East Lansing, Mich. — The Michigan State Spartans put together one marvelous season, especially considering how revamped the team was from a year ago. Michigan State came into the season with only three guys, Draymond Green, Austin Thornton, and Keith Appling, that averaged double-digit minutes per game. The Spartans finished the season with eight players averaging double-digit minutes, including major minutes from freshman Branden Dawson and Travis Trice.
Coach Izzo grabbed his 400th win this year, and added another milestone to his already stellar career.
With a Big Ten regular season and tournament championship in their possession, as well as a Sweet 16 finish, the Spartans did what no one thought they could.
The Spartans played and defeated 12 of the top 50 teams in the country, which played a major part in their granting of a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The biggest win of the Spartans season came against Ohio State when the Spartans defeated the then #3 Buckeyes on their home floor 58-48.
In that game, Michigan State fans were shown glimpses of the Adreian Payne that Spartan fans thought they would have coming into last season. The sophomore center scored a then career-high 15 points, and played a major role on the defensive end by containing Jared Sullinger.
AdreianPayne did improve as a player this year, but his inconsistency really hurt his confidence, and I believe held back the Michigan State Spartans. If Payne would have averaged at least 12 points and 7 rebounds, which I believe should be no problem for a player of his athletic ability, I wouldn’t be writing this season review right now.
Payne had Sullinger's number in all three match-ups.
Payne needs to continue to get stronger and develop a consistent 18 ft. jump shot. If he develops a consistent jump shot, mixed in with his ability to rise above anyone, he could easily be one of the more dominant players in the country.
While this Spartan team was not nearly as talented 1-15 like the team of a year ago, their bond and chemistry made them a better and more successful squad.
Head coach Tom Izzo really praised his team and their work ethic in his season-ending press conference.
“Talent isn’t everything,” Izzo said. “We’ve had the best team we have had in a while because of sacrifices and improvements this summer.”
One of the biggest sacrifices, no pun intended, was from Derrick Nix. The junior center worked over the summer to continue to lose weight, which in turn played a major role in his performance on the court.
Nix averaged 8.1 ppg and 3.8 rpg, which is a huge improvement from his 2.7 ppg and 2.0 rpg in the 2010-2011 season.
Aside from his obvious increase in scoring, one thing that Nix improved on a lot this year is his passing out of the post. There were a couple of times this season where Nix would give up wide open lay-ups just to get his teammates good three-point shots.
Nix could use to lose a few more pounds going into next season, “We hope to get Nix down to 260 early in the summer so he can live and grow at that weight,” Izzo said.
Derrick Nix still has a lot of room to grown as a player heading into his senior season. One thing that needs to improve is his skills in the post. While he is very shifty and has good feet for a big man, he also is very predictable and lacks a consistent right hand.
His predictability was evident against Louisville, as the big men of the Cardinals seemed as if they knew where he was going to be on every shot. They knew he was going to use the same up-and-under fake back to the left side, and they shut it down.
If Nix can continue to improve as a post player, and possibly become the leader of this Spartans team vocally, I think that he will have a tremendous senior season.
Speaking of sacrifices, the Michigan State Spartans got a major sacrifice from their sophomore point guard Keith Appling this season. Last year, Appling was playing on the wing for the Spartans and this season he made the transition to point guard. I believe the reason that this move was made is so that Appling and incoming freshman Gary Harris can play along side one another next year, if Appling didn’t move to point guard, I believe that he would not have started at shooting guard over the highly touted Gary Harris.
The sophomore point guard had a season full of highs and lows. There were times where he looked comfortable in the point guard position, like against Indiana where he had 25 points, 7 assists, and 6 rebounds. Then there were times where he looked uneasy at the position, like when he had 4 points and 5 turnovers in the loss to Illinois.
During this transition to point guard Appling did pick up the ability to involve his teammates more, but he lost his jump shot during this transition. He shot an eyebrow raising 25 percent from downtown, which is a HUGE decrease from his 41 percent as a freshman.
Now that Appling has another full off-season to work on his game as a point guard, and revamp his jump shot, I am expecting a huge season from Applingnext year, as one of the possible leaders of this Spartan team.
Appling needs to step into that leadership role next season that Draymond Green possessed this year.
While the returning players for the Spartans have a lot to look forward to, one thing that was never questioned during this whole season was the leadership from the senior class, especially Draymond Green.
Draymond Green had one of the best seasons in Michigan State history, as he averaged 16.2 ppg, 10.6 rpg, and 3.8 apg. While there was no question whether or not Green would get it done on the floor, his leadership on and off the court was a huge part in the Spartans success.
There may never be another leader like Draymond Green again, but he definitely set the bar really high.
Seniors Austin Thornton and Brandon Wood, who transferred from Valparaiso, stepped up and played major roles for the Spartans.
Thornton who has had a very up and down career at Michigan State finally found stability this season. Thornton averaged nearly 22 minutes per game this season, which is a major increase from his 11 minutes per game from last year.
Both him and Wood came up huge for the Spartans down the stretch, as they were the only guards consistently hitting jump shots.
The role that these two players had on Michigan State are the most under-appreciated roles from a public stand point.
All in all the Spartans started the season as an unranked and unaccomplished team. They finished the season the exact opposite, as they gained a #1 seed and grabbed all the possible credentials for a team in the Big Ten outside of a National Championship. This team had some of the best chemistry that has ever been seen in the Breslin and that was the main reason for their huge success. While the Spartans are losing arguably their best player since Mateen Cleaves in Draymond Green, they have a lot to look forward to with the young talent already on their roster and the incoming freshman. If the freshman coming in are able to buy into the system that the Spartans already have in place I see no reason why this team should not repeat as Big Ten Champions, and make a deeper run in the NCAA Tournament.