Michigan State Basketball: How They Grade for the First 10 Games of the Season

Seth NewmanCorrespondent IDecember 12, 2011

Michigan State Basketball: How They Grade for the First 10 Games of the Season

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    Through 10 games this season the Spartans are 8-2.

    They have shown the ability to become once again the nation's best rebounding team.

    MSU's only losses came to No.1 North Carolina and then No. 6 Duke. Since then, the Spartans have won eight-in-a-row and have beaten Florida State and Gonzaga.

    We'll take a look at who's making the Spartans a success this season and how they are doing it.

#0 Redshirt Freshman Russell Byrd

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    Russell Byrd has had a tough start to his Spartan career due to three surgeries on his foot.

    Coming out of high school, he was known as one of the best three-point shooters in the nation.

    It hasn't translated into success so far this season, and Byrd is struggling to regain his basketball composure.

    The Spartans desperately need a consistent threat from downtown, and that will be Byrd's role as he matures. He just has to keep shooting the ball to knock all that rust off from sitting after all those surgeries. He is shooting 22 percent from beyond the arc and averaging 1.7 points a game.

    I hope Byrd is able to recover and not become the next Delvon Roea highly-touted recruit that had to cut his career short due to recurring injuries.  

    Grade: C 

#2 Redshirt Freshman Alex Gauna

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    Alex Gauna only plays when centers Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne are in foul trouble, which has been more often than not this season.

    However, Gauna has been a surprise on the offensive side of the ball. He only takes shots that he will make. As a result, he is shooting 63 percent from the field.

    That's extremely good for a freshman.

    The only thing he needs to work on is his defense especially in the post.

    Coach Izzo recently hounded him for that in the Spartans last game against Gonzaga. Gauna has been a pleasant surprise this season and has earned himself a small role position and is averaging 2.8 points per game.  

    Grade: B- 

#3 Freshman Brandan Kearney

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    There were questions before the season as to whether Kearney would redshirt this year or not.

    Kearney didn't, and his playing time has increased as the season moves forward. One knock against coming in was that he didn't have a college body yet and that he was too weak to play this year.

    He has proved those critics wrong.

    Coach Izzo even admitted he was wrong about Kearney.

    Kearney has shown the ability to crash the boards and scrap for the ball. That's the only role Kearney will have this season as there are many other options to score right now. 

    Grade: B- 

#5 Sophomore Adreian Payne

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    Adreian Payne is learning his role as a center this season.

    Michigan State has quite the combo at center with Payne and Derrick Nix, two completely opposite players.

    Payne is the long and athletic of the two centers. He has the ability to finish with flashy dunks and block anyone's shot.

    He is going to crush his point total from a year ago which was 85he already has 74 points through 10 games.

    He is averaging 1.2 blocks a game. He has to be talked about as the most improved player on this team from a year ago.

    The only knocks on him are his stupid fouls that get him time on the bench and occasional games where he disappears for more than 10 minutes at a time. His averages are up from last year with 2.4 rebounds a game to 5.1 and points going from 2.5 to 7.4. 

    Grade: B+ 

#11 Sophomore Keith Appling

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    Keith Appling has become the scorer most Spartans fans were hoping for when he committed to MSU.

    Appling is best when leading the fast break and in transition. Coach Izzo is always pleading with Appling to speed the game up because he is most effective during that phase.

    I think once Draymond Green leaves after this season Appling will be the clear leader of this team.

    Appling is averaging 11.6 points per game this season while crashing the boards with 3.6 rebounds a game. Appling has been asked to play point guard this season, a role he is not familiar with. He is a natural scorer, not a passer, but has done an admirable job in this capacity so far this season. 

    Grade: A- 

#13 Redshirt Senior Austin Thornton

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    Austin Thornton is every Michigan State fan's excuse for a bad game or more commonly their favorite whipping boy.

    He is the single most criticized player on the team.

    Mostly, it's not his fault that he makes so many mistakes.

    Tom Izzo just plays him way too much.

    Every time Thornton touches the ball every Spartan fan is thinking, "Damn it Thornton, don't screw up." In fact, recently on MSU forums, because of Thornton's increased playing time, fans were questioning whether he would play over QB Kirk Cousins in a football game.

    One thing I admire about Thornton is that he knows fans are uneasy about him. He has fun with it and jokes around about it.

    This season Thornton has surprised me and has become a good role player.

    He is the most scrappy player on the team and is constantly on the ground for a rebound or poking the ball away from some unsuspecting guard.

