Michigan State Basketball: Top Storylines to Follow in Spartans' 2014 Offseason
Who’s staying? Who’s going? For Michigan State, those are the ultimate storylines surrounding its offseason.
However, players aren’t the only ones who could vacate posts. As soon as Sunday’s 60-54 Elite Eight loss to UConn came to a close, Tom Izzo’s NBA future immediately became a hot topic.
In the past, the Spartans' 19-year coach has squashed those rumors. But according to Joe Lapointe, who wrote a special for MLive.com, Izzo didn’t completely put the current buzz to rest during a smaller, more intimate press conference following his exit from March Madness.
Chances are that Izzo’s staying.
But Gary Harris, the Spartans’ star sophomore, could be on his way to the Association. Branden Dawson, a junior, could stand to spend another year in college before thinking of taking his game to the next level.
And of course, replacing the irreplaceable Adreian Payne will be difficult. Izzo whiffed on Chicago prep star Cliff Alexander, who’s headed to Kansas, so getting another dynamic big man is of the utmost importance.
Keith Appling should have led his team to at least one Final Four. But he didn’t.
While running at his peak, the senior was among the best point guards in the nation. But a wrist injury kept him from realizing his potential and from competing at the level of Shabazz Napier, the guard who sets the tempo for UConn.
This slideshow will outline what to expect as MSU enters the immediate offseason.
Players come and go, but some college coaches are "forever."
Izzo's been a part of Spartans basketball for more than three decades. As an assistant under Jud Heathcote, he learned the ropes and took notes. Whether or not he expected it, the crazy Yooper crafted one of the finest programs in all of collegiate sport.
He's called Mr. March for a reason. There are calendars that read "Jan., Feb., Izzo, April..." Final Fours are a habit and, with six, Izzo has proven to be creature of it.
The Elite Eight loss was a setback, and a setback only. It wasn't a sign of Izzo falling off, nor was it a glimpse into a potentially dark future for Michigan State basketball.
He was seven points away from his seventh national semi. It's not like he was blown out of the water and severely outcoached. In essence, he was respectfully pushed aside and outcoached. But that's another story.
After winning it all in 2000, the Atlanta Hawks came calling. During the Summer of LeBron (2010), there were rumors of Izzo looking toward the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are owned by Dan Gilbert, an MSU alum.
Bron Bron bolted for South Beach. Izzo stayed in East Lansing. However, we could easily be having a different discussion about Izzo had James chose to remain with the Cavs.
Some of the latest chatter mentions Izzo to the Detroit Pistons, who are owned by Tom Gores, an MSU alum.
Over the weekend, Scout.com's Mike Wilson wanted to know the scoop.
Moe Ager is all too familiar with the Izzo-to-NBA conversation. When asked about them, the former MSU star immediately dismissed rumors of his old coach's desire to jump ship.
NBA Gary Harris or NCAA Gary Harris
Understandably so, following the loss to UConn, Gary Harris chose not to directly address the NBA talk.
That's probably for the best.
It takes time to compartmentalize, and that's precisely what the sophomore intends to do. Remember, he faced a similar situation after Michigan State lost to Duke in the 2013 Sweet 16. Everyone and their brother wanted to know if the Hoosier State sharpshooter was bound for the pros.
He stayed, averaged 16.6 points per game and looked at ease while doing so. He scored 22 vs. UConn, too. Going out with a bang was probably a goal for Harris, who, even after just two years, cemented himself among the top shooters in Spartans history.
Well, at least in modern history.
According to MLive.com's Gillian Van Stratt, Izzo is paying close attention to Harris' situation.
I've talked to Gary a little bit. I feel very comfortable with Gary that he'll talk to me, and his parents will all talk and he'll make the right decision. He'll make the decision according to one, what he wants to do. And two, what the NBA shares.
It'd be interesting to see if the two were connected. The return of Harris could place the Spartans in the 2015 national title conversation. However, if Izzo has designs on the NBA, Harris could skip his junior year...
In all honesty, Harris is probably a goner either way. But it doesn't hurt to dream a little.
What's Branden Dawson Going to Do?
There aren't many athletes, pound-for-pound, who can step face-to-face to Branden Dawson, Izzo's superbly talented 6'6," 220-pound wing man.
