In 2009-10, the Spartans started the season with high expectations, a top five ranking, co-favorites in the Big Ten and a ton of returning talent. While they struggled along for much of the season, come April, they were right there were Tom Izzo often gets his team: the Final Four. As the Spartans look ahead to 2010-11, there are a lot of the same high expectations but still enough question marks to make it interesting. Senior point guard Kalin Lucas will have to recover from the torn Achilles’ he suffered in the Tournament and junior power forward Delvon Roe will undergo another offseason knee surgery. But assuming they can both get over their health hurdles, they will again be surrounded by some talented players.

Junior guard Korie Lucious will likely fill Lucas’ shoes at the point if Lucas is not ready to go at the start of the season, and will spell Lucas when he does return to the lineup. Seniors Chris Allen and Durrell Summers will start at the two and the three, with junior Austin Thornton and incoming freshmen Russell Byrd and Keith Appling providing backcourt depth. Byrd is a shooter on the wing, while Appling is more of a penetrating scoring guard, who could run some point from time to time if needed.

Up front, if Roe ever does return to full health, he’ll be a monster on a nationals scale: a scarily athletic, smart and tenacious front court player with skills that he has only barely begun to show. Junior Draymond Green is another skilled front court player, who may slide into the starting lineup replacing the departed Raymar Morgan, or could continue to play the sixth-man role off the bench. Derrick Nix may again get the starting nod at the center position in his sophomore year, but will likely get more than the just eight minutes per game he saw as a freshman. Likewise, fellow sophomore Garrick Sherman should see an uptick in minutes, and knowing Izzo, senior center Tom Herzog will also get some minutes here and there. All three of those players will have to fight for minutes, however, as reinforcements arrive in the shape of 6-10 freshman center Adreian Payne, a raw physical specimen, and 6-9 freshman big man Alex Gauna, a versatile post-player.

Certainly Michigan State will be one of the Final Four favorites again next year, and depending on the NBA draft decisions of some of Purdue’s key players, will either be the sole favorite in the Big Ten or the co-favorite with the Boilermakers. But, as has been their custom, don’t expect Izzo and the Spartans to really round into form until March, when they should be as tough an out as ever.

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