The bout of walking pneumonia and mononucleosis that forward Raymar Morgan suffered last season should yield a few benefits this year. For one, "I had no idea how much I could endure," says Morgan, who also broke his nose in the Sweet 16 against Kansas. "Continuing to play through the illness and [injury] showed me a whole other side of myself." And second: If Morgan had continued the season the way he started it (averaging 15.2 points and 6.9 rebounds through the first 16 games), teammate Draymond Green says, "he probably wouldn't be on our team now."

Instead of possibly turning pro after his junior season, Morgan, who missed only three games but saw his stats fall by five points and almost two boards by season's end, is back in East Lansing at full strength—and he must remain so in the Spartans' bid for a return to the Final Four. A slasher with a midrange jumper and a knack for grabbing rebounds, Morgan may be most valuable on defense, where he can guard four positions. "I need him to be the most versatile player since Morris Peterson," says coach Tom Izzo, recalling the forward on his 2000 NCAA championship team.

Overall, Izzo feels confident in his rotation from point guard to power forward. What's uncertain is the post position, which will likely be manned by junior Tom Herzog, who has played all of 100 minutes over the last two years. "We're a top 10 team one through four and a top 80 team at the five, so where does that leave us?" asks Izzo. With the lofty expectations that naturally accrue to the only program to get to the Final Four five times in the last 11 years.

Unlike last season, when he sold his players on the honor of playing in the Final Four in Detroit, Izzo is more subtle in plugging this year's site, Indianapolis, where Michigan State won it all in 2000 and knocked off Louisville last year. "I like this team, but I'm still getting a grasp of what it can do," he says. "What I'm telling them is, 'Indy's been good to us.'"

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE

Coach

Tom Izzo (15th season)

2008--09 record

31--7

Big 10

15--3 (1st)

NCAA tournament

National runner-up

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POS. PLAYER HT. CLASS KEY STATS
PG Kalin Lucas 6'1" Jr. 14.7 ppg 4.6 apg
SG Durrell Summers 6'4" Jr. 8.6 ppg 3.4 rpg
SF Raymar Morgan 6'8" Sr. 10.2 ppg 5.3 rpg
PF Delvon Roe 6'8" Soph. 5.6 ppg 5.2 rpg
C Tom Herzog 7'0" Jr. 0.6 ppg 0.7 rpg
KEY RESERVE
F Draymond Green 6'6" Soph. 3.3 ppg 3.3 rpg

Returning starter

SCHEDULE

Nov. 13 Florida Gulf Coast

Nov. 17 Gonzaga

Nov. 20 Toledo

Nov. 22 Valparaiso

Nov. 27 Florida*

Nov. 28 Rutgers or UMass*

Dec. 1 at North Carolina

Dec. 4 Wofford

Dec. 7 at The Citadel

Dec. 10 Oakland

Dec. 19 IP Fort Wayne

Dec. 22 at Texas

Dec. 30 Texas-Arlington

Jan. 2 at Northwestern

Jan. 6 Wisconsin

Jan. 9 at Iowa

Jan. 13 Minnesota

Jan. 16 Illinois

Jan. 20 Iowa

Jan. 23 at Minnesota

Jan. 26 at Michigan

Jan. 30 Northwestern

Feb. 2 at Wisconsin

Feb. 6 at Illinois

Feb. 9 Purdue

Feb. 13 at Penn State

Feb. 16 at Indiana

Feb. 20† Ohio State

Feb. 27† at Purdue

March 2† Penn State

March 7 Michigan

*Legends Classic in Atlantic City

†Date may change for TV

KEY GAME

The Spartans get a chance to pay back North Carolina for spoiling their galvanizing "homecoming" in last year's NCAA championship game in Detroit, when they travel to Tobacco Road in December.

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PHOTOJOHN W. MCDONOUGHKALIN LUCAS The Spartans are counting on their point guard, the Big Ten player of the year and the team's leading scorer in 2008--09, to put up even loftier numbers. PHOTOJOHN W. MCDONOUGH PHOTO
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