Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports
This Michigan State team has it all.
First, they can score by their guards beating opponents on the perimeter. Point guard Keith Appling is a great penetrator with tremendous vision, which allows him to get into the lane and create scoring opportunities for teammates or himself. This season, the senior is averaging 15.9 points with a team-leading five assists per game. Appling also sets the tone on the other end of the floor.
His backcourt counterpart, Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year Gary Harris, is a dynamic 2-guard who can score in a variety of ways. Despite his struggling jump shot thus far, Harris poses the greatest three-point threat. But when he's not knocking down perimeter shots, he is slashing the lane and using his explosiveness to finish above the rim. The Indiana native is averaging 17.9 points this year.
Appling and Harris form arguably the nation's best backcourt, as both players score at a high rate and play defense with intensity. However, the Spartan frontcourt may be equally as impressive.
Adreian Payne is a versatile power forward who has added a consistent jump shot to his repertoire. Payne, a recruit from Dayton, Ohio, entered college as a raw prospect with sheer athleticism. But over his four years, he has evolved into an outstanding outside shooter, as he is shooting 45.3 percent from three-point range. Payne leads the team with 18 points registered per game, while shooting 53.8 percent from the field and over 82 percent from the charity stripe.
While Payne's fellow frontcourt mates don't share a similar well-rounded offensive skill set, they are exceptional in their respective specialties.
Brandon Dawson is an athletic small forward who changes the momentum of games with jaw-dropping dunks. He is a tremendous slasher and scores mostly off cuts or putbacks around the rim.
Alongside Dawson is sophomore forward Matt Costello, who rounds out the starting five. Costello isn't regarded as a noteworthy athlete or a prolific shooter, but he is the scrappiest of the Spartans. He makes the effort plays on both ends. Costello is a solid defender and offers a consistent, reliable asset to a talented Spartans team.
Among the two key bench players are point guard Travis Tryce and shooting guard Denzel Valentine. Tryce, a reliable ball-handler and accurate three-point shooter, is a capable backup to Appling. However, his size may throw him out of the rotation against bulkier teams, such as Kentucky, which we have seen before.
Additionally, Valentine is a solid, all-around scorer. He is effective when he is driving to the hoop but can also hit the open outside shot, which is why he is fourth in scoring on the Spartans roster.
Tom Izzo has a legitimate 7-man rotation that can compete with anyone. His squad can score in virtually every fashion possible, something that is essential against stingy defensive units. The Spartans also lead the country in assists per game, while averaging 83.3 points.
Defensively, they are a cohesive group that gives up only 65 points per game. They guard on the perimeter well and also protect the rim.
Izzo may have the most complete team in the country, both offensively and defensively.