    His 13 point outburst against Arkansas-Little Rock was a complete surprise. Thornton has worked hard to be on the floor, and he is finally getting better on the court.

    I'll compare this year's total of only 10 games to his whole career.

    This year's totals33 rebounds, 14 assists, 1 block, 10 steals and 36 points.

    Thornton's previous 3 years combined were 127 rebounds, 40 assists, 3 blocks, 12 steals, and 135 points.

    So, as you can see, he is finding a rhythm for his senior season. 

    Grade: B  

#20 Freshman Travis Trice

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    So far, Travis Trice has been the best freshman on the court this season for the Spartans.

    While he looks extremely young, he already has a mature attitude on the court and play making ability. 

    He has been the most consistent three-point shooter this year for the Spartans.

    Trice running more point guard should allow Appling to play his natural position as shooting guard. Trice is averaging 6.8 points, 2.1 assists, and 2.2 rebounds per game.

    The point average is better through 10 games as a freshman than other Spartan greats Kalin Lucas and Drew Neitzel.

    Trice does make his fair share of freshman mistakes and Izzo is always getting on him to make better decisions.

    Trice will be an exciting player to watch over the years for MSU.

    Grade: B+  

#22 Freshman Branden Dawson

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    Branden Dawson was the gem of Michigan State's recruiting class last year.

    He already has an NBA-ready body. He is very athletic and has the ability to jump out of the arena. His stats are good for a freshman with 7.2 points per game and 4.5 rebounds.

    Despite those numbers, Dawson has had some early season struggles.

    He sometimes looks lost of both sides of the ball.

    With Dawson on the court, it sometimes looks like it's Dawson and four other Spartans, instead of a complete team on the court. He has the ability to become one of the best to play for Michigan State, but he just has to get into the game plan more and stop committing fouls early in the game that take him out for long periods of time.

    This grade is more reflective of what he can be and what everyone expects of him.  

    Grade: C 

#23 Senior Draymond Green

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    Draymond Green is clearly the leader of this team. He is a coach on the court and is constantly talking to everyone making sure they know what their job is.

    Green has come a long way from being that chubby freshman that people referred to as the "dancing bear."  His summer workouts have paid off and inspired Derrick Nix to lose over 70 pounds.

    Green is one of the most underrated players in the nation.

    He does everything for the team and already has a few triple-doubles in his career. His stats back him up: 9.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.0 blocks, 1.8 steals, and 16.3 points per game.

    He most recently put the team on his back against Gonzaga and dropped 34 points. The only thing Green needs to work on is his shot selection.

    An all-time great Spartan.  

    Grade: A  

#25 Junior Derrick Nix

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    As said earlier, Michigan State has quite the combo at center.

    Derrick Nix is the bruiser at this position. He tires opponents out and bangs with them on the glass.

    Each season, Nix has gotten into better shape and worked on his free throws. Things seem to be coming together for Nix, and his maturity is light years ahead of what is was a year ago.

    Unselfishly, he volunteered to start on the bench in favor of Adreian Payne.

    Nix is getting it going this season with 6.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.0 steals, and 1.2 assists.

    Nix and Payne are the perfect compliments for each other.

    Nix still needs to work on not putting the ball on the ground when he is in the post and not committing stupid fouls early in the game. 

    Grade: B+ 

#30 Senior Brandon Wood

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    Brandon Wood came to Michigan State this season after transferring from Valparaiso.

    He has helped in the scoring department, but he is not consistent. One game he will drop 20 points, and the next he will score only five. I think because it's his first year, and he is starting.  He is still trying to gel with the team and find his role in the offense.

    He has hit boards hard which will always earn him respect from Izzo with 3.2 rebounds a game. He can dish the ball around too with 2.5 assists per game and is a scorer, averaging 9.4 points per game.

    Grade: B  

Season Outlook

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    This season is the complete opposite of last year's. This team is under the radar instead of being ranked No. 2  nationally.

    This year the Spartans think as a team instead of individuals.

    It also looks like Izzo is being vintage Izzo and is yelling until his throat bleeds.

    This team has been very impressive on the boards this year, and the defense has been a bright spot. They just having to find their shooting touch. 

    Michigan State has the ability to compete for the No. 2 spot in the Big Ten.  Ohio State is probably a lock for the top spot.

    I think this team can go anywhere from the Sweet 16 to the Final Four.

    This is a much better outlook than this team had starting the season.