MSU’s season could very well end in Houston next year, but thinking it’s a foregone conclusion is a big mistake.
The Final Four returns to the Lone Star State next spring and some already have the Spartans penciled in to make it back to where this season ended. Junior guard Denzel Valentine vowed that MSU will return to the Final Four and freshman guard Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr. is on a mission to reach that goal as well.
There’s no denying that it’s a very realistic possibility next season. But what might be overlooked is the heavy task of filling the production from graduating seniors Travis Trice and Branden Dawson.
Aside from just a few games, Dawson was the most consistent Spartan this year. Trice frustrated some fans and even head coach Tom Izzo at times, but his tournament performance will cement him in hallowed ground at MSU. Trice (15.3 points per game) and Dawson (11.9) were two of the top three scorers, and leaving with Dawson is the 9.1 rebounds per game he averaged.
This leaves Valentine with a larger role, regularly being asked to guard the opposing team’s best player. Based on the foul trouble he found himself in this year, staying on the court could be an issue.
Even if he can, the 35 minutes per game he’ll be playing could be much more draining when he’s tasked with a tough defensive assignment. While Dawson and Valentine often shared some of these assignments, being able to count on Dawson to slow down elite players freed Valentine up in ways that might not be as possible next year.
With Trice’s departure, Nairn will take on a heavy load at the guard position.He will be joined, however, by junior guard Eron Harris who could very well end up in the same role Trice took on this year.
Before this season, the Spartans lost starters Keith Appling, Gary Harris and Adreian Payne.There were obvious growing pains to start the year as MSU fell to 5-3 and later 9-5 by Dec. 30.
To not expect some of these problems next season would be foolish. As great as the 2013-14 Elite Eight team was, Trice and Dawson took MSU to a place the program hadn’t been in five years.
They were a pair of seniors that helped raise another banner in Breslin Center, and regardless of the talent on MSU’s roster, moving on from their absence will be a challenge.