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Every morning at 7:30 the Spartans gather at an on-campus cafeteria for a mandatory team breakfast. In the past, 6-foot senior guard Drew Neitzel, who weighed 155 pounds when he arrived in East Lansing, would gulp down a few spoonfuls of Froot Loops before dashing off to class. "Now I have a big breakfast--eggs, sausage, toast, pancakes--and I try to keep eating throughout the day," says Neitzel, who has bulked up to 185. "I'm stronger than I've ever been."
Neitzel showed how much the added strength benefited him when he led the U.S. team in minutes played (29.6 per game) at the Pan�Am Games in Brazil last summer. Now he and his Michigan State teammates will carry the weight of high expectations. The Spartans began last season unranked yet finished 23-12 and reached the second round of the NCAA tournament. This year, with three promising freshmen joining five returning starters, they're well-positioned to win their first Big Ten championship since 2001.
After averaging just 5.9 points during his first two seasons, Neitzel emerged last year as one of the nation's most dangerous combo guards. He was especially lethal after halftime: His scoring average increased by 50% in the second half, and he poured in 24 of his 29 points in the final 20 minutes of a 66-64 loss at Ohio State. Coach Tom Izzo hopes that the addition of freshmen guards Chris Allen, Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers will allow Neitzel to play fewer minutes--his 35.7 per game were more than any Spartan in 16 years--yet average more points. "We're going to run every possession," Izzo says. "Last year we had to walk it up because we didn't have enough guys."
One guy Michigan State will count on is 6' 7" sophomore forward Raymar Morgan, who missed four weeks last season with a stress reaction in his shin but returned to average 14.0 points over the last 10 games. Still, Izzo will need to develop a reliable post scorer--and he must find out whether this group can handle its high ranking. "Last year people [predicted] we wouldn't even make the tournament, so every time we stepped on the court, we wanted to prove them wrong," says Neitzel. "I think we'll continue to be hungry."
Nov. 24 Oakland
Nov. 28 N.C. State
Dec. 1 Jacksonville