Next up in our series of preseason interviews, Michigan State and Kyle from The Only Colors. As you probably already know, KJ and the rest of his team do a tremendous job covering Michigan State and always provide quality analysis. Here are his thoughts and predictions on Michigan State’s upcoming season.
Last year I asked you if things could be any better in East Lansing and you provided the following goals for the season: "Contention for a repeat conference championship and another run to the Final Four"… Well done my friend. Is there any reason to expect something different this year?
Well, if you’ll excuse the wrong-sport metaphor, I think the goalposts have moved one more marker down the field. With nine of the top 11 players returning from a team coming off its second consecutive Final Four appearance, a national championship has to be the goal. Now, winning a national title isn’t really a fair expectation for any team, no matter how much talent and experience they might have, given the nature of the NCAA Tournament. Certainly, a third straight year of winning at least a share of the Big Ten title and advancing to the Final Four would be a success by any reasonable measure, but, fair or unfair, there will be at least some level of disappointment if the Spartans fall short of winning the whole thing.
Kalin Lucas is back but he’s recovering from that nasty injury, what’s the latest on his health?
He’s been back on the basketball court as of the last few weeks. My nonexpert understanding is that athletes return from injuries like Achilles’ tears much more quickly than they used to, but you have to assume there’ll still be a period during the early part of the season in which Lucas has to work back toward his full level of explosiveness. I’d expect to see him focus a little more on distributing the ball (and perhaps shooting the three), with Durrell Summers and Draymond Green taking larger scoring/playmaking roles. Lucas’ assist percentage fell about five points last season from what he’d posted as a freshman/sophomore, as he often worked to get open shots off the ball. A rebound in the frequency he assists on his teammates’ scores would likely be a good thing for both him and the team.
Raymar Morgan and Chris Allen are gone but I’m more interested in who’s still there. Tell me about Durrell Summers. Did he put it all together for good during last year’s NCAA tournament run or will he still be frustratingly inconsistent?
I’m optimistic that Summers is ready to put it together for a full season this year. Being thrust into the role of primary perimeter scorer during the NCAA Tournament last season seemed to make something click. He had no choice but to look for his shot and came up big in the process, recording only the second five-game double-digit scoring streak of his career. With Lucas coming back from injury and Chris Allen not being around to alternate games as the off-the-ball 3-point marksman, Summers should be in a similar situation to start this season. Summers obviously has the athleticism to be a key offensive contributor on a regular basis. Whether he can fulfill that potential will be a major key for MSU this season.
Everyone loves to talk about Draymond Green and rightfully so. You can mention his ridiculous rebounding, assist, and defensive numbers, but tell me how his role will change with Raymar Morgan gone.
With the talented but fairly thin group of perimeter players on the Spartan roster (Lucas, Summers, Korie Lucious, Keith Appling, and the two walk-ons), I’m starting to think Green will play some at the 3 spot. That’ll create some defensive issues—since Tom Izzo generally has his perimeter defenders switch on all picks—but it should also hopefully create some offensive mismatches going the other way and make MSU an even more dominant rebounding team. (Most small forwards don’t post defensive rebounding percentages of 25%.) I’d also expect to see Green take a few more midrange jumpers this year, filling Morgan’s void; his jumpshot became more and more consistent as last season went along. Green’s shooting numbers of .550 on two-pointers and .672 from the line were almost identical to Morgan’s (.544/.671), on nearly as many shooting attempts.
The freshmen class is obviously highly touted, how do some of these kids fit in with the current team? Is Keith Appling ready to take Chris Allen’s place? Where does Adreian Payne fit in the front court?
Appling is going to have no choice but to be a productive member of the rotation right off the bat. He’ll be the first guard off the bench—if he doesn’t beat Korie Lucious out for a starting spot. Lucious’ recent minor knee surgery will put even more pressure on Appling to be a key factor right out of the gate. All reports I’ve read (many of them from UMHoops!) indicate he’s a college-ready guard right now. It sounds like he can handle the increased physicality of the college game, and the reports are that he’s gotten in sync with his teammates very quickly in summer workouts.
Payne should have a little more time to adjust to the college game, with Green and Delvon Roe being the effective starters up front and Derrick Nix and Garrick Sherman having a year of experience under their belts in the front court rotation. I’d expect Izzo to use Payne a little like Zach Randolph in 2001: unleash his freakish athleticism for 15-20 minutes per game to pull down some offensive rebounds and outrun opposing big men in transition.
Record prediction? Conference and overall.
I expect the nonc
onference schedule to be a bit of a bumpy ride given the number of players coming off injury issues over the offseason. I’ll say 10-3 there, with the team going 3-3 against BCS league opponents (South Carolina, assumed two BCS teams in Maui, Duke, Syracuse, Texas). A Big Ten record of 14-4 would be acceptable—and probably good enough for a share of the title—given the strength at the top of the league. That’s be 27-7 going into the Big Ten Tournament. If they can beat that regular season mark, it’ll be a sign there very well prepared for a run toward the NCAA title.
Most feared player in the conference?
I’ll go with Robbie Hummel. For a guy with a usage rate below 25.0, he has an amazing ability to dominate a basketball game. He’s just so fundamentally sound, always making the right pass (his turnover rate, 8.6%, looks like it’s missing a digit), being in the right place to get a rebound, and hitting the 3-pointer at the crucial moment. You could see just how important he is to Purdue when he was injured at the end of the season; Johnson and Moore weren’t the same players without him.
Runner up: Demetri McCamey. When he was on last season, he was nearly as unstoppable as Evan Turner—knocking down long 3-pointers and dishing out bucketloads of assists (assist rate: 40.8, tops in the entire nation).
Projected most improved player in the conference?
Maybe this is just my Spartan neurosis regarding the Badgers kicking in, but I’d look for Jordan Taylor to blossom this season. He posted a very solid offensive rating of 110.1 last year, ranking in the top 200 nationally in both assist and turnover percentage. With Trevon Hughes’ graduation, Taylor will be the main guy running the show for Bo Ryan. Somehow, Ryan always manages to gets production out of upperclassmen thrust into top offensive roles.
Projected conference champs?
I think you have to give the edge to Purdue. They were in position to win the thing last season before Hummel’s injury. His health is obviously the key again this season. That said, the differences are very slim between Purdue and MSU. Purdue’s core trio of Hummel, JaJuan Johnson, and E’Twaun Moore probably has a slight edge over the Lucas/Green/Summers, at least in terms of past production. MSU’s supporting cast has more potential, but it remains to be seen how much of that potential will be harnessed this season. Finally, Ohio State may be the most interesting team to watch early in the season. The Buckeyes return four of five starters and add another potential freshman stud, but finding a new game plan with Evan Turner no longer around to make the Buckeye offense go round will be a bit of a trick.
Toughest place to play in the Big Ten?
As an MSU fan, I have no choice but to say the Kohl Center (I told you it was a neurosis). The Spartans have a seemingly incurable knack for falling apart when they go to Madison. A win against the Badgers on the road would be a clear signal that this year’s Spartan squad is able to compete at even more consistent level of performance than the last two seasons’ teams have.
Do you think your team wins their Big Ten/ACC challenge game and why?
I have to pick against MSU at this point. Cameron Indoor Arena is obviously not an easy place to play, particularly for a team with some young players making significant contributions early in the season. And Duke is perhaps the one team in the country with more talent in place than MSU (albeit less experienced talent). Avoiding the kind of first-half meltdowns MSU has experienced against ACC opposition (read: North Carolina) in nonconference play the last two years will be a major challenge.