EDITORIAL: MSU freshman Deyonta Davis should return for sophomore year

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The 2015-16 edition of the Michigan State Spartans basketball team had everything to make a title run – a bonified and versatile play-maker, the ability to shoot from outside and take it down low when they wanted, and an unselfish style of basketball that reflected in their rebounding and assisting.

Sadly, the chair was pulled out from underneath them from a hungry and not-shy Middle Tennessee bunch on Friday when they ousted the heavy-favorite Spartans in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

As Spartan nation begins to reflect while still trying to recover from being in utter shock all day Friday, one of the biggest off-season storylines revolves around one player who made an impact right away: freshman forward Deyonta Davis.

Davis finished with 10 points and three rebounds in Friday’s 90-81 shocker to Middle Tennessee, playing just 15 minutes. It raised some eyebrows as to why he didn’t play more in that game, but Spartans head coach Tom Izzo reiterated after the game that his minutes were limited due to matchups on the floor against MTSU.

On the season, Davis in 35 games played averaged 7.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and nearly two blocks in 18.6 minutes per game. If one were to extrapolate those numbers per 40 minutes played, Davis would be posting averages of 16.1 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 3.9 blocks. Per 100 possessions, those numbers balloon to 24.0 points, 17.6 rebounds, and 5.9 blocks.

He has the potential to be a perennial double-double machine. His lone such stat line came in MSU’s first game of the season against Florida Atlantic when he collected 13 points, 11 rebounds, and five blocks in 21 minutes of action. That first showing was one of 12 games Davis finished in double-figures in the scoring column and one of four games with 10+ boards. He also now holds the freshman record for shots blocked in a season with 64.

Despite the minutes being limited his freshman year, primarily because of the rotation of big men that Izzo deployed throughout the season in an effort to find the right group of guys, Davis all season long has been considered an NBA prospect from the moment he stepped on campus at MSU. His stock has risen and fallen, but at the worst he’s remained a first-round draft pick. His 6-foot-10, 240-pound frame alone gives him great value. He’s got serious potential to be an athletic rim-protecting big man with room to improve a mid-range jump shot, making him a matchup nightmare for opposing teams.

All of these further raise the question: Should Deyonta Davis declare for the NBA Draft after just one year at MSU?

If he continues to work and scouts are seeing him as raw talent with a high ceiling and the possibility of being a lottery pick, he could very well leave. But he would greatly benefit from another year in green and white.

Davis found himself in the starting five for Michigan State in 16 of his 35 games played this year, most of which came down the stretch paired in the front court with departing senior Matt Costello. With three of five starters graduating and two big men in Costello and defensive stalwart and future doctor Colby Wollenman also leaving, the Spartans lack depth down low that they more than needed throughout the season.

As it stands now, Davis and junior Gavin Schilling are set to start in the front court for the Spartans next year. A starting role at a depleted position would allow Davis to hone his skills more consistently and still provide a strong defensive presence. If there was a knock to what he provided this season, it’d be practicing more discipline as he did average better than two personal fouls per game this year.

Nevertheless, that starting role for the entire season is there for the taking for Davis. The depth of big men on the current roster won’t be as deep as this season, but MSU will still have the likes of Marvin Clark Jr. and Javon Bess assuming bigger roles in their junior years and fellow freshman Kenny Goins looking to make a name for himself in his sophomore year.

Davis will also have reinforcements to spell him in the form of new recruits for the 2016-17 season. The Spartans currently have the third-highest recruiting class and among the four signees is 6-foot-8, 240-pound power forward Nick Ward out of Columbus, Ohio.

Another one of the major off-season topics surrounding MSU basketball will be the impending decision of the country’s top high school prospect and Southfield, MI native Josh Jackson, who is currently finishing up high school out in Napa, California. The Spartans are among the favorites to land the 6-foot-7, 185-pound shooting guard.

As for Davis, the solid freshman campaign in a limited role, combined with the absence of senior big men following this season opens the door for Deyonta to stay in school one more year, polish his skill set and only continue to improve his NBA stock, potentially to becoming a top 10 or even a top 5 pick down the road.

Izzo said back in January when a story first broke about Davis’ potential moving forward that he hopes Deyonta is looked at as a lottery pick.

“I hope at the end of the year he’s a lottery pick,” Spartans coach Tom Izzo said on Tuesday. “I hope he’s a top five pick, and if he’s mentally ready to go, he goes. That means we had a hell of a year, he had a hell of a year.”

“My goal would be, with Deyonta Davis, if it’s next week, next month or next year or a year from now, is ready physically, mentally, that’s when he should go to the next level,” Izzo said.

“It’s not an exact science,” Izzo said of ranking. “I’m just excited that he’s good enough that he’s getting that recognition…”

If Davis does indeed choose to go pro and many scouts and coaches think he’s already at that level, many would and should support him. A small sample, sure, but he showed a lot of skills in that small sample.

But he would greatly benefit from another year at MSU and a shot and redemption and winning a national title.

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