#23 Michigan State Women's Basketball Preview

Michigan State Spartans

Overall Rank: #23
Conference Rank: #3 Big Ten
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Take a look at Michigan State’s basketball program and you might think of Tom Izzo right away. Not to mention all of the players Izzo has coached over the years that have helped the Spartans to success. On that same campus since 2003, however, the Michigan State women have quietly put together an impressive team of their own. While not on the same level yet as powerhouse programs like Baylor, Notre Dame, Stanford, Tennessee or Connecticut, the Spartans certainly have a solid fan base and have become an important force in NCAA women’s basketball over the last several years. The defending Big Ten Conference champions will go right back to work to keep the title, in the face of stiff competition.

2010-11: 27-6, 13-3
2010-11 Postseason: NCAA (lost in second round to Wisconsin-Green Bay, 65-56)
Coach: Suzy Merchant (95-41 at Michigan State, 296-161 overall)

Who’s Out:
The Spartans lost four seniors to graduation, including leading scorer Kalisha Keane, whose 16.1 points, 5.0 rebounds and 75 season assists will be sorely missed. Brittney Thomas led the team in assists last year with 96 and averaged 8.9 points and 3.1 rebounds per game, and Cetera Washington came in at 5.7 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. Three of the top six scorers have graduated, making Merchant’s job more difficult this season. A fourth senior, Jasmine Holmes, only saw action in six games and wasn’t much of an on-court factor.

Who’s In:
In anticipation of losing all this talent, Merchant heavily hit the recruiting trail. Her work produced fine results, as five true freshmen came aboard the East Lansing campus (a sixth freshman, Madison Williams, is a redshirt from a year ago). Kiana Johnson, a 5-7 guard, is well known for her play at Whitney Young in Chicago, where she was a two-time all-state selection and #65 on The Madness recruit list.  Another Illinois product is 5-10 guard Anna Morrissey, from the Chicago suburb of Lincolnshire. She averaged 10 points and six rebounds while a senior at Stevenson High School. Jasmine Hines, a 6-3 center, is Michigan’s reigning Miss Basketball, a PARADE magazine All-American, and the Class D player of the year. Her 3,034 points and 1,692 rebounds are tops all-time in the state of Michigan and she could be a dominant presence in the middle. Akyah Taylor, a 5-11 forward from Elkhart, Ind., is Elkhart Memorial’s leading scorer at 1,719 points and should be someone to watch in the future. Becca Mills, a 6-4 forward from Midland Dow in Michigan, is the reigning Class A player of the year.

Who to Watch:
Not counting the freshmen, the one player who bears watching is Lykendra Johnson, the one true starter returning to the Spartans lineup. Johnson averaged 11.8 points and 8.9 rebounds a year ago and dominated the boards category. Her 44 blocks and 79 steals were team leaders. Johnson’s 27 minutes a game average will likely go up as she becomes the go-to girl on the court. Half-starters Taylor Alton (6.3 points per game) and Porsche Poole (6.1) will also see their playing time rise as a result of all the exits.

Final Projection:
Penn State and Purdue will provide formidable blocks in the way of another Big Ten title, but the Spartans could produce good results if everyone gels quickly. The reality is Merchant’s roster is full of young talent, but she secured the services of two of the four players of the year in Michigan, the state’s all-time leading scorer, and the leading scorer in Elkhart Memorial history. Merchant’s freshman class may need a year to grow, and if the Spartans don’t win the Big Ten this year they could be positively dangerous in the future.

Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA

Projected Starting Five:
Lykendra Johnson, Forward, Senior, 11.8 points per game
Taylor Alton, Guard, Senior, Most Improved Player recipient in 2010-11
Porsche Poole, Guard, Senior, Sixth Player of the Year team recipient
Jasmine Hines, Center, Freshman, DNP last season
Becca Mills, Forward, Freshman, DNP last season

Madness 2011 Women's Basketball Recruit Rankings:
#65 Kiana Johnson