Five keys for Michigan State basketball

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

1. Valentine’s days: If Michigan State will get back to the Final Four and bring home the championship coach Tom Izzo is pushing his team to strive for, it will take an MVP-type season from senior guard Denzel Valentine. He’s got the storyline — son of a former Spartan who cherishes the history of the program — and he has the game. Valentine is MSU’s most versatile player. He can score both on the perimeter and near the basket, is an outstanding rebounder and creates for his teammates. If he ends up the Big Ten’s Player of the Year, that could mean another outstanding year for Izzo and the Spartans.

2. Quality depth: Izzo talks about it all the time — there’s a difference between depth and quality depth. He’s hoping his Michigan State team tends toward quality considering there’s not much question the Spartans have plenty of players. The key will be finding the right rotation, something that could take time considering center Gavin Schilling and forward Marvin Clark are fighting back from early injuries. But narrowing the rotation over the first few weeks and finding the right combinations of players will pay off throughout the season.

Bryn Forbes holds key to Michigan State's success

3. Free throw woes: Last season was Michigan State’s worst season at the free-throw line under Izzo, and the Michigan State coach talked often about how the consistent missing from the stripe cost the Spartans a handful of games. It cost Michigan State dearly in losses to Notre Dame and Texas Southern in non-conference games and several in the Big Ten, including overtime losses to Maryland and Illinois. They’ll need more games like the regional title game victory over Louisville when the Spartans were 15-for-20 and iced the game at the line in overtime.

4. Perimeter prowess: Izzo believes this might be his best shooting team, and on a lot of nights, that will be plenty for Michigan State to pull out the victory. But it’s also risky considering an off shooting night can crop up at just about any point. The Spartans have plenty of quality shooters who can heat up from long range, but balancing the offense and finding some sort of low-post option will also be key to get the Spartans through those games when the outside shot just isn’t falling.

5. Early challenges: It’s no surprise that Michigan State will be tested early in the season since it’s the same pattern Izzo has always followed. It will face the likes of Kansas, Louisville and Florida in non-conference action, as well as a potential matchup with Arizona in the Wooden Legacy Tournament. Finding a win or two in that stretch will likely will build confidence heading into Big Ten play while coming up empty could send things heading in the other direction. Michigan State at least gets Louisville and Florida at home in the Breslin Center.