Due to graduation and destiny calling in the form of an NBA career, Adreian Payne is no longer available to suit up for Michigan State.
The Spartans, who advanced to the 2014 Elite Eight, will certainly miss his three-point shooting, rebounding, scoring and, well, just about everything else. As East Lansing's lovable giant, the 6'9," 240-pound power forward made incredible leaps and bounds prior to taking a bow during his collegiate curtain call.
In all likelihood, he'll be an early first-rounder come draft time.
Payne's departure warrants concern for the future. But coach Tom Izzo could run short by one in 2014-15. According to reports relayed by NBC College Basketball Talk's Raphielle Johnson, Alex Gauna is about "80 percent" sure that he's going to drop "athlete" from his current title of student-athlete.
Due to the birth of his daughter, the redshirt junior now faces a crossroads: continue hoops or devote more time to his young family.
There is no wrong answer to the equation; however, if his path veers away from the game, Michigan State must then turn its focus toward the front court.
No Payne with a slight chance for no Gauna? What's Izzo to do? Should he fret about losing two perfectly capable forwards? Not necessarily—and here's the obvious reason: Gauna rarely played.
Despite subtle improvements, the former Eaton Rapids (Mich.) star just didn't excel in the Big Ten. For whatever reason, things just didn't click, and he was relegated to the bench for three years after being redshirted.
Physical and efficient in spurts, he topped this past season with six points and five rebounds during a 101-48 thrashing of New Orleans. In terms of production, there really isn't much else to talk about. He was lucky to log 10 minutes per game and never evolved into a true factor on either end of the floor.
But he deserves credit for hanging in there with one of the NCAA's elite programs. Getting an offer is one thing, but remaining on the roster takes as much, or more, dedication.
Let's say that Gauna's gone. Besides, "80 percent" seems like pretty good odds on this end. For all intents and purposes, he's done.
This is how the Spartans can move on without wrinkling the game plan:
What Izzo's Working With
Let's assume that Matt Costello, a will-be-junior, and Gavin Schilling, a soon-to-be-sophomore, each progress to the point that they each earn two to three more minutes per contest. That'd just about take care of Gauna's average of 7.1. So, with a total of roughly 20 per in 2013-14, they could combine to clock upward of 25 each game in 2014-15.
Costello's on track for 20 minutes per night, a bump from about 15, while Schilling, barring several steps backward, could be in range for about 12 to 15, up from 6.4 as a freshman. A quick look at this past season's stats reveals a clear message: Michigan State's frontcourt is going to miss Payne's 16.4 and 7.3 more than it'll miss Gauna's 1.6 and 1.3.
If Costello works on staying aggressive each shift, not whenever, the Spartans will survive in the paint. The former Bay City Western and Mr. Basketball icon isn't playing anywhere close to his abilities. That's not a knock on him, it's actually meant as praise. When focused, he can compete with most bigs in the Big Ten.
In terms of skill set, Schilling brings possibilities to the post. He's not really a back-you-down type, but he can turn and shoot, and go up, under and back up again. If he up and works on his shot selection, Izzo will have quite the pair to utilize.
Hovering somewhere in the neighborhood of 6'9" and 240 pounds, each of them stands to provide much more than a body in the absence of Payne and potential absence of Gauna.
They can remedy the situation and then some.
At 6'8" and 225 pounds, Kenny Kaminski has the size to collide down low. But he's much too lethal to quarantine him to within the perimeter. Really, he's just a jumbo-sized shooting guard. With range that spans beyond conventional bounds, he stands to become a meaningful part of an offense that, without Keith Appling and Gary Harris, is down nearly 28 points per game.
Kaminski's guard tendencies should soften the blow; however, if the need arises, he could play a little Gauna ball just to provide a slight boost to the front court. Of course, that could depend on the next guy...
Expecting the 6'7," 225-pound former Sunrise Christian (Wichita) standout to immediately insert himself into the lineup is too much. But expecting him to compete for quality minutes as a freshman isn't. Let's say that he's good for five or six minutes, a basket or two and a few boards per game—problem kind of solved.
During a recent interview with MLive.com's Kyle Austin, Clark said that he's working to fine-tune his skills before he dives into college life. He's optimistic but knows that he has a long way to go before he's up to par.
“Coach Izzo told me that he feels like I’m still a baby, basketball-wise,” Clark said, per Austin.
That's a good thing. It shows that Izzo was honest with him, and it shows that he knows where he falls on the food chain.
Add Clark's potential and seemingly levelheadedness to the should-be-rapidly-developing ascents of Costello and Schilling, and the number of gray hairs popping up on Izzo's head should be held to a minimum this season.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan State Spartans basketball writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81