LAST SEASON – I won’t spend much time belaboring it here. Suffice it to say that it was as much of a roller coaster ride as any season in Tom Izzo’s tenure. I think most (myself included) expected it to be a transitional season, one where an NCAA bid and maybe a couple of wins in March along an upper level Big Ten finish (but not a title) was about the ceiling. MSU had a bunch of close but no cigar non conference games early, some of which looked better than we thought by the end of the season (loss to Kansas, should-have-been win at Notre Dame) but the Texas Southern loss and then a rough OT giveaway at home to Maryland in the Big Ten opener soured many on the team’s prospects. MSU was still inconsistent at times in conference play but ended up at 12-6, good for a third place tie…that was about meeting my level of expectation, though they got there in a zig zag fashion. Yet, the team started to show some signs late of coming together. Young guys like Tum and Marv and even Alvin Ellis had strong outings, multiple ones, and more that just simple production finally proved they could be trusted to play. Trice started to elevate his game as well, going beyond what had been a very good senior year to some other level entirely. MSU went out in the BTT and beat OSU and then managed to take out Maryland in the semis before taking Wisconsin to the limit in another game they should have won but which slipped away in the end, in a combination of missed calls and inexplicable decisions on MSU’s part. Yet, despite the loss, it was another indicator that MSU had raised its level of play and would once again be a tough out in the Tournament.

Few saw a Final Four coming. Most had MSU out in the second round against a #2 seed Virginia team which many saw as the likely East regional winner. When MSU gutted out a victory over the Cavs for the second year running, you began to think it possible. One week later, after surviving stiff tests from Oklahoma and Louisville, Izzo was in his 7th Final Four and first in 5 years. The loss once they got there against Duke was a downer but it couldn’t erase the joy which came from the first MSU Final Four run (and I’m including the 79 one) which was truly unexpected, coming from out of left field. We forget sometimes the joy which is possible when a team does something few believed they could, because MSU is usually expected (at least by us if not the rest of the nation) to excel. It was as emotionally satisfying a run as I can recall, made all the better because it was such an easy group of kids to root for. MSU will miss Trice and Dawson, but they welcome back everybody else and add some great pieces, making for what should be a tremendous 15-16 season, very different in expectation but hopefully as satisfying in the end.

RETURNING PLAYERS

I covered all the returning guys save one in the season end review of individual players, so I won’t repeat that here. Instead, I’ll focus on the one guy coming back who didn’t get discussed because he couldn’t play yet…Eron Harris.

Eron Harris is a 6’3″ transfer from West Virginia who sat out last season in East Lansing. He projects as a combo guard at this point…he was used off the ball at WVa but spent his redshirt year working on playing at the lead spot and I suspect we’ll see him there at least some of the time he’s on the floor. Harris is a MAJOR addition to this team, having scored 17.2 ppg as a sophomore in the Big XII on 44/42% shooting. He took about half his shots from three as a Mountaineer but I suspect we’re going to see more of him going to the rim and when he’s off the ball, coming off screens…one of his strengths is his ability to move without the ball and get himself open looks through movement, understanding of space and utilization of screens. He’s a guy who can hurt opponents from anywhere on the floor. He can hit the deep ball, get loose in the midrange, get to the rim and finish in transiton.

Harris is a born scorer…I have zero doubt that he will be among the tougher covers in the conference and I would expect him to push Denzel for leading scorer honors on this team. He’s a solid rebounder and a decent defender whom Izzo has said really worked to improve on that end…I certainly think he can give MSU more options than the guy he’ll be replacing in Trice, simply because he’s bigger and a significantly better athlete. Where I have my questions are issues surrounding him being on the ball as a 1. He struggled with turnovers at WVa…has he improved his decision making enough to allow for him to run MSU’s offense at least part time? The heat isn’t on him in that regard as much as it would be many other places, because MSU’s team as a whole passes so well and you have perhaps the most creative player in the conference playing on the wing in Valentine. Still, Eron needs to be solid in that area to allow this team to reach its potential.