2012--13 RECORD 27--9 BIG TEN 13--5 (T-2ND) WHAT'S BACK MINUTES: 83.1% POINTS: 84.2% REBOUNDS: 82.3%
The Spartans appear headed to another Final Four, and not just because of the team's talent, which is considerable, or the coaching of Tom Izzo, which is always terrific. It is just time. Since Izzo took over in 1995, every player who has stayed four years in East Lansing has made it to at least one Final Four. MSU needs to play on this season's last weekend to keep the streak going.
It's fitting that while sophomore shooting guard Gary Harris is the Spartans' best player, two Final Four--deprived seniors control the team's fortunes. One is point guard Keith Appling, who must complete his transition from high school scorer to college playmaker. The other is center Adreian Payne, a 6'10" shot blocker and rebounder.
Payne has many athletic gifts, but it took him the better part of three seasons to unwrap them. He has an undersized lung capacity, which has limited his stamina and minutes, but a lack of aggressiveness has been the bigger problem. The turning point came when Payne got into a minor scuffle with teammate Branden Dawson on a road trip to Penn State last winter. It wasn't much of a fight, but police were called, and Izzo suspended both players for the first half against the Nittany Lions. Payne finished with 20 points and seven rebounds in 17 minutes, but Izzo was even more impressed with Payne's performance when he wasn't in the game. "He was so good on the bench," Izzo says. "He was encouraging teammates. He never does that."
After that game Payne took more shots, rebounded more voraciously and finally played the way Izzo thought he could. But Payne must be more willing to dominate down low. "He has a tendency to drift, but he is a very good shooter from the perimeter," assistant coach Dwayne Stephens says. "We just don't want him to live out there."
If Payne stays in the paint, Michigan State will stay in the title hunt.
Projected Lineup (2012--13 STATS)
PG KEITH APPLING*
SR. 6'1" 13.4 PPG 3.3 APG
SG GARY HARRIS*
SOPH. 6'4" 12.9 PPG 2.5 RPG
SF BRANDEN DAWSON*
JR. 6'6" 8.9 PPG 5.9 RPG
PF MATT COSTELLO
SOPH. 6'9" 1.5 PPG 1.3 RPG
F-C ADREIAN PAYNE*
SR. 6'10" 10.5 PPG 7.6 RPG
SF DENZEL VALENTINE
SOPH. 6'5" 5.0 PPG 4.1 RPG
PG TRAVIS TRICE
JR. 6'0" 4.8 PPG 1.9 APG
TOM IZZO (19TH SEASON)
SI Will we see a different Branden Dawson this year, after surgery on his torn left ACL?
TI I think so. You're going to see [a swingman] who is more athletic. My bigger issue: Is his motor going all the time? He's been way better. But that's something that is going to make or break him. He's shooting way better than he used to.
SI If you had one concern other than your team's health, what would it be?
TI Can they play with the intensity they need to play with on a consistent level? If [Keith] Appling will push the ball, if Dawson will run every time.... Motors are a big thing right now. I'm sure everybody would tell you that. It's a bigger problem [nationally] than people think.
SI But it's never been a problem for Gary Harris, has it?
TI Never been a problem for Harris. Think about it: His mom [Joy Holmes] played in the [WNBA]. He just was raised differently. He's humble, tough, and nothing bothers him.
[The following text appears within a chart. Please see hardcopy or PDF for actual chart.]
ROUND OF 64
JOHN BIEVER FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (IZZO, PAYNE)
DAVID E. KLUTHO/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (MASCOT)