Year in Review: Grading the Senior Class

After much contemplation and deep reflection, the grades for the senior class are finally in. Travis Trice andBranden Dawson were the heart and soul of this team. In their four years as Spartans, they went to a Final Four, Elite Eight and two Sweet 16’s. That puts this duo in elite company among all-time best college careers.

Travis Trice – 39 games, 33.6 MPG, 15.3 PPG, 5.1 APG, 39.7% FG

Before the season started, many experts wondered if Trice would be able to step up his offensive game and become a leader with the ball in his hands. After being a role player his entire career, no one was really sure if he would be up to the task. Trice quickly silenced the doubters.

In the first game of the season against Navy, Trice put up a team-high 25 points to go along with five rebounds and five assists. Yep, he could handle it. Trice went on to score 20+ points in 11 contests, including a season-high 27 against both Nebraska and Purdue.

Not only could he score, Trice could also dish out the ball. He led the team in assists with 5.1 per game, and took care of the ball at the same time. He had a 2.83/1 assist-to-turnover ratio, best on the team and the best of his career.

Trice tried to will his Spartans to greatness in the NCAA Tournament. His scoring increased to 19 ppg and his field goal percentage increased by five points. Although he and the Spartans fell short, their miraculous run to the Final Four will be remembered as one of the most impressive and improbable in school history.

Final grade – A+

Branden Dawson – 35 games, 30.1 MPG, 11.9 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 53.5% FG

Dawson’s career at Michigan State had been plagued by injuries and inconsistency. When he was on, Dawson was the most athletic player on the court and a ferocious rebounder. When he was off, Dawson was merely a footnote in the statline, barely recognizable on the court. This season, Dawson erased all the inconsistency issues.

At 6-foot-6, Dawson was almost always undersized on defense. This was never a problem. His vertical leap was measured in miles, not inches. Dawson banged with the bigs down low and also shut down some of the best guards the Big Ten had to offer, including Penn State’s DJ Newbill.

Perhaps the most impressive change in Dawson’s game was his midrange jumper. A season ago it was cringeworthy at its worst and mediocre at its best. But this season, it was nearly unguardable. The turnaround fadeaway was a thing of beauty that could be used against bigger defenders. Defenses finally had to respect him outside of the paint, which opened up the floor for his teammates.

Although his offensive numbers were down somewhat in the tournament, his impact on defense was unparalleled. He frustrated Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell in the Elite Eight game and rendered him useless for the Cardinals.

Every time Dawson stepped on to the court, you knew there was a chance he would do something spectacular. And every time he threw down a thunderous dunk, it amazed everyone even though they knew how freakishly athletic he was. Dawson will be remembered as one of the best dunkers and athletes the Breslin Center has ever seen.

Final grade – A



Year in Review: Grading the Sophomore Class

Last week, I handed out my report card for the freshman class, so now it’s time to move on to the sophomores.

Gavin Schilling and Alvin Ellis III led the disappointing sophomore class this season. Both showed glimpses of promise in their freshman campaigns, but largely failed to live up to expectations.

Gavin Schilling – 39 games, 16.9 MPG, 5.1 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 58% FG

Schilling has all the intangibles to become a great player. He has a body that’s tough to move in the paint and he’s athletic. Unfortunately, Schilling has not been able to put it all together consistently.

From mid-December to mid-January, it looked like Schilling had finally figured it out.

The big man averaged 8.1 points and 5.3 rebounds over an eight-game stretch. He played better defense, he was aggressive and he no longer looked like the deer-in-the-headlights from his freshman year. But then things quickly went south.

Schilling only scored in double digits once in the final 20 games and put up zero in seven of those contests. His defense was perhaps the most glaring issue. He guarded with his hands instead of his feet and constantly picked up fouls. In 12 games this year, Schilling had as many or more fouls than points. On a team already lacking in size, Schilling’s propensity to disappear really hurt.

Final grade – C-

Alvin Ellis III – 32 games, 8.6 MPG, 1.7 PPG, 0.7 RPG, 32% FG

Ellis was poised for a breakout year this season. The departure of Gary Harris left the shooting guard position wide open for the taking. All Ellis needed to do was prove to head coach Tom Izzo during the summer that he was ready to make the next step. He did not.

On several occasions, Coach Izzo said he did not think Ellis was in love with the game. Izzo often talked about how Ellis is good at a lot of things, but not great at anything. That’s why he was largely left behind this year.

Bryn Forbes provided a shooting touch, Travis Trice occasionally moved to the two when Tum Tum Nairn was in the game and Denzel Valentine also could fill in at shooting guard.

Then there was Ellis. He was not a good shooter this season, only hitting 32 percent of his shots. He did not rebound well and he did not get assists. He did not really do much of anything.

From his freshman to sophomore year, Ellis did not make any significant improvements in any area. His shooting percentage went down, his points went down and his rebounds went down. He only played 11 more minutes than he did last year.

Now with the influx of talent coming in at the shooting guard position next year, Ellis will be buried on the depth chart. Don’t be surprised if he starts looking at possibly transferring this summer.

Final grade – D+


BREAKING: 4-Star Point Guard Cassius Winston Commits to MSU

Cassius Winston, a four-star point guard from University of Detroit Jesuit, just committed to Michigan State for the 2016 season. He is the third recruit from the class of 2016, joining four-star power forward Nick Ward and five-star combo guard Josh Langford.

Winston narrowed his list to MSU, Pittsburgh and Stanford, and included the University of Michigan for most of the recruiting process.

Winston is rated as the No. 5 point guard in the nation and the second-best player in Michigan, according to 247Sports. Although slightly undersized at just a shade over six-foot, Winston is an aggressive scorer and a leader on the court. He should fit the Izzo mold quite nicely. With his signing, MSU could have the top-ranked recruiting class in the nation.

But wait, there’s more!

MSU now has two more possible recruits left, Miles Bridges and Josh Jackson, who are both five-star players. Bridges will announce Oct. 3 and is deciding mainly between the Spartans and Kentucky. Jackson, the No. 1 player in the country, is being pursued by Arizona, Kansas and Maryland, among others.