#8 Michigan State Men's Basketball 2015-2016 Preview

Michigan State Spartans

2015-2016 Overall Rank: #8
Conference Rank: #2 Big Ten

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Michigan State had some ups and downs last season, but they were up when it mattered the most. Heading into the NCAA Tournament as a seven seed, the Spartans beat Georgia, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament and then upset #2 seed Virginia, #3 seed Oklahoma and #4 Louisville to reach the Final Four. In typical Michigan State fashion, the Spartans were blown out in the Final Four by an ACC team, this time Duke, but it was a great run for Michigan State and this is another team that can reach the Final Four.

2014-15 Record: 27-12, 12-6
2014-15 Postseason: NCAA
Coach: Tom Izzo
Coach Record: 495-199 at Michigan State, 495-199 overall

Who’s Out:
Losing Travis Trice and Branden Dawson is very significant though. Trice led the Spartans with 15.3 points and 5.1 assists per game. He really turned into a great leader and scorer during his senior season. He also hit 90 three-pointers. Dawson was the athletic forward who could finish above the rim. The 6-6 forward averaged 11.9 points and a team high 9.1 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.7 blocks.

Who’s In:
Coach Tom Izzo returns enough talent to compete in the Big Ten, but this recruiting class will help them fill in those few gaps. The most notable addition is West Virginia transfer Eron Harris. Two years ago as a sophomore with the Mountaineers, Harris averaged 17.2 points per game. He is a big-time scorer and a superb outside shooter. During that season he ranked third in the Big 12 by shooting 42.2 percent from beyond the arc and ranked fourth in the conference with 2.7 three-pointers made per game. Walk-ons Conner George and Kenny Goins could add some depth down the road, but for now they will learn the ropes. Among the three incoming freshmen, power forward Deyonta Davis figures to make the biggest impact right away. The Spartans need size and Davis is a McDonald’s All-American who, at 6-10 and 240 pounds, already looks like a Big Ten forward. Matt McQuaid is a smart, athletic shooter with a bright future and fellow shooting guard Kyle Ahrens will develop into a solid playmaker sooner or later.  

Who to Watch:
But for now it is hard to see where the backcourt freshmen will find minutes in a very crowded and talented backcourt. Denzel Valentine will step into the senior leadership role. Even if he is not the most vocal player on the court, he can lead by playing his game. The 6-5 guard averaged 14.5 points, 4.3 assists and 6.3 rebounds. Valentine was the best outside shooter on a very good shooting team, knocking down 102 three-pointers in 2014-2015. Valentine may just be 6-5, but he is tough and plays like a point forward. That versatility could allow Coach Izzo to play Valentine at the four spot on occasion. And that is necessary because Bryn Forbes and Lourawls Nairn Jr. are joining Valentine and Harris in the backcourt. Forbes is the other shooter on the team, knocking down an impressive 42.7 percent of his attempts from long range as a junior. He had a huge breakthrough year in 2014-2015 and is more than just a shooter off of the bench. He started 24 games a year ago, but starting or not, Forbes will be a big part of the rotation. Nairn will take over the starting point guard duties. He was a part-time starter as a freshman and averaged 2.4 assists and under one turnover per game. With a little offensive improvement, Nairn will be one of the better point guards in the Big Ten. Javon Bess and Alvin Ellis III are capable of playing a bigger role this year if they can get over some nagging injuries.

Final Projection:
But it is really in the frontcourt where Michigan State needs to see improvement now that Dawson is gone. Gavin Schilling started beside Dawson last year and he is an athletic big man. However, his finishing and scoring have been lacking. Senior Matt Costello is a better scorer and averaged 7.0 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. Those two could be starting together if Coach Izzo needs to play big. Marvin Clark Jr. and Colby Wollenman, along with incoming freshman Davis, can add depth and Clark and Davis have the talent to start and make major contributions.

Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA

Projected Starting Five:
Lourawls Nairn, Sophomore, Guard, 2.2 points per game
Eron Harris, Junior, Guard, DNP last season
Denzel Valentine, Senior, Guard, 14.5 points per game
Gavin Schilling, Junior, Forward, 5.1 points per game
Matt Costello, Senior, Forward, 7.0 points per game

By the Numbers:
Scoring Offense: 71.1 (79th in nation, 5th in conference)
Scoring Defense: 63.6 (94, 7)
Field-Goal Percentage: 46.5 (45, 3)
Field-Goal Defense: 39.6 (36, 2)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game: 7.5 (60, 3)
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage: 38.5 (32, 2)
Free-Throw Percentage: 63.2 (330, 14)
Rebound Margin: 5.4 (27, 2)
Assists Per Game: 16.6 (5, 1)
Turnovers Per Game: 11.3 (61, 6)

Madness 2016 NBA Draft Rankings:
#47 Denzel Valentine

Madness 2015 Men’s Basketball Recruit Rankings:
#25 Deyonta Davis
#70 Matt McQuaid
#155 Kyle Ahrens


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