When it comes to College Basketball, there are plenty of teams with great history and accomplishments and there are always teams looking to make history and earn great accomplishments. This season I feel one team is really looking to come back and accomplish something great and by great, I mean a National Championship and that team is the Michigan State Spartans.
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When it comes to the Spartans, they have some big expectations coming into this season, many fans expect the Spartans to make it back to the Final Four and for good reason. The Spartans have a juggernaut of talent and of course they have a great coach in Tom Izzo but the main question is, can they win a National Title this season, I think it’s possible but it won’t be easy.
When it comes to the Spartans, it starts with senior point guard Keith Appling and this season I am really looking for him to become that true point guard and leader. He’s nearing the end of his college career, so he needs to show the NBA scouts he can be a true point guard but even beyond that his team needs him to control the flow of the game. When it comes to scoring, he is capable of slashing and finishing at the rim, but his jump shot consistency must improve. I love the fact that he became a better defender last season and I expect him to do the same this season. However, I want him to find a true balance between scoring and running the team, this team doesn’t move without him, if he excels, this team can truly sky-rocket.
Which leads me to sophomore guard, Gary Harris, who was the second leading scorer on this team last season with 12.9 points per game while shooting 45% from the field and 41% from three. The main thing he needs to focus on is staying healthy, he had a couple of injuries last season and the last thing he needs is to be sidelined again. As far as his skill set, this is the season, I look for him to evolve more. While he plays shooting guard for the Spartans, it’s time for him to become more of a ball handler and learn how to score without the ball. He has no problem slashing to the rim and finishing against contact and while he is good shooter, I think he needs to be even more of an efficient scorer when it comes to his jump shot. There is no doubt that he is a well-rounded player, he just needs to take his game to the next level this season.
My x-factor for the team has to be junior forward Branden Dawson, at 6’6 and 220 pounds, I really think this team needs him to unleash his full potential this season. I know he had it rough, trying come back from a torn ACL but the potential is there. He is very physical, can rebound and you add that along with his high-flying athleticism, this young man is a force. He has added somewhat of post game to his arsenal and there is no doubt he can finish at the rim. However, he needs to improve his range and ball handling this season, preferably I would like him to add the catch and shoot skill set to his game. He has also shown the ability to defend multiple positions but has never tried to become a lock-down defender although he is capable of being just that. As I said before, he is x-factor for this team, if he can unleash his potential and stay healthy, this Spartan team can go far.
Which leads me to the post, specifically senior Adreian Payne. He is 6’10″ and 240 pounds, he is extremely athletic and on top of the that, he can shoot, rebound and run the floor. Now last year, he had help if you want to call it that from Derrick Nix but this year, Payne is in the post by himself, so I want to see him elevate his game and numbers even more this season. In simpler terms, I believe Payne could elevate to a walking double-double this season. However, for him to do that he must play with a high motor at all times which seems to be his main problem, which is why he isn’t currently a walking double-double. If he can stop with the disappearing acts and learn how to be more of an efficient player, he can be one of the best players in the country. I also look for him to become that leader of the Spartans along with guard Keith Appling.
Finally, the more underrated part of the team which is the role player and the Spartans have a few to watch this season. Sophomore wing Denzel Valentine is someone who stepped up off the bench last season as a freshman but this season, he has the potential to have more responsibility and be the 6th man. Last season he showed his ability to defend especially in the post but now I think it’s time for him to become a more of a scorer. The main thing I love about Valentine, is his ability fit anywhere on the floor which makes him a great fit for Tom Izzo’s system. Sophomore center Matt Costello is another one to watch-out for as more of a role player this season along with junior guard Travis Trice. When you talk about Trice, you’re talking about Mr.Hustle because he just loves to hustle and play his part. While Costello has the opportunity to be legit rebounder for the Spartans this season. From what I hear, he lost plenty of weight this off-season, so he would be smart to run the floor which will open up some scoring opportunities for him but again I think he has the potential to be a legit rebounder this season and possibly help control and defend the paint with his length.
I also would like to remind many fans to lookout for two Spartan freshman this season, those freshmen being guard Alvin Ellis III and forward Gavin Schilling. When you talk about Schiling, you’re talking about a very physical forward, who isn’t afraid of contact. He may not make an immediate impact but as he gets more comfortable within the system he could be a player to watch as the season goes on. Same goes for Ellis, he may not immediately get a lot of playing time but he is someone who could receive playing time down the road. He is very creative and has the potential to be a play-maker on the court.
Overall, I have huge expectations for this Spartans team, I have no doubt they will make it back to the NCAA Tournament and they have the potential to make it back to the Final Four. However, I want to see the key players step up more than they ever have, this a starting five full of experience and talent, no more excuses for them. I also will watch the role players because no team wins a national championship without the key role players stepping up.
Written by LBeasley, Sports Contributor for Radio One Detroit
Listen to LBeasley’s Radio Show, “Sports Talk with L-Beasley” every Mon, Wed & Fri from 6-8pm (ET) on LBeasley.com