Breaking down Michigan State’s remarkable season

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“The Michigan State Spartans are going to have a down year.”

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“This is not a typical ‘Tom Izzo‘ team, they won’t go anywhere.”

“They are going to miss the tournament, and Izzo should be fired or retire.”


Yes. These are all things I have heard numerous times throughout the season from people regarding the Michigan State basketball team. Pretty crazy to hear when you think about a Tom Izzo-coached team. I’d say a 27-12 overall record, 12-6 regular season conference record, and a Final Four appearance is a pretty good “down year” to have. I’d also say that making the Final Four the first year after a senior class under Izzo failed to make a Final Four for the first time in his tenure is pretty remarkable. AND, that Izzo guy that should be fired, only continued to show that he’s called Mr. March for a reason, taking a unorthodox Izzo squad to an 8-2 record in March.

The Spartans had an unbelievable run this season, with a group of guys that really did not have a true go-to leader on the team….at least not from start to finish. Travis Trice was a coach’s favorite, team player, and fan favorite and it took until his senior season to start and become that leader Michigan State was looking for all season. He averaged 14.8 PPG this season, and his spirit, competitiveness, and will to win, combined with that chip on his shoulder, knowing the senior class before him missed the Final Four drove the Spartans to Indianapolis this season.

Branden Dawson averaged nearly a double-double the last two seasons for Tom. His presence in a game might be the biggest and most important out of the entire team. Over the last year and a half or so, he had lapses at times on the court, questioned at times by his coaches and some of the Spartan faithful. Some injuries the last few seasons have also slowed down Dawson’s true potential. He is a ridiculously athletic player who can dominate in the paint. If he can consistently work on his drive to perform, and improve some parts of his shooting game, he just might have a future in the NBA.

The young Spartans basketball squad lacked depth and go-to guys, as somebody different stepped up every game, with the exception of Trice. Denzel Valentine blossomed very well into a versatile player capable of filling up the stat sheet. He averaged 14.5 PPG this season, and shot better than 40% from 3-point land. The junior will have a much bigger role going into his senior season.

Izzo implemented a platoon system of big men throughout the season. Junior Matt Costello and sophomore Gavin Schilling never really took the reigns to become an everyday big man for MSU, as they have adapted to having over the years. Both have had plenty of bright spots and shown signs of development. Another year at Michigan State will be beneficial for both, as they will be expected to now play together, fill in for Dawson’s graduation and hopefully form a formidable front court for Tom in 2015-’16.

Majority of the role players for the Spartans are very young, but all saw solid playing time throughout the season.

Junior Bryn Forbes, who transferred over from Cleveland State and was a high school teammate of Denzel Valentine, became mostly a 3-point specialist off the bench for Izzo. He was rather inconsistent, only averaging 8.5 PPG and 26.2 MPG. He did have the highest 3-point FG% on the team at 42.7% and the second highest FT% at 80.8%. His role on the team will be much bigger next season.

Freshmen Lourawls Nairn, Jr. and Marvin Clark, Jr. appeared in all 39 games for Michigan state this season, and showed at times what they are capable of. Nairn, who is better known as “Tum Tum”, showed signs that he could be a true point guard for Tom Izzo over the next three seasons. He is not a guy that will score you a lot of points, but will find open shots for his teammates. Clark has a body frame like Branden Dawson, and if he can grab rebounds like him and be able to shoot from outside as he’s done at times (shot 33.9% from 3-point range this season), he too can be very promising for Izzo.

There will be two wildcard players for the Spartans next season. Freshman Javon Bess, who they really have high hopes for, only played in 13 games this season and was put on the shelf in February with foot injuries. He sat out the beginning of the season until playing in his first game in December. He struggled to play through it and once the injury re-emerged, it was not a tough decision to shut him down. A healthy Bess can help Michigan State in the coming years.

The other player to look out for is guard Eron Harris. Never heard of him? Harris never played in a single game for the Spartans this season due to NCAA eligibility regulations. He transferred after his sophomore season at West Virginia, where he was the second leading scorer during the 2013-’14 season (17.2 PPG). The red-shirt junior will have two years of eligibility left in him and will be an excellent scoring option for Michigan State.


Expect the Spartans to be a formidable team and tough out once again in the 2015-16 season. They will have three seniors in Valentine, Forbes, and Costello, and a wave of young talent either in their first or second season in the system. Dawson and Trice will surely be missed, but there are reinforcements coming in. Tom Izzo has a 5-star, McDonald’s All-American, Mr. Basketball in the state of Michigan power forward coming in next season, Deyonta Davis. The Muskegon product is 6’9″, 210 lbs. and will be another option in the paint for Tom Izzo. They also have a sharpshooter coming in who can drain it from downtown, Matt McQuaid. McQuaid has been said by many to be one of the best “pure shooters” in the country in his class.

I’d say things are shaping up pretty good for Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans in the long run. This Final Four run is a good step to continued success.

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Posted by Alex Muller
MSU Graduate. Just a city boy born and raised in south Detroit. Baseball is life, a pitcher at heart. Freelance writer for MIPrepZone (News-Herald, Press & Guide).