Next season’s MSU basketball team will look much different then the team that made a run to the Elite Eight last March. The Spartans are losing a ton of talent going into next season, but it’s about time to stop talking about what MSU is losing and start talking about what the roster will look like for the 2014-15 season. This is the first installment of a series where I will examine the current state of each position on the roster and predict who will start at each spot. I’ll start off with the floor generals for the Spartans, the point guards.
There is a large void to be filled at the starting point guard spot with the graduation of Keith Appling. Tom Izzo has a few options to fill the spot, each of which bring something different to the table.
Senior Travis Trice appears to be next in line to take over point guard duties for MSU. Trice averaged 7.3 points and 2.3 assists per game last season, playing just 22.3 minutes per game. Trice will probably never put up monster stat lines even if he becomes the starter, but he does bring some vital attributes to the position.
Thanks to Keith Appling’s nagging wrist injury this past year, Travis Trice got valuable experience as a starter. He was depended upon to run the team in Appling’s absence, which is experience that players can only get from real game action. The fact that Trice has that experience under his belt will give him a hand up in the competition at point guard.
Trice’s most valuable asset is his energetic, pestering defense. Although undersized, Trice is a great defender on the ball. He has great lateral quickness and a knack for getting his hands on the ball and swatting it away. It’s no secret that Tom Izzo loves defensive intensity and Travis Trice has that in spades. As far as the offensive side of the ball, Trice’s main weapon is the 3-point shot. Trice shot better than 43% from deep last year, good for third best on the team. However, if he wants to become the go-to guy at point guard for the Spartans, Trice will have to continue his marksmanship from deep and also evolve into a playmaker all over the floor. Trice showed the ability to do some of those things in the B1G and NCAA tournaments this past year, but he’ll need to continue those improvements if he hopes to win and maintain the starting job next season.
LOURAWLS “TUM TUM” NAIRN
Nairn, the 73rd ranked recruit in U2014 class according to ESPN, brings intriguing athleticism and explosiveness to the Spartans. He is a 4-star recruit out of Sunrise Christian Academy in Bel Aire, Kansas. As an incoming freshman, Nairn lack’s Trice’s experience but he brings some things to the position that Trice doesn’t.
At 5’10 Nairn doesn’t posses elite size, but he does have elite speed and athleticism. He has the ability to break defenses down off the dribble and get to the rim. His explosive speed also makes him tough to defend in transition, which is crucial because of how fast Tom Izzo likes his point guards to play. The rest of his offensive skills are a little raw and he isn’t a knock down jump-shooter like Trice, but those are skills that can be refined.
Nairn is a true point guard with good court vision so he has the potential to step in and contribute right away. He’ll have to improve his perimeter shooting if he hopes to see extended minutes as post-injury Keith Appling showed MSU fans how frustrating it can be to have a point guard who can’t keep defenses honest with his outside shot.
Nairn will have to mature quickly once he gets on campus if he wants to compete for the starting job from day one, but he has all the tools Izzo could want in a point guard going forward.
Although Valentine isn’t a true point guard, he saw some time at the position last season during Keith Appling’s absence. Valentine is widely considered the best passer on the MSU team, and he has two years of experience under his belt so he is worth consideration.
Valentine will start for the Spartans next season, and his versatility gives Tom Izzo options as to where he starts. It would take a rash of injuries for him to become the starting point guard (MSU is no stranger to the injury bug) and he would be next in line at the position if Trice or Nairn miss time.
Trice’s experience and defensive prowess will earn him the starting point guard job on opening night. If Nairn can improve his outside jump shot and prove to Izzo his defense is up to snuff he has a chance to overtake Trice as the starter mid-season because of his explosiveness and high ceiling.