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John Niyo and Matt Charboneau take a look at the Spartans (4-4) and they preview the Michigan-Maryland game. The Detroit News

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The leaves are changing and so is the interest from the fans.

The Michigan State mailbag shows that this week as the start of the basketball season has many wondering about the top-ranked Spartans and where the perimeter scoring comes from and whether they’ll meet expectations early in the season.

We can’t get away from football, and that means more questions about Mark Dantonio’s future. We do our best to answer them all in this week’s mailbag.

Question: Perimeter shooting seems to be a concern, but it was a concern last year and McQuaid and Goins did well. Who do you think fills this small void? — @LuGWit

Answer: Clearly Cassius Winston will be counted on to continue to be one of the Spartans’ top shooters, and Tom Izzo will do what he can to get the senior more shots by playing off the ball when he can. From there, the loss of Joshua Langford really comes into focus because in the starting lineup there isn’t a pure shooter. Freshman Rocket Watts is an explosive player who can get to the rim, but a great shooter he is not. Will he become a better shooter as the season progress? Probably, but right now, it’s a significant drop-off from what McQuaid provided. The next option from the wing would be sophomore Gabe Brown. He’s certainly willing to shoot and showed in the NCAA Tournament that he is capable, now we’ll get to see if a likely increase in playing time results in more consistent shooting.

More: 'It's finally here': No. 1 MSU cruises in tune-up, Kentucky showdown on horizon

Getting the production from the power forward spot will be tougher as the team is currently constructed. Marcus Bingham can shoot, but his physical limitations might keep him from seeing regular minutes. Thomas Kithier and Xavier Tillman at the 5 have both improved as shooters but have a long way to go to reach what Goins provided.

The wild card, of course, is Joey Hauser. If he’s granted a waiver by the NCAA, it’s a game-changer.

Q. Do you think we fare well to start the season? Izzo teams typically struggle early to good teams. Then come March they are battle tested. — @thespartyabides

A. They won’t be undefeated when Big Ten play starts.

I feel pretty confident in that. And it’s not because MSU might not end up being the best team in the country, it’s just a tough schedule when trying to still determine the rotation. I’m not sure where it comes, but I’d bet somewhere in the Kentucky-Seton Hall-Kansas (maybe)-Duke stretch there will be a loss.

More: Women's basketball poll: Oregon the new No. 1; MSU 17th, UM 25th

Q. I worry about this team being similar to Kalin Lucas’ senior season. All the hype and high rating, with people underestimating how much they lost. They barely made the tournament. I’m worried about nothing, right? — @eriksmithdotcom

A. That team had bigger issues, a divided locker room being the biggest. That’s not a problem here, so even if the team hits a rough patch it is far more equipped to work itself out. The losses are clear, but with the best point guard in the country back, that certainly makes things a lot easier.

Q. When’s the last time you listened to a game on the radio? How’s Gabe looking? Hoping for a big jump from him this year. — @bsik_12

A. Been a while since I’ve listened to a game, so I can’t offer much insight there. Gabe Brown is a guy MSU needs to score this season, and what we’ve seen since the summer and on Tuesday night is that it won’t just be shooting the three. Brown is an athletic guy who now seems more willing to attack the basket.

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Q. 1) How is Marble's elbow? 2) Does Bingham have a shot to become a real player this year (he was outclassed by the Albion frontcourt)? 3) Does it make sense for Izzo to start Hall (who clearly fits) so he can bring Kithier off the bench in case Tillman gets in foul trouble? — @SFLGT

A. Lots to unpack here. Marble seems fine as he played a little more than seven minutes in the second half. To me, Bingham does not look like a guy ready to contribute because, yes, he got pushed around against Albion. As for Hall, I think he’s going to be a big part of this team. The idea of starting him and giving Kithier more freedom is an interesting one. I don’t think that will happen initially, but it could be something we see later in the season.

Q. Regardless of when, who is the next coach at MSU? Right now I would guess Narduzzi, Fleck, Campbell, and Fickell are four that are high on any list. — @JohnnyMacSparty

A. I’d say that’s a pretty good list. Those are four guys that I would absolutely include in the group of guys that likely draws interest. I know the defense hasn’t played as well recently and fans are pushing for a change, but don’t count out Mike Tressel. Yes, he’s the only guy on the list who has yet to be a head coach, but I’d bet he at least gets an interview.

More: Michigan State's Rocket Watts has made 'incredible strides,' will start vs. Albion

Q. When Coach D steps aside, AD Beekman asks him to recommend his replacement. One caveat, his staff is removed from consideration. Who's his choice? How much influence in the hire will Coach Izzo have? And anything to the Fickell conspiracy theory? — @pfnnewmedia

A. Let’s get some stuff out of the way here first. There’s no guarantee Dantonio steps aside and why is the idea of Luke Fickell becoming the next coach a conspiracy? I’d say he’s a legitimate candidate who checks off a lot of boxes when you’re looking for a head coach, especially in the Big Ten. That said, who would Dantonio pick? That’s a tough one. I’d suspect he’d want the job to go to one of “his guys.” That would make Pat Narduzzi an obvious choice, but I think Dantonio would push for Tressel to get a shot, as well. There are other names out there, but that’s who I think Dantonio would endorse. As for Izzo’s role, I’m sure he’ll be consulted, just as he was when Dantonio was hired. How much he’ll actually be active in the search, that’s tougher to determine considering he’ll have a few other things going on.

Q. Does MSU make a bowl game? — @SaezSam

A. The simple answer is yes. The Spartans have four games left and need to win two to be bowl eligible, and considering the likes of Illinois, Rutgers and Maryland are on the schedule, the odds are pretty good. What level of bowl game that is? Well, that remains to be seen. Winning out could get MSU somewhere nice like the Outback Bowl, but I’m betting the Spartans are in the Big Apple for the Pinstripe Bowl.

Q. Will Coach D retire after the season? — @nykamp_phil

A. My gut tells me he’s coaching his last season. There’s nothing concrete on that but considering the way this one is going and the fact there will be a ton lost to graduation, I bet he decides to be done.

Q. Izzo always talks about building a program, not a team. From 2010-15 Coach D was headed that way. Where is the program now? — @jimdegraaf

A. Nowhere near where it was then. Obviously, so much of it goes back to recruiting and MSU missed badly on the bulk of the 2016 class. That’s something the Spartans are still trying to dig out from, and when you’re recruiting in the same region as the likes of Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Notre Dame, the margin for error is small. Throw in the stubbornness with the coaching staff and it’s hard to feel optimistic about the immediate future.

Q. Do you think that the bizarre QB sub pattern could have been an attempt to avoid a QB controversy, bad QB management, both, or something else? Theo Day had just thrown for a 1st down when he was taken out. — @AgentSleek

A. The problem is I’m not sure what in the heck that was, and as pointed out by some others out there who submitted questions, Dantonio’s explanation didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Putting Lombardi in to see what he’s got when backed up at the 1, maybe not a great idea. Then to pull Day and say it was because he was going three-and-out? That was Lombardi. After it all he said he wasn’t waving a white flag by putting Lombardi in but admitting Lewerke gives MSU the best chance to win. Huh?

mcharboneu@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @mattcharboneau

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