November 8, 2007

Big Ten Basketball Preview - Michigan State

Everybody's favorite pick to be Big Ten Champs. Hard to argue against Coach Izzo and his spartans. They are the only team with a .500 record or better who return all 5 starters. But does 5 returners from an 8-8 team automatically make them better than the rest of the league? I'm not sold. Exhibition games are usually meaningless and a loss in these games is usually a fluke. But when MSU loses to Grand Valley State and then really struggles with Michigan Tech, that should tell you something.

Michigan State was great on defense last year (the best in Izzo's tenure) but struggle on offense. Izzo has some athleticism injected into this year's lineup with Lucas and Summers plus a couple of great players in Neitzel and Morgan. Will that lead to a Big Ten title?

PG - Travis Walton - described by Sports Illustrated as 'ultra-tough' and the man who 'rules the locker room.' ''He is becoming one of the best leaders we've ever had,'' says Coach Izzo. In last season's upset of Wisconsin Walton chipped in 13 points, 10 assists and 7 rebounds. Walton is unknown by much of the Big Ten fandome but he is clearly the spoon that stirs the drink for the spartans.

SG - Drew Neitzel (pictured right)- Big Ten preseason POY and an All-American (preseason). Neitzel is a fun player to watch, he scores, he distributes and he leads. He has a shot that is incredibly quick and his footwork is reallyfun to watch. As was seen at times last year he can absolutely take over a game as he nearly single handedly beat Ohio State in Columbus. He should have more help in the backcourt allowing him to keep his legs fresh and his

SF - Raymar Morgan - uber talented 'slasher'. Morgan can play either forward spot and defend great regardless of who he is defending. He is tough and rebounds, but can he start to take on even more of the scoring load? I think he'll have to.

PF - Marquise Gray - 6'8" and athletic, Gray is one of the 4 returning posts for MSU. That is a good thing, except that none were consistently able to help on the offensive end. Gray is the most talented and the most inconsistent. His consistent scoring will probably be the biggest factor in the spartans running to a Big Ten title.

C - Goran Suton - the team's leading returning rebounder and 3rd leading scorer. That is nice to have returning but to go with his 9.3 ppg and 6.7 rpg he also contributed a team high 90 turnovers. Word is that he had a great offseason and has greatly improved. Time will tell.

Key Bench - Kalin Lucas - backup PG who is VERY quick. Lucas' ability to give good minutes off the bench will be a huge gift to Walton and Neitzel as their legs will be fresher to finish games.
Key Bench - Durrell Summers - another offensively gifted freshman who will give a spark off the bench and take pressure off the forwards and eat up quality minutes. Summers is 6'5" and very good at slashing to the lane and creating off the dribble.
Key Bench - Chris Allen - this scoring freshman (great shooter) should be a big boost of offense off the bench.
Key Bench - Drew Naymick - 6'10" senior center and the only other senior besides Neitzel. Naymick may start at center but I'll put him as a key big man off the bench. The team's best interior defender will see a lot of playing time and will likely finish more games than he starts.

Prediction - Michigan State brings back a very talented team and has an infuse of offensively talented freshmen to share the load (without having to carry the burden). They have the makings of a Final Four team with a dynamic, scoring guard and a team that plays great defense on the perimeter and in the paint.

Based on scheduling and their early struggles I don't see them winning the Big Ten regular season. But come tourney time look out as MSU will cut down the nets in Indianapolis and earn the Big Ten's automatic bid into the NCAA Tourney.

Officially? 13-5.

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