Michigan State Basketball: Grading Each Spartan Player
Grading Every Michigan State Player During 2013-14 Season
The Michigan State Spartans have to be one of the favorites to make a deep run in March even after losing five of their last nine games in January and February. Since losing Branden Dawson to a hand injury, the Spartans have gone 4-5 and have been as mediocre and inconsistent as any team in the nation.
Prior to Dawson's injury, the Spartans posted an all-time best 18-1 record -- the best start in school history. However, the recent cold stretch has caused somewhat of a panic in East Lansing, especially with two losses to the in-state rival Michigan Wolverines. Michigan State has now lost six of the past eight to its fierce rival, but not being healthy has had a lot to do with the struggles this season.
Dawson has not been the only major injury. In fact, Adreian Payne missed about seven games with an injury of his own, but has come back with a vengeance. The big man is a projected first-round selection in the NBA draft, and he's been proving it all season long.
Dawson, Payne and Keith Appling have all suffered injuries this season and while Dawson and Payne should be back to 100 percent -- or close to it -- this week, but Appling has been struggling mightily on offense since returning from injury, averaging just 3.0 points and 4.0 assists per game.
With everyone back in the lineup this week, the Spartans should just get even scarier as the weeks wear on. Entering the month of March, the Spartans are still in second place in the Big Ten despite the 4-5 stretch they have suffered through.
Let's take a look at the grade's for each of Tom Izzo's players. Keep in mind that the walk-ons won't be included on this list because they do not play every day -- or close to it.
Connor Muldowney is a columnist for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @Connormuldowney, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google. You can also reach him at email@example.com.
Matt Costello: B-
Costello suffered from mono earlier in the season, causing him to be a non-factor in the early going. However, he has come back strong and played well in Payne's absence. However, he tends to disappear or get into foul trouble when Michigan State needs him the most.
Season stats: 4.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.4 blocks
Travis Trice: B+
Travis Trice has been one of the best backup point guards in the nation this season, filling in nicely for Appling during his injury and leading the Spartans to a 2-1 record in that time. Although Trice has had a tough time shooting from inside the three-point line, he is lethal from beyond the arc. His turnover-to-assist ratio is also pretty solid.
Season stats: 7.1 points, 2.4 assists, 1.6 rebounds, 45.1% 3FG
Branden Dawson: B-
The only reason I am giving Dawson a B- is because he caused his own injury by overreacting in a film session and smashing his hand on a table. Other than that, BJ has been as solid as they come, but his absence has caused a 4-5 record for the Spartans over a month-long stretch. He will likely get his grade up to a B+/A- by the end of the regular season if he performs like he's able to.
Season stats: 10.2 points, 8.7 rebounds, 60.4% FG
Alex Gauna: C-
It's hard to judge Gauna because he just hasn't had the playing time of the other guys on this list. He can be solid when he's in, but it's just not enough. He gets a C- by default.
Season stats: 1.8 points, 1.3 rebounds, 55.3% FG
Kenny Kaminski: B
Kenny Kaminski is one of the best three-point shooters in the Big Ten. If he hadn't gotten into trouble with academics earlier in the season, resulting in a suspension, he'd be closer to a B+, or so. While Kaminski isn't the best defender and he rarely posts up, he makes up for it with his three-point prowess.
Season stats: 5.9 points, 1.7 rebounds, 48.9% FG, 46.2% 3FG
Alvin Ellis III: B+
Alvin Ellis III is one of the most forgotten about players on Michigan State's roster. Many believe the freshman will be the go-to player in a couple of years, but for now he will settle for being a solid role player. Ellis is extremely efficient and produces at a high level when he does play.
Season stats: 8.5 minutes, 2.3 points, 52.4% FG, 50.0% 3FG
Gary Harris: A-
Sure, Gary Harris hasn't quite lived up to his expectations after a stellar freshman season, but he is still going to be the runner-up or even the winner of the Big Ten Player of the Year award. It's hard to give him anything lower than something in the A-range because he is the team's best defender and leading scorer.
Season stats: 17.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 2.0 steals
Gavin Schilling: C-
Gavin Schilling has been a work in progress all season long. I know a C- seems like a tough rating for a freshman big man who has yet to hit his stride, but that's exactly what it is -- he hasn't hit his stride. Schilling has the body and potential to be a great player for the Spartans, but he is so raw right now that he needs more playing time to learn from his mistakes.
Season stats: 6.8 minutes, 1.6 points, 1.7 rebounds, 54.5% FG
Russell Byrd: C-
Russell Byrd's injury-riddled career has been somewhat upsetting for anyone who has followed him. Byrd has never really lived up to his sharp-shooting expectations, but he has been a captain of this team and his leadership is the most impressive part of his game. He gets a C- because he shows signs of solid play -- just like his game-clinching shot against Iowa at the end of January.
Season stats: 8.1 minutes, 1.3 points, 1.1 rebounds, 32% FG
Keith Appling: B+
Appling is another guy that would be in the A-range if he was healthy and productive since returning from his injury. However, averaging just 3.0 points a game since his return has hampered the Spartans a bit. He will be an A by the end of the year -- I mean, he is going to be an NBA draft pick this year and all.
Season stats: 13.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.4 rebounds, 45.7% FG, 39.5% 3FG
Adreian Payne: A
Adreian Payne missed seven games with an injury and still managed to come back and perform even better. It looks like he will be a top draft pick this year, but he is worried about winning an NCAA title first. Payne is one of the most passionate players on the team and he was forced into a leadership role as well -- and he has excelled. The guy has been a force in the paint, out on the perimeter and on the defensive side of the ball.
Season stats: 16.4 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 52.5% FG, 42.6% 3FG
Denzel Valentine: B+
Denzel Valentine is a Draymond Green-type of player. He can do it all -- and do it all pretty well. However, Valentine is not an 'A' because of his inability to make the best decisions. At times, Denzel tries to be way too fancy instead of making the safe pass, and therefore, he turns the ball over more than he should.
Season stats: 8.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.1 steals