Impact Izzone: S3 E2

The season is right around the corner, and Blake Froling and Ryan Cole are here to get you ready. The two recap MSU basketball media day and talk about the new renovations coming to the Breslin Center, predict the Big Ten season and Ryan reveals himself as a closet Michigan fan… but not really.

Listen to the podcast on Impact Sports:

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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 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


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+


Year in Review: Grading the Freshman Class

It has been more than two weeks since the Spartans were booted out of the Final Four, and this time away has allowed me to regroup and collect my thoughts. This season has left me, and other basketball “experts” that followed this team, quite scatterbrained. The highs were incredibly high, and the lows brought on feelings of despair, loneliness and self-doubt.

Now it’s time to look back at the season that was, and grade each class based on performance and contribution to the team. The freshman class is up first.

Coming into the season, this group was largely viewed as second options when Izzo missed out on big recruits like Jahlil Okafor and Cliff Alexander. But this scrappy bunch outplayed expectations and has a bright future for the green and white.

Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr. – 39 games, 19.4 MPG, 2.2 PPG, 2.4 APG, 31.8% FG

Tum Tum’s impact on this team transcends the stat sheet. His numbers are unimpressive at first glance, but if you watched him on the court you saw just how big his impact was.

Nairn started 19 games this season and ran the point the best out of all the other guards. He was incredibly poised for a freshman and his lightning speed made the offense run much smoother.

When Coach Izzo replaced Travis Trice with Tum Tum in the starting lineup after the Illinois loss, the team found new life and started their improbable run.

For all the good that Tum Tum did, he still has a lot of room for improvement. His jump shot is woeful, and opposing defenses sag off him when he has the ball. He needs to make teams at least respect his jump shot to open up the lane so he can drive to the basket and draw fouls.

Overall, Tum Tum played much more than anyone expected in his freshman season and had a positive impact on the team. His leadership skills are far beyond his years, and he could even become the next great leader in MSU basketball history.

Final grade – B+

Marvin Clark Jr.39 games, 11.2 MPG, 4.5 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 50.4% FG

The southpaw from Kansas City, Missouri had an up and down season. At times, he played a major role in the rotation and stretched defenses out with his sneaky 3-point shooting. At other times, he completely disappeared and made no visible contributions. But Clark hit his stride toward the end of the year and solidified his role off the bench.

In the Regional Final against Louisville, Clark was forced to play power forward after both Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling fouled out in overtime. Standing a mere 6-foot-6, the Cardinal forwards towered over him and Branden Dawson in the paint. The diminutive duo proceeded to shut down Louisville’s stud and National Power Forward of the Year Montrezl Harrell en route to a birth in the Final Four.

Clark’s outside touch provided a much-needed spark off the bench and his timely rebounding was key down the stretch. Even though he caused Izzo great pain at times, Clark played meaningful minutes and set the bar high for his sophomore campaign.

He’s got great potential, and my colleague Andrew Hayes even said he could be an All-American someday. An endorsement from Hayes does not come easily, so Clark better live up to expectations.

Final grade – B

Javon Bess12 games, 12.3 MPG, 2.7 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 47.8% FG

Bess got off to a late start after he injured his foot and was forced to miss the first month of the season. The 6-foot-5 forward played solid basketball in his next 12 games, even getting the start three times. But the pain kept lingering in his foot and was forced to shut it down for the remainder of the season.

His shining moment came at Nebraska, where he put up nine points and grabbed five rebounds in the two-point loss. Bess showed not only that he was an above average to great defender, but he could also score when called upon. It’s a shame that a year of his eligibility is gone, but Bess figures to be a main part of the rotation in the future.

Final grade – NA



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.


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.

Lineup Shuffle Sparks Spartans

FEB 20

Tum Tum Nairn can thank the Illini for his new starting job.

After a debilitating loss to Illinois at the Breslin on February 7, changes needed to be made. With Travis Trice struggling mightily and the offense AWOL, Coach Izzo needed to do something to get his team out of a funk before it was too late.

