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

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

Three-Point Play: Free Throws, Three-Pointers and “Trigga Trav”

JAN 21
The halfway point of the college basketball season is upon us. Three months of upsets, head-scratchers, blowouts and everything in between has made this season one of the most tumultuous and exciting in recent memory.

As for Michigan State, the season has been confusing to say the least. This team is an enigma, changing with every game and impossible for the experts to put a finger on. Here are three main storylines surrounding the troubled, yet explosive Spartans.

Mental block at the charity stripe?

Free throws should be the easiest part of the game. The referees are literally giving a player points for free, all they have to do is make a wide open, 15-foot shot. Most players can do this in their sleep, but the Spartans cannot.

As of Jan. 18, Michigan State is dead last in the Big Ten in free-throw percentage at 63.2 percent. That also ranks MSU at No. 319 in the nation. Just let that number sink in. Here are some more abysmal numbers: Branden Dawson is shooting 38.9 percent from the stripe. Gavin Schilling is a whopping seven percent better.

Free throws make or break a team in March, and until MSU gets over its mental block at the stripe, they will have an extremely difficult time having any success in the tournament.

Live by the three, die by the three

Ah yes, the three pointer. Michigan State has quite the love affair with shots beyond the arc. They lead the Big Ten in three-point percentage at 40.1 percent, which is also good enough for No. 18 in the nation. But the long bomb is not always kind to the Spartans. MSU has not shot less than 11 threes in a game this season and topped 20 attempts in seven of their games.

In all six of the Spartans’ losses this season, they took at least 17 threes. The problem arises when players like Denzel Valentine, Travis Trice and Bryn Forbes settle for quick outside shots rather than running the offense or getting out in transition, where MSU excels. When the Spartans fall into the habit of taking bad shots, they fall behind quickly.

In the most recent matchup with Maryland, MSU shot 3-17 from downtown, their worst percentage of the season. The offense had no flow whatsoever as the Terrapins locked down the Spartans on the perimeter. When the threes fall, the offense runs quickly and efficiently. When the threes bang off the iron, the offense sputters and even looks confused at times.

For a more consistent offense, the Spartans need to utilize their bigs Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling rather than chucking up low percentage threes.

Travis Trice is the man

This tweet by Draymond Green says it all. Green sent this tweet during MSU’s impressive comeback win against Iowa. Trice was a man possessed, connecting on seven of eight three-point attempts en route to a 25-point night.

A year ago, not many people would have expected Trice to take over a game like he did in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. But this is the new Travis Trice. He has transformed into a more aggressive player and confident leader. Trice runs the offense much better than last year and is shouldering a much heavier scoring load.

Last season, Trice never took more than nine shots in one game. This season, he has surpassed that total in 12 games. Of course, this increase is mostly due to his new starting role without Gary Harris and Keith Appling in the rotation, but Trice has made an incredible leap from his junior to senior year. An ESPN article (Insider required) ranked Trice as the No. 11 best player in the nation.

Not only does Trice have a silky stroke, his passing has also been one of his strengths. His 6.1 assists per game average (before Maryland game) is good enough for second best in the Big Ten. Trice also owns the best assist-to-turnover ratio in the conference at 4.0, nearly twice as good as last season.

Perhaps the most important improvement for Trice has been his health. Known for falling victim to the strangest injuries and illnesses, Trice has been a stalwart in the starting lineup this year.

Michigan State may not be playing to their potential right now, but rarely do Tom Izzo teams peak before March. His squads are a constant work in progress that hit stride just in time for the big games. This year looks to be no exception.

LINK TO ORIGINAL ARTICLE: http://impact89fm.org/sports/2015/01/21/three-point-play-free-throws-three-pointers-and-trigga-trav/

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

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.