I am higher on the Spartans than most people on here. I think that somehow Izzo is going to get this team to win games. I think that Valentine and Dawson are going to be two very good players. Michigan State loses Dan Chapman, Adreian Payne, and Keith Appling to graduation. In addition, Gary Harris is leaving for the NBA. Also, Russell Byrd is foregoing his final year of elgibility. Losing these players means losing:
Now this is quite a lot to lose but it could be worse. They could have three players going pro like other teams in the conference. Here is the catch, Alex Gauna has not decided if he is going to take his fifth year. And although he is not a starter, he is an important role-player. Here is what they lose if he leaves.
Not only do they lose some real minutes, they lose valuable experience. This player is not going to be all B1G but losing him means losing serious depth. Here is what their roster looks like:
# Name HT WT YR POS
15 Keenan Wetzel 6-4 210 RS.SR SG
Only played 22 minutes all of last year, will not play.
2 Alex Gauna 6-9 250 RS.SR C
Played 7 minutes a game last year. He will get about 10 minutes a game this year unless he decides not to take his fifth year.
20 Travis Trice 6-0 170 SR. PG
The starting Point Guard, candidate for "alien of the year". He averaged 22 minutes a game last year when Keith was being tough and he will get about 30 this year. He should be their 3rd option to score this year.
22 Branden Dawson 6-6 225 SR. PF
Branden is arguably their best player. He may not be a scorer but he is a man on the boards and a very good defender. He will start at Power Forward. If Dan Dakich does not break Dawson's hand again then he should be on track for all B1G.
41 Colby Wollenman 6-7 225 RS.JR SF
Will not play.
45 Denzel Valentine 6-5 225 JR. SF
The starting Small Forward, will be their go-to scorer. If he plays to his full ability he could be a lock to go to the NBA. Frontrunner for the "Needs Braces" team.
10 Matt Costello 6-9 240 JR. C
The starting Center, could be pretty good next year and a more than servicable starter.
13 Trevor Bohnhoff 6-7 215 JR. PF
Will not play.
30 Kenny Kaminski 6-8 225 RS.SO PF
A three point shooter, will pick up odd minutes at the 3-5.
34 Gavin Schilling 6-9 225 SO. C
An uber athletic fouling machine. He picks up 8 fouls every 40 minutes, which is good for him fouling out in 25 minutes. Not good. He will pick up minutes.
3 Alvin Ellis III 6-4 195 SO. SG
The biggest mystery on their team, he only played 7 minutes a game last year. I think he will start later on in the year. Early in the year I think Valentine will slide down with Dawson at the three and Kaminski at the 4.
Lourawls Nairn 5-10 170 FR. PG
A four star, the #15 Point Guard in this class. He will be the back-up 1 this year.
Javon Bess 6-5 195 FR. SG
A three star, the #20 Shooting Guard in this class. He will back-up Ellis at the 2.
Marvin Clark 6-7 219 FR. PF
A three star, the #40 Power Forward in this class. He will be the back-up 3.
Projected Starting Lineup:
Point Guard: Travis Trice
Shooting Guard: Alvin Ellis III
Small Forward: Denzel Valentine
Power Forward: Branden Dawson
Center: Matt Costello
Losing Gauna would make this team worse than Michigan, but with him, MSU barely has the edge. I think State will go 4th in the B1G and 12-6 in the conference.
Next up... Ohio State
Another must win game for the Wolverines, welcoming State to Yost. Michigan's senior class can improve to 5-0-0 at Yost against the Spartans with a win. The game is on Comcast 900.
Unlike in football, where you have a game a week and, thus, all carry a pretty high significance, basketball has far more games with varying levels of import. Last year I basically started this column with the tourney run, and so far the season has been just disjointed enough that it was hard to get a bead on what this team was capable of. So it wasn’t until this week’s games against Wiscy, Iowa, and MSU did I feel like I could do justice to a full-fledged Best and Worst on a series of games. Note that while I can at least impersonate someone who knows a couple of things about football, I am an avowed fanboy of basketball who begged his mom for a Charlotte Hornets Starter jacket and Bobby Hurley’s ITZ so that I could ball in the Michigan winters all day long.
Also, there might be wrestling references in here. To paraphrase Mel Gibson to Joaquin Phoenix, “Neg away.”
Best: Wrecking Ball
Even the most optimistic fan looked at this slate of games and said “2-1 would be fantastic, but just get 1 win and survive.” Then came the signature win at the Trohl Center, and everyone rejoiced for a day until the Ent Globtetrotters were seen emerging from a fertile Plains state. Then UM felled it’s second top-10 team of the week and the mood turned pure Lloyd Christmas with the possibility of a sweep at the Breslin, but for most that fantasy was quickly snuffed out by the realties of playing against a third top-10 team, on the road, before a rabid crowd that could easily sway the officials in ways both great and small. And it’s not like MSU is a pushover; led by the lilliputian Tom Izzo, one of the nation’s top coaches and 18-time winner of the Frances Pomeroy Van Gundy award for coaching, he’s the reason Cedar Village’s Google Image Search is virtually indistinguishable from that of London’s during World War 2.
