Izzone Roundtable: Season Preview

The men’s basketball season officially starts today, and the crew from Impact Izzone is here to get you ready. Blake Froling, Ryan Cole, Davey Segal and David Manion give their predictions on everything from team MVP to how the Spartans will fare in March Madness. Let the speculation begin!

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Year in Review: Grading the Junior Class

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

ARTICLE FROM: http://impact89fm.org/sports/year-in-review-grading-the-junior-class/

Impact Sports: Men’s Basketball Summer Recruiting Update

Oh basketball, we miss you dearly.

The summer is torture for basketball fans longing for some meaningful game action. Recruiting helps stave off the withdrawals, but only for so long. To satisfy you desperate basketball fans hiding in your basement watching the Duke game over and over again, we give you an update on the tumultuous recruiting season MSU had this summer.

Nick Ward – C, 6-8, 230 lbs

The class of 2016 started off with a bang in April when Izzo landed four-star forward/center Nick Ward. He’s a bit undersized to play center, but his seven-foot wingspan certainly makes up for that. He’s powerful and tough to move out of the post, but his athleticism could use some improvement.

Luckily, he still has a year of high school to mature and hopefully work on his agility. He is currently the No. 42 player in the nation per ESPN and 247 Sports Composite Ranking. Ward spurned offers from over a dozen other schools, including Iowa, Ohio State, Purdue and Wisconsin.

Joshua Langford – G, 6-5, 200 lbs

Spartan fans should really be excited about Langford. This kid from Alabama can ball. According to 247Sports, he had over 20 offers, among them some of the blue bloods of college basketball in Kentucky, Duke and Kansas.

Langford is a slasher that finishes through contact. His potential is sky high right now. He just needs to expand his range a bit to be an absolute nightmare for opposing teams. ESPN has Langford at No. 13 and 247Sports ranks him just two below at No. 15. Depending on how he fares in his senior year, his stock could rise and MSU could have themselves the steal of the class.

So far, Ward and Langford are the only two hard commits. But we would be remiss if we didn’t talk about Caleb Swanigan. It hurts just to even say his name now. Swanigan is one of the top big men in the class of 2015, so it’s safe to say everyone was shocked when he chose MSU on April 10.

Then things took a turn.

The letter of intent never came in. There were rumblings that he was having second thoughts. Then, on May 7, he backed out and re-opened his recruiting. Spartan fans were crushed, but they had experience with this with football recruit Malik McDowell. There was a glimmer of hope that Swanigan would see the light and come back to East Lansing. Well, that didn’t happen.

On May 19, Swanigan picked the Purdue Boilermakers. Ouch. It’s one thing to back out of a commitment, but he just twisted the knife by picking a conference rival. Not only that, but Purdue already has two seven-footers! MSU didn’t even have anyone over 6-8 last year! That’s just not fair.

Let’s just say the Spartans will be eager to welcome him to the Breslin Center.

On a lighter note, Michigan State is in hot pursuit of another five-star recruit, Saginaw’s Miles Bridges. The 6-foot-6 small forward recently narrowed his list to five schools, including MSU, Michigan, Kentucky, North Carolina and Indiana.

Bridges had this to say about the Spartans, per ESPN: “It’s only 45 minutes away from my home and they are one of the first schools to recruit me. A lot of guys from my area have gone there and been successful.”

Bridges would be a huge score for Izzo, who is losing Denzel ValentineBryn Forbes and Matt Costello after this season. The class of 2016 could end up being one of MSU’s best in years, but don’t get your hopes up too high. If the recruiting process hasn’t jaded you yet, just follow it for a few more months and it’ll happen.

Spartans Look to Figure it Out Against Nittany Lions

JAN 21
After a frustrating and deflating loss in College Park, Maryland last Saturday, the Spartans returned with their tails between their legs. Tonight, they have an opportunity to erase the nightmare of the Terrapins with a game against Penn State at the Breslin Center.

The Nittany Lions (12-6, 0-5) have fallen on hard times since conference play started. They are dead last in the Big Ten following a home overtime loss to Purdue on Saturday. However, Penn State does have one thing going for them: DJ Newbill. He leads the Big Ten in scoring at 21.7 points per game. However, he is the only Nittany Lion that averages double-figure scoring.

