Coach Tom Izzo sees plenty of improvement in Spartans

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — Tom Izzo understands when he looks around and sees his team picked to finish anywhere from second to eighth in the Big Ten this season.

After all, the Spartans lost three players to the NBA from last year's team — Adreian Payne and Gary Harris going in the first round of last summer's draft.

But the cupboard is far from bare.

Senior Branden Dawson, many believe, could be on the verge of an All-America season, while guards Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine are expected to make big steps. Add in the starting experience of center Matt Costello along with the anticipated improvement from sophomores Alvin Ellis and Gavin Schilling, and there is plenty of experience to rely on.

"I think Trice and Dawson have gotten remarkably better, and Trice has gotten maybe better than any of them," Izzo said Friday before the first practice. "I just think he's healthier. He really was injured since the day he came (here).

"I think we got a bunch of pieces. I don't know how those pieces are gonna be put together, but we've really felt like the last month, the guy that's improved the most since school started has been Alvin Ellis. He's taken a big jump and he had some games last year where he was pretty good."

Bryn Forbes, a junior transfer from Cleveland State, also should provide some help on the perimeter. Other newcomers include freshman guard Lourawls Nairn and forwards Javon Bess and Marvin Clark.

Nairn, a point guard who might be one of the fastest players Izzo has had, is working on improving his shot.

"He's got a ways to go but he's been every bit as much fun to be around and his energy level and all those things," Izzo said. "He shoots it better than I thought maybe when you look at him, like a (Mateen) Cleaves or a Travis Walton, lot better shooter. I wouldn't say that's his forte yet, but I don't think it needs to be on this team."

Izzo also has been impressed with Bess.

"(He) is more like a Raymar Morgan," Izzo said. "He has a great feel for the game, great understanding. ... Him and (Nairn) are here too much — I mean, we brought them in two weeks ago and told them to chill because they were here too much.

"He's got size, he can shoot it better than decent. He can handle it. Offensive rebounds, can guard people. And he has a very high basketball IQ."

Izzo said Michigan State will spread out its 30 practices over the next 42 days as it prepares for the opener Nov. 14 at Navy.