Preseason Top 25 + 1 Countdown

CBSSports.com College Basketball Staff
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By Matt Norlander | College Basketball Blogger

Coach: Tom Izzo

Years at school: 17 (412-169)

Best NCAA tournament finish: National champion (2000)

Vital Info: No. 6 Michigan State
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Last season's record: 29-8 (lost to Louisville in Sweet 16)

Notable returnees from last season: Keith Appling, Derrick Nix, Branden Dawson, Adreian Payne

Notable losses from last season: Draymond Green, Brandon Wood, Austin Thornton

Notable newcomers: Gary Harris, Matt Costello

Projected starters: G: Keith Appling; G: Gary Harris; F: Adreian Payne; F: Branden Dawson; F: Derrick Nix

Why this team will be good: Because thinking a Michigan State team coached by Tom Izzo won't be good is essentially giving up your credibility. Michigan State is almost always a reliable defensive and rebounding team. Last season, MSU was third overall in KenPom.com's tempo-adjusted defense (behind Louisville and Ohio State) and top 31 in offensive and defensive rebounding. The team is still big, so it's not likely to have too much of a drop-off. This team should be a faster group than last year, too, and I think that puts them at an advantage in the famously slow Big Ten.

Branden Dawson is a Big Ten First-Teamer waiting to happen. And Adreian Payne is set for a big year if his fundamentals and natural skill come together to create the exact kind of paint force Michigan State prides itself on. This will be a fun team to watch because it has the ability to have a team leader in points from any of its five starters.

Why this team might disappoint: The team loses one of the most dynamic players the sport's seen in the past 10 years. No Draymond Green, the big man who had soft touch, a world of range, was an incredible leader and basically a "five-tool"college basketball player -- minus the speed. And even there he could move for a guy who was 240 pounds. But without him, who's going to lead the team? And what will Izzo get from his only senior, Derrick Nix? Nix was arrested the day after the season ended last year, and there was debate over his return to the team, let alone his impact. But Nix sold Izzo on his character rebuild, and because of that, the team named him captain.

Aside from Nix, I want to see how Michigan State is from all three levels. Inside? Should be good. Mid-range? I like it … mostly … but have to see what kind of player freshman Gary Harris will be in this offense. And from deep, MSU has to prove itself.

Bottom line: This group still has a lot of guys who played to a No. 1 seed last season and became a prototypical Tom Izzo-coached team. A lot of talent that needs a new on-floor commander. That kind of critical development on a team sounds rote when you pore through preview after preview, but coaches and players will tell you to a man how important/vital it is that teams have dogmatic presence amid a game's fevering pace and competition. Michigan State doesn't have that yet, so if it struggles early, chalk it up to an adjustment period. I still think the team is at worst a four seed come March. And if Izzo wins another Big Ten title and wrangles another top seed? Won't be surprised in the least.

Quote from an opposing coach in the league: "How they play doesn't change from year to year. That system is in place and they're going to guard, crash the boards hard and get baskets in transition. The potential for them to be really good in transition will be a big part of what they do this year. They've got more-athletic wings, Appling is a fast point guard.

They lost [Draymond Green], and the one thing that stands out about Draymond Green is, he'd get all their guys in the right spot. Even if he didn't have the ball, when they called the set, you'd see him getting guys where they needed to be. Having that much respect for that guy, as a player, a 4 man, to get everyone in the right spots, I don't know who that guy can be this year. Perimeter shooting was weak last year, too. Draymond was a guy who could make shots, Brandon Wood could, but you lose those guys. Austin Thornton's gone, too. Who's going to be the knock-down perimeter guy?"

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