I have caught bits and pieces of MSU this year against cupcakes, but wanted to wait to put out my A-Rank for them until I watched the Duke game. I finally got some time this morning to watch it and came away quite impressed. MSU had major losses from last years team losing stars Appling, Harris, and Payne to graduation/NBA. They also lost role players Guana (graduated and left team), Russell Byrd (transferred), and Kenny Kaminski (kicked off team). In addition MSU has injury problems again (doesn't it seem like MSU always has injuries) with Freshman Javon Bess injuring his foot before the season started, and Sophomore Alvin Ellis getting hurt in the first game. Despite all the losses MSU is not an inexperienced team. They have 2 well seasoned Seniors in Trice and Dawson, and 4 other juniors in the rotation.
MSU will play a lot of 3 guard lineups this year, especially if Bess and Ellis get healthy. With the loss of Kaminski, MSU is lacking size. Costello has been the starter at the 5, but he is a role player. He is big, can eat space and collect defensive rebounds, but that is all he offers. On offense he is a liability and can only score when guards create for him. When he got the ball unguarded against Duke he looked lost. Shilling backs him up and has been more impressive in his limited minutes. He is a physical rebounder on both ends. He has shown some touch around the hoop and I can see him developing into a very good player for Izzo.
Brandon Dawson is still around to lead the MSU frontcourt, and doing what he does. He kills you on the glass on both ends, he gets points in transition, he defends well. Another impressive youngster Clark has gotten off to a very good start in limited minutes. He has shot 9-14 on 3pt FG in his first 5 games but has also been impressive playing on the inside. Former walk on Wollenman has been forced into some minutes and performed admirably against Duke, but is clearly not a player Izzo wants on the court a lot.
Ellis worked his way into the starting lineup at guard and played all of 3 minutes before he got hurt against Navy. Once he and Bess return the guard rotation may get more interesting. Until then transfer Forbes has moved in with the starters, but he looks like only a shooter (29 3FGA of 40 FGA). Trice and Valentine have become the leaders of this team after being very good rotation players behind the players that left after last season. Both are also mostly perimeter players, and both are capable of playing the point or off the ball. Both are capable shooters, passers, and rebounders, but neither of these guys is going to the NBA. When MSU's best players are just really good college players and not future NBA guys, it is a sign this will not be a great MSU team. Freshman Nairn is a backup point and looks like he could have a bright future, but he doesn't have the confidence to be a factor this year. He will provide some depth.
Coming into this year I felt this would be a down year for MSU, but from what I have seen so far that will not be the case. MSU will not win the Big Ten, but they should be in the top half of the conference and make another NCAA tourney. I like their young players and they have a bright future, but I don't see this team coming together in time to make a big run. Unlike many MSU teams, this team is very perimeter oriented despite having only 4 shooters. Costello, Shilling, Dawson, Nairn, and Wollenman are a combined 0-4 3FGA in the first 5 games. Ellis is more a slasher than a shooter so I don't think that will improve much when he returns. In addition they are not getting to the line (just 65 team FTA in 5 games despite playing 4 cupcakes). A team that doesn't have much interior scoring, doesn't get to the line, and has limited shooters will struggle to score. For that reason I am not picking MSU to contend, but they will be a good Big Ten team.