Michigan State Basketball: 5 Questions for Spartans in 2014 NCAA Tournament

Brad Almquist@bquist13Featured ColumnistMarch 22, 2014

Michigan State Basketball: 5 Questions for Spartans in 2014 NCAA Tournament

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    Sparty is clicking at the perfect time. Just a few weeks ago, the thought of winning consecutive games for this team seemed outlandish. Now, Michigan State looks even better than advertised and potentially poised to hand Tom Izzo his seventh Final Four appearance.

    But as this tournament has revealed, the disparity in college basketball is narrowing to an all-time low.

    The Spartans will face Harvard on March 22 with the opportunity to reach the Sweet 16. But the No. 12 seed printed next to the Crimson’s name is misleading.

    Just ask Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin.

    These are the five questions remaining for State and its ongoing pursuit to the title.

Will Travis Trice Continue His Electric Play?

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    Is it too early to title Sparty’s season-long supply of injuries as a blessing? No player has benefited more from it than Travis Trice.

    He filled in for the injured Keith Appling without missing a beat. Now, with Appling back, Trice has continued his electric play.

    Last game, he only missed only one shot out of his eight attempts for 19 points. If it wasn’t for Adreian Payne’s 41-point eruption, Trice’s electric performance would have been the primary storyline from State’s second round victory over Delaware.

    His vast progression in the wake of Appling's injury is a testament to Trice's fearlessness. His production also continues to increase.

    When he's at point guard, Trice runs the offense with pace, takes care of the ball and drains perimeter shots at a prolific rate. Much of Sparty’s recent success needs to be attributed to the sharpshooting junior, who is playing the best basketball of his college career.

Will One of the Backup Centers Separate Himself?

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    If there are any current issues with the team that are difficult to highlight, one of them may be the ongoing mediocrity of the post players not named Adreian Payne.

    Excuse Branden Dawson. He is more of a hybrid between the guard and forward position, despite starting games at the 4-spot, but he is playing fantastic basketball.

    Matt Costello, Gavin Schilling and Alex Gauna have had their moments this season but haven’t provided much on the court for the past month. Originally, Costello played solid minutes in the middle of the year, protecting the rim well and finishing layups at an efficient rate.

    He poured in 11 points along with 12 rebounds and was a primary piece to a gritty win at Iowa. But that Costello hasn’t returned since.

    Additionally, Schilling and Gauna haven’t been effective while they’ve played, though their minutes have been limited.

    Clearly, these players aren’t expected to score at a consistent clip. But what happens if Payne gets into foul trouble?

    That would potentially move Dawson to the 5 and Kenny Kaminski to the 4. While that could possibly work, it leaves the team prone to surrendering offensive rebounds.

    This hasn’t been a troubling issue just yet. But if Payne were forced to the bench, then one of those role players would have to step in.

    Costello certainly has the greatest ability to fill that role.

Will Payne Continue to Be Focal Point?

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    At this point, why wouldn’t Payne be the focal point? He’s coming off a career game and is averaging nearly 30 points through the last two contests.

    At times in past games, Payne hasn’t gotten his touches as frequently. Last game, the team continued to feed him and allow him to dominate on both the perimeter and post.

    And that mindset shouldn’t change.

    Harvard wins with efficient offensive play mainly from its perimeter players. The Crimson’s big men aren’t anywhere near as robust Michigan State’s, which means that Payne and the Spartans must attack the paint. Cincinnati didn’t have many issues pounding the ball down low, but the Bearcats couldn’t finish.

    Payne and the Michigan State are much better at converting around the hoop. The standout senior is poised for another breakout game if he continues to garner the touches down low.

How Will They Defend Harvard’s Quickness?

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    Harvard scores off of quickness and passing from its guards. Wesley Sanders and Siyani Chambers pace its attack. Both guards are outstanding at beating their men off the dribble and making plays in the paint.

    That means that the Michigan State guards need to focus on containing them and keep everything in front. If Harvard is forced to take perimeter shots, with the exception to sharpshooter Laurent Rivard, its offense won’t run as smoothly or effectively.

    Keith Appling and Gary Harris are fantastic on-ball defenders, but it must be a collective effort. State clearly has the athleticism necessary to halt Harvard’s offensive flow.

Has State Officially Turned the Page?

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    With four straight wins, Michigan State is finally playing consistently from one contest to the next. That has been its primary issue for the last couple months—injuries discounted.

    It appears that now Sparty has overcome that inability to string together consistent efforts, its winning formula is coming to fruition. However, Harvard is a sneaky team with considerable tournament experience for a mid-major unit. The Crimson surely have the offensive weapons to upend the Spartans, and Harvard plays cohesively on the defensive end.

    State erupted right out of the gate against Delaware, showing no signs of complacency. That effort must be replicated against this gritty Crimson squad.

    It certainly appears that the Spartans have turned the page, but they still have several difficult games remaining in their quest to Arlington, Texas.