Georgetown, Michigan State Continue To Defy Logic

January 5th, 2012

Every year it seems that a team or two defy the odds and improve after losing a large chunk of their previous year’s production.

This year, it’s Michigan State and Georgetown that are thriving despite losing their star players. Both entered this season with low expectations, yet each are currently atop their conferences and ranked in the top 10. Michigan St was unranked in the preseason AP poll, while Georgetown did not even garner a single vote.

Even with Kalin Lucas – the Spartans’ fifth all-time leading scorer and sixth all-time leader in assists – Michigan State suffered through a forgettable 2010-11 season. Ranked second in the nation to begin the season, the Spartans suffered through a 19-15 campaign that was reportedly rife with dissention and discontent, and they were ousted in the NCAA Tournament’s first round by UCLA a season after a run to the Final 4.

Despite also losing Durrell Summers, Korie Lucious and Delvon Roe, whose degenerative knee problems forced him to miss his senior year, Michigan State has won 14 straight games and is sitting atop the Big Ten standings after a 63-60 overtime win at Wisconsin Tuesday.

Spartan coach Tom Izzo predicted before the season that, despite being omitted from the pre-season Top 25, Michigan State would return to the top of the Big Ten this season. His reasoning? Better leadership and cohesion.

Draymond Green – MSU’s one returning star – has been great, but it’s been some lesser-known players who have come through for the Spartans. Keith Appling, who scored 25 points as Michigan State knocked off previously-unbeaten Indiana last Wednesday, is averaging 12.3 points, 3.7 assists and 3.5 rebounds at the point. Freshman Branden Dawson is regularly scoring in double-figures, and Valparaiso transfer Brandon Wood has provided the Spartans the outside threat they lacked a year ago.

Similarly, Georgetown entered last season with high expectations only to fizzle. With Chris Wright and Austin Freeman in the backcourt, the Hoyas jumped out to 8-0 and 11-1 before finishing 21-11 and suffering an embarrassing loss in the first round of the NCAA Tournament – 74-56 to VCU – for the second straight season.

Without Wright, Freeman and Julian Vaughn (38.3 ppg between them), Georgetown was unranked and picked to finish 11th in the Big East. A seventh-consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament under John Thompson III was considered a longshot.

Instead, Georgetown has won 11 straight to improve to 13-1 – with only a four-point loss to Kansas keeping it from an unbeaten record – and the Hoyas are tied with No. 1 Syracuse at the top of the Big East after an upset win over Louisville, a home victory over Providence, and shocking come from behind win over Marquette last night.

Jason Clark was expected to carry Georgetown this season – and he has been outstanding. But it’s the role players and newcomers who have made the difference in D.C.

Hollis Thompson’s stats are up across the board, including a 47.1 field goal percentage. Former highly-touted recruit Henry Sims is beginning to reach his potential in his senior season, including a team-best 3.7 assists from the center position. Sophomore guard Markel Starks has increased his scoring average from 1.5 a year ago to 10.2 this season, and freshman Otto Porter, who had 14 points and 14 rebounds in last week’s win over Louisville, looks like a star in the making.

Talent is essential in college basketball. As Michigan State and Georgetown are proving, unity and continuity can sometimes be just as important.