Tuesday November 10th, 2015

This article originally appeared in the the Nov. 9, 2015, issue of Sports Illustrated. Subscribe to the magazine here

Growing up, Denzel Valentine had a small forward’s body and a point guard’s skills, prompting comparisons to another prodigy from Lansing, Mich. But at Michigan State, the comparisons became far less apt. “I used to say he’s trying to be like Magic Johnson, but he’s more like Tragic Johnson,” coach Tom Izzo says. “He just turned the ball over so much. He wasn’t making bad decisions. He was trying to be too fancy.”

Now a 6'5" senior guard, Valentine has reversed that tragic trajectory. Last season he was the only player in the Big Ten to rank in the top 15 in points (14.5), rebounds (6.3) and assists (4.3); he also hit 41.6% of his threes. Led by Valentine, the seventh-seeded Spartans took a surprise trip to the Final Four—especially impressive considering that he was battling two sports hernias that required surgery last April.

Valentine will play alongside Eron Harris, a 6'3" junior transfer from West Virginia (42.2% on three-pointers as a sophomore), and 6'3" senior Bryn Forbes (42.7% last season) to form the best long-range trio in the country. The roster is deep (eight players have started at least once) and talented (see 6'10" freshman Deyonta Davis). Valentine’s final season could be headed for a magical ending.

X-Factor

Gavin Schilling, 6'9" junior forward

Schilling’s inconsistency and poor free throw shooting (47.9% last year) have limited his minutes. But during the team’s summer trip to Italy, he scored 17 points in two of the three games and averaged 7.0 rebounds.

Coach’s Take

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“No question, we’re more talented than we were last year. This is the best shooting team I’ve had here by far. Some of our forwards can make threes, too. If anything, I worry that we might get caught up being a jump shooting team. Forbes has become a much better defender. We still need a four-man to come through. We’ve been playing smaller with Javon Bess because he’s healthy. If I play Costello and Schilling together, it could be the biggest team I’ve ever had. Davis is really skilled, but we’re working on his motor. He can play the four if he’s able to guard smaller people there. Our chemistry should be really good because Denzel is a great leader.” — Tom Izzo

Projected depth chart

SI/Hanner Projected 2015-16 stats
Name Pos. PPG RPG APG ORtg POSS MINS
Denzel Valentine PG/SG/SF 16.4 7.2 4.8 113.8 24% 89%
Eron Harris SG 11.1 3.1 1.3 108.5 24% 59%
Bryn Forbes SG 9.9 2.2 1.1 118.3 17% 63%
Matt Costello PF 9.8 6.8 1.1 121.2 19% 63%
Marvin Clark Jr. SF 8.0 3.8 0.6 108.2 21% 45%
Deyonta Davis PF 7.6 5.5 0.7 103.0 20% 54%
Gavin Schilling PF 7.2 5.1 0.7 108.0 19% 53%

Projected conference race

conference rank team projected Conf. record last year's Conf. record
1 Maryland 14-4 14-4
2 Indiana 12-6 9-9
3 Michigan State 12-6 12-6
4 Purdue 11-7 12-6
5 Michigan 11-7 8-10
6 Ohio State 11-7 11-7
7 Wisconsin 10-8 16-2
8 Illinois 9-9 9-9
9 Iowa 9-9 12-6
10 Northwestern 8-10 6-12
11 Nebraska 7-11 5-13
12 Penn State 6-12 4-14
13 Minnesota 5-13 6-12
14 Rutgers 1-17 2-16

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