“Probably not the most disappointed I’ve been, but I’m the maddest I’ve been,” said Izzo after the loss. “I can’t stomach that; I can’t stomach what we went through today, so I understand if people aren’t able to stomach it. We’ll regroup.”

And regroup they did. Tum Tum was inserted into the starting lineup the following game in Evanston and the offense immediately perked up. The Spartans crushed Northwestern 68-44, hitting 13 3-pointers, including four from a rejuvenated Trice. When Tum Tum was running the point, the offense ran much quicker and more efficiently. Nairn is one of the fastest guards in the country and he pushes the ball 100 miles per hour up the court.

In the epic showdown with the Buckeyes (enter Valentine pun here), Izzo stuck with Tum Tum in the starting lineup against a taller and heavier D’Angelo Russell. In the opening possession, Russell backed down Tum Tum with ease, but after that he played tough and scrappy defense. Nairn hit all three of his shots, pulled down five rebounds and dished four assists. Trice only had nine points, but converted a huge driving layup to put MSU up three with 1:16 left.

The cherry on top came in Ann Arbor on Tuesday, when the Spartans steamrolled Michigan 80-67. Trice once again came off the bench and had one of his best performances of the season. The senior went off for 22 points and seven assists. Now MSU is peaking at exactly the right time.

Five games remain on the schedule, including a rematch against Illinois in Champaign on Sunday. If the Spartans want to solidify their chances of dancing in March, they must win this game. Spartan fans, it is ok to take your finger off the panic button (I think I already broke mine) but this team is not out of the woods yet. March is a long ways away.


Free Throw Futility Pushing Spartans to the Bubble

FEB 10

After Michigan State’s latest in a series of disappointing loss, this time at the hands of the Illini, a berth in the NCAA Tournament has become less and less of a certainty. MSU has not been left out of the big dance since 1997, but this could be the year the streak is snapped. This fall from grace can be attributed mainly to atrocious free throw shooting.

Free throws are the easiest way to get points, yet MSU cannot seem to figure out this concept. The Spartans are dead last in the Big Ten in free throw percentage and No. 330 in the nation as of Feb. 7. Teams that struggle from the line tend to struggle in March, plain and simple. If this season-long slump continues, MSU might be accepting a bid in the NIT.

Futility from the charity stripe has lost several key games for the Spartans. In the overtime loss to Notre Dame in South Bend, MSU shot 5-9 from the line. Only nine attempts in a game is absolutely unforgivable. In the embarrassing overtime loss to Texas Southern, MSU went 12-21 on their freebies. In the first Maryland loss in double overtime at home, the Spartans shot 19-28.

In the two-point loss at Nebraska, MSU bricked 10 of their 25 attempts. And finally in the latest loss to the Illini, Tom Izzo’s squad went 7-18 from the stripe, their second worst performance of the season, barely ahead of the 4-13 “effort” in a crushing loss against Maryland. That adds up to five losses that would have been wins in previous years when the lid on the basket wasn’t there.

“We’re just going to have to shoot free throws until people’s hands have blisters on them. It’s ridiculous,” said Izzo after the loss to Illinois on Saturday. “We’ve addressed it and we’ve brought guys in. Sooner or later, you have to be able to step up and shoot a free throw.”

According to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, the Bracketology expert, MSU is projected to earn a 9-seed. CBS Sports’ Bracketology expert, Jerry Palm, has the Spartans in the first four out category. The way this team is playing right now, a 9-seed is a gift from the heavens. The bubble is uncharted territory for the Spartans, but they bricked themselves right onto it.

MSU is currently 6-4 in the conference, three games behind frontrunner Wisconsin with eight games remaining. If the Spartans want to guarantee a berth in the NCAA Tournament, they cannot afford to lose any more bad games.

Trips to Northwestern, Illinois and Michigan are very losable based on how the team is performing right now, and a matchup with Wisconsin at the Kohl Center is virtually unwinnable. If MSU drops any of those games, March Madness will become more like a dream.