Saturday, October 11, 2008

No. 14 Michigan State: 2008-2009 Team Preview

2007-2008 Team Record: 27-9, 12-6 Big Ten (4th)

Key Losses: Drew Neitzel (13.9 ppg, 4.0 apg), Drew Naymick (4.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg)

Key Returnees: Raymarr Morgan (14.0 ppg, 6.1 rpg), Kalin Lucas (10.3 ppg, 3.9 apg), Goran Suton (9.1 ppg, 8.2 rpg)

Newcomers: Delvon Roe, Draymond Green, Korie Lucious, Austin Thornton

Losing a talent like Drew Neitzel always is going to hurt, but Michigan State is still going to be one of the top two or three teams in the Big Ten next year. The biggest reason is that Raymarr Morgan decided to return to school for his junior season. Morgan is the perfect player for a Tom Izzo team. His size (6'7", 225 lb), strength, and athleticism would probably make him a pretty effective tight end, and he is an aggressive rebounder and good defender. His perimeter skills are still developing, but he is a good scorer when he is attacking the rim (he shot 180 free throws last year), and can finish through contact. If he can develop a jump shot that is consistent out to the three point line, he can be a Caron Butler-type player this year.

The Spartans will also have three very good big men. The best of the bunch may be freshman Delvon Roe, depending on his health (he underwent micro-fracture surgery in December, and had another minor surgery on his other knee in August). When healthy, Roe (6'8", 225 lb) is an explosive athlete and great finisher around the rim. His footwork is much improved, and he has apparently added some very nice finesse moves (drop-steps, up-and-unders) to his repertoire. MSU also returns seniors Goran Suton and Marquise Gray. Gray has been a part-time starter all three years at MSU, mainly because he has never developed beyond a big body that can grab a few boards, throw down a dunk, and provide a tough presence in the paint. Suton is 6'10, 245 lb, but mobile for a kid his size. He is one of the best rebounders in the country, especially on the offensive end, where he averaged almost three o-boards per game last year. 6'11" senior Idong Ibok and 6'7" freshman Draymond Green should also compete for minutes.

Even without Neitzel, Michigan State looks to have a pretty solid back court. Kalin Lucas and Travis Walton are a great combo at the point. Lucas is a lighting quick point guard that loves to run the floor and make plays, where as Walton is a much steadier point guard who won't make the flashy play, but won't turn the ball over and will get the ball to the open man. Lucas is a better scorer, but Walton is probably the team's best perimeter defender. Korie Lucious, a top-100 recruit, should also see some minutes at the point. The Spartans two off-guards are Chris Allen and Durrell Summers. Allen is more of a shooter and should see an increase in attempts with Neitzel gone, while Summers is a little bit taller and more of a slasher (Izzo has said that he has been impressed by Summers this off-season).

Outlook: Michigan State looks like they will resemble the Spartan teams of the late-90's this year. They have some good size up front with a lot of guys that love attacking the back boards. Their guards are tough, pesky defenders and I wouldn't be surprised to see a lot of pressure man-to-man in the half court out of this team. But what I like the most about the Spartans this year is their versatility and balance. They can go really big (with Morgan, Roe, and Suton up front) or really small (with Walton and Lucas in the backcourt and Morgan at the four) and still be a dangerous team. Michigan State seems to be one of those teams that is always ranked too high in the preseason (see here for statistical evidence) and thus ends up having a disappointing regular season only to redeem themselves with a deep tourney run. I think that they are destined for a similar kind of year unless Morgan can become a go-to scorer and one of Lucas and Walton can lock down the starting point guard spot. I'll make a prediction: third in the Big Ten regular season, but they make a run to the Elite 8.

No comments: