Needless to say, Michigan State's season last year is simply unforgettable. By the way, that's not a good thing.
In a year that promised Big Ten title contention and even national championship dreams, the Spartans fell flat on their face in a big stinking pile of shame. Losing to cupcake teams, extreme player underachievement, and team chemistry issues that would baffle Dr. Phil was the recipe to a disastrous season.
But we are not here to discuss that. We will no longer linger on the awesome season that never was, and do you know why? Because this year's Spartans are here to bring back glory to East Lansing.
What, they're unranked? Ha! Not a problem.
Too young? How about too legit.
Too many questions surrounding this team? Actually yes, that one is true. This team has just as many questions swirling around their heads as every other team in the past, if not more. Spartan Nation will look forward to seeing this year's squad go to work on the court, but look for these crucial questions to be answered during this vital year for MSU.
Right now Michigan State only has three centers on their roster, and one of them is red shirt senior Anthony Ianni. Haven't heard a whole lot about him? Well, there is a reason for that: He only played eight minutes all of last year.
This year holds a strong possibility that Ianni will grab some playing time with limited depth at the center position, mostly due to the fact that Garrick Sherman transferred and Delvon Roe's injuries have held him back from playing this season.
If Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne get in to foul trouble or get bit by the injury bug it is more than likely you will see Ianni play. Ianni may not have the experience that Spartan fans would like, but with a short bench expect him to play some crucial minutes.
I'll just say it right now: Keith Appling's play may make or break the Spartan's season. The reason this is true is because:
1) He is the starting point guard, which is the basketball equivalent to a quarterback. If he doesn't play good, the team doesn't do good.
2) If he does under-perform, there is only one true point guard left on the bench—freshman Travis Trice. Brandon Wood and Brandon Dawson could dabble at the position, but shooting guard is most likely where they will be the majority of the season. Basically what is being said is that Appling has a crucial role with a team that doesn't have a lot point guards to fall back on.
3) There is no question Appling is one of State's best players. Last year he was mediocre at most times, but then again, he was just a freshman. Since Appling could be a star on this team he is going to be expected to control the game and possibly win them some.
On a team that lacked in field goal percentage and was missing a pure shooter, Russell Byrd may get some serious attention in the Spartan's offense.
Byrd is one of those players that can drain a three ball from anywhere reasonable on the floor, making him a tremendous scoring threat. All signs point to Byrd having a brilliant season off the bench and in clutch situations, but there are some issues that could bog him down.
The first is his foot that sidelined him for all of last season. Reports say that foot is ready for action right now, but if he gets re-injured you could see him on the sidelines for another full season.
Another issue is the fact that he hasn't played one minute of college ball yet. I'm not saying that Byrd is most likely going to be a flop, but that possibility is always there.
Depending on what program you're looking at, sophomore center Adreian Payne is anywhere from 6-foot-10 to seven feet. Last year looking at his numbers, you would never guess he is that tall.
Granted Payne isn't ripped like a Mr. Universe contestant, but he should have still done more damage than just 2.5 points and 2.4 rebounds per game. Now that Payne is the second center on this team behind Nix, he should be seeing a lot more playing time than last season, giving him a key role on this team.
If Payne cannot perform to his expectations the Spartans will have a rough time generating any offense in the paint. Luckily for the Spartans Payne did show great improvement on his footwork throughout last season, so Michigan State fans can be hopeful on a good season from the Payne Train.
If there is one thing Austin Thornton did really good last year, it was getting the ball, dribbling it twice, and passing it off to someone to reset the offense. I love the guy, and it hurts to say, but in all honesty its true.
Now that he is in his senior season, Austin Thornton will need to contribute more than just 2.0 points and .7 assists per game. Not only will he need to be a solid swing man, but he will need to display leadership on the floor.
Over the years Thornton has not shown a great deal of improvement, but now that he will be getting a good number of starts this year he will need to step his game up.
And as far as this picture goes, I'm not sure if that's the defensive stance you want to be in for this situation.
Freshman phenom Brandon Dawson comes into this season with high expectations from being a five-star recruit, so there's some pressure right there.
All in all the fourth-best shooting forward recruit prides himself on athleticism, speed, and the fact that he is one of the best rebounding recruits in the nation. With those assets Dawson has incredible potential to grab a fair share of starts this season.
Dawson will be called on Izzo to defend opposing teams' premier players, be the centerpiece of some offensive play calls, and to crash the boards on both ends of the court.
If Dawson plays like half the player he is expected to be, than State could be seeing their biggest prodigy since Kalin Lucas walked into town.
There is no stat, no numbers, or no scientific way to break this one down, but if you watched any of the games last year you would notice something different with Izzo.
Some fans pointed out that he wasn't as passionate on the sidelines, keeping it calm even in the worst of situations. A few blamed it on the Cavalier fiasco, others thought he was sick of the team chemistry issues, and some thought he is simply losing his passion.
Now with a fresh start with a fairly new team, Izzo can look at building a new dynasty, which could mean a restored flame. Even if last year wasn't Izzo's fault, it still would only benefit the team if he brought that passion back to the bench, possibly by getting in some of his players' face and acting like a mad man again.
