Before we put a bow on the 2011-12 MSU men's basketball season and look forward to 2012-13, a nod to a Sexton season that should end tonight with a repeat title. And how about this Kurt Keener quote on Denzel Valentine: “He’s as close to a Magic Johnson as I have seen in my time here with his look-away passes and how he makes everybody on the court better."
A few things to keep in mind on that. One, this is the hardest starting lineup to project since I started covering MSU. Two, these are my guesses. Three, these guesses are not completely random, they are educated by conversations and observations. I guessed small here and I do think Branden Dawson will play more 4 next year. And I think he'll play plenty of 3. And if Keith Appling starts at point guard and Travis Trice comes off the bench, I won't be surprised. But I'm guessing a big offseason for Trice, and I do think Appling will play off the ball a bit more next season -- but still play the point extensively.
And yes, I think a Payne-Nix starting lineup is possible. That lineup, I believe, will be employed next season. The key here is that Tom Izzo should have the versatility he loves, the ability to play effectively against very different opponents. And that includes being small and athletic at times -- just as MSU was for most of the 2004-05 season with Alan Anderson at the 4. As for Valentine, he gives MSU a third strong option at the point, but I think he will start by playing more on the wing. Tons of options, possible combinations and competition for minutes.
My early, early Big Ten projections for next season go like this -- and assume Cody Zeller is back for Indiana, Trey Burke is back for Michigan, Jared Sullinger is not back for Ohio State, Meyers Leonard is not back for Illinois and Trevor Mbakwe takes that sixth year and plays for Minnesota (so you might call these subject to change):
5. Ohio State
11. Penn State
12. Nebraska (which just hired Tim Miles as head coach, by the way)
And honestly, I think Penn State is going to be a lot better. And everyone on that list is going to be solid or better. There you go, something else to attack.
Who do you have today? I like Louisville and Ohio State to become the first half of the Final Four.