Newbill left it all on the court in the overtime loss to Purdue, putting up 37 points on 13-23 shooting. His nine other teammates did not follow suit, combining for 40 points on 13-33 shooting.

On the other side of the ball, MSU (12-6, 3-2) is looking to regain their touch from beyond the arc. They lead the Big Ten in three-point percentage at 40.1 percent, but shot only 3-17 from deep against Maryland. In their last two games, Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice are a combined 3-17 from three-point range. Penn State is No. 9 in three-point defense, which could help the Spartans regain their spark.

Last season, these teams met twice, with MSU winning both times by 16 and 15 points. This game should follow the same trend. Tip-off is at 7:00 and the game can be seen on the Big Ten Network.

Prediction: MSU 70-55

LINK TO ORIGINAL ARTICLE: http://impact89fm.org/sports/2015/01/21/spartans-look-to-figure-it-out-against-nittany-lions-2/

Opinion: Best-Case/Worst-Case Scenarios for Men’s Basketball’s “Big Three”

A new men’s basketball season is finally upon us, and with it comes the endless speculation by fans and experts alike. The success or struggles of Travis Trice, Denzel Valentine and Branden Dawson will determine the success or struggles of the Michigan State Spartans as a whole.

Here are the best-case and worst-case scenarios for the Spartans’ “Big Three.”

Denzel Valentine – 8.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 3.8 APG last season

Best-case scenario – Valentine turns into the team leader that Coach Izzo has dreamed he could become. The junior steps up as the team’s primary scorer with Gary Harris and Adreian Payne now gone. He has all the tools to be this team’s best player and is already its most well rounded.

Last season, he was fifth on the team in scoring, third in rebounding and second in assists. He is versatile enough to play three positions on the court and will be a matchup nightmare for opposing teams. Valentine will average 15 points, six rebounds and five assists per game and make first-team All-Big Ten.

Worst-case scenario – The turnover problem that put Valentine in Izzo’s doghouse on more than one occasion will come back in the worst situations. He plays out of control and loses the confidence of his team and coaches. He forces shots and tries to make plays for himself that just are not there.

By February, Valentine will be pulled out of the starting lineup in favor of a budding freshman like Javon Bess or sophomore Alvin Ellis III, who is itching to prove himself. He will average nine points and five rebounds per game.

Prediction – Valentine will fill the leadership role on this team and shoulder most of the scoring load. Stat line: 14 points, six rebounds and three assists per game.

Travis Trice – 7.3 PPG, 2.3 APG, 48 percent 3-PT in Big Ten games (second in the conference)

Best-case scenario – For the first time ever, Trice goes an entire season avoiding the strange injuries that have plagued him throughout his career at Michigan State. He starts every game at point guard and plays the role of facilitator that is also a threat to score. He will not take over games, but will be deadly from beyond the arc as he was last year.

Trice will also become a more vocal leader on and off the court while providing guidance for younger players like Lourawls ‘Tum Tum’ Nairn Jr. and Ellis. Averages 10 points and seven assists per game, while shooting 45 percent from the field and beyond the arc.

Worst-case scenario – The odd injury bug once again bites Trice. He only plays in 10-15 games in the season and is ineffective when he is actually on the floor. He becomes too passive with the ball in his hands and loses his shooting stroke. His leadership role is vastly diminished because of his extended absence.

This leads to more playing time for an inexperienced Tum Tum, who looks like a deer in the headlights against the big opponents MSU has to face on the road, and becomes a turnover machine. Averages five points and two assists per game in 15 appearances.

Prediction – Trice starts nearly every game for the Spartans and thrives with the expanded role. Stat line: Nine points and five assists per game, shoots 46 percent from the field and 40 percent from deep.

Branden Dawson – 11.2 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 61.3 percent shooting last season

Best-case scenario – Dawson has the highest ceiling of anyone on the roster. Fans saw glimpses last season of how dominant he can be when he wants to. After forgoing the NBA for his senior year, he is out to prove he can be a solid first-round pick after this season. His motor will cease to be a question mark after proving himself the first few games.

Dawson’s jump shot will start to become respectable. He will be able to shoot over defenders that sag off him and blow by defenders that play up tight. BJ’s freakish athleticism will allow him to comfortably play power forward despite being only 6-foot-6. He will average 15 points and 10 rebounds per game and earn All-American honors.

