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Michigan State Basketball: Spartans' 5 Keys to a Successful Postseason

Brad AlmquistFeatured ColumnistMarch 15, 2014

Michigan State Basketball: Spartans' 5 Keys to a Successful Postseason

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    Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

    Michigan State teams regularly embody many of the characteristics that constitute championship teams. Now that Sparty has a clean bill of health, it's time to focus on their actual play and what it takes for it to make a successful postseason run.

    From top to bottom, this Michigan State team has more talent than any of Tom Izzo's recent squads. Its combination of size, shooting, quickness and experience should bode well in a tournament devoid of one clear, formidable team.

    But the Spartans haven't played well from game to game. The Big Ten Tournament will largely reveal where they are collectively as a unit.

    In order for them to make a deep postseason run, they must follow the keys featured in this slideshow.

Play Better Team Defense

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    This squad has an array of talented individual defenders, so what can explain its inability to shut down opponents?

    First, it has been having trouble with rotations. Once the man covering the ball gets beat by the ball-handler, State has had issues compensating for that. Oftentimes, there haven't been alert defenders there to cut off the ball-handler's path to the hoop. The whole team needs to work as one unit and make the proper rotations.

    Additionally, many Spartans haven't played defense with discipline. The Ohio State game exposed those issues, as multiple players were sidelined because of foul troubles. As a result of the poor rotations, players have been forced to prevent easy buckets simply by fouling.

    That lack of continuity on the defensive end has had a cumulative effect.

    The intensity starts at the top with Keith Appling's ball pressure and then extends down the line with the other players denying passing lanes and showing help. It's a complete team effort.

    The Spartans will need to play alert and sound defense if they want to advance in the Big Dance.

Win the Rebounding Battle

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Michigan State has the capable athletes needed to win the rebounding battle against nearly every team.

    Adreian Payne, a 6'10", high-flying forward, should dominate the glass. However, he will need additional help from complementary players Matt Costello, Gavin Schilling and sharpshooter Kenny Kaminski.

    Similar to their defensive woes, the Spartans haven't rebounded well as a team. Payne and Branden Dawson will occupy the paint for a vast majority of the game, but the other big men and guards must help as well.

    Denzel Valentine has done an exceptional job on the boards this year. He is the second-leading rebounder in the Big Ten for a guard and has been the team's best rebounder for the last several games.

    As surprising as it may seem, as there seem to be one or two costly offensive rebounds they have surrendered at crucial times, the Spartans haven't lost the rebounding battle in nine consecutive games. 

    The past two winners, Louisville and Kentucky, had athletic frontcourts and rebounded as a unit. Michigan State certainly has the required personnel to be one of those squads.

Cut the Turnovers

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Turnovers may be Michigan State's most pressing issue.

    It has recorded 13 or more turnovers in its last four contests, which is surprising considering the talent and experience of the backcourt. Sparty must cut them down or the talented, opportunistic teams that it will face will capitalize.

    Certain turnovers are inevitable because of Michigan's State tendency to push the ball. The faster they play, the more possessions there are, which can subsequently cause some turnovers.

    But its turnover rate is just too high. The team needs to eliminate high-risk passes and increase its efficiency with simple ball movement and timely passing, or it will continue to lose winnable games.

Utilize Payne

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Adreian Payne is one of the premier big men in the country. His combination of size, quickness and shooting ability is incredibly rare for a 6'10" athlete.

    At times, Michigan State has strayed away from feeding him. Oftentimes he doesn't get his touches because the ball is so heavily dominated by the Spartans' talented guards.

    But when Payne gets those touches, it opens up everything.

    He can dominate in the low post or drift out and hit open perimeter shots. Once he gets in a groove, he garners additional attention, which frees up other teammates.

    Payne is an underrated passer as well. When State feeds its senior forward consistently, the offense flows much more freely and smoothly.

    Not many teams have an answer or someone who can replicate Payne's impact on the court. He is a constant mismatch that must be utilized.

Have Great Overall Intensity

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    State must approach every tournament game with the same intensity. It has suffered disappointing losses to Nebraska and Illinois at home, and Sparty looked uninspired in both contests.

    At other times, State flows in unison and plays with great intensity, evidenced by the patented floor slaps. That vigor and determination must be omnipresent in the tournament, especially because there is such a slim margin of disparity between the high and low seeds.

    Any game could end in any fashion. The Spartans certainly have the talent and coaching needed to win a national championship, but it can't afford to overlook the early rounds.

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