Michigan State Basketball: Spartans' Best Starting Lineup for 2014-15

Adam BiggersSenior Analyst IIJune 15, 2014

Travis Trice is a senior—and Denzel Valentine might as well be. They're key to Michigan State's plans in 2014-15.
Travis Trice is a senior—and Denzel Valentine might as well be. They're key to Michigan State's plans in 2014-15.USA TODAY Sports

It’ll be a different look in 2014-15 for Michigan State.

No Gary Harris. No Keith Appling. Adreian Payne’s gone, too—and now Spartans coach Tom Izzo faces the uphill climb of replacing one of his most effective trios.

But given Izzo’s impeccable resume, success with new lineups could come sooner than later.

If the Spartans are to be true threats in the Big Ten and on the national stage, getting the guard situation squared away immediately is imperative. Michigan State’s offenses have been predicated on the backcourt, and that probably won’t change for as long as Izzo makes the calls.

If he’s not already, Denzel Valentine should prepare for what could be “his” year. The junior combo guard can run the point, play a bit in the post, shoot from nearly anywhere, pass and rebound. At 6’5” and 225 pounds, he’s not an easy matchup for defenders.

So, of course, he’s part of an ideal starting lineup. Assembling the ideal starting five is the goal here, and this piece centers on selecting the best overall players who give Izzo the greatest chance to win (obviously). However, Izzo’s known for big and small/quick lineups, so those will be discussed as well.


All-Purpose Starting 5

Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

The most talented at each position deserves mention—experience, of course, influences the selection process as well. Older guys who’ve logged quality minutes and have played well are the obvious candidates.

Let’s get the ball rolling.

5 Matt Costello (6'9," 250; JR)

4/3 Kenny Kaminski (6'8," 225; RS SO)

3/4 Branden Dawson (6'6," 230; SR)

2 Denzel Valentine (6'5," 225; JR)

1 Travis Trice (6'0," 170; SR)

On paper, this lineup seems probable. Dawson (11.2 PPG) returns as the leading scorer, which raises concern. Despite breaking his right hand, Dawson was inconsistent until he kicked it up a notch during the postseason; he averaged better than 15 per game during the Big Ten tourney and burst for 26 (Harvard) and 24 (Virginia) during the national tourney.

Better late than never. If that was a preview, sure, get excited. But if that was a flash in the pan, get ready for more "why can't Dawson dominate every night?!" Along with Trice, he faces a unique and oddly unfamiliar dilemma. He's one of two Izzo seniors who are tasked with restarting the four-year, Final Four tradition. 

That could either consume them both to no end or ignite something unseen—imagine the storylines surrounding a Dawson- and Trice-led senior spree to Indianapolis, Izzo's second March home. Talk about unexpected...

Valentine is more than eight-and-whatever. He's 14 or 15-and-five, easily. Maybe better. The Lansing native could be the Spartans' most important player this year. 


Go Big

Matt Costello averaged 1.3 blocks per game in 2013-14. Without Payne, he'll be asked to swat more in 2014-15.
Matt Costello averaged 1.3 blocks per game in 2013-14. Without Payne, he'll be asked to swat more in 2014-15.ROBIN SCHOLZ/Associated Press

Sometimes Izzo has to get aggressive. Such is life in the Big Ten but not necessarily in the tournament (that last part was an attempt at humor...)

In years past, he’s had the likes of Derrick Nix and Paul Davis, two unapologetic brutes in the paint and on the boards. Regardless of time or opponent, Nix and Davis rarely backed down from the rough stuff. Those types are hard to find, but it looks as if Costello, who should have an increased role next season in every way, is next in line for the job.

The former Mr. Basketball (Michigan) winner has a mean streak which was put on full display versus Iowa. Due in part to his 11 points and 12 rebounds back in January, the Spartans were able to squeak out a 71-69 overtime victory on the Hawkeyes' home court. Considering that Michigan State lost 80-75 to Michigan just three days earlier, Costello's effort was a sure sign of a strong will and competitive fire. 

In short, that was the real Costello. That was 6'9," 250 pounds put to work and paying dividends. But they were short-lived, as he reached double digits just once more in 2013-14. He'll have to be much more consistent on the glass, in the paint and from everywhere in between if the Spartans hope to run an imposing frontcourt. 

Alex Gauna, who had another year of eligibility, did the right thing when he chose fatherhood over basketball. However, at 6'9" and 250 pounds, his size alone was advantageous to Izzo, who'll have to go young in order to go big this season. Marvin Clark is raw. The true freshman would benefit from a one-year learning period before diving into the mix. But Izzo may not have that option with the frontcourt (or with the guards/wings), and that could open the door for the 6'7," 235-pound former Sunrise Christian (Kansas) standout. 

5 Costello

4 Kaminski

3 Gavin Schilling (6'9," 240; SO)/Marvin Clark

2/3 Dawson

1 Valentine


With the Quickness

Really, 2014-15 may not be the time to experiment much. Remember, Izzo's losing two key seniors, along with Russell Byrd (transfer) and Gauna (life), so experience is at a premium, and there won't be much room for error. 

But Izzo could choose to live wildly and try new things—it all depends on how hard the incoming class competes, not to mention how far Schilling pushes himself. He's multi-talented and could be a great piece of the speed lineup, in addition to other areas. Once he's settled, his smooth Euro style mixed with Big Ten battering should serve as a strength. Maybe he's the next Goran Suton? 

5 Dawson

4 Schilling

3 Valentine/Javon Bess?

2 Nairn (5'10," 165; FR)/Alvin Ellis (6'4," 195; SO)

1/2 Trice

Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan State Spartans basketball writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81