KJ of The Only Colors agreed to pitch in and answer some questions about Michigan State’s upcoming season. KJ has a few more friends at The Only Colors and they even talk football, but we know that he is a basketball blogger at heart. Make sure to bookmark the site or add it to your RSS reader because KJ is one of the best when it comes to statistical analysis.
Could things really be better (on the basketball court) in East Lansing? What are your expectations for this year’s team?
Well, it’s going to be tough to top the 2008-09 season: an outright Big Ten championship to end a 7-year title drought and a run all the way to the national championship game to extend Tom Izzo’s every-four-year-player-has-been-to-a-Final-Four streak. But we certainly have a lot of great pieces back. The question is whether they can gel as well as the 2009 team did down the stretch. Contention for a repeat conference championship and another run to the Final Four are certainly reasonable goals. If the team doesn’t hit one of those two goals, the season will likely go down as a disappointment.
Kalin Lucas is easily the best point guard in the conference, maybe even the country, but does Michigan State really have the best backcourt in the nation?
The potential is there. The question is whether Durrell Summers and/or Chris Allen can take the next step as juniors. Summers, in particular, could conceivably become a 15-points-per-game scorer if he can shoot the ball consistently and make good decisions with the ball. Really, though, Tom Izzo-coached teams (like most basketball teams) succeed when a 8 to 9 players fit together into a cohesive unit, rather than relying on a single player or unit.
I think the departures of Goran Suton and Travis Walton will have a stronger effect than people expect. Suton was a warrior down the stretch and Walton was the defensive stopper that is a staple of Izzo teams. Who replaces Suton’s role? Walton’s?
Replacing Goran Suton is a tall order. As a senior, he did everything you can ask a big man to do: rebound the ball, play savvy defense in the post, handle the ball in traffic, shoot the ball from the outside. The hope is that Delvon Roe, who is reportedly 100% recovered from his knee surgeries, can step into the role of primary post player (more on that below).
Replacing Travis Walton will need to be more of a team effort. Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers will need to step up on defense to guard the opposition’s top perimeter scorers. Frankly, I expect the team will be a little weaker on defense with Walton gone. The trick may be to make sure they improve enough on offense to offset that eventuality.
Let’s talk freshmen… Who’s coming in, who’s an instant contributor, who’s a redshirt?
The two new guys are Garrick Sherman and Derrick Nix. Neither comes in being considered an instant-impact player, but at least one of them will need to play 10-15 minutes per game off the bench behind Roe and Draymond Green. (Tom Herzog being the other returning big man.) Nix would be the slight favorite to redshirt among the two, only because he may need to lose some more weight, but it’s quite possible neither redshirts. Getting good contributions from the second team down low is going to be a major key in determining how good this MSU team turns out to be.
Lucas, Raymar Morgan, and Roe are the locks. Summers or Allen will fill the other guard spot. Draymond Green will almost certainly play the most minutes behind Roe down low, but Tom Izzo could use Herzog (a redshirt junior 7-footer) as a starter and bring Green off the bench as an energy guy.
December 1 is the date we’ve all circled on our calendars. That’s the day MSU gets it shot at vengeance against North Carolina for running us off the court at Ford Field twice last season. We’ve also got Gonzaga (at home), Florida (in New Jersey), and Texas (in Austin) on the nonconference slate. Per usual, Izzo will test this team pretty thoroughly before they get to Big Ten play.
Give me a reason why MSU won’t repeat as Big Ten champs?
Stated simply: Because the rest of the conference is going to get better. If Robbie Hummel’s back cooperates, Purdue will be a top-ten team. And Minnesota, Michigan, and Ohio State all have the pieces in place to make a run at the conference title. If MSU wins back-to-back titles, they will have earned it. I don’t expect the sea to part like it did last season.
With Roe becoming the primary guy in the post, Green steps into the glue-guy power-forward role. As a freshman, Green was productive on both ends of the court, becoming a key contributor in MSU’s NCAA Tournament run. There’s every reason to think that’ll continue into his sophomore season. I agree completely about the making-plays thing; the man is simply a basketball player.
Talk to me about Delvon Roe. He dominated Michigan last year but that was arguably his best game of the year. He obviously has plenty of potential but what do you expect?
As a freshman, he had the luxury of focusing on rebounding and defense and letting the other guys worry about scoring. The Michigan game was really his one big scoring outburst. I think you’ll see a major leap forward this year. His knees are reportedly 100% now. And he showed a great knack for getting to the line last season. Assuming he can get his free throw shooting percentage up (and there are reasons to think he will), we’ll see a lot more double-digit scoring games from him this season.
Most feared player in the Big Ten?
Evan Turner. He can contribute in so many ways, so you can’t stop him just by denying good looks at the basket. His only Achilles’ heel last season was turning the ball over against good defenses–something that should improve with another year of experience.
Runner-up: Robbie Hummel. In some ways, Hummel is a little overrated, given that Purdue’s offense doesn’t run through him. Nevertheless, the guy always seem to make just the right basketball play at just the right moment. (Think of him as “the world’s most dominant role player.”)
Predicted record (and conference record) for MSU?
At this point, I’ll say 11-2 in nonconference play and 14-4 in conference play. That should be good for at least a share of the conference title and a #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Any last words?
One aspect of the season I’m really looking forward to is that MSU and U-M get to play twice this season, after the two-year one-game-only period of the conference scheduling cycle. Great timing, with both teams returning a lot of talent. The game to close the Big Ten regular season in East Lansing could have a whole lot riding on it for both teams