Top 68 Team Previews: #8 Pittsburgh Panthers

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By Ryan Feldman

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Michigan State Spartans
Last Season: 19-15 (9-9)
Key Losses: Kalin Lucas, Durrell Summers, Delvon Roe, Garrick Sherman
Head Coach: Tom Izzo

Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Brandon Wood 6-2 Sr.
SG: Keith Appling 6-1 So.
SF: Branden Dawson 6-6 Fr.
PF: Draymond Green 6-7 Sr.
C: Adreian Payne 6-10 So.
Key Reserves: Brandan Kearney 6-5 Fr. SF, Austin Thornton 6-5 Sr. SG, Derrick Nix 6-9 Jr. C, Russell Byrd 6-7 Fr. SG, Alex Gauna 6-9 Fr. PF

The 2010-11 season was a complete aberration for Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans. This team, under Izzo, is used to perennial deep runs in the NCAA tournament. But the Spartans fell apart last year, after being projected as a Final Four team going into the season. And now they must recover.

The Spartans did continue their streak of 14 straight NCAA tournament appearances, but they fell to UCLA in the round of 64, 78-76. After losing Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers to graduation, Garrick Sherman to transfer, and recently losing Delvon Roe to retirement from recurring knee pain, the Spartans are moving on with a younger roster.

The good news is that Izzo is still in East Lansing, so with him there's always a chance the Spartans could contend for a Big Ten title and find that March magic once again.

The heart of the team is Draymond Green, a 6-foot-7 senior forward who does it all for the Spartans. Draymond, or "Day-Day" as he is called by Spartans fans, can use his strength to rebound and score down low, shoot from the perimeter, and handle the ball. He is tough to defend because of his versatility. Green averaged 12.6 points, 8.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.1 blocks per game last season.

But Green needs some help. A number of Spartans will have to step up around him and become key players. That starts with sophomore guard Keith Appling, a much-heralded recruit. The 6-foot-1 athletic combo guard can use his speed to get up and down the court quickly. He knows how to get into the lane and make plays happen, but he can also knock down outside jumpers. He shot 41.1 percent from 3-point range last season while averaging 6.4 points per game. The Spartans need Appling to take over where Lucas left off and become a double-digit scorer and solid floor leader.

Brandon Wood will likely handle the primary point guard duties. The Valparaiso transfer came to MSU for his senior year. The 6-foot-2 guard averaged 16.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game last season. If he can come anywhere close to those numbers in the Big Ten, it will be a huge boost for Izzo and the Spartans.

The Spartans aren't very talented at the center position. They will have to mix it up between Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix, a pair of big, strong bodies. Both of these guys have the physical tools to be forces down low, but the question is whether or not they have the heart and toughness. Combined, the two of them only averaged 5.2 points and 4.4 rebounds in 17.2 minutes per game. Whether or not one of them emerges as a viable option at center may be the x-factor this season for the Spartans.

Izzo has a few options for the final starting spot, all of which are freshmen. Branden Dawson, Russell Byrd and Brandan Kearney could all fight for the upper hand.

Dawson, a McDonald's All-American ranked 23rd overall in the class of 2011 by, is a strong, athletic player who can finish above the rim. The 6-foot-6 wing has to work on his perimeter skills, but he will be fun to watch in the open court. Dawson is the most likely to start the season in the starting lineup.

Byrd is quite the opposite of Dawson. Byrd, a 6-foot-7 shooting guard, is a pure outside shooter. He can drain 3-pointers from NBA range and is able to get them off easily because of his size at 6-foot-7. Byrd was ranked as the 61st best recruit in the class of 2010. He redshirted last year because of an injured left foot.

Kearney is a versatile 6-foot-5 shooting guard. He isn't exceptional is any one facet, but he can handle the ball, get out in transition, finish above the rim, and knock down outside jumpers.

This will certainly be a different Michigan State team from the past few years. There's no Kalin Lucas or Durrell Summers to carry the load. Instead, a bevy of role players will have to step up and take the pressure off Day-Day's shoulders. But there's little doubt that Izzo will quickly coach some of these young players into all-conference-caliber players. There's no reason not to expect to see the Spartans in the NCAA tournament once again and possibly in the second weekend.

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