Michigan State, like so many other Big Ten teams is coming off the loss of their best player and leader. Draymond Green is a Golden State Warrior now, and he is not coming back to put on Spartan green anytime soon. So, now coach Tom Izzo must fill the void that Green has left in the Spartan lineup.
There are two voids that Green left. The first void, and the easier of the two to fill, is the need for a big man who can score and rebound. There are several candidates to fill this void on the roster.
First, there is Derrick Nix. Nix, the senior from Detroit, got in trouble last spring when he pleaded guilty to the charge of impaired driving. There was uncertainty on whether he would ever be back with the team after his arrest. But, he is back and as the lone senior on the team was selected as a co-captain. At 6-9 ft, Nix is a bit undersized. However, he more than makes up for that with his incredible strength. This makes him a fantastic rebounder and low-post defender.
Joining Nix down-low is junior Adreian Paine. Paine is also a very good low-post defender as well as rebounder. Together, Paine and Nix will be able to cover the rebounding load left by Green. Paine will also be a threat offensively. He can both score in the low post and make mid range jumpers. Big men in college who can step outside and hit shots are very valuable. It opens up the paint for the rest of his teammates by dragging his big-man defender out of the paint.
One of the players that can take advantage of this space is wing Brandon Dawson. Dawson, at 6-6 ft, combines the skills of a guard with the size and rebounding ability of a big-man. He missed the end of his freshman season last year after tearing his ACL against Ohio State. The former five star recruit has all the talent in the world and if healthy can become a stud on both ends of the court if he lives up to his potential.
Leading the backcourt is the combination of junior Kieth Appling, and freshman sensation Gary Harris. Appling, who has been inconsistent, has the skills and potential to be very good. Last year Appling was a third team All Big Ten honoree. He has tremendous speed and an ability to get to the rim. The problem is that at times he can try to force it. If he can become more consistent Appling can be a big piece of a successful team.
Harris will join Appling in the backcourt. Harris is a five star recruit from Indiana, known for his scoring abilities and tremendous athleticism. Harris’s development will be fascinating to watch throughout the season. He has what it takes to be a star and is one of the top few freshmen in the conference.
Other freshmen of note are Denzel Valentine and Matt Costello, both of whom are four star, top 100 recruits according to Rivals. Valentine is a versatile guard, who Izzo compared to Magic Johnson. If he is 10% of Magic Michigan State will have something special. Costello is a 6-9 power forward known for his shooting abilities. Expect both of these players’ roles to expand as the season progresses.
The second void that Green left is leadership. He was the heart and soul of the team and held them together during tough times last season. Who will step in to that role? There is no definitive answer to that important question. Nix, the only senior, has gotten in to trouble and has been called out for his work ethic. Juniors Appling and Paine are viable candidates to step up in to the role of leader, however there is just no way to know if they are capable. Wh0ever it is who steps up as the leader will shape the course of the season.
Izzo has the talent in place to make up for the loss of Green. I have no reason to think that Izzo won’t get the full potential out of this group. They have enough veterans back that have been deep in to the NCAA Tournament as well as some young talented players. Michigan State also has a remarkable amount of players who are good on both offense and defense. This gives Izzo versatility for his lineups. The Spartans are good enough to get a high NCAA Tournament seed and cause some trouble, again. Oh yeah, don’t forget that Michigan State is on Jabari Parker’s shortlist. If Izzo can score the standout Simeon forward there will surely be banners going up in East Lansing in the coming years. Big Ten Record Prediction: 12-6