It’s only a preseason game, but the No. 2-ranked men’s basketball team will kick off its highly anticipated season at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Breslin Center against Grand Valley State.
The Spartans only have three games, including preseason, before they travel to Chicago on Nov. 12 to partake in the Champions Classic against the nation’s No. 1 team, Kentucky.
Many predict MSU will contend for a national championship as they return four starters from last season’s squad.
Here are a few things to look out for in Tuesday’s matchup and early in the season.
The starting center spot
With the departure of Derrick Nix, the starting spot is up for grabs this season. Head coach Tom Izzo said during the team’s media day last week that sophomore forward Matt Costello is the early frontrunner for the position. However, junior forward Alex Gauna and freshman forward Gavin Schilling are in the mix as well.
Schilling, a late signee in last year’s recruiting class, has “surprised” coaches in the early going, especially with his quickness.
Izzo also noted each can run the floor better than Nix did, but said the offense will change in the absence of Nix’s passing ability.
The health of the lineup
Izzo said his team had a healthy summer, allowing for a full summer of development. Junior forward Branden Dawson and junior guard Travis Trice enter their first season with a full summer of development under their belts.
During Dawson’s freshman year, he tore his left anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, in the final game of the regular season and missed the entire following summer. Despite playing the entire season last year, at times Dawson struggled with reaching his usual athleticism and playmaking ability, tending to favor his left knee.
Izzo said Dawson appears to have all his athleticism back and has improved his shooting.
“If you look at Dawson, he’s healthy. There is no repercussion from the injury,” Izzo said. “I think (the) toughness of worrying about an injury is not there.”
Not only did Dawson miss the entire summer two years ago, Trice also had to sit out as well because of an infection on his brain, causing him to drop 22 pounds.
Izzo said Trice is fully healthy and was the most improved player and could possibly step into a leadership role.
“If there’s a guy that’s maybe one of my most improved players, it has to be Trice,” Izzo said. “He’s 25 pounds heavier than he was a year ago, all good weight … He’s physically stronger than he was.
“He’s just had a heck of a summer. You don’t know how much we missed him last year in some games. He was our second best three?point shooter, and I think that’s improved some.”
The Spartans also will get Kenny Kaminski back from a high school injury to his right shoulder. Kaminski, a sharpshooting redshirt freshman forward, has earned Izzo’s praise as one of the top pure shooters on the team, but his defense is in need of work if Kaminski wants to find his way onto the floor.
Who’s the leader?
For the first time in his career, Izzo has waited to select team captains for the upcoming season, begging the question: Who will lead this team who is expected to contend for the NCAA National Championship?
Will it be seniors Adreian Payne or Keith Appling? Or could it possibly be a younger player like Trice, Dawson or the electric sophomore guard Gary Harris?
Although there are no captains yet, Izzo said for the first time in his career he is not worried. He also added Trice and sophomore guard Denzel Valentine are not afraid to hear their voices in practice.