The Michigan State men's basketball team, usually a NCAA tournament heavyweight picked by many to make a Final Four run each and every season, flatlined last year after a poor regular season with a record of 19-15 (9-9 Big Ten).
Michigan State fared better in the Big Ten Conference Tournament, as they upset the No. 9 Purdue Boilermakers and then eventually fell to Penn State in the conference semifinals.
The Spartans squeaked into the NCAA tournament as a No. 10 seed only to drop a heartbreaker to UCLA in the first round by a score of 78-76.
Led by coach Tom Izzo, the Spartans are usually strong in rebounding on the offensive and defensive glass, and are usually keyed by strong defense and strong shooting from the point guard position.
The Spartans' lack of success is usually not for long stretches, as Tom Izzo-led teams rebound. After starting last season ranked No. 2 and slamming back to Earth, they will want to make a strong statement and prove that last year's inconsistencies are that. Last Year.
Here are 10bold predictions for Tom Izzo's guys heading into the 2011-2012 season:
A strength in Tom Izzo-led teams are that they are immensly physical and will punch you in the teeth on the offensive and defensive glass. When you control the boards, you control the pace of the game.
The Spartans' rebounding margin last season was plus-4.2, with an average of 30 rebounds per game, good for second in the Big Ten.
In some of MSU's losses, the rebounding was poor as Michigan State gave up a lot of second-chance points to teams such as Connecticut, Texas and Iowa. The Spartans' big men did not progress as expected as C Derrick Nix had lost weight only to be playing in the 290s range the rest of the season, and SG Durrell Summers was in a funk for most of the season.
With Derrick Nix, Adreian Payne and 2011 recruit Alex Gauna as the big men on the roster, Michigan State should get back to its roots and rule the boards.
For years, the Spartans relied on the now-departed Kalin Lucas to generate scoring chances and to direct the offense from the point guard position.
Lucas was one of the school's biggest icons and left with two Final Four appearances, two Big Ten titles and the 2009 Big Ten Player of the Year. In Tom Izzo's offense, the point guard is the point man and gets into the lane for an open shot.
Keith Appling has shown flashes that he can step up to replace Lucas. He has shown the ability to direct traffic in the lane and make an open shot. Michigan State will need him to become even somewhat of the scorer that Lucas was if they expect to rebound from last year's disappointment.
"He has had times in games where he has committed more turnovers then assists."(USAToday)
I believe in his sophomore season, Keith Appling will become the primary scoring threat for the Spartans, and he will go a long way in quieting his critics and be a steady force on the perimeter.
Derrick Nix has been often the target of Coach Izzo—and for good reason. Nix is one of the Spartans' big men that they need steady contributions from in order to control the tempo of the game on the offensive and defensive glass.
Coach Izzo had this to say about Nix during last year's Maui Invitational when he and the coach decided that Nix stay home during the tournament, "Nix has got some personal issues and he is not suspended; we've just elected between him and I not to go to Maui." (Lansing State Journal)
Throughout his career, Nix has had problems with his weight. Last summer, he dropped 20 pounds to be at 270 for the opening of the season but then ballooned back up into the 290s for the rest of the season much to the chagrin of Izzo and some of his teammates.
Nix has also shown the tendency to be vocal, as he said, "the seniors need to play better," specifically calling out PG Kalin Lucas and SG Durrell Summers during the swoon in December-January that had left many people wondering whether Sparty was headed for the NIT.
In 2011, if Nix can stay in shape, he could be a steadying presence that will enable Michigan State to get back to what it does best: Crash the boards and control the pace of the game and grind the opponent into submission.
Seniors Draymond Green and Delvon Roe are two key pieces that are still on the roster from MSU's recent back-to-back runs to the Final Four. With the departure of Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers, Michigan State will rely on Green and Roe to be the senior leaders on the team.
For the first time since he was a recruit in 2008, Roe does not have to rehab an injury, and he can concentrate on improving his game.
"During the Spartans' run to the national championship game, Roe was becoming more effective in the Big Ten conference season as his statistical clip was: 22.3 percent defensive rebounding percentage, and 57.6 percent field goal percentage."(MSUSpartans.com) "He was also named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team."(ESPN.com)
Draymond Green was heavily recruited by the Spartans coming out of high school, and in the loss to UCLA in the first round of the NCAA tournament, he became only the third player in school history to record a triple-double behind Charlie Bell and Magic Johnson.
