Michigan State Basketball: Factors That Will Make or Break Spartans in 2013-14
Execution, coaching and perhaps a few touches of luck will most certainly play a role in the success this season for Michigan State, which heads into 2013-14 as one of the nation's heavies.
With Tom Izzo on the sideline, the Spartans are typically in position to make a dash to the Final Four. If they're to reach Izzo's seventh Final Four since 1999, stars such as sophomore shooting guard Gary Harris and senior forward/center Adreian Payne must play up to their enormous billing.
Harris is one of the country's elite scorers and Payne has evolved into a dominant big man. Needless to say, they're the crown jewels of Izzo's team.
Points from the bench will be crucial as well, as sophomore Denzel Valentine stands to be one of the team's most productive reserves; he led the Spartans in bench scoring with five points per game in 2012-13.
Check out team stats via ESPN.
This slideshow will examine the key components that could cast the Spartans to the top or plummet them to the bottom.
The Guard Rotation
Remove Gary Harris from the equation, and an excellent group of guard remains at Tom Izzo's disposal.
With Harris, of course, the Spartans are much, much more dangerous.
However, don't discount the importance of players such as Travis Trice, a junior defensive specialist who plays with a controlled chaos that often throws the opposition off balance. He can score when needed, but Trice's most important contributions are his relentless pursuits of the ball.
An argument for Keith Appling being the most important guard could me made, too. After all, he's the point man of Izzo's offense, and Spartans followers know how much a savvy ball-handler can influence the trend of the season.
If Appling shines, the Spartans will follow. If he fails to play up to his ability, Michigan State will be in trouble.
Most Important player in Big 10 for Nat'l Championship run?? Keith Appling.if he's great MSU has a real shot.2 much experience not 2 b great— Dan Dakich (@dandakich) October 5, 2013
Guards for 2013-14
Russell Byrd SG
Alvin Ellis SG
The Spartans averaged about 15 points per game off the bench during the 2012-13 season.
Valentine and Trice each gave Izzo about five points per game, while bigs such as Matt Costello and Alex Gauna each contributed roughly three per outing.
That has to change. Izzo needs more, and he needs it from every reserve, not just the guards.
Field Goal Percentage
Making the most of their shots and stopping as many of the opposition's as possible is always a key to victory.
This past season, Michigan State did that quite well. It let opponents sink only 39 percent of attempts, the stingiest mark in the Big Ten. Conversely, the Spartans made nearly 46 percent of their shots, which was the third-best mark in the conference.
Make yours, make them miss. That's simple enough, right?
Here's a look at shooting percentages from last year:
There's more than one way to use Gary Harris, and Tom Izzo plans to do that.
The Spartans coach said the following about Harris' potential usage in the team's media guide, via MLive.com's Diamond Leung.
We're going to use him in 100 different ways. He'll have the ball in his hands more, more pick-and-rolls for him, more pick-and-pops. He's also really improved his ability to shoot off the dribble and pull up on a dime.
That sounds like a worthy plan. At 6'4", Harris has the length to shoot through traffic, drive to the hoop and disrupt on the defensive end. He's Michigan State's top scorer, so look for more sets geared toward his strengths. After all, this is probably the final year that he'll be in East Lansing, so Izzo might as well make it a good one for the future NBA first-rounder.
But there is a "but" in all of this. Harris is coming off a shoulder injury from last year and he injured his right ankle in late August, putting him out for four to eight weeks, according to the Detroit News' Matt Charboneau.
The shoulder was one thing, but the ankle issue brings about an entirely new set of problems. If Harris can't get set off his right ankle, his jump shot won't be as effective. The same could be said for his shoulder, but an ankle injury is a major concern at this point.
The Expected Has to Come to Fruition
Aside from Gary Harris, several Spartans are expected to have standout seasons.
For one, there is Keith Appling, a senior with something to prove. Then there's Adreian Payne, a potential player of the year candidate like Harris, who can thoroughly dominate the competition when asked to do so.
Branden Dawson, perhaps, is the X-factor of this team. If he has a breakout campaign, the Spartans have to be considered the team to beat heading into March and April. At 6'6" and 220 pounds, he's one of the most athletic players in the Big Ten—of any sport.
If Izzo's pieces fall together as forecast, Michigan State will be a juggernaut.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan State Spartans basketball writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81