Worst-case scenario – The motor will be spotty at times and could earn him a trip to the bench on more than one occasion. Dawson’s jump shot will remain a handicap and defenses will simply clog the paint when he gets the ball.

The smaller lineup that the Spartans will be forced to use will hurt them on defense and Dawson will not be much help against Big Ten centers. He will average 11 points and seven rebounds per game.

Prediction – Dawson will shrug off all questions about his motor, but his jump shot will be spotty at best. Stat line: 13 points and nine rebounds.

Payne Drops 41, Spartans Cruise Past Delaware

MARCH 20 – The road to North Texas started out on the right foot Thursday, as Michigan State soundly defeated their first round opponent, No. 13 Delaware.

Adreian Payne played like a man among boys from start to finish, scoring 23 points in the first half alone. MSU muscled their way to a quick 18-point lead with less than six minutes to go in the first half, but Delaware made a run and cut the deficit to 11 by halftime.

The Fightin’ Blue Hens scored the first six points of the second half, slashing the lead to five and causing all MSU fans to actually start to get nervous. But the Adreian Payne show rolled on and snuffed out any chance of an upset. Delaware was vastly undersized and outmuscled as the Spartans dominated the glass. MSU kept building the lead throughout the second half, eventually winning by a 93-78 margin.

Payne set the NCAA tournament record with a 17-17 performance at the charity stripe. He also set a career-high in the tournament with 41 points, which was the most in the Dance by any player since Tayshaun Prince scored 41 against Tulsa in 2002.

Travis Trice played a major role off the bench, scoring 19 points on 7-8 shooting in only 23 minutes. He picked up the scoring load from Keith Appling, who only connected on two shots. Branden Dawson and Gary Harris each scored 10 points, with Dawson pulling down eight rebounds and dishing out four assists. Harris was in foul trouble and only played 25 minutes. He eventually fouled out.

Up next for No. 4 Michigan State is No. 12 Harvard. The Crimson upset No. 5 Cincinnati early on Thursday to move on to the third round. Harvard likely will have a tough time handling Payne down low, so expect the Spartans to move on to the Sweet 16.


Blake Froling is the co-host of Impact Izzone for Impact Sports.

Photo: David Defever/Impact Sports

– See more at: http://impact89fm.org/sports/2014/03/22/payne-drops-41-spartans-cruise-past-delaware/#sthash.S1Z6zhmj.dpuf

Spartans Shoot the Lights out in Win Over Purdue

FEB 20 – Gary Harris and company hosted a shooting clinic in West Lafayette, Ind. on Thursday.

Michigan State started their game against Purdue on an unprecedented 11-14 streak from beyond the arc. Harris led the way for the Spartans with six three-pointers, finally breaking out of his shooting slump. He finished with 25 points, far surpassing his average of just over 13 points per game during his six-game shooting slump.

The Boilermakers hung tough for most of the game, especially when the Spartans came down to earth with their shooting in the second half. They capitalized on MSU’s lazy transition defense, turning missed threes into easy layups on the other end. But the Spartans were nearly unstoppable on the offensive end, eventually running away with a 94-79 victory.

Adreian Payne continued his stellar play after coming off a foot injury, tallying 23 points on 8-14 shooting. Keith Appling did not start, but logged heavy minutes. His right wrist is still bothering him, as he only took one shot. Appling played the role of facilitator, dishing out nine assists. MSU as a team shared the ball extremely well, with 26 assists on 30 shots.

Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice recovered nicely from their ugly game against Nebraska. Valentine had 16 points and five rebounds, and Trice had 14 points and six assists. They combined for five three-pointers on the night.

MSU made 17 three-pointers against Purdue, setting a school record and equaling the number of total field goals made in their game against the Cornhuskers.

The win gives the Spartans an 11-3 conference record, putting them a half game ahead of Michigan for tops in the Big Ten.

Michigan State heads to Ann Arbor on Sunday for a showdown with the Wolverines. Tip is set at 12:00 p.m. and the game can be seen on CBS.


Blake Froling is the co-host of Impact Izzone for Impact Sports.

