Two down, two to go. The junior class is up next for grading in this edition of year in review. The freshman class was filled with under-the-radar overachievers, while the sophomore class suffered from a bad case of sophomore slump.
The junior bunch anchored the team through thick and thin. They did not have the star power of the senior class, but as a unit they were the key to the miraculous Final Four run. Three of the team’s top five scorers and two of the top three rebounders came from this class.
Matt Costello – 39 games, 20.4 MPG, 7 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 57.9% FG
With the absence of Adreian Payne, Costello was the team’s best big man. Although he only started six games all year, he was clearly better than Gavin Schilling in terms of manning the paint and knowing what was going on around him.
It seemed like in every game the Spartans played in, Costello was surrounded by bigger opposition. But bigger does not always mean better. He developed a very solid low-post game that consisted of baby hooks and wicked spin moves to get around those slow giants.
Costello made a big leap from his sophomore campaign to junior year. He nearly doubled his points and rebounds from a year ago, while only dropping two percent in field goal percentage.
In his sophomore year, Costello looked uncomfortable on offense. He was hesitant to even look at the basket, much less attack it when he got the ball. But this year, he was completely different. The Spartans did not run their offense through him, but he was an able scorer that defenses were forced to respect in the post, which opened up plenty of inside-out scoring.
Costello will be key in the development of the two freshman bigs coming to East Lansing next year. He may not be as important on the scoring side, but his intangible impact is key to the Spartans’ success.
Final grade – A-
Bryn Forbes – 39 games, 26 MPG, 8.5 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 42.7% 3-PT FG
No one expected Forbes to be able to match his stats from his two years at Cleveland State. His role this year was a outside shooting touch that would stretch out defenses. The Spartans never leaned on him for their offensive production.
His field goal and three-point percentages both increased from a year ago and his shaky defense steadily improved. At times in the beginning of the season, he was a liability on defense and that kept him on the bench. But by tournament time that was not a problem.
Forbes had a problem with streaky shooting all year, and his offensive game was almost exclusively outside shots. If he can start to put the ball on the floor more often, defenses will be forced to back off him a bit, opening up that long-range game.
Next year, Forbes will be in almost an identical situation. He will be a role player that can provide a spark off the bench, but not have to carry the offense. In that role, he excels.
Final grade – B
Denzel Valentine – 39 games, 33.2 MPG, 14.5 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 4.3 APG
Valentine has caused many a Spartan headaches over the years. His inconsistent shooting and “are you kidding me?” turnovers have befuddled basketball experts who saw his tremendous potential.
This season, Valentine reached that potential. He became a leader on the team and a force on both sides of the ball. He finished second on the team in scoring, rebounding and assists. He was a double-double threat every time he stepped on the hardwood.
His shooting greatly improved from a year ago. Valentine’s field goal percentage and three-point percentages increased four percent from a year ago.
Unfortunately, he also led the team in turnovers, something Coach Izzo harps on every season. They always seemed to come at the absolute worst times in a game and sometimes in the strangest ways. If Valentine wants to go from a great player to an elite player, he needs to be more careful with the ball.
Final grade – A-
Colby Wollenman – 29 games, 7.6 MPG, 1.2 PPG, 1.7 RPG
The pride of Big Horn, Wyoming played a much bigger role on this team than anyone expected him to. Wollenman was the quintessential glue guy. He set solid screens, played above-average defense and was not a liability on the floor.
His crowning achievement came against Purdue, when his pesky and persistent defense completely befuddled the much bigger AJ Hammons and Isaac Haas. He made up for his lack of size with hustle and determination on defense, and helped out the Spartans in ways that did not necessarily make it onto the stat sheet.
Final grade – A