2011 will be the year when these two will step up and be the leaders that Tom Izzo always looks to in order to make something happen.
Last season, Michigan State's depth was hurt as two key players, Chris Allen and Korie Lucious were both dismissed from the team. Tom Izzo cited the reasons for the dismissals as "conduct detrimental to the program."
Lucious had hit a game-winning shot against Maryland in the 2010 NCAA tournament, which saw the Spartans go to their second straight Final Four only to fall to the national-runner up Butler Bulldogs. Michigan State's performance showed that it sorely missed Lucious' clutch shooting.
In light of his dismissal, Lucious then followed fellow teammate Chris Allen and transferred to Iowa State and due to NCAA rules he must sit out a year.
The 2011-2012 season should be free of controversy and distraction, and the team should be able to get back to winning games.
The Breslin Center, home to MSU's basketball team is one of the loudest venues in the country. An example of the passion of the fans is after a loss to Duke in the 1999 Final Four, a riot broke out where over 50 students were involved and were charged with misdemeanor offenses and restitution in amounts of $2,000.
Michigan State had one of the longest home winning streaks in the country, as they ran off 53 straight wins from the 2000 national championship game until 2002.
The student section, or the "Izzone" provides Michigan State with one of the country's most effective homefield advantages, as in 2007, the No. 2 Wisconsin Badgers came into the Breslin Center and left with an upset loss at the hands of the Spartans.
That same homefield advantage should come in handy for the Spartans as they look to rebound from last year's disappointment and regain their perch near the top of the Big Ten.
Tom Izzo always likes to test his teams early with a tough non-conference slate of games. The results the past few years have been mixed.
Last season, the Spartans' non-conference schedule included contests against UConn, Syracuse, and No. 1 Duke. (all losses) The Spartans have always loaded their schedule with non-conference tests as by early December, experts usually know where and how the team stands going into the conference season.
The Spartans and the North Carolina Tar Heels are scheduled play aboard an aircraft carrier on November 11, 2011 in a non-conference game that the Spartans should be able to come away with a victory.
In 2011, I believe the Spartans' non-conference schedule will again be loaded. I believe that the upcoming season's non-conference slate will be a tell-tale sign that will be a strong indicator whether the team can bounce back from all the disappointment from a year ago.
The man who has been the steadying force for the Spartans since taking over in 1995, has been one of the most successful coaches in college basketball history.
Tom Izzo is an icon in Michigan State history and is in elite company in college basketball. He is the longest tenured coach in the Big Ten, having compiled a career record of 383-161 good for a .704 winning percentage. He also has on his resume the 2000 National title, runner-up in the 2009 National title game, six Final Fours in 12 years and six Big Ten regular-season titles.
He has won 35 games in the NCAA tournament and only UNC's Roy Williams and Duke's Mike Krzyzewski have won more games than Izzo, and his streak of Final Four appearances from 1999-2010 has not been matched by anyone else. The man is a wizard in the month of March, and he has the success to back it up.
His teams are highly renowned for their rebounding superiority and defensive excellence. He was offered the head coaching job at the NBA's Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks, and more recently, the Cleveland Cavaliers, but he has remained at his alma mater.
Last season was one of the most disappointing in Tom Izzo's career. He had this to say after the heartbreaking loss to UCLA, ""I'm so proud of these guys." "They've been knocked down so much this year. They fought back and put themselves in a position to possibly take this game at the end." (Michigan State Spartans Examiner)
With heroes Raymar Morgan, Goran Suton, Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers now departed, Tom Izzo is going to have to work his magic and regroup for the coming campaign.
Michigan State has been invited to the NCAA tournament for the past 14 years straight, winning it in 2000 and falling just short in 2009. Only Duke and Kansas have streaks longer than the Spartans.
Michigan State's success in the NCAA tournament comes partly from Coach Izzo's preference to schedule difficult non-conference slates to prepare his teams for the all-but guaranteed invite come Selection Sunday. All of the people who have played all four years at Michigan State have appeared in a Final Four.
It's a streak of success that will cannot be matched. No one rules out a Michigan State appearance in the NCAA tournament.