Column: MSU starting five has lots to prove in NCAA Tournament



SPOKANE, Wash., – Thursday marks the start of a journey — a journey to the Final Four that was dubbed a must-go-to destination before the season even started. According to odds makers in Las Vegas, the No. 4 seed Spartans are on track to do so and have the second-highest odds to win the NCAA Tournament.



But enough about the team. What about the individuals? What do they have to gain? It might not be easy to see, but each member of the starting five has the chance to prove something to everyone watching the Big Dance.

Click here to see a video preview and footage from MSU's practice on Wednesday.

Adreian Payne ?

You’ve heard this one 1,500 times, but that’s because it’s that important: No four-year player under Tom Izzo has missed out on a Final Four. For Adreian Payne and Keith Appling, the streak could be seeing its final month of existence.

Payne also can show NBA teams why he deserves to be picked come draft time, but there isn’t much left he can do to boost his stock.

Keith Appling ?

People never forget the names of MSU’s Final Four point guard. Mateen Cleaves, Chris Hill, Drew Neitzel and Kalin Lucas all bring back memories set to the tune of “One Shining Moment.”

I know the “legacy” conversation drives people nuts, but a trip to Dallas would throw Appling straight into that elite club.

Gary Harris ?

MSU’s time with Gary Harris is limited, as I would bet my right hand that he’s going to the NBA next season. So, what can Harris do before his time wearing the green and white is up?

Keep increasing his NBA stock. He can do that by leading the team in tough moments, continuing to play insane defense and never shying away from the spotlight. Easy, right?

Branden Dawson ?

While telling the media he broke his hand punching a table, Dawson vowed he would “come back even stronger.” Well, now is the time to show the college hoops world he wasn’t lying.

He is coming off a phenomenal Big Ten Tournament, and he’ll be able to continue to make up for his absence. Give MSU a solid string of games, and people will practically forget about his table-punching debacle.

Denzel Valentine   ?

Ahh yes, the protégé of the lineup. Depending if Dawson goes to the draft (which I don’t see, but others do), Valentine could be the lone returning starter.

This tournament will place him in the spotlight and give him a final shot to show MSU the future is looking bright. For the better part of the season he has been inconsistent, but a promising Big Ten Tournament raised the eyebrows of the MSU faithful.

Be the X-factor this tournament, and MSU won’t just be enjoying life in Dallas — they’ll also be feeling optimistic about next year’s run at the Final Four.

Matt Sheehan is a State News basketball reporter. Reach him at

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