Big Men, Big Expectations

Michigan State brings three senior big men to the court for their final season wearing green and white. Can they lead the Spartans to a Final Four run? GSN takes a closer look.

EAST LANSING — Regardless of how talented a team is in any sport, experience is a huge factor if a team has aspirations of winning a championship.

Talent can only carry a team so far. It is rare that a team which features a lack of senior leadership wins the National Championship. There have been two exceptions recently, however: Florida winning with a young core in 2006 and Syracuse winning in 2003 behind the play of freshman Carmelo Anthony and sophomore Hakim Warrick.

The 2008-09 Michigan State Spartans possess the talent needed to win a National Championship, but do they have the leadership?

Even though the Spartans are highly skilled, a large bulk of that talent is in the freshman and sophomore classes. So the team will depend on four seniors to provide vital leadership.

Travis Walton has proven he will provide a positive voice and steady play, but the biggest question mark is placed on the three fifth-year big men: Goran Suton, Marquise Gray, and Idong Ibok.

All three players have been inconsistent to a certain extent throughout their careers, although Suton has been the most steady. The Spartans' success hinges on the play of these three seniors, who all have something different to prove.

Suton has been a solid player for the Spartans throughout his career. Last season, he averaged just over 9 points per game and 8 rebounds. Those numbers look much better when one considers the Spartans' primary focus hasn't been to feed the post. Suton is strong on the block and has improved his already rangy perimeter game, but he thinks that being more physical down low can increase his point total.

"I definitely want to get fouled more," Suton said after practice on Monday. "Coach has been harping on that, with me being a good free throw shooter I need to get to the line more."

Marquise Gray has probably been the most disappointing out of the three based on the potential that he had coming out of Flint Beecher High School. Gray has faced several injuries throughout his career, but looks to have improved in early practices. Coach Tom Izzo say that he has been pleased with the way Gray has looked, and Gray is eager to play up to the potential that Coach Izzo thinks he has.

"The Marquis that both of us wants me to be is the one that he recruited," Gray said on Monday. "The one that wasn't injured, and could run up and down and jump and rebound and bring energy and block shots."

You can tell that Gray wants to make Coach Izzo proud, because they are like family and like any family there are arguments. At practice Izzo often yells at players, but players snap right back.

"Coach is weird like that," Gray said. "The only thing is, he always wants you to back it up. So I yell at him, but then I know I got to go dunk on somebody, get a blocked shot or get a big rebound in order to back my yelling up."

The last member of the trio is Idong Ibok, who has not earned the playing time that the others have. Ibok came to MSU as a very raw player, and is some ways still is, but has improved to the point where Izzo says that Ibok "will be in the playing group."

There is one primary area of concern for Ibok, and that is his hands. Izzo says that Ibok "still struggles with catching the ball a bit," but Ibok himself feels that his catching abilities have improved as he explained what he did over the summer to upgrade this area.

"Catching golf balls and tennis balls, even footballs," he said. "Anything to keep me aware of the ball when I'm on the court and I think I'm getting better at it"

While many of the smaller guys and new faces are getting more attention and accolades, Gray feels that the three senior big men will be just as valuable.

"I think we're going to be very important to the squad for our experience," Gray said. "We've been through everything …we've all had success here, we've all had bad days here, but all of us are looking to do something big for our last year."

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