success.

Rebounding Reign

One of the trademarks of a Tom Izzo team is being tough-as-nails on the glass.

And, the Spartans' reputation is not based on having a single monster in the middle who hauls in all of the rebounds.

Their rebounding efforts are carried out through almost everyone going to the glass every time down court.

Because Izzo expects everyone to hit the boards, the Spartans get rebounding output from all five positions on the court.

While Payne (7.7 RPG), Harris (4.3 RPG) and Appling (3 RPG) do their share of work on the boards, it is surprising that small forward Branden Dawson is the Spartans' leading rebounder. He is just shy of being a double-double guy, pulling down 9.7 RPG.

Sophomore center Matt Costello grabs 3.4 RPG while just logging a little over 14 minutes of playing time per game.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Playmaking Production

It is ironic that the Spartans are the No. 1 team in the nation for assists (22 APG) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.14 ATTR), since their PG, Keith Appling (5.6 APG; 3.3 ATTR), is known as a scoring floor leader.

That is why players like point wing Denzel Valentine (4 APG; 3.1 ATTR) and backup guard  Travis Trice (3.1 APG; 2.75 ATTR) are so valuable. They both see the court well, and are confident distributors.

Valentine and Trice take on some of the Spartans' playmaking load. They significantly help the team hand out assists on 67.8 percent of their made baskets (No. 4 in the nation).

MSU assistant coach Dane Fife said that Valentine is "one of the best at getting guys easy shots." (h/t NBCSports.com).

Because Michigan State has multiple players who look to set up their teammates to score, their opponents do not have the luxury of focusing on shutting down just one primary playmaker.

Al Bello/Getty Images

Defensive Dominance

Michigan State has a well-earned reputation of being one of the best defensive teams in the country.

Over their first seven games of the 2013-14 season, the Spartans are No. 8 in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency (92.0; h/t Kenpom.com).

Players do not see much court time for Izzo if they don't play defense.

Because of his physicality and versatility, Denzel Valentine can guard four positions.

Travis Trice is the team leader in steals (1.6 SPG), even though he only plays about 20 minutes per game.

Bruising center Matt Costello is a classic defensive stopper who would have impressive numbers if he played more than minimal minutes.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Looking Ahead

This Michigan State team is constructed for making a run at both this year's Big Ten title and the 2014 Final Four. 

The Spartans have shown by beating Kentucky early on this season that they can compete with anyone.

They will realize their lofty goals because they not only have a strong core of star players, but also a  capable cast of supporting role players.

 

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