Probably no team in the nation was more disappointing last season than Michigan State.
Tom Izzo’s club entered the 2010-11 campaign off back-to-back Final Four appearances and with a veteran cast in place: Sparty was ranked as the preseason No. 2 team in the land behind defending national champion Duke.
But the Spartans uncharacteristically underachieved, although injuries and a few surprise defections (Chris Allen, Korie Lucious) certainly hurt the team’s depth.
MSU was a pseudo-bubble team even to make the 2011 NCAA Tournament after finishing the regular season at 9-9 in the Big Ten. But two wins in the conference tournament, including an upset of then-No. 9 Purdue, assured a bid to the Big Dance—Michigan State’s 14th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.
But Sparty’s stay there was short, as MSU lost to UCLA, 78-76, in its first game of the tournament to conclude the year at 19-15. Izzo called the season possibly his most trying in East Lansing.
This season Sparty enters the season unranked for the first time in years, and they were picked by the media to finish third in the Big Ten behind defending champion Ohio State and Wisconsin (look for previews on those two coming soon).
2011-12 Michigan State Basketball Key Additions/Losses
The losses are significant for Izzo. Three starters have departed: Kalin Lucas, the former Big Ten Player of the Year and one of the school’s all-time great players, 2010 NCAA Tournament hero Durrell Summers and Delvon Roe.
The Roe departure was unexpected. He announced recently that he would not return to the team for his senior season because of recurring knee injuries. Roe was one of the nation’s top recruits out of high school, but his knees never allowed him to live up to expectations.
Also gone is center Garrick Sherman, who started 17 games a year ago. He transferred to Notre Dame.
The biggest addition, this season at least, is likely to be shooting guard Brandon Wood. He transferred from Valparaiso but is eligible right away because of an NCAA loophole regarding graduate programs.
Wood started 64 games at Valpo and was the Horizon League's No. 3 scorer last season at 16.7 points per game, and was the only non-senior chosen to the all-league first team. Izzo was familiar with Wood considering he scored 24 points against the Spartans two seasons ago. He should start right away.
Of the arriving freshmen, McDonald’s All-American forward Branden Dawson should have the biggest imprint, especially with Roe and Sherman gone.
Redshirt freshman guard Russell Byrd (missed last season with foot injury) also should be part of the rotation. Overall there are seven players on the 14-man MSU roster who have never played a game for Sparty.
2011-12 Michigan State Basketball Outlook
The two starters back are guard Keith Appling and versatile forward Draymond Green. In 22.9 minutes per game as a freshman, Appling averaged 6.4 points per game, 2.8 rebounds per game, and 1.3 assists per game. Izzo is expecting Appling to score more (after deferring to Lucas in 2010-11) and get shots for others. He's moving from mostly wing player to mostly point guard.
Green (6-foot-7, 230 pounds) is one of the most unique players in college basketball. He had two triple-doubles last year, but he also can play point guard and shoot from three-point range despite looking like a taller Charles Barkley. He led MSU in assists, steals and rebounds a year ago.
The three other starters will be Wood, Dawson and either junior center Derrick Nix, who averaged just 8.2 minutes a game a year ago (but has lost more than 25 pounds), and sophomore center Adreian Payne, who averaged just nine minutes last season.
That frontcourt looks a bit thin. MSU is always among the top rebounding teams in the country. And a big reason for last season’s fall was that MSU fell to No. 70 in the country in offensive rebounding, the first time out of the top 10 for Sparty since 2006.
2011-12 Michigan State Basketball Schedule
Arguably no coach in college basketball schedules a more difficult nonconference schedule than Izzo does.
And it all starts in the season opener, Nov. 11, in the inaugural Carrier Classic against top-ranked North Carolina aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson at San Diego harbor. The game will be played in front of thousands of service members, and President Obama is expected to attend. MSU will wear unique camouflage uniforms.
Four days after the Carrier Classic, Michigan State will be in New York to play No. 6 Duke at Madison Square Garden in the Champions Classic.
It’s a lock that Blue Devils Coach Mike Krzyzewski will be looking for record-setting win No. 903 to pass Bob Knight as the winningest Division I men's coach in that game. Duke has two cupcake games before the MSU matchup, so Coach K will be tied with Knight entering the Sparty game.
The Spartans will finish their ACC gauntlet against Florida State, projected to finish behind UNC and Duke in the conference, on Nov. 30. And MSU also visits No. 23 Gonzaga on Dec. 10. Big Ten play starts Dec. 28 against Indiana.
2011-12 Michigan State Predictions
Izzo says he hasn’t been this uncertain about his team since his first two seasons as Jud Heathcote’s successor in the mid-1990s. And it is hard to know what to make of Sparty with so many newcomers.
But it’s hard to doubt Izzo. I would think that Michigan State finishes fourth in the Big Ten (behind OSU, Wisconsin and Michigan) and certainly gets to the Big Dance for a 15th season in a row.
However, the Sweet 16 is probably the limit for Sparty, which is +2500 to win the national title at WagerWeb, unless more than a few players exceed expectations.
Doc Moseman is the owner of Doc’s Sports picks Web site.