Photo: David Defever/Impact Sports

– See more at: http://impact89fm.org/sports/2014/02/21/spartans-shoot-the-lights-out-in-win-over-purdue-2/#sthash.q0FFDGIZ.dpuf

3-Point Play: Penn State Edition

FEB 7 – Number 9 ranked Michigan State (20-3, 9-1) cannot catch a break. As soon as Adreian Payne finally returns to the starting lineup, Coach Izzo announces that Keith Appling is out with a sore wrist. Not a good game to be missing your starting point guard. Penn State (12-11, 3-7) had won three consecutive games including at Ohio State in overtime. The Spartans struggled early in their last matchup with the Nittany Lions on New Year’s Eve, but this game was a different story.

Already up 13-8, MSU went on an 11-0 run with over 10 minutes remaining in the first half to open up a 22-8 lead. Payne received a standing ovation when he checked into the game for the first time. He scored 10 points and grabbed two rebounds in the first half. Redshirt freshman Kenny Kaminski got the start and led the Spartans in scoring through 20 minutes with 13 points. He was a perfect 3-3 from beyond the arc and 5-6 from the field. Michigan State held a 46-30 lead at the break.

It was all MSU in the second half, with the lead growing to as big as 26. The Spartans cruised past Penn State 82-67. Kaminski was lights-out all night, finishing with a career-high 19 points on 7-9 shooting. Denzel Valentine turned in another outstanding performance, just four assists away from a triple-double. His line was 11 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. Penn State never held a lead for the entire game. Here are three key factors that contributed to Michigan State’s dominant win.

1. Payne shows no signs of rust

Adreian Payne had not played since January 7, but you couldn’t tell by watching him against Penn State. The senior had 10 points in the first half and looked dominant inside and out. His jumper was falling and his post moves were effective. Coach Pat Chambers of Penn State described Payne’s return in the post-game press conference.

“He played great. It was like Willis Reed coming off the bench, the crowd was going crazy; it was a standing ovation. They used that, Coach Izzo used that really well as motivation for his team and for the crowd.”

Payne only played 18 minutes but made the most of his time. He finished with 12 points on 5-9 shooting and did not look hesitant at all. The Spartans couldn’t have had him back at a better time with a tough roadie in the Kohl Center coming up on Sunday against Wisconsin. While the Badgers are starting to fade, Bo Ryan’s teams always play tough on their home court.

2. Even with injuries, Spartans have great depth

Coach Izzo surprised everybody when news broke that Keith Appling would not play against the Nittany Lions.

“I had talked to Keith [Appling] the night before and it sounded like things were getting better. Then the trainer calls and says that he can hardly move his wrist. We had specialists look at it and we’ve gone through all the x-rays and everything. It is kind of a strange deal – I don’t know if it’s locked up or what. They’ve done some work on him, but the poor guy missed his first game here.”

There was a thought in the back of everyone’s mind that they could give MSU a good game. But those fears were put to rest within the first 10 minutes of the game. Tom Izzo is lucky to have such a plethora of talent on his team with all the injuries they’ve dealt with this year. MSU has used 12 different starting lineups in 19 games, and Coach Izzo characterized some of the lineups as “goofy”.

Denzel Valentine stepped up in the absence of Appling and ran the point extremely well, sharing with Travis Trice.

“Early in the game he [Valentine] was a bit out of control there – just going in and throwing the ball up. We took him out for a little bit, settled him down a bit and then I thought he play phenomenally – rebounding wise, defensively, made some shots, made some great passes, and did a great job on the boards,” said Izzo.

Even Coach Chambers had high praises for Valentine’s level of play.

“He really got things going. He played great. He did a lot of little things. He’s a tough matchup for us; he’s a big guard. When he’s knocking down his shot, it’s tough; it’s tough to defend him. He got in the paint a lot. He did some really good things; made winning plays for that team.”

Matt Costello did a great job complimenting Payne down low, going for 10 points on 3-3 shooting and six rebounds. He was also solid at the line, making four out of five. He gave Payne the opportunity to ease back into the game without feeling the pressure of being the main scorer in the post.

Kenny Kaminski had the best game of his career. He made his first five three-pointers of the game, including one from the top of the key that banked in.

“I think they hit a bank at the top of the key, that’s when you know it’s not your night,” said Chambers.

Kaminski has been up and down all season, so this performance was extremely important for the redshirt freshman. He not only hit threes, he played better defense and actually used his size to grab two rebounds.

