Here is the potential starting lineup for the Michigan State basketball team in 2005-06:
Now take a look at the bench for 2005-06:
Center: Drew Naymick (6'10" 245) R-So. Center: Idong Ibok (6'10" 265) R-Fr. Center: Goran Suton (6'10" 246) R-Fr. Forward: Delco Rowley (6'8" 253) R-So. Forward: Matt Trannon (6'6" 217) Sr. Forward: Jason Aerts (6'6" 200) Sr. Guard: Maurice Joseph (6'4" 185) Fr. Guard Travis Walton (6'2" 185) Fr. Guard: Anthony Hamo (6'2" 215) Jr.
Last year, with the athletic senior group, as well as juniors Paul Davis and Maurice Ager, sophomore Shannon Brown and freshman point guard Drew Neitzel, the Spartans were a running team. Expect that to change next year with the likelihood of Gray moving into the starting lineup alongside Davis. With Davis at the five, and Gray at the four, MSU will have two versatile big men who can each score, rebound and play defense. It's something they haven't had since the 2000 season when they had Andre Hutson at the five and Zach Randolph coming off the bench.
Center: Davis will have some much needed inside help next season with the arrival of Suton and Ibok. Suton was a second-team all-state honoree by The Detroit News in 2004, averaging 15.2 points, 12.8 rebounds and 4.4 blocked shots while leading the Lansing Everett Vikings to the 2004 Class A State Championship. Suton averaged 14 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks, while shooting 51 percent from the floor as a junior. While not as athletic as Davis, Goran has a solid all-sound game and should provide quality minutes as a reserve. Unless Drew Naymick and Delco Rowley both show major improvement next fall, Suton could supplant both of them as Davis' major replacement off the bench.
Ibok, on the other hand, is a project. An athletic shot-blocker with back-to-the-basket skills as a post player; Ibok owns a 7-foot-5 wingspan and a 9-foot-3 reach. He averaged 10 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.2 blocks in his one season at Montverde Academy, as the team posted a 23-2 record. He will probably see much fewer minutes than Suton, especially if both Naymick and Rowley show improvement.
Forward: Gray should move into the starting lineup right away and be a big contributor. The 2004 Associated Press Class C State Player of the Year averaged 25 points, 17 rebounds, four blocked shots and four assists as a senior at Flint Beecher High School, leading the Buccaneers to a 17-8 record and an appearance in the regional championship game. As a junior in 2003, Gray averaged 16.5 points and 15.0 rebounds as a junior while leading the Buccaneers to an appearance in the Class C state final.
Gray is very athletic around the basket. With good quickness and footwork, he will provide a very strong one-two inside punch with Davis; their duo will make the Spartans' halfcourt offense much more effective than it was last season.
With the departures of Anderson and Torbert, Shannon Brown will have the opportunity to shine as one of the team's top two athletes and scorers along with Ager. The Spartans will lean heavily on Brown to provide both points and defense on the wing next season. As Shannon's performance this year's NCAA Tournament showed, he should be more than ready to do so.
The wildcard at forward next season will be whether Matt Trannon returns to basketball after he finishes up his football duties for John L. Smith. Trannon provided a level of toughness for Izzo's squad this season. He was a major contributor during the Spartans' tourney run and will be tough to replace if he chooses to prepare for the NFL Draft next winter instead of suiting up for one last run in the Breslin Center.
Guard: Drew Neitzel and Maurice Ager will need to carry a heavy load with the departures of Torbert, Hill and the underappreciated Bograkos. Both are fully capable of doing so and will probably log major minutes next season as there will be little experience behind them. The extra minutes that Neitzel played this season due to Chris Hill's inconsistency will show major dividends next year as Drew will now be the unquestioned quarterback of the Spartan basketball attack.
As of this writing, Mo Ager is expected to return for his senior season. However, don't be surprised if his performance during this year's tournament pushes him into the upper portion of NBA draft charts much the same way that Jason Richardson's performance did for the current Golden State Warrior in 2000.
If Ager bolts the pressure on the Spartans' two incoming freshmen guards, Maurice Joseph and Travis Walton, will increase substantially. Joseph, a swingman at guard and forward, averaged 22.8 PPG, while shooting more than 50% from the field and 83% from the free throw line for Champlain-St. Lambert in Montreal, Quebec this past season. He was the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association (CCAA) 2005 Men's Basketball Player of the Year.
Tom Izzo had this to say about Joseph:
"Maurice Joseph is a 6-4 wing player who is a very good shooter, but he is also very good defensively. He comes from a program in Canada that has produced nine Division I players in the last five years. Under Coach John Dangelas, it is a program that plays extremely hard and works extremely hard. With Maurice, you can't measure his toughness based on his physique. He is a very mature player who loves physical contact."
Walton, a point guard, was named to the first team of the Division I boys basketball All-Ohio team in 2005. The 6-2 senior averaged 19.3 points a game and finished his career with 1,548 points in four years as a starter. He was a third-team All-Ohio selection as a junior. In his four years as a starter, Walton became known for being an outstanding defender.
Tom Izzo on Walton:
"Travis Walton gives us another true point guard. He may not be considered a phenomenal shooter, but he would be considered a phenomenal leader. He's a guy who has tremendous toughness and he might be as good a defensive player as I've recruited out of high school. But, he can also score some points. We envision him being in the mold of a Mateen Cleaves or an Eric Snow. Travis has a real passion for the game that is contagious among his teammates."
Regardless of whether Ager leaves, both Walton and Joseph will log some minutes off the bench for the Spartans next season. While it won't be easy for either of them early on, the experience they will gain behind Neitzel and Ager will be invaluable. There is little question that the Spartans will need them to produce at or near the level that Neitzel did in his first season. If they can't, the Spartans will be desperately thin in the backcourt.
The Outlook: Unless these newcomers produce, by the midpoint of next season, it should be clear how much the veteran foursome of Anderson, Torbert, Hill and Bograkos meant to this team. Those four players combined for 33 points, 11.6 rebounds, 8.3 assists, and 3.5 steals this past season. Michigan State will have to replace those numbers as well as the experience that comes with four years worth of starts and minutes.
With the influx of big men and the thinner and less experienced backcourt, Michigan State should be much more of a traditional halfcourt grind-it-out Big Ten team next season. If Gray can produce at least to the level of the departed Anderson, it will be a big plus. If that could be accompanied with an improved Naymick, Rowley, Suton, and Ibok; Michigan State, led by Paul Davis, will have one of the deepest frontcourts in the nation.
In the backcourt, if Brown, Ager and Neitzel can all remain healthy and Joseph and Walton can hold their own, the Spartans could possibly field another 20 win team. Of course, any injuries to the starting five could send this team into a scoring tailspin, as the point production from this season's bench will be missing.
In any case, expect once again that the Spartans will field a team that rebounds and plays solid defense. In any season, that will get you your share of wins.