(Click to enlarge. The black & white ones are London)
And yet, it was hard to shake the feeling at halftime that UM was going to sweep the week, or at the very least come damn close. Yes, the shooting has been unsustainably hot, but they were also able to weather some horrible officiating and Gary Harris’s amazing performance to keep the game close, and at some point a short-handed MSU team* wasn’t going to be able to hang with this squad, even if they weren’t at full-strength themselves. And so, like the other two games, UM won a bit going away, hitting their foul shots and playing stout enough defense to salt it. Basically, they followed the same formula MSU and UW have used for years to choke the life out of teams.
So now, midway through a season that started with much uncertainty, pocked with consternation and some despair, UM sits atop the best conference in the country, 7-0 for the first time since before anyone on this team was born. Though this is certainly not the last tough stretch for the team, and you have to expect some type of letdown in the coming weeks, these guys went from safe-if-unspectacular tourney team to one of the most dangerous outs in the country, a designation that seems perfectly appropriate for a Beilein squad. Speaking of which…
* This has been discussed elsewhere, but losing Payne to injury was tough. Losing Dawson to a “Fist Punch of Leadership” is just having an idiot on your team. Everyone loses players throughout the season, and sore wrists and bum shoulders weren’t the reasons UM has won 5 of the last 7 against MSU.
Best: The Beilein Hypothesis…
I’ve always believed that there are two types of successful college coaches: guys who thrive in chaos of new players and transition, and guys who thrive at installing players into a system. The archetypes of the prior are the one-and-done maestros like Calipari, while the patron saint of the latter are guys like Tom Izzo and Bo Ryan. Obviously, most coaches fall somewhere in this spectrum, with guys like Pitino, Krzyzewski, Boeheim, Self, and Williams making do with varying mixtures of near-pros and matriculating talent. But in general, their greatest successes fall into one of these two camps.
John Beilein has always been a system guy. Now, when I hear that term as it relates to college basketball, I think of your defensive taskmasters; your Ryans and Izzos who recruit annoyingly-good offensive rebounders and defense-first guards who want to leave teams looking like Zach Novak and muttering “Jon-a-than!” as they board their bus.
But with Beilein, the focus has always been about his offense, and he’s recruited those players with a very specific set of skills with aplomb since he arrived in Ann Arbor. Sure, he made do with imperfect lineups featuring guys like Morris, Harris, and Sims, talented players who helped carry UM back to respectability even when they weren’t great fits for the system. But you always saw him tinkering at the edges, trying to create the type of team that, well, he’s had for the past 2-3 years (though perhaps still a bit too guard-heavy, with McGary’s injury being a major factor).
Still, it has gotten to the point with Beilein’s team that they can lose one of the best players in the country and another first-round NBA player and really not miss a beat. Sure, Stauskas and Caris have made strides and the Morgan/Horford combo has impressed, but this team is still down 3/5ths of the starting lineup that took them to the championship game last year. And yet, after a couple of early stumbles as the pieces settled into place, the offensive productivity remains elite while the defense remains in line with last year’s acceptable rate. And unlike defense-heavy teams, which seem to be better able to plug in, how do I say this charitably, “high energy” guys with limited offensive games and still come out on top, Beilein’s system requires players to be able to actually score with some consistency, a skill that (I presume) is far less abundant.
It seems that it has gotten to the point with Beilein (and more importantly this team) that players have become largely interchangeable provided they possess certain basic skillsets and a decent level of athleticism. And in some ways, perhaps his best teams are going to be those bereft of a great many “stars” from an NBA perspective. This isn’t meant to invoke the Ewing Theory because losing in the championship game could never be construed as “underachieving”, but I do think that the Burke-Hardaway squad was hurt at times by having two NBA-ready players sometimes vying for the same shots and space; you heard various people complain gently that the “hero ball” at the end of games by Burke and Hardaway felt forced at times. Obviously it didn’t cost them in the end, but his WVU teams weren’t overflowing with NBA talent and yet they held serve in a remarkably tough Big East for years. That doesn’t mean you don’t want to recruit the best kids, but his team seems capable of holding serve without the superstars guys like Calipari need to replenish year-in/year-out.
My only nagging concern is that the defense, perhaps by design or due to the players best suited for this offense, seems to have settled at about average, which puts pressure on the offense to be significantly more efficient than other teams to compensate. It is a relatively minor concern and one that should further shrink as more talent arrives, but it should be noted when discussing Beilein’s successes.
So while I’m not yet ready to consider that any future Beilein team at UM can be penciled in for a certain number of wins and a tourney run, it is safe to say that the era of “fretting” about the state of the program is at an end. Given a reasonable number of healthy bodies and at least some talented offensive players, Beilein’s squads will be highly competitive in the toughest conference in the land, always in the running for conference banners and capable of beating anyone on a given night. That is the best mark of a good system, and given the past two decades of UM basketball, a welcome sign.
[He isn't even close to done with Bests yet. Jump!]
Michigan heads to Munn looking to sweep Michigan State. The game is on BTN.
Michigan heads into a must win game at Joe Louis to take on Michigan State. The game is on FSD.
Michigan and Michigan State play in the 3rd place game of the GLI, set to start at 4:30 after another delay.
The game is on FSD