Michigan State Basketball: What Each Key Player Must Improve

Brad AlmquistFeatured ColumnistApril 25, 2014

Michigan State Basketball: What Each Key Player Must Improve

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Michigan State surrendered three of its top players to the NBA, so that means that those who are returning must improve immensely to compensate for those important losses.

    Gary Harris, Adreian Payne and Keith Appling were the team's top three scorers and most reliable players for the majority of the 2013-14 season. With a resurgent Branden Dawson coming back for his senior season, Denzel Valentine looking to continue his immense improvement and a plethora of key complementary players back, Sparty's outlook is much different.

    However, the Spartans will have another legitimate opportunity to compete for the Big Ten crown. This slideshow will feature the important areas each marquee player will need to improve on in order to win the conference.

Travis Trice

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    Trice strung together his best stretch of basketball in a Spartan uniform late in the season, when he averaged 11 points through the six games before the team's final loss to Connecticut. Trice shot exceptionally and protected the ball almost flawlessly.

    Where he can seek to improve, however, is his ability to present himself as a viable threat within the three-point line. Last season, 58 percent of his shot attempts came from beyond the perimeter.

    Trice's greatest offensive threat will always be his three-point shot. He has shot it at over 40 percent in all three of his seasons as a Spartan. But he must get into the lane and look to attack at a more frequent rate as the projected starter next year.

    Additionally, he was sporadic throughout virtually the entire 2013-14 campaign. In fact, he recorded eight games with only three points or less. For a natural scorer and someone who has clearly displayed that he is capable to score 15 to 20 points on a given night, that is far too inconsistent.

    Next season, his role will be enhanced. Unless freshman Lourawls Nairn supplants Trice as the starting point guard, Trice will have the keys to the team. He must improve his consistency and limit his reliance on his jumper.

Denzel Valentine

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    Valentine made the leap from talented, raw freshman to a polished, difference-making sophomore in an instant. He improved in nearly every major statistical category as a sophomore.

    Moving forward, he and Branden Dawson will be the two main offensive threats who are relied on to carry the workload. In order to live up to the billing, Valentine needs to become more consistent on the offensive end and work to limit careless turnovers.

    Valentine shot an unspectacular 40 percent from the field in 2013-14. That was due to his streaky jump shot and tendency to play off-balance at times. His three-point shot made serious improvement, however, as he jumped from a putrid 28 percent to a respectable 37 percent in just one season.

    But he needs to remain patient and stay within the game. He is a solid shooter when he sets his feet and remains on balance.

    One of Valentine's greatest strengths is his ability to find the open man. Regarded as one of the premier passers in the conference, he is exceptional at using his eyes to fool defenses and whip a no-look pass for an easy bucket.

    Sometimes, however, he forces the issue too much. This isn't a glaring issue, as he only recorded 1.8 turnovers per game last season, but it is something he can seek to improve.

Alvin Ellis

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    Ellis didn't have endless opportunities to show what he was capable of as a freshman last season. He did, however, prove that he has the athleticism required to compete in one of the major conferences in college basketball.

    At 6'4" and 195 pounds, he is big and athletic enough to pose mismatch issues for opposing teams. But in order to do so, he has to work on attacking the hoop with greater patience. At times, he was out of control and looked confused, as many freshmen do.

    He actually did shoot 46 percent from three-point range, though that was only on 13 shots. He will have more of a primary role next season and must continue to work on his jump shot, as defenses will sag off because of the other weapons that the Spartans have.

    Ellis wasn't relied on much at all last season. Now, with Gary Harris and Keith Appling departed, he will play more. He needs to work on slowing the game down and continuing to develop his jump shot, something he did surprisingly well last year.

Branden Dawson

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    Dawson erupted at the most suitable time last season, when he was named Big Ten tournament Most Outstanding Player and followed that with games of 26 and 24 points back to back in the Big Dance.

    He has already acknowledged it, but he needs to improve his consistency. Dawson has the serious potential to become one of the premier frontcourt players in the country if he were to manifest his late-season play on a more consistent level next season.

    He ran the floor, finished around the rim and utilized his freakish athleticism on the boards late in the season. But at stretches throughout the regular season, he looked lost and was essentially nonexistent on many occasions.

    He is just simply too talented to let that happen as the primary threat next season.

    Additionally, Dawson must seek to fix his less-than-adequate jump shot. He scores the majority of his points on putbacks and dunks off of passes, not jump shots. Improving that area of his game will make him nearly unguardable.

    Now, it is Dawson's team. He will need to work on his consistency from game to game while developing a more reliable jump shot.

Matt Costello

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    Costello's 2013-14 campaign was highlighted by his 11-point, 12-rebound performance in a gritty win at Iowa. He was tuned in and active around the rim for the entire game.

    That game showed a glimpse of his potential. Costello can potentially morph into an every-game starter if he were to become more of an offensive threat by developing a solid jump shot.

    His offensive repertoire is severely limited, though he finishes solidly around the hoop. If he were able to drag his defender away from the hoop because of an improved jumper, that would free the lane for State's other threats.

    Costello only averaged 14.7 minutes as a sophomore, which will surely increase. If he wants to maximize his potential, he will need to develop more on the offensive side.