Michigan State Basketball: Final Grades for Spartans' 2013-14 Season
In an almost symbolic twist, seven points kept Michigan State coach Tom Izzo from reaching his seventh Final Four.
Ultimately, Sunday's 60-54 loss to UConn, the No. 7-seeded team in the East, was the undoing for the No. 4-seeded Spartans, who were the popular pick to conquer March Madness.
Major TV analysts, radio hosts and even the Leader of the Free World assumed that Izzo was bound for destiny at Cowboys Stadium. Instead, it will be Florida, Wisconsin, Kentucky and Kevin Ollie's Huskies.
By virtue of pedigree and history, anything less than a Final Four, technically speaking, is grounds for disappointment. Calling this season a failure would be harsh. However, it certainly wasn't a success—not by Izzo's golden standard.
The 19-year coach had a loaded and finally healthy team that appeared to be on the brink of pushing it to the next gear and "doing something special," as Izzo stated during a postgame interview with CBS.
There's a fine line between being "like" and actually "being" a classic team. The 2013-14 Spartans finished on the wrong side of that line.
This slideshow will assign marks for the shortened season.
Keith Appling Didn't Fully Satisfy
Due to a lack of total effort and focus, the Final Four legacy for four-year players came to an end Sunday.
Placing singular blame serves no purpose. Win together, lose together.
However, it's worth noting that Keith Appling, Izzo's senior point guard, scored 10 points and committed nine turnovers during the Madness. With two points and four turnovers, he was hardly a positive factor during the Spartans' Elite Eight loss to UConn.
Obviously limited due to a nagging shooting wrist, Appling barely drove the lane or attacked the basket. Seemingly afraid to test his ability, he attempted just 10 shots during the run to the East final.
After missing three games in early February, he returned to score only 14 points combined in his next four games. In his final 10 games, the former Detroit Pershing bucket-filler hit double-digit totals only twice and capped the year with an average of 11.4 per game, two points less than his 2012-13 clip.
As a senior, Appling never really evolved into a traditional, vocal leader. But he made strides, transforming from a relatively quiet personality into a more assertive manager. He certainly deserves credit for grinding through one of the toughest stretches in all of sports.
The national tournament tests wills like few athletic competitions can.
It's easy to assume that he wanted a better ending. He probably deserved one, too. But after four years in East Lansing, Appling probably became an expert on surviving tough breaks—that's something Izzo preaches year-in, year-out.
Grade: C+, but don't view that as a knock on his career. Things just didn't go as planned, thus warranting a slightly above-average assessment. Expectations are high for Spartans senior point guards.
Adreian Payne Grew Up Before Izzo's Eyes
During the tournament, Adreian Payne was either really good or really, really good.
He poured a school-tournament-record 41 points on Delaware, never scored less than 12 during the Dance and finished with 13 against UConn, 12 of which came via three-pointers.
Valuable throughout the season, Payne, who missed seven games due to a sprained right foot, continuously impressed by showcasing his perimeter shooting alongside an already robust interior game.
He entered as a raw talent. He's leaving East Lansing as a polished work of art, fan favorite and symbol of Spartans hoops.
Much more than a great athlete, Payne was a great story to follow and reminded us all of the magic of collegiate sports.
With 10 games of 20 points or higher, Payne smashed his junior average of 10.6 points per outing with 16.5 per game, including an early-season 33-point assault on Texas.
Personal growth combined with his friendship with Princess Lacey make it difficult to give him anything less than an A+. But feel-good doesn't win games.
Grade: It's a solid B. Had he shot better than 4-for-14 vs. UConn, regardless of outcome, it'd probably a low B+. The endgame matters most.
Branden Dawson Showed Up Before Izzo's Eyes
It took three years and a broken right hand for Branden Dawson to finally give the Spartans what most expected from day one: lots of dunks, superior rebounding and incredible athleticism at the wing.
It all came...in spurts.
Some as a frosh. A little as a sophomore. Injuries in between hindered full development, but the 6'6", 220-pound iron-bender was going to be a superstar.
Well, that's what everyone thought.
They weren't wrong. No one was wrong about Dawson, really. He showed up when he showed up and didn't when he didn't.
Inconsistent and frustrating to figure out, Dawson earned redemption with one of the most exciting Madness tirades Michigan State's ever witnessed.
The junior floundered with five points in the East final but scored 24 against No. 1-seeded Virginia and 26 against Harvard, with 20 in the first half alone.
With 15 points and nine boards, he heavily influenced the Spartans' 69-55 Big Ten tourney title win over Michigan, which was bounced from the Elite Eight on Sunday by Kentucky. He averaged 17 points and seven boards during the conference postseason.
Grade: C, because averages of 11.4 points and 8.3 rebounds per game are solid, average stats for a player of his skill. However, Dawson's late-season spree certainly helped numbers, and he was far from regularly dominant.
Travis Trice Was Nice
About eight weeks ago, the importance of Travis Trice became increasingly evident.
However, on Sunday the 6'0", 170-pound junior was held scoreless and had two assists.
With 17 points in a late-season win over Iowa and 12 in one over Wisconsin, Trice's momentum was equal to that of most his teammates with the exception of Dawson.
Trice's output of 19 points vs. Delaware showed off a hidden scoring ability, one that surfaces every now and then but never really finds steady rhythm.
Case in point: five-point efforts against Virginia and Harvard, not to mention just over 30 percent shooting from the field.
Grade: Trice gets a B+. At one time, due to concussions, his career was in doubt. He's since conquered those medical obstacles and evolved into one of Izzo's most reliable contributors.
He shot 44.5 percent from three-point range and averaged a career-high 7.5 points per game.
Denzel Valentine Was a Heartbreaker
It was a shame that Denzel Valentine's season ended on the heels of one of his better tournament efforts.
With nine points, he served as Izzo's No. 3 scorer on Sunday. With eight boards, he was the No. 2 rebounder. But with four turnovers, Valentine was tied with Appling in gifting the ball to the other team.
Easily a double-double per night, Valentine continued to prompt more questions than answers. Excluding Dawson, he was the most difficult player to peg in 2013-14.
At one turn, he'd look great. Those Magic-like passes certainly aroused curiosity for his future. But at another turn he'd appear too sloppy and prone to mistakes. His shot selection was often questionable and left a lot to be desired.
But he made five of 10 attempts from long range during the tournament and gave what he could during the loss to the Huskies.
Grade: Valentine gets a B-, despite falling asleep during most of the postseason. With 7.9 points per game, he nearly doubled his scoring average, so the 6'5", 225-pound sophomore gets a break.
It Was a Good Run, Gary Harris
Gary Harris will go down as one of the best pure shooters to ever play at Michigan State.
Not since 1990-95, the days of Shawn Respert, have the Spartans had a dynamic threat capable of erupting for 25 points or more on any given night.
There have been some who have come close, but not many have equaled Harris—or Respert, who averaged 25.6 per game and was named as The Sporting News' Player of the Year in 1995.
With 22 points against UConn, the 6'4" sophomore did what he was supposed to do, which was lead the Spartans in scoring. However, Harris didn't command the spotlight every night, which was a contributing factor to the Spartans' exit from the tourney.
This past season, Harris averaged 16.6 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.9 steals per game. Calling him "steady" would be an understatement. But again, his lack of true dominance during the tournament somewhat overshadows an otherwise respectable season.
He didn't win league POTY honors. He didn't get a national title or vault Izzo to the Final Four. But he's early pickings in the upcoming draft and will certainly serve as a example for future recruits.
Grade: B, and that's partly due to his slump late in the regular season. Since putting up 21 during a 79-70 loss to Michigan on Feb. 23, Harris failed to crack that mark until the very end.
But it wasn't enough.
The supporting cast bent but didn't break.
It was said that Izzo's somewhat sturdy bench would be an advantage during the tournament, but that wasn't the case.
Freshman Gavin Schilling clocked in for a few minutes here and there, didn't score a point and finished with two fouls and a turnover. However, with seven points on March 1 vs. Illinois, he can look forward to the future.
Schilling should be fine. Give him another year.
As for Matt Costello, his year was this year. Other than his five-point, four-rebound offering against Delaware, he was also a relative no-show during the Madness. The Spartans' lack of strength and presence in the paint definitely came back to haunt them.
Costello, who was on the way up after rising to the call during an overtime win against Iowa, simply didn't reach the levels he appeared to be capable of reaching.
Kenny Kaminski also falls into that category. The redshirt freshman was worth the wait...when he was scoring. When he wasn't, he was committing turnovers and needless fouls. Growing pains: He suffered through a season of them. It's down to business next year.
Alvin Ellis III is an extremely athletic, shifty and versatile scorer. Once he develops, he shouldn't go scoreless in 13 minutes during the tournament as he did against Delaware. He finished the Madness with three assists, two points and a turnover.
Grade: The supporting cast gets a C- for lagging behind during March and failing to establish consistent producers. But don't be mistaken: The bench absolutely helped during the rough times, such as the slumps of Appling and Harris.
Perhaps more than ever, Tom Izzo's stubborn nature played a factor in his team's misfortune.
During the tournament, there were several instances in which Izzo seemingly mismanaged timeouts. Instead of calling one to settle his troops, Izzo would often wait until his ship suffered yet another blow to the hull.
In times of panic, it was clear that Izzo wasn't going to wave the white flag. He's the type who goes down with the ship.
This year was problematic for Izzo, who was stretched to his limit due to his team's injuries. Through it all, Izzo kept a cool head, despite claims that he milked the injury "excuse." Those claims are ignorant, to say the least.
There aren't many coaches as humble in victory and as gracious in defeat as Izzo.
Grade: He gets a C-, due to the fact that one of his most athletic teams underachieved in the regular season and postseason. Elite Eight appearances aren't anything to dismiss, but they're not Final Fours.
"I think he (Kevin Ollie) did a good job of having his team ready, and I did a poor job of having mine ready." - Tom Izzo— Brent Yarina (@BTNBrentYarina) March 30, 2014
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan State Spartans basketball writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81