Top 68 Team Previews: #26 Michigan State Spartans
It won't be long before Tom Izzo has the Spartans back on top again. (Icon SMI)
By Ryan Feldman
Friday, September 30, 2011
Last Season: 21-14 (9-9 Big Ten)
Key Loss: Darius Morris
Head Coach: John Beilein
PG: Stu Douglass 6-3 Sr.
SG: Tim Hardaway Jr. 6-5 So.
SF: Evan Smotrycz 6-9 So.
PF: Zack Novak 6-4 Sr.
C: Jordan Morgan 6-8 Jr.
Key Reserves: Matt Vogrich 6-4 Jr. SG, Trey Burke 6-1 Fr. PG, Jon Horford 6-9 So. PF, Max Bielfeldt 6-8 Fr. PF
Michigan only lost one piece from a team that came within two points of upsetting the defending national champion Duke Blue Devils. However, it was an important piece. Point guard Darius Morris departed for the NBA after just two seasons in Ann Arbor. A sophomore campaign that saw him put up team-highs with 15 points and 6.7 assists per game didn't parlay itself into a first-round draft choice, which begs the question: "Should Morris have returned for his junior season?" The Los Angeles-native fell to the Lakers at 41st overall.
Not surprisingly, the biggest question mark heading into the 2011-12 slate is how effectively head coach John Beilein can find a replacement for Morris at the point. Senior team captain Stu Douglass will likely get the first crack at filling Morris's shoes. The always-reliable Douglass should sit fifth on Michigan's career 3-point field goal list, just behind teammate Zack Novak. Douglass and Novak have each benefitted from Beilein's offensive system.
Douglass will have some stiff competition for playing time. Ohio's Mr. Basketball, freshman Trey Burke, has received rave reviews and might pounce on Douglass's playing time at the first sign of trouble. If Douglass helps orchestrate a successful start to the Wolverines' season, Beilein will have a difficult decision to make. A Maui Invitational bracket that features a matchup with Memphis and a possible rematch with Duke should give Beilein plenty of quality game tape to evaluate his two guards. The basketball team is in Maui while the football team prepares for a date with Ohio State at The Big House, so it should be a stress-free environment.
One spot Beilein certainly doesn't have to lose sleep over is at shooting guard. Tim Hardaway, Jr. joined the Buckeyes' Jared Sullinger as a unanimous selection on the Big Ten All-Freshman Team. Named after his father who was a five-time NBA All-Star, Hardaway started every game last year averaging 13.9 points per game. With Morris no longer in the picture, Hardaway could contend for the Big Ten scoring crown. Over the summer, he has been a key player off the bench for Paul Hewitt's Team USA squad at the FIBA U19 World Championships.
The heart behind maize and blue basketball comes from an undersized power forward – Zack Novak. At just 6-foot-4, he led the team in rebounds last year. His grit and determination make you wonder how he's not related to Marquette's former star, Steve Novak.
History indicates that Beilein moves on after five years with a program. Stints at Canisius, Richmond and West Virginia each lasted five seasons. However, Beilein's contract has him on the bench at Crisler Arena until 2016 and has said that he wants to retire a Wolverine. The 58-year-old coach has reached the NCAA tournament at each Division I stop, but has only six total appearances in 19 seasons.
ESPN will be bringing College GameDay to Ann Arbor for the first time ever in February for a showdown against Thad Matta's Buckeyes. If Michigan is at the top of the Big Ten standings, Ohio State supporters will be wondering how their Mr. Basketball was able to go north of the state border.
Ohio State is the prohibitive favorite in the Big Ten, but after that it's wide open. Along with a slew of other conference foes, Michigan has as good of a chance as anyone to slide into the upper echelon of the Big Ten and make another run in the NCAA tournament.