ANAHEIM, Calif. — Michigan State was supposed to be good following its Final Four run in 2015. But I’m not sure even the most ardent Spartan supporters could have expected this after losing Travis Trice and Branden Dawson.
The Spartans beat Providence 77-64 to win the Wooden Legacy and get out to a 7-0 start. That’s only the second time since 2002 that Tom Izzo’s team has started this well, and it seems unlikely that we’ll see a dip in play any time soon.
Even on a night where Denzel Valentine — who was named Wooden Legacy event MVP –struggled with foul trouble in the first half then was overall fairly pedestrian on his way to 17 points, it was the rest of the Spartans who stepped up. Bryn Forbes, who came in shooting 54 percent from 3, continued his hot start to the season by scoring 18 points. Freshman Deyonta Davis threw in 12 points off the bench. West Virginia transfer Eron Harris finally improved upon what had been a bit of a rocky start, and scored 12.
And that’s the key with the Spartans this season. They’ve largely been relying upon Denzel Valentine to propel them to victory in the early portion of the season, as his heroics had him averaging nearly a triple-double coming into the game. And yeah, Forbes has been consistent in knocking down shots next to him. But this team has so much more potential than that due to the players that will surround him as the season progresses.
Davis is still relying mostly on pure athleticism, and should continue to improve as the year progresses. Harris still hasn’t quite figured out his role on the team, but has proven himself at a high level before in averaging 17 points per game at West Virginia. Marvin Clark Jr. hasn’t been totally healthy yet, and he’s a solid inside-out weapon who fits well as a defensive player who can both defend on the perimeter and bang on the inside.
Following Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin’s early season woes, it seems the Big Ten is shaping up as a three-team race between the Spartans, Maryland and Purdue. And right now, it’s hard to bet against what Michigan State has offered in wins over Kansas, Providence, and Boise State. That’s a better resume than anyone else in the country has to offer, and it won’t be a surprise to see Michigan State get first-place votes in the upcoming polls on Monday because of it.
But before we get to the Big Ten, the Spartans will have to pass their final large hurdle of the non-conference season, playing what could be a ranked Louisville team at home in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. If they get past that, this team — unlike most this season — could be unbeaten for a little while