3. The Big Ten race is going to be fun

Michigan State and Michigan are tied atop the Big Ten standings, with the rest of the pack at least three games behind. The Wolverines have a tough stretch coming up, starting on Saturday when they travel to Iowa. Then they face Ohio State in Columbus, Wisconsin comes to Crisler, and then MSU returns for revenge on the 23rd. Coach Izzo likes the lead he has, but is definitely not comfortable with it.

“We are both competing; I think the next closest team has four, five loses. Not that I feel comfortable with that in any way, because the schedule the way it is who plays who twice. There is no levelness to it. Doesn’t mean you have played one-through-nine and nine-through-one. It doesn’t go how it used to go. So you could have some tough road games. We have some tough games coming up now. So I just feel good that we are in the hunt right now,” said Izzo.

Michigan State’s next game is on Sunday against Bo Ryan’s Wisconsin team. The Kohl Center has always been a difficult place to play, no matter who suits up for the Badgers. Wisconsin has lost five of their last seven games after starting 16-0, but they are still one of the toughest teams in the conference. The game is at 1:00 pm and can be seen on CBS or heard on the Spartan Sports Network.

 

 

Role Players Plugging the Hole for MSU

JAN 30 – One slam of a hand, and MSU’s season could have been up in flames.

Without their top two rebounders, the Spartans could have imploded and limped along until Adreian Payne came back. But the role players for Michigan State have done their best to plug the gaping hole left by Payne and Branden Dawson so far.

Matt Costello played a key part in Michigan State’s last two games. In the hard-fought loss to Michigan, the sophomore scored nine points while grabbing eight rebounds. He is not needed to score, but more to clean the offensive glass. In his last two games, Costello has had nine offensive rebounds, leading to key second-chance points for the Spartans. His defense is also solid in the post, swatting the Hawkeyes twice in the overtime win.

Denzel Valentine played a major role in the overtime victory in Iowa on Tuesday. He played 29 minutes and pitched in 12 points and six rebounds. He also had two assists, including a huge one in overtime. Although he turned in a lackluster performance against Michigan, his overall numbers this season are up from last year, with 2.5 more points and nearly two more rebounds per game.

Perhaps the best moment from the Iowa game was Russell Byrd hitting the three-pointer in the corner to seal the game for the Spartans in overtime. Byrd has dealt with a slew of injuries throughout his career at Michigan State that have completely shot his confidence.

Despite being healthy all season, Byrd has only played in 11 games this year, scoring in double digits once. He had not hit a three since mid-December, but it could not have come at a better time. Those were his only points of the game, but he could be considered the game’s MVP.

With the best head coach in the Big Ten and possibly the nation, the Spartans should be in good shape even without two starters. Coach Izzo has dealt with similar situations in the past, specifically in the 1999-2000 championship season. Mateen Cleaves had to miss the first 13 games of the season due to a stress fracture in his right foot and the Spartans stumbled to a 9-4 start, including a loss to Wright State (4-8).

The rest is history. So do not despair Spartan fans. Izzo knows what he is doing and he has the players to step up and carry the team until Dawson and Payne are back.

– See more at: http://impact89fm.org/sports/2014/01/29/role-players-plugging-the-hole-for-msu/#sthash.vg6N3HpN.dpuf

3-Point Play: Minnesota Edition

JAN 11 – It took five extra minutes, but the Spartans (15-1, 4-0) were able to overcome a second half deficit to beat Minnesota (13-4, 2-2) on Saturday, 87-75. They did it without both Adreian Payne and a less than 100 percent Travis Trice, whom coach Izzo describe as “zone busters.”

The Golden Gophers had the hot hand from outside to start the game, connecting on seven of 12 from deep in the first half. They went on a 13-4 run to take a 29-21 lead with six and a half minutes remaining in the first. Kaminski was lights out from deep for MSU, making his first four three-pointers in the first half. The Spartans trailed by five at the break.

Michigan State chipped away at the deficit throughout the second half. They finally took the lead with just under 11 minutes remaining, their first edge since midway through the first half. A pair of Matt Costello free throws extended MSU’s lead to five with 22 seconds remaining. Malik Smith hit a three-pointer with 16 seconds left for the Gophers, then Deandre Mathieu made a layup in the closing seconds to send the game into overtime.

