After much contemplation and deep reflection, the grades for the senior class are finally in. Travis Trice and Branden Dawson were the heart and soul of this team. In their four years as Spartans, they went to a Final Four, Elite Eight and two Sweet 16’s. That puts this duo in elite company among all-time best college careers.
Travis Trice – 39 games, 33.6 MPG, 15.3 PPG, 5.1 APG, 39.7% FG
Before the season started, many experts wondered if Trice would be able to step up his offensive game and become a leader with the ball in his hands. After being a role player his entire career, no one was really sure if he would be up to the task. Trice quickly silenced the doubters.
In the first game of the season against Navy, Trice put up a team-high 25 points to go along with five rebounds and five assists. Yep, he could handle it. Trice went on to score 20+ points in 11 contests, including a season-high 27 against both Nebraska and Purdue.
Not only could he score, Trice could also dish out the ball. He led the team in assists with 5.1 per game, and took care of the ball at the same time. He had a 2.83/1 assist-to-turnover ratio, best on the team and the best of his career.
Trice tried to will his Spartans to greatness in the NCAA Tournament. His scoring increased to 19 ppg and his field goal percentage increased by five points. Although he and the Spartans fell short, their miraculous run to the Final Four will be remembered as one of the most impressive and improbable in school history.
Final grade – A+
Branden Dawson – 35 games, 30.1 MPG, 11.9 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 53.5% FG
Dawson’s career at Michigan State had been plagued by injuries and inconsistency. When he was on, Dawson was the most athletic player on the court and a ferocious rebounder. When he was off, Dawson was merely a footnote in the statline, barely recognizable on the court. This season, Dawson erased all the inconsistency issues.
At 6-foot-6, Dawson was almost always undersized on defense. This was never a problem. His vertical leap was measured in miles, not inches. Dawson banged with the bigs down low and also shut down some of the best guards the Big Ten had to offer, including Penn State’s DJ Newbill.
Perhaps the most impressive change in Dawson’s game was his midrange jumper. A season ago it was cringeworthy at its worst and mediocre at its best. But this season, it was nearly unguardable. The turnaround fadeaway was a thing of beauty that could be used against bigger defenders. Defenses finally had to respect him outside of the paint, which opened up the floor for his teammates.
Although his offensive numbers were down somewhat in the tournament, his impact on defense was unparalleled. He frustrated Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell in the Elite Eight game and rendered him useless for the Cardinals.
Every time Dawson stepped on to the court, you knew there was a chance he would do something spectacular. And every time he threw down a thunderous dunk, it amazed everyone even though they knew how freakishly athletic he was. Dawson will be remembered as one of the best dunkers and athletes the Breslin Center has ever seen.
Final grade – A