The 2015-16 version of the Michigan State Spartans Basketball team looks once again like it will be a force to be reckoned with. Under the expert and longtime guidance of coach Tom Izzo the team has had a great start through the non-conference schedule and now a few games into the Big Ten schedule.
With a record of 15 – 1 heading into their game on January 10th at Penn State, the Spartans have playing extremely well and were ranked the # 1 team in the country for a period of time until their loss at Iowa. They now rank 5th in both the AP and Coaches polls.
The loss occurred as the Spartans were playing without their best player and All-American candidate Denzel Valentine. Valentine has been out since having arthroscopic knee surgery on December 21st. The injury which Izzo called “very, very minor” happened during a practice on December 20th when Valentine came down awkwardly on a layup.
This seasons version of Spartan basketball has a bit of a different look than many of Izzo’s previous teams. If you are looking for a lot of big names or NBA prospects on the roster there is really only one that stands out and that is Valentine.
This team is build on depth and a bunch of solid team players. Valentine is one of four seniors on the roster. The others are Matt Costello, Bryn Forbes and Colby Wollenman. Costello and Forbes are both starters and strong contributors while Wollenman provides depth off the bench.
Izzo is able to go as many as 10 deep with his rotation which keeps his players fresh and hungry for minutes. Running the team is a player with one of the best names in college basketball. Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn is a 5’ 10” sophomore point guard whose role is to make everyone better. He is not much of an offensive force however and could use some work on his shooting.
Costello provides strength and experience in the middle and this year has also improved his offensive game. Forbes (a transfer last year from Cleveland State) is a strong shooter and scorer and has helped the team offensively while Valentine has been out.
Other regular contributors include Juniors Gavin Schilling, Alvin Ellis and Eron Harris (a transfer from West Virginia), Sophomores Javon Bess and Marvin Clark and Freshman Deyonta Davis and Matt McQuaid.
Statistically, Valentine leads the team in scoring (18.5), rebounding (8.3) and assists (7.1). Forbes is the only other Spartan who scores in double figures (14.0) while Costello averages (7.4) rebounds per contest. The freshman Davis leads the team in blocks with (2.3) per game in limited minutes.
The Spartans have a strong team with talent and depth but it is really Izzo who consistently gets the team deep into the NCAA tournament. In his 21st season as coach he has an overall record of 506 – 199 (.718) with a conference record of 221 – 101 (.686). He has taken the team to 7 Final Four appearances and won a national title in 2000.
The future Hall of Fame coach -Izzo– leaves his imprint on each team he coaches. Known as a strong recruiter he is able to get the players to play his style of strong and hard team basketball and always has them primed during the late season for a long tournament run. I don’t see this season being any different.