Michigan State doesn’t have Adreian Payne, Keith Appling or Gary Harris. But it has Travis Trice, Denzel Valentine and Branden Dawson—not exactly an even trade, but there is a lot of untapped talent returning to coach Tom Izzo’s Spartans this season.
For that very reason, those whom dwell in the Izzone, name their daughters Breslin (or some variation), and believe in all that is Izzo should feel confident about their team’s chances heading into 2014-15.
Expecting a Final Four would be a bit much, but a customary trip to the Sweet 16/Elite Eight isn’t out of question—it all depends on how Trice evolves as a senior point guard, how Dawson handles being a leader and how Valentine refines his overall game to better suit those around him.
Let’s face it: Any Spartans squad worth its (fill in the blank) has a senior handling the ball. Of course, there are the exceptions, such as star underclassmen. But for the most part, the operation has fewer twists and turns with a veteran calling the shots.
Trice isn’t Mateen Cleaves or Drew Neitzel, and he’s definitely not Kalin Lucas or Keith Appling. But this is what he is: A true, program-defining team player. Review his game film, and you’ll see him diving, weaving and darting toward the action. If he’s not a primary participant—a ball-handler or on-ball defender—he’s fronting the second wave of the attack.
Had destiny made him 6’4” and 205 pounds, we could be talking about an Izzo-era great, hands down. Unfortunately, career- and life-threatening head injuries/concussions have been major concerns. For now, the 6’0,” 170-pounder gets hustle points and should be considered among the hardest-working Spartans in recent memory. He can be the blue-collaredness behind a successful tournament run.
Following the loss to UConn in the Elite Eight, Izzo discussed Trice’s drive with MLive.com’s Gillian Van Stratt. It’s worth noting that Izzo was referencing the level of distractions student-athletes face every day. Remaining focused, for some, is a challenge.
But it doesn’t sound as if Trice is rattled one bit.
"Kids are distracted in many ways nowadays by many things," Izzo said, per Van Stratt. "Finding guys that are not (matters). And one guy that we got that I think is not, is Travis Trice."
Dawson: Set Loose
Customary Dawson line: At 6’6” and 220 pounds, the soon-to-be senior can do this, this and this. You know the story—freakishly athletic prototypical wingman who can dominate on a whim.
An appropriately timed outburst, Dawson unleashed his true fury during the 2014 Big Ten Tournament. His well-put-together rebounding exploits complemented his collage of dunks as the Spartans took the title. While at full capacity, he’s most certainly capable of 15 points and 10 rebounds, at a minimum.
In fact, it’d be a shock if his senior year wasn't punctuated by a few 20-and-15ers. He can score when he wants and, at times, he seems able to defend anyone on the court. A year ago, people were talking about his improved jumper. But we didn’t see much of it in 2013-14.
Looking forward to the “real” Dawson makes Spartans hoops seems all the more attractive. Who doesn’t want to see a borderline NBA guy go bananas during his final year of school? Izzo certainly wouldn’t mind that, and the Spartans coach has long defended the former 5-star recruit who sets himself up for criticism by playing like an All-American one night and a reserve rec-leaguer the next. In all likelihood, Izzo has emphasized the importance of seniorship to Dawson.
Unfortunately, it really is "now or never" for one of the most athletic wings to come through East Lansing.
Love for Denzel
If you don’t like Denzel Valentine, you don’t like true basketball players. He comes from a family born to ball—his father Carl played at Michigan State; brother Drew is a member of the staff—and brings an intelligence matched by few on the court.
We could talk about the turnovers—which have been an issue since Day 1—and sloppy transition play, but then we’d also have to highlight the superb passes, dunks and jumpers. As a sophomore, he hit .377 from long range, a statistic that’s due for a bump for obvious reasons: Gary Harris and Keith Appling are gone.
Effective from nearly anywhere on the floor, the 6’5,” 220-pound junior-to-be fits well into Michigan State’s design—Izzo’s always liked rebounders who could also score, and Valentine is going to be one of them. He has to be. There aren’t other options.
The pressure has now been applied to Valentine, who needs to get closer to the 10-and-10 range on a nightly basis if Izzo plans on making his yearly trip to the postseason. Then again, the pressure is on Trice and Dawson, too. If they fail to deliver, the upcoming season will be nothing but training for Tum Tum Nairn, Javon Bess, Marvin Clark and walk-on Kenny Goins, members of the 2014 class.
Follow Bleacher Report Michigan State Spartans basketball writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81