The overtime period was dominated by Michigan State. Minnesota didn’t get onto the board for the first four minutes. The Spartans outscored the Gophers 16-4 largely on free throws and won by a score of 87-75. Here are three storylines that stood out in the overtime win.

1. Kenny Kaminski: Pure Shooter

Redshirt freshman Kenny Kaminski had his coming out party against Ohio State, in which he hit three shots from beyond the arc. None were bigger than his three-pointer in overtime to give the Spartans a two-point lead. Against Minnesota, he was scorching. Kaminski connected on his first five three-pointers and earned extra minutes with Branden Dawson disappearing in the first half (I’ll get to that later).

Kaminski has responded as well as coach Izzo could have hoped after his second suspension of the season. He has missed six games this year due to suspensions, mostly for academic reasons.

“He has made some progress,” Coach Izzo said in the post game press conference, “he has been handling it pretty well and we are going to keep moving forward.”

Izzo went on to say, “If he continues to improve and we try to get a rebound once in a while and guard someone once in a while, he can shoot it with anybody. We do have to do more than just score on one end, but he did give us a lift at a point in time when we weren’t very good.”


2. Will the real Branden Dawson please stand up?

Zero points and three rebounds is the disappointing stat line that Branden Dawson turned in through one half of play on Saturday. Coming off another disappointing game against Ohio State in which he only scored four points and grabbed four rebounds, many thought he would be fired-up to bounce back.

That was not the case in the first half.

When he was on the court, Dawson looked disinterested at times, not fighting for rebounds like we are accustomed to seeing. “There is something wrong with Branden, there is no question about it,” Izzo said.

He was benched at the start of the second half with the hot Kaminski replacing him. His first basket came on a tip-in with 11:30 remaining in the second half and his play picked up after that, but still not the level that coaches expect out of him.

“You can see the look on his face, everybody can see it,” Izzo said, “My mother calls; she’s 87, she is wearing her bifocals looking at the TV and she can see it.”

With Dawson being a nonfactor in the first half and a slightly better version in the second half and overtime, this leads us to wonder, which player is the true Branden Dawson? The one who scored a season-high 20 points to go along with nine rebounds against Penn State? Or the player who turned in four points and four rebounds in the overtime win over Ohio State?

“He was averaging a double-double going into that Carolina game,” Izzo said. “He really struggled in that game, and then he had the big stretch where he played very well, and then he has not played with that same energy and it’s nothing with his teammates, it’s nothing with his coaches, it’s nothing with school. It’s something and we just have to figure it out and get him back.”

The hope is that Dawson will bring a consistent effort on a nightly basis because his pure athleticism makes him one of the most exciting players to watch, and the sky is the limit for his potential. His freakish jumping ability makes up for the height he gives up in the paint, and he leads the Spartans in rebounding with 8.7 per game. Dawson grabbed some important boards near the end of regulation and overtime, which is a good sign. The only question is, why can’t he perform at high level consistently for a full game?

3. Costello and Valentine fill in nicely for Payne

Adreian Payne played through pain to score 18 points and grab eight rebounds in a heroic effort against Ohio State. Due to a right foot sprain, Coach Izzo didn’t even think the senior would play when he got to the Breslin Center on Tuesday night. But Payne gritted his teeth throughout the game and played a major role in the overtime win.

The pain was too much for Payne to play through on Saturday, however, so the Spartans found themselves without 16.2 points of offense.

But that’s where MSU’s team displayed its depth, which has been better than expected, with all of the injuries and suspensions that have plagued the team. He has seen multiple players step up when their team needed them throughout the year. On Saturday, Matt Costello returned to the starting lineup and played his best game since he came down with mononucleosis. He scored seven points and added eight rebounds and three blocks.

Denzel Valentine was in the starting lineup on Saturday and had a tough time shooting. With the emergence of Kaminski, the Spartans didn’t need Valentine to be a scoring machine. He did come up clutch when his team needed it, though, and finished the game with nine points and ten rebounds.

“He got some big rebounds late. I thought he defended better late,” Izzo told reporters.

UP NEXT

Michigan State travels to Evanston, Ill for a matchup with the Northwestern Wildcats on Wednesday. With the days off, the Spartans should have a fully healthy Travis Trice and a much-recovered Adreian Payne. Tipoff is at 7:00.