Michigan State Basketball Preview

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- Tom Izzo's voice had reached midseason form, which is to say it was exceedingly hoarse, just a few days after Michigan State began preseason practices.
His practice drills are draining and demanding. His schedule remains packed year-round.
And while Izzo likes to talk about the recent past of his Spartan program, he spends even more time these days talking about its future. All are signs that the fiery Izzo remains as intense as ever as he prepares for his 13th season as Michigan State's head coach.
"I think every year, every day is a new day," Izzo said in anticipation of the 2007-08 season, which the Spartans open at home Tuesday against Chicago State. "I hope I keep approaching it that way."
The 52-year-old Izzo has built the Spartans into one of the nation's most successful and consistent programs in the past decade. Michigan State enters this season ranked No. 8 in The Associated Press poll and favored to win the Big Ten title.
The Spartans have qualified for 10 straight NCAA tournaments, the second-longest streak in Big Ten history and the fifth-longest active streak in the nation. Every starter -- including preseason All-America guard Drew Neitzel -- is back from last season's squad.
Michigan State finished 23-12 last season and made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament in a supposed rebuilding year.
A strong crop of new recruits, and commitments for next year, should keep the program in good shape well beyond this season.
Izzo savors the accomplishments of the past decade, which include the 2000 national championship, four Final Fours and four Big Ten titles. But he sounds hungry to at least duplicate those feats over the next 10 years.
"That's really where my sights are set right now," Izzo said. "How can we get the championships back? And how can we constantly be knocking on the door of late runs in the tournament?"
That could mean sacrificing some of last season's stellar defense -- the Spartans allowed just 57.2 points per game -- with a faster-paced offense to take advantage of greater depth.
Focus was a preseason theme and the Spartans should have received their wakeup call in a Nov. 2 exhibition loss to NCAA Division II Grand Valley State. Just to make sure, Izzo temporarily kicked his players out of their plush, remodeled locker room after the loss and said he wouldn't let them back in until they earned it.
Neitzel, the preseason Big Ten Player of the Year, is back for his senior season. The 6-foot guard averaged 18.1 points per game last season while leading an inexperienced and thin team. Known for his toughness and grit, Neitzel was the team's only consistent scoring threat last season.
This year, Neitzel in particular and the Spartans in general won't sneak up on anyone.
"Along with a high ranking comes high expectations," Neitzel said. "But that's something we're accustomed to here, coming in with that target on your back."
Neitzel averaged about 36 minutes per game last season and point guard Travis Walton averaged almost 33. They are looking forward to a few more breathers this year as a talented trio of freshmen -- Kalin Lucas, Chris Allen and Durrell Summers -- and sophomore Isaiah Dahlman compete for backcourt playing time.
"That should make a huge difference, especially late in the season," Neitzel said.
Walton averaged 6.4 points per game last season, led the Spartans in assists and provides defense and leadership intangibles that are even more vital.
Walton seems to be the most vocal leader Michigan State has had since Mateen Cleaves, the point guard on the 2000 national championship team. Walton often acts like a coach on the floor, even stopping practice drills on his own if he sees something he doesn't like.
"I would say Travis Walton is growing into one of our best leaders that we've had here, and definitely in the mold of a Mateen Cleaves, that's not afraid to hear his own voice," Izzo said. "He's not afraid to tell his teammates, not afraid to get after his friends, and he backs it up by how he works himself."
Walton talked to Cleaves several times over the summer and said he's like a big brother.
The frontcourt returns five players who started at least 10 games last season and adds 7-foot redshirt freshman Tom Herzog and true freshman Austin Thornton to the mix.
Raymar Morgan, the team's second-leading scorer at 11.7 points per game last season, has improved his shooting range. He's also looking forward to what should be a faster, more wide open style of play this season afforded by a deeper bench.
"We're running more, we're stepping out," Morgan said. "The pace is a lot different."
Goran Suton provided 9.3 points and 6.7 rebounds last season. Marquise Gray, Idong Ibok and Drew Naymick also should contribute, along with possibly Herzog.
Naymick is the team's old man. He first played in the 2003-04 season and has started 18 games during a career that repeatedly has been slowed by injuries. He's healthy entering this campaign.
"After working and grinding the way we did last year, we have an understanding of what it's going to take to succeed," Naymick said. "If we can keep that mind-set with a deeper and more experienced team, good things are going to happen."


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