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October 5, 2008
Program mainstay Drew Neitzel (13.9 ppg, 4.0 apg, 97 3-pointers made last season) graduated, but the backcourt is in the capable hands of three ultra-talented sophomores and a hard-nosed senior - so there's little reason to fret.
Raymar Morgan is Michigan State's leading returning scorer.
Chris Allen, another four-star recruit last season, didn't get the same minutes as Lucas because he was backing up Neitzel. But Allen did average 6.3 points in just 14 minutes per game. He shot a respectable 36 percent from 3-point range (36 of 100), and he'll get a lot more opportunities to display his perimeter game. He's capable of scoring in bunches, as evidenced by his season-high 20 points in the NCAA tournament loss to Memphis. The 20-foot-9 3-point line shouldn't pose a problem for Allen.
Senior Travis Walton will be the first man off the bench for coach Tom Izzo. Walton is one of the best on-the-ball defenders in the Big Ten, and he's a pass-first guy who led the Spartans in assists despite playing only 23.5 minutes per game. Walton's assist-to-turnover ratio (2.4) is the best among returning players in the conference.
Two full-time starters and one part-time starter return to anchor the frontcourt. It all starts with small forward Raymar Morgan, who led the team in scoring and was second in rebounding. He's an athletic wing who is at his best going to the basket. His shot selection is excellent (his 55.8 shooting percentage ranked fourth in the Big Ten), but he could bump his scoring average if he could shoot better from the free-throw line (67.2 percent). The puzzling thing is his scoring average dipped significantly from mid-February to the end of the season. After scoring in double figures in 22 of the first 24 games, he reached double figures only five times in the final dozen games. The Spartans went 7-5 during that stretch after starting 20-4. Morgan was shooting fine – it's not like he was slumping – he just didn't take as many shots. He was getting called for traveling with alarming frequency, and his confidence may have waned. If Michigan State is going to be a Final Four threat, it can't have Morgan disappear very often.
Center Goran Suton is the leading returning rebounder in the Big Ten and the leading returning shot-blocker for the Spartans. Only Morgan, who started all 36 games, made more starts than Suton (35). Suton had eight double-doubles and just missed another pair in the NCAA tournament. He had 14 points and nine boards in the second-round win over Pittsburgh and 23 points (on 11-of-14 shooting) and nine rebounds in the season-ending loss to Memphis. With the departure of Drew Naymick (4.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg), it's possible Suton could come close to averaging a double-double this season. He had an outstanding summer and could be the Spartans' most improved player.
Marquise Gray appeared in all 36 games last season and made 14 starts. Gray, who doesn't venture far from the basket, shot 60.7 percent from the field. His averages of 4.3 points and 3.7 rebounds came in just 13.1 minutes per game, so he's a highly efficient player who understands his role.
The big addition up front is Rivals.com five-star freshman Delvon Roe. He's a smooth left-hander with a 7-foot wingspan who can run the floor and finish around the rim. He hasn't played in nine months after microfracture surgery on his right knee ended his final high school season. He also had some cartilage cleaned out of his left knee in early August. The coaching staff is hopeful he'll be 100 percent when games begin in November. If he is, he'll be starting before the Big Ten schedule hits.
Izzo runs a pro-style offense with a lot of sets. The Spartans have used more pick-and-roll in the past couple of seasons, and look for that to continue. Most of the offense will run through Lucas.
The Spartans will play man-to-man, and they frequently will pick up past half court and apply some pressure.
Shoes to Fill
Neitzel. He made nearly three times as many 3-pointers as any of his teammates, and he had the best assist-to-turnover ratio in the Big Ten. Those are two things that won't be replaced easily.
Must Step Up
Morgan. There may be three seniors, but this is Morgan's team. He has to deliver 16-19 points every game.
Roe. Not only is he wildly talented, but he also plays hard and is eager to learn. It's a wonderful combination.
Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.