BREAKDOWN Michigan State will reload with an intriguing blend of talented newcomers in the backcourt and proven warriors in the frontcourt.
The Spartans may have lost talented but enigmatic guards Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers as well as gifted power forward Delvon Roe (retired due to a recurring knee injury), but look for Michigan State to extend its streak of 14 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. A preseason top-10 squad last year, the Spartans finished with more losses (15) than any Michigan State team since Izzo's first season as head coach in 1996, but that hasn't soured the coach on his team's potential.
"I have enjoyed this team more, already," Izzo says. "We have some talent, some young guys who want to learn, want to get better. They are going to listen. They are going to be grittier. I think we are going to have better leadership and togetherness."
Leading the Spartans is experienced senior power forward Draymond Green, who has played in two Final Fours and is driven to make Michigan State a national factor again. With crafty finishing ability around the rim, and 36.6 percent accuracy from three-point range, Green causes matchup problems. The two-time, third-team All-Big Ten honoree has 18 career double-doubles and a pair of triple-doubles, but will need to improve defensively.
Green will also need help from sophomore combo guard Keith Appling and sophomore post player Adreian Payne. Appling deferred to veterans last year, but will need to put his combo guard gifts on display this season. If newcomers Travis Trice and Valparaiso transfer Brandon Wood excel at point, Appling could be freed up to do more on the wing. The Spartans will also need the athleticism of the 6-10 Payne. Following an injury-marred freshman campaign, Payne is capable of a major breakthrough following an injury-marred freshman campaign.
Major contributions are likely from freshman forward Branden Dawson and wide-bodied junior Derrick Nix. Nix started for the 2010 Final Four team, but saw his role reduced as he put on weight. He's tough, smart and strong, with good moves and touch when in deep. The 2011-12 version of Nix might stun people, provided he maintains better physical condition.
FINAL ANALYSIS Although the Spartans are relying on several unproven players, their potential ceiling is still high, allowing Michigan State fans legitimate reasons to dream.
"I haven't had this many questions and x-factors in a season in the last 12 or 13 years," Izzo says. "There are a lot of unknowns. Who is going to be the point now? Is he going to adapt? If Nix keeps his weight down, if the other guys grow like I think they will -- Adreian Payne especially -- I think we have a chance to be real good. If they don't, we'll be a decent team and that will be it."