On Dec. 31, the Gophers open up the Big Ten season with #19 Michigan State at Williams Arena. In preparation for the conference opener, Gophersports.com basketball beat writer Jeff Fett will be doing previews of each of the teams in the conference.Michigan State Spartans
Head Coach: Tom Izzo (Northern Michigan, '77)
Record: 423-171 (18th season)
2012-13 Record: 11-2
2011-12 B1G Record: 13-5
Leading Scorers: Keith Appling-14.9 ppg; Gary Harris-12.4 ppg; Branden Dawson-9.8 ppg; Derrick Nix-8.8 ppg; Adreian Payne-8.7 ppg.
Leading Rebounders: Nix-7.8 rpg; Payne-7.5 rpg; Dawson-6.2 rpg; Denzel Valentine-4.2 rpg; Appling-3.5 rpg.
Notable non-conference wins: Kansas, Texas
Notable non-conference losses: Connecticut, Miami (Fla.)
Michigan State has all of the tools to contend for yet another Big Ten title this season, and should be in the mix to make its usual run in the NCAA tournament.
There is no question this team has talent. It's backcourt combination of Keith Appling and Gary Harris has been a strong point of the team so far. They are two of the team's leading scorers and know how to find the team's low post scorers as well.
Down in the post, Branden Dawson is back from an ACL injury and is playing well. Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne have also provided a formidable frontcourt. Nix is the reigning Big Ten Conference Player of the Week after his 25-point and 11-rebound performance against Texas.
The Spartans have also shown that they are also deep, having used a nine-man rotation this season.
Last season, All-American Draymond Green led the Spartans, for the most part night in and night out. One question for Michigan State entering the season was if it could find someone to take his role. Is that Appling or someone else? I think that is still up for debate.
The Spartans have made 15-straight NCAA appearances so a 16th is almost a certainty.