|Last Year||29-8 (13-5)|
|Coach||Tom Izzo, 18th year|
|Who's Gone||Draymond Green, Austin Thornton, Brandon Wood|
|Who's Back||Keith Appling, Branden Dawson, Adreian Payne, Derrick Nix, Travis Trice|
|Who's New||Gary Harris, Denzel Valentine, Matt Costello|
It was another ho-hum 13-5, Big Ten Championship season for Tom Izzo and the Spartans in 2011-12. Michigan State won the conference tournament final against Ohio State 68-64, earning them a one-seed in the NCAA Tournament. They were bounced in the Sweet Sixteen by a Final Four-bound Louisville squad, capping a season that is probably considered par for the course by much of Spartydom.
Last year's Big Ten Player of the Year is gone in Draymond Green, the do-it-all "Dancing Bear" who accounted for 22% of the team's points and 32% of the team's rebounding. It will be impossible to replace Green's production with one player. Also departed are guards Brandon Wood and Austin Thornton, depleting the Spartans of any senior leadership in the backcourt.
What Sparty lacks in senior leadership, they make up for in talent. Although they return just over half of last season's scoring output, Michigan State brings back a healthy, year-older Branden Dawson. If it wasn't for a knee injury in last-year's regular season finale, Dawson may have seen his name among the preseason All-Conference teams. All reports on Dawson's knee look positive, with some media members going so far as to say it looks better than ever.
Keith Appling will run the show again at the point. The junior guard averaged 11.4 points per game last year, but it's his assist to turnover ratio (1.7) that will need to improve for the Spartans to continue their Big Ten dominance. While he wasn't named a captain, Izzo expects Appling to be the leader on the floor for this year's Spartans.
Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix will man the low post, and Payne will look to improve on the great strides he made in his sophomore season as the team's main shot blocker and rebounder. Nix is a load of a player at 6'9", 270 lbs and the more he can stay on the floor, the better Michigan State will be.
And look out for freshman Gary Harris. The five-star swingman appears to have inserted himself (SFW) into the starting lineup from day one. Harris could be one of the best freshman in the country, let alone the conference.
Michigan State is ranked 14th in both preseason polls, fourth among Big Ten schools. Based on the loss of Green and the overall strength of the conference, that seems like a fair ranking. Then again, you wouldn't bet on a Tom Izzo team finishing worse than third in the Big Ten, would you? The bottom line is that Izzo knows how to maneuver through this battlefield of a conference, and he certainly has the talent to make another deep run in postseason play.
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