Michigan State Basketball: Highs and Lows of Spartans' Season So Far
Enduring stretches with a partially healthy roster has been the low point for Michigan State.
But luckily for Tom Izzo’s No. 4-ranked Spartans (15-1), even those hobbling on one foot—Adreian Payne—contribute to wins.
When clicking, those on Izzo’s roster make up the best team in the country. However, getting everyone to play at the same time has been quite the challenge—so file Michigan State under “very good…” for the time being.
With sights set on a national title, the Spartans must first trudge their way through a typically torturous Big Ten schedule before embarking on the real journey to the Final Four.
This slideshow will examine some of the finer moments of the young season and shed light on a few of the not-so-proud stretches of 2013-14.
Branden Dawson Is High and Low
Let’s get the biggest disappointment—or the lowest valley of the season, if you prefer—out of the way right now: Branden Dawson has been horribly inconsistent thus far and may prove to be the Spartans’ Achilles’ heel if he’s not careful.
When on, Dawson is among the…you know the rest. It’s the same point that’s made in every article about Dawson, regardless of author—he’s much too good to play at such a low level.
Often referred to as the “X-factor,” Dawson must live up to his junior status and contribute meaningful shifts each game. The key word here is “each,” not “some,” as has been the case throughout his career.
As a sophomore, the light flickered. This year, the light’s burning a bit, but it’s in danger of being smothered by the lackluster performances given by Dawson when it matters most—and that’s when the Spartans play national programs such as North Carolina and conference powers such as Ohio State.
Dawson’s not doing himself any favors by taking naps during the season. Don’t think for a second that NBA scouts don’t notice that behavior. There are far too many overpaid bench-riders in the Association, and if Dawson doesn’t make adjustments, that’ll be him in the future…on a good day.
He could just fade away into what-if status.
Izzo said the following about Dawson's in-and-out tendencies, via MLive.com's Gillian Van Stratt:
There's something wrong with Branden. There's no question about it. There's something bothering him. He hasn't been that way in a month and he's been really, really, really, for the whole year he's been pretty good.
Referencing scheduled medical testing, Dawson says that he doesn't know why he's off-kilter, via MLive.com:
I don't know, I've just been feeling out of it. Hopefully when I go get some tests at the lab, it's not really nothing serious. I'm just kind of feeling dizzy a little bit. I think I got to just keep taking care of my body.
It's taken Keith Appling three full seasons to arrive, but it's been well worth the wait.
As the Spartans' senior point guard, destiny literally rests in the palms of his hands.
Hurt, hobbled, kind of banged-up or just a little bruised, Appling continues to deliver with key buckets and momentum-shifting drives. If not for his late heroics, Michigan State probably would have fallen at the Breslin Center to then-No. 3-ranked Ohio State, which was upset Sunday night by Iowa, 84-74.
In short, Appling is playing the best ball of his career, evident by his average of 16.4 points per game, which is three points better than a year ago.
A legitimate candidate for Big Ten Player of the Year honors, Appling is on pace for a legacy-sealing season, a true finale for an Izzo point guard.
Without a doubt, Appling's play has been the highlight thus far.
Oh, Russell Byrd…
The day this guy catches a break will be a holiday for Spartans fans who desperately want to see the sharpshooter score a basket in a real game.
With the exception of a 10-point offering during a 78-48 steamrolling of North Florida, Byrd’s hearty “kawww” has been put on hold.
He has the physical talent, otherwise he wouldn’t have been offered by Izzo. That’s the bottom line. Byrd is a good player, just not when the clock’s running. He’ll eventually catch fire and prove everyone wrong…right?
For now, just cross your fingers and wish him well. Because if Kenny Kaminski keeps lighting up the scoreboard, Byrd might as well pack his bags.
Kaminski is right now what Izzo hoped Russell Byrd would be a couple years ago.— Graham Couch (@Graham_Couch) January 11, 2014
Who Thrilled Kenny?
Midway through December, Izzo cited Kenny Kaminski's need to mature as a student-athlete.
Roughly a month later, Kaminski is the man of the hour.
Isn't it funny how things unfold?
From the doghouse to cloud nine, Kaminski's late surge has certainly been a proud moment for a team looking for a deep threat.
Kaminski's career-high 15 points on Saturday, including 4-of-4 from three-point range, helped the Spartans jet past Minnesota, 85-75.
It took an overtime session to do it, but a win's a win.
Shooting an astonishing 62.5 percent from three-point land (15-of-24), Kaminski's hot hand, at the moment, is the hottest ticket in the Big Ten.
Home Loss to UNC Was the Pits for Izzo
Doomed, defeated and not winning—in a nutshell, that's Izzo vs. North Carolina.
On Dec. 4, the Tar Heels stormed the Breslin Center and left with a convincing 79-65 win.
The crowd bewildered, the arena quiet, one collective "Oh no, not again" seemed to blanket East Lansing.
Yup. That's how it goes.
It was like the 2005 Final Four all over again, or like 2011's loss on the U.S.S. Carl Vinson, or worse yet, just like the 2009 national title game.
That one had to hurt Izzo.
Ran into MSU's Tom Izzo in lobby. Asked about playing North Carolina Nov. 11 on an aircraft carrier. "I'm hoping for a hurricane"— Rick Brown (@ByRickBrown) October 27, 2011
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan State Spartans basketball writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.