It’s that time of year again, the time where Spartans flex their muscle and the domination begins. And no I’m not talking about our annual beat down of Michigan.
It’s basketball season.
I know we technically already started but a 40 point blowout win against McNeese State isn’t a season opener, it’s an extended practice. The real deal tips off Tuesday when we face the number 1 ranked Kentucky Wildcats in the Champions Classic. But that game is a tale for another blog post
For now, I just want to talk about the season as a whole and what the Spartans are bringing to the table. SPOILER ALERT: They will be good, very good.
Senior PG Keith Appling and sophomore stud Gary Harris were both named second team All-Big Ten last year and Harris added Big Ten Freshman of the Year to those honors despite playing with two bum shoulders for a large portion of his freshman season. He’s already preseason Big Ten Player of the Year and, if not for some guy named Andrew Wiggins, might be on a very short list of preseason Player of the Year candidates. His never ending range, ability to hang in the air and finish in traffic, and 6’4”, 210 lbs frame make him an NBA lottery pick waiting to happen. Appling could play his way into a 2nd round pick if he can improve his outside shooting (too flat of a trajectory to ever be a consistent outside shooter) and consistency on defense. At times he locks people down but appears to take possessions off on that side. His tenacity and leadership will get us through multiple tough spots this season.
Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice make up the rest of the guard rotation. As a freshman last year, Denzel showed vision and basketball IQ far beyond his years. He reminds me of Draymond Green in the sense that he isn’t the most athletic, wasn’t a huge recruit, but by his senior year will go down as a beloved Spartan who contributed for four full years and helped get a lot of wins. His unselfishness has already gained him respect with his coaches, teammates, and the fans and I only see him getting better. Unbeknownst to fans, Travis Trice was battling a brain infection that saw him lose 20+ pounds from an already slight frame. Now fully recovered he’s our best shooter outside of Gary Harris.
Brandon Dawson is open about how badly he wants to go to the NBA. If that’s the case he must show this year that he can contribute on the offensive end. Nobody questions his athletic ability, rebounding, or defense, but his shot selection and touch around the rim are…let’s just say…not NBA ready. He needs to be a more consistent midrange shooter and develop some sort of go-to move near the basket. Whether that’s a baby hook or a some sort of push shot (ala Tristan Thompson of the Cleveland Cavaliers) he needs to show that his strength and offensive rebounding skills won’t go to waste.
I also want this on the record. *Ahem* I still have not given up on Russell Byrd!! He has a great stroke and I think all of his miscues last year were more due to lapses in confidence than anything else. This team is too good for him to break into any serious minutes but mark my words. Byrd will go 3-3 in some game this year and it will turn his basketball life around. Next year I see him being the shooter that he was recruited to be.
Adreian Payne is a monster. How many players in college have his skill set? Physically he’s athletic, long, and can run. He can grab ten boards a game, defend the rim, slam home putbacks, AND step outside and hit 3-pointers. He also is a reliable free throw shooter. He blows my mind and I love watching him play more than anyone else on the team. His senior season could see him blossom into a Serge Ibaka type player and lift him into NBA lottery pick range. His abilities are a rare sought after commodity in the NBA. He will be the anchor to our defense.
Of all of the players on the team I am most excited to see how Matt Costello comes out this year. He was quietly very, VERY efficient and effective as a freshman behind Payne and Nix last year. He blocked shots and played with great intelligence on both sides of the court. He’s the type of player that will play four years at Michigan State, get better every year, and quietly establish himself as a go-to player by year four (think Goran Sutton). This year he must only rebound, play solid defense, and stay away from bad shots to help this team succeed. His time in the spotlight will come later.
Finally, the last of the minutes in the rotation will go to Alex Gauna and Gavin Schilling. This is Gauna’s junior year despite good words from coaches has yet to look comfortable on the court. That could change this year but I see the freshman stealing his minutes if that doesn’t change quickly. Schilling was a last second recruit but is big, strong and willing to bang around down low. Izzo loves players like that so he’s already off to a positive start. In an offseason where our recruiting looked lost, Schilling might be a diamond in the rough.
Since Izzo took over at MSU, no four year players have failed to make the Final Four. The last time we made it was when Appling and Payne were seniors in high school. I don’t see that streak ending any time soon as this team has a very real potential of winning it all. In terms of top-to-bottom talent, this is a once in a decade MSU team. They have potentially four NBA prospects in their starting lineup (Harris, Payne, Appling, Dawson) plus depth at every position. They should have their eyes on the championship and nothing short of that should satisfy them.
Here’s to a great season fellas. Good luck!
Quick Weekly NFL picks
(all lines taken from Bovada)
As long as a spread is less than 14 points against the Jags, I’m comfortable taking it. Look for Chris Johnson to have another 100-yard rushing game.
Seneca Wallace was bound to fail last week. When you’re Aaron Rodger’s back up you know you aren’t going to play no matter how bad of a week Rodger’s is having. He was probably on the sideline signing his check when he realized he had to go in. With a full week of “I’m starting this week” practice he will be much better and the Eagles are terrible. I’ve won a lot of hypothetical money this year betting against this garbage team. Plus Clay Matthews is back.
On the road, I think odds are better EJ Manuel returns and is rusty than returns to pre-injury effectiveness.
I didn’t want to touch the 7.5 point spread but I see the Giants winning at home against Oakland. A team as bad as the Raiders doesn’t get much love from me when they are on the road. Plus it’s about that time of year when the Giants wake up and realize it’s time to start winning.
The Colts took a hit on offense when Wayne went down for the season. I still think they will win but I like the Rams to bring consistent enough pressure to Andrew Luck to cover a double digit spread.
I’m not ready to buy the Panthers as a team that beats the best teams yet. That being said, the ‘Hawkes have been very mortal the past few weeks so I didn’t like the 4.5 point spread. I see this game coming down to the wire and when that happens, I tend to side with Russell Wilson.
Too many injuries for the Bengals of late. Ravens win at home.
Suh will knock Cutler out of this game. And yes, it will be dirty.
Two mediocre teams except one has a rookie quarterback and the other has a great defense. I’ll take the Cards. Carson Palmer still sucks though.
I’m afraid to pick against Denver but I’m also afraid to take a 7 point spread against the Chargers. I’ll happily take the moneyline and parlay it with the next game.
New Orleans moneyline
I’m afraid to pick against the Saints…you get the point. Pair this with the Denver moneyline.
If I could take them straight up I would. Dolphins are in a bad place right now and the Bucs seem to stay in every game they play.
 No disrespect to the Cowboys but the Spartans are in another league this year. They never stood a chance.
 Although, for the record, I think our already established chemistry will be too much for their freshmen-dependent squad. Not that Kentucky won’t be good in a few weeks, but they will be overpowered by MSU this early in the season.
 If he continues to suck just pretend like I never said that.