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The bout of walking pneumonia and mononucleosis that forward Raymar Morgan suffered last season should yield a few benefits this year. For one, "I had no idea how much I could endure," says Morgan, who also broke his nose in the Sweet 16 against Kansas. "Continuing to play through the illness and [injury] showed me a whole other side of myself." And second: If Morgan had continued the season the way he started it (averaging 15.2 points and 6.9 rebounds through the first 16 games), teammate Draymond Green says, "he probably wouldn't be on our team now."
Instead of possibly turning pro after his junior season, Morgan, who missed only three games but saw his stats fall by five points and almost two boards by season's end, is back in East Lansing at full strength—and he must remain so in the Spartans' bid for a return to the Final Four. A slasher with a midrange jumper and a knack for grabbing rebounds, Morgan may be most valuable on defense, where he can guard four positions. "I need him to be the most versatile player since Morris Peterson," says coach Tom Izzo, recalling the forward on his 2000 NCAA championship team.
Overall, Izzo feels confident in his rotation from point guard to power forward. What's uncertain is the post position, which will likely be manned by junior Tom Herzog, who has played all of 100 minutes over the last two years. "We're a top 10 team one through four and a top 80 team at the five, so where does that leave us?" asks Izzo. With the lofty expectations that naturally accrue to the only program to get to the Final Four five times in the last 11 years.
Unlike last season, when he sold his players on the honor of playing in the Final Four in Detroit, Izzo is more subtle in plugging this year's site, Indianapolis, where Michigan State won it all in 2000 and knocked off Louisville last year. "I like this team, but I'm still getting a grasp of what it can do," he says. "What I'm telling them is, 'Indy's been good to us.'"
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
Tom Izzo (15th season)