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/

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.