Michigan State Basketball: What to Make of Branden Dawson's Up-and-Down Season

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Michigan State Basketball: What to Make of Branden Dawson's Up-and-Down Season
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There are two versions of Branden Dawson: Effective and Ineffective.

A week ago, Branden Dawson finally came to.

Following Michigan State's 73-56 victory Jan. 4 over the Indiana Hoosiers, Spartans coach Tom Izzo raved about the 13 points and six rebounds that he received from Dawson, per MLive.com’s Gillian Van Stratt.

His resurgence has been a difference for everybody to be honest with you. And he's not even close to where he's going to be. That's the most exciting thing for me right now is, 'Branden Dawson is getting it.'

Whether it will continue, that's the goal. But he's definitely made some changes and they've been all for the better.

Unfortunately for Dawson, Izzo’s tune was much different after Tuesday’s 72-68 overtime victory over the visiting Ohio State Buckeyes.

Should Branden Dawson's work ethic come into question?

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Michigan State blew a 17-point lead with seven minutes to play, and Dawson, a 6’6”, 220-pound specimen of specimens, contributed just four points and four boards in 34 minutes.

He’s hot or cold, in or out, up or down.

And he definitely wasn’t one of the men Izzo praised after the heart-pumping thriller at the Breslin Center—they were two seniors who, rather than disappearing, put the Spartans on their backs. 

 

Lacking Something

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In terms of sportsmanship and maturity, Dawson sometimes leaves a little to be desired.

Instead of a subtle self-acknowledgment after his monstrous dunk against the Hoosiers, he let out an emphatic scream directed at the cameraman. 

OK. Guys do that. 

But there was more. 

Rather than immediately getting back on defense, Dawson took a moment to reflect on his play by strutting down the court with a satisfied look on his face. 

Look, celebrating is fine. Not many athletes can do what Dawson does.

But here's the thing: He's done it many, many times. There comes a period when a mature player, especially a junior, has to tone it down a bit.

Perhaps a more laid-back approach would work best. 

Screaming in the midst of a Final Four battle? Sure. Acting foolish during the second conference game of the year? Maybe not. 

Dawson needs to act like he's done these things before, worry less about the highlights and focus on becoming a well-rounded team player. There's no room for the one-man show in East Lansing. 

With three years of Izzo's teachings under his belt, it'd be safe to assume that Dawson would be reliable during treacherous times.

Guess not. That wasn't the case against Ohio State. 

Playing on a sprained foot, Adreian Payne scored 18 points, four of which came by way of incredible putback dunks (followed by very little showboating).

Perpetually banged up due to his style of play and position, Keith Appling toughed out a bout with leg cramps, scored 20 points and proved to be the difference in OT. 

Where was Dawson?

 

Trends, Stats, Things of Interest

Take a look at Dawson's game log. Thus far, he's failed to show up against the big boys. 

Dawson's Yo-Yo Streaks in 2013-14
Result/Opponent/Score Points Rebounds Blocks Steals Minutes
W McNeese State 98-56 12 12 1 1 24
W No. 1 Kentucky 78-74 8 9 0 4 34
W 62-53 Columbia 8 7 0 0 33
W Portland 82-67 8 10 0 2 30
W Virginia Tech 96-77 12 10 0 3 26
W Oklahoma 87-76 18 10 2 0 29
W Mount St. Mary's 98-65 6 10 0 0 20
L North Carolina 79-65 2 3 0 0 17
W Oakland 67-63 16 13 3 2 36
W North Florida 78-48 12 8 0 2 28
W Texas 92-78 11 10 0 1 33
W New Orleans 101-48 (DNP, sore shin)
W Penn State 79-63 20 9 2 0 29
W Indiana 73-56 13 6 2 3 30
W No. 3 Ohio State 72-68 (OT) 4 4 1 2 34

ESPN game log (14 points, 16 rebounds, 1 block, 6 steals vs. Kentucky, UNC, OSU)

Touting a developed jumper, Dawson's game was supposed to be multidimensional this year. 

Nope. 

His game remains one-sided—dunks, dunks and more dunks.

A great rebounder, Dawson rarely asserts himself on the glass. With pogo legs, he makes the unattainable rebounds attainable. The Spartans can't afford to have a bashful Dawson. They need an aggressive version of their X-factor. 

Gaining position and getting to the line should be a strength. But it isn't. In fact, Dawson's reluctant tendencies have kept him away from the foul line six times this year.

As a sophomore, he was held away from the line just eight times. 

He's seemingly regressed and turned down a notch. Headed in the opposite direction of what was forecast, Dawson is on the verge of repeating 2012-13. Like a pendulum, he swung back and forth, never finding a steady rhythm to call his own. 

During three NCAA tourney games, he combined for 12 points and 14 rebounds, including a four-point, two-rebound offering during a 71-61 Sweet 16 loss to No. 2-seeded Duke. 

 

The Bottom Line

Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

It's easy for Dawson to dominate lesser opponents.

However, a year ago, he appeared to be primed for a breakout session; he put up 15 and 10 during a 66-62 loss to UConn, followed by 12 and four during a 67-64 victory over No. 7 Kansas. 

He's a star when he wants to be, and he simply takes a nap when it's convenient. It's difficult to gauge Dawson. It's illogical to deny his talent. It's there and he has it. 

But a sincere questioning of his motor isn't out of order. 

Will history repeat itself? After piling up handfuls of double-digit games, Dawson ended his sophomore year in a slump, failing to reach 10 points in each of his final 11 games (including in The Big Dance). 

Will Dawson coast aimlessly through his junior year with the occasional burst prior to fizzling out when it matters most? Or will he flourish while embracing his destiny as one of Izzo's potential top wingmen

Izzo can't force Dawson to want more. Neither can the team. 

That choice belongs to Dawson. 

 

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

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