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Grades confirm successful 2008-09 season

April 8, 2009

Raymar Morgan goes in for two points during Saturday night’s NCAA Final Four game against Connecticut. MSU will advance to the NCAA Championship game Monday with their 82-73 win.

The MSU men’s basketball team ended its 2008-09 season in the national championship game Monday night, overcoming injuries, illnesses and naysayers throughout the season.

With a final record of 31-7, this year’s team etched its name in the program record book with the third-most wins in program history. The team as a whole no doubt deserves an “A” for this year’s performance, but here is a position-by-position analysis of the Spartans’ performance this season:

Backcourt

Cash Kruth — A Sophomore guard Kalin Lucas was the Big Ten Player of the Year and carried the team throughout the season, sometimes scoring at will and always getting his teammates involved. There’s nothing to say about senior guard Travis Walton that hasn’t already been said. Sure, he was the team’s lockdown defender, but his leadership role is one that can never be fully understood. As the NCAA Tournament wore on, it got to the point where I knew MSU would keep advancing for one reason: Walton’s will to win.

Alex Altman — A- Since the end of the nonconference schedule, Lucas was simply special for the Spartans. He finished second behind Ohio State’s Evan Turner in scoring (16.5 points per game) and fourth in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.26) during league play, earning Big Ten Player of the Year honors. Walton was the best defensive guard in the league. Inconsistent play from sophomore guards Durrell Summers and Chris Allen keep this grade from being an “A.”

Frontcourt

Cash — B+ Freshman forward Delvon Roe, senior center Goran Suton and junior forward Raymar Morgan all faced crucial injuries or sicknesses during the season, but all plowed through and gave the Spartans all they could. The only negative is that they were hardly ever at full strength together, which looking back is probably a good thing for opponents.

Alex — B Besieged by injury and illness all season, this group remained surprisingly productive. Criticize Morgan’s toughness all you want, but his decision to play throughout much of his battle with walking pneumonia was courageous, and he was MSU’s MVP the first half of the season. Suton was terrific down the stretch, earning Most Outstanding Player honors in the Midwest Region. Roe had his moments, but seemed fatigued down the stretch.

Bench

Cash – B+ The depth of the Spartans was a key reason for their success this season. Allen and Summers each shined and struggled, but their potential and talent were always evident. Freshmen Draymond Green and Korie Lucious drastically improved as the season rolled on, each seeing his role expand come March. Seniors Marquise Gray and Idong Ibok, while playing sparingly, played their role to perfection. Both Gray, against Illinois the first time, and Ibok, against Illinois the second time, stepped up in big moments for the Spartans.

Alex — A+ Although consistency was an issue with several players, how could you ask for more from this unit? Summers and Allen stepped up at huge moments this season, Green was absolutely incredible during the tournament, Gray and Ibok provided vital frontcourt depth, and Lucious had brilliant moments as well. MSU wouldn’t have made the Final Four, and especially not the championship game, if it weren’t for the reserves.

Coaching

Cash — A+ Izzo has had a lot of Final Four trips and achievements, but the success of this year’s team has to rank near the top. A bang-up team that he labeled many things — “fragile” and “dysfunctional” — throughout the year played in the season’s final game on the biggest stage. Steering them the whole way was Izzo, who, along with the players, was able to overcome all the inconsistencies and be one of the last two teams left standing.

Alex — A+ Izzo’s job this season was simply masterful — probably the best in his 14 years as head coach of the Spartans. Not only did Izzo lead an unheralded team that was ransacked by injury all the way to the national title game, he outcoached some of the best coaching minds in the history of the game. The wide range of sets Izzo designed overwhelmed opposing coaches and he always seemed to know how to eliminate the opposing team’s strengths. If he somehow hadn’t before, Izzo established himself as one of the best coaches in the game.

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