All-Horizon League hoop star Brandon Wood has decided to wrap up his last year of eligibility in East Lansing, which is great news for the Spartans.
Last year at Valparaiso Wood averaged just over 16 points, making him the leader of his team and third in the conference. Now some may say that average is escalated because he played in a small conference, but Wood has proved he can explode against top-tier teams.
Last year against the North Carolina Tar Heels he dropped 30 points and the year before that he lit the Spartans up for 24 points. This not only proves he can hang with top level competition, but he can also rise to the occasion and be a game changer.
Wood will help the Spartans not only with a scoring threat, but he has the possibility of adding depth to the point guard position.
Before I say anything else, let me tell you that Trice will be the most underrated recruit in this year's class. Michigan State and Dayton were the only two schools to offer Trice a scholarship, and the Ohio Gatorade Player of the Year elected to be a Spartan.
Izzo has already come out and said he has the highest basketball IQ out of any freshman he has ever brought in. Trice is also noted as being a great shooter, putting his range at 25 feet away from the net, which is somewhere around the ticket booth.
Basically, Trice can make an impact immediately, but has he learned the Spartan offense yet? There is no doubt he will be grabbing some big minutes being the second point guard behind Appling, so he will have to learn the system quickly to prove to everyone he should have been more than a three-star recruit.
Three key players have left Michigan State for three different reasons, some bad, and others understandable. No matter what the reasons for their departure, there is no question that the Spartans will miss them; the only question is how much will me miss them.
Korie Lucious, who was excused from the team for disclosed reasons (they're not good though), would have been Appling's partner in crime at the point guard position. Now that his senior leadership is missing the back court will heavily rely on two underclassmen.
Two big men, Garrick Sherman and Delvon Roe, both left for personal reasons, with Sherman leaving for multiple reasons and Roe stepping out due to injuries. State will miss Sherman's signature pump-fake then go to an up-and-under-reverse-even-though-no-one-was-around-anyway move. That thing was golden.
The Spartans will also miss Roe's work ethic and scrappy defensive play, but with the way he has been playing through a multitude of injuries, it isn't a huge surprise to see him leave this season.
All in all Michigan State is going to miss these three upperclassmen at two positions they find themselves thin in.
For his first two years Derrick Nix looked like a left tackle, clocking in at 290 pounds. Now if you see Nix, he will look a Subway "after" picture since he shaved of nearly 40 pounds in the offseason. This is already great news for Michigan State and the former Michigan "Mr. Basketball" award winner who will be handed a great number of starts this season.
Again, the green and white are a little skinny at the center position (literally and figuratively), so Nix will be getting a whole lot more than the eight minutes a game he averaged last year.
Another question in this category could be, "How will Nix play 40 pounds lighter?" It would make sense for him to perform better with his healthier body, but then again he hasn't played in this frame for quite an amount of time.
If you ask me, this was the biggest reason State tanked last year.
Too many egos, too much drama, and way too many distractions stopped the Spartans from doing anything productive with their season.
What exactly happened in the locker room that fans never saw? Well if I had a dollar for every negative story I heard around campus I could be paying tuition right now. But they could just be rumors.
None of the stories are credible enough to put on paper since they were just rumors flying around campus, but let me tell you that if half of them are true than last years locker room chaos resembled the set of Jerry Springer.
All in all the chemistry needs to improve, or we could very well be seeing a replay of last season.
As Tom Izzo said, "I wanted to dummy down the schedule this year, that is why we are opening up with North Carolina and Duke."
Funny, but after those two games the schedule really is watered down. The Spartans play 11 more games after Duke before Big Ten play kicks off, and nine of them are at home. The hardest opponent they will see is Florida State and Gonzaga, and the rest of the teams could hold a good game against high schoolers.
I am all for bringing down the schedule from last year when the squad was traveling every other week to play other powerhouses, but now I am starting to wonder if this will benefit them. Sure, they may not be as tired and worn down after these games, but will they be prepared for conference play?
They are easy ones to win, but those easy teams on the schedule could hurt them if it doesn't prepare them for the Big Ten schedule.
Just like Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers last season, Draymond Green walks in with the highest expectations of anyone on the team.
Now the million dollar question: Will we have a Lucas season, or a Summers season?
What I mean by that is will Green step up to the plate and take the team under his wing like Lucas did, or will he flop and, well you know, have a season that Summers had?
No telling yet, but after a season of playing with the USA University team something tells me that Green will be ready to put this season on his back.
If you have been an avid Michigan State fan for the Tom Izzo era, you know exactly what I am talking about.
Last season there seemed to be something missing in the Spartans: grit and speed. Back in the good ol' days the Spartans were a team that loved the up-tempo game, scoring on fast breaks and pushing the ball up court immediately after the opposing team scored.
MSU was also a very physical team, probably stemming from the drill where they would throw on football pads and basically play "kill the guy with the ball" during practice. It was simply the Spartan way of winning, running past you and kicking your #$% while doing it.
Last year the Spartans took a step back from that, straying away from a lot of fast breaks and playing a little softer than the usual. For Spartan Nation, hopefully that was just a one time deal, because that was the recipe to making Big Ten titles and Final Four runs.