Dawson was a late bloomer. But once he bloomed, he took over the room. Averaging 17 points and seven boards, he helped lead the Spartans to a Big Ten tournament title-game victory over Michigan, which swept the season series and had won six of the prior eight meetings.
During March Madness, Dawson yet again commanded full attention. Scoring 26 against Harvard, 20 of which came in the first half, was only a flash of upcoming events. Dawson, most thought, was going to really flower as the Spartans galloped to the Final Four.
Well, he had a respectable tournament. He scored 24 against Virginia in the Sweet 16, but managed only five against UConn in the East final.
A powerful dunker, blocker, rebounder and potential scoring juggernaut, Dawson has a skill set that will, in time, translate into the NBA. However, based on his body of work, he's far too inconsistent to be a true professional threat at this stage of his career.
Either that, or he waited until March Madness to finally reach an apex because he knew that he was bound for the league.
Who's the Next Point Guard?
Denzel Valentine plays well as a wing, but he can handle the ball and create scoring opportunities with his often-dazzling passing.
That's when he's not turning over the ball, which is something he did four times against UConn. He doesn't need to be so flashy. It's cool to compare some of his missile assists to Magic's touch, but Valentine doesn't have to be Magic every time.
Some of the time works fine.
At 6'5" and 220 pounds, he's a bit large for the 1. His size is better utilized in other areas.
So that leaves Travis Trice, who was an unheralded hero of 2013-14. Getting noticed by the masses during the tournament was great for Trice, who's been a proven commodity to those who closely follow Spartans basketball.
He needs to improve, but Trice fits the system. He'll be a senior next year.
And you know what that means.
Expect to see incoming freshman Tum Tum Nairn in the mix. But for the most part, the point guard position should and probably will be manned by Valentine and Trice.
Will the Next Senior Class Make the Final Four?
The streak has been snapped. For the first time under Izzo, a senior class failed to reach the Final Four.
Next year, the Spartans have Trice, Alex Gauna, Keenan Wetzel and Russell Byrd in charge of restoring the famed four-year player tradition in East Lansing.
Can they do it?
Trice has always been a solid contributor. Gauna's been...well, not a solid contributor. Seeing Wetzel take the court is a sign of the end of a massive blowout and Byrd has been a superstar in practice.
If, and when, Gauna and Byrd come around, the Spartans could have a little something. And really, the more Wetzel, the better for Michigan State. His presence means that things are under control.
Will There Be a Recruiting Resurgence?
If you've imagined an MSU team plus Jabari Parker, you're not alone.
If you had dreams of Cliff Alexander, Devin Booker and maybe Kevon Looney joining the Spartans, you're not alone.
Alexander chose Kansas. Booker chose Kentucky. And Looney chose...honestly, it doesn't matter at this point—it wasn't Michigan State (UCLA).
Once again, Izzo has eyes set on the best of the best. His roster of class of 2015 targets rivals wish lists from years past.
Trevor Manuel of Oak Hill Academy, a 6'9," 215-pound, maybe-the-next-Payne, is the No. 9 power forward of next year's haul and, according to 247Sports, he evidently has "warm" interest in the Spartans.
Izzo wants Montaque Gill-Caesar of Huntington Prep. The 6'5" 200-pound wing/shooting guard is a strong scorer with a high ceiling. According to 247Sports, he's the No. 3-ranked 2-guard of 2015.
So he'll probably end up at Kentucky.
Eric Davis is one of the prizes of Michigan, so expect to see the Saginaw Arthur Hill point guard give serious thought to joining Michigan State, which snags Mr. Basketball-caliber players on a yearly basis.
The 6'3," 172-pound prep junior is the No. 6-ranked shooting guard of 2015.
A disappointing end to a season destined for greatness isn't a brand new feeling. The Spartans probably felt the same after losing to George Mason in 2006. Dropping out of the 2010 Final Four wasn't the plan, either—not after reaching the title game the year prior.
However, as the story goes, Izzo moves on and reloads. The Spartans regroup, make another run and become favorites—regardless of record—each March.
That's just how it's been, and, for as long as Izzo calls the shots, that's how it'll always be at Michigan State.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan State Spartans basketball writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81
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