Editor's note: With the men's college basketball season starting to ramp back up, Yahoo! Sports analyst Clark Kellogg picks the teams he thinks have the best shot at making it to the Sweet 16 in 2006.
Each pick is listed alphabetically. Check back during the week for his latest selections.
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Overshadowed by the brilliance emanating from Urbana-Champaign, the Spartans made another (and to many a surprising) trip to the Final Four last season. Relying on superior perimeter depth and the strong interior play of Paul Davis, the Spartans finished second in the Big Ten on their way to a deep tournament run.
Eight of the 11 players that averaged at least eight minutes per game for Tom Izzo were upperclassmen, and four of them – Alan Anderson, Tim Bograkos, Chris Hill and Kelvin Torbert – have since moved on. Anderson, Hill and Torbert scored more a thousand points in their careers, while Bograkos was a walk-on who earned a scholarship with his defense, hustle and leadership. All played significant roles on last year's team, but Anderson was the only player to start every game.
That team won by wearing the opposition down with defense, depth, rebounding and a strong transition game. It also was one of the nation's best free-throw shooting teams at 77 percent. But it was Davis who carried MSU late in the season, and his consistent play (he posted a double-double in just about every game during