It’s that time of year again Spartans. Tournament time. The time of year that makes everything worth it. All the football disappointment. All the shitty parking tickets we had to sift through. All the unshoveled sidewalks we have to walk on. All the girls that shoot us down at Harper’s (maybe that’s just me). It’s the time of year that being a Spartan fan is finally worth it.
And even more there’s a lot of potential (and mini story lines) in this team.
1. The play of Adreian Payne.
Over the past month or so, AP has established himself as the Spartans top player. He’s a great defender and rebounder and now has an NBA-type jump shot (for a big man at least). But along with that new silky jay is the bittersweet realization that he could jump ship after the season is over. If he has a great tournament say, 14 pts 9 rebs and a couple blocks per game and helps lead the Spartans to a later round (or Championship, fingers crossed), this will most likely be his final few games. (For more input check out my earlier article on AP, wink wink, but no seriously stop what you’re doing and go read it)
Gary Harris is one of the best freshman in the country and has shown no fear of the limelight (see: first Indiana game). I don’t think the pressure of the tournament will really get to him, so no worries there. Also, the only way I see him leaving is if we win the championship or if he plays out of his mind. Both are possibilities but still, I hope Izzo can make him see that he needs at least another year to develop. I would hate to see another athletic guard leave too early then fizzle in the NBA. Yeah I’m talking to you Shannon Brown. The other two are the ones that could decide our fate. After starting the season looking like a complete stud, Dawson has put together an alarming string of no shows. He hasn’t scored double digits in over a month and has even lost playing time to Valentine late in close games. Will this continue in the tournament though? Against all the evidence, I think he has the chance to snap out of it (yes, I’m biased). The Spartans had a string of incredibly tough Big Ten opponents and then a couple of high intensity conference tournament games. It’s pretty obvious that the B10 is the most physical conference in the nation so think of how physical that competition and opposing defense has been against him night after night. My theory is that Dawson will be shocked back to being a contributor when he has the chance to flex his muscle (literally) against non-Big Ten teams. With a comparatively weaker man guarding him he’s going to feel like Marshawn Lynch in Beast Mode. Denzel Valentine, on the other hand, is more likely to struggle. He hasn’t shown himself to be a strong ball handler when the pressure is on and a lot of tournament teams will press him. I see Travis Trice quietly stealing more of Denzel’s time as we advance.
3. Which side of Appling are we going to get?
Appling has been the Spartans indicator of success for most of the year. When he’s on, we look unstoppable, when he’s not… So which one will show up? The one that gets to the rack at ease and can finish with an array of athletic moves OR the one that lazily gave the ball away in the waning seconds of the Michigan game1. Spartan nation is praying for the former.
It seems like just yesterday that Derrick Nix was an ultra pudgy, oddly galloping freshman just standing at the free throw line on the verge of tears. Now look at him. He’s a captain and leader of this team. He’s evolved into a virtual from the low block and, surprisingly, at the line. And his play down low could turn us into a force in this tournament. Not many teams outside of the B10 have the strength down low to bang with Nix. And considering this is his senior year you know he has to be hungry. Like real hungry. Like just hung out with Korie Lucious hungry2. LET THE BIG DOG EAT!!!!
First game is tomorrow at noon against Valparaiso. Go Green.
1. As far as I’m concerned this game never happened. Neither did the football game this year. In my mind we’ve never lost to Michigan before and there’s a ten minute temper tantrum coming your way if you try to tell me otherwise.
2. I saw him buy blunt wraps and snacks at QD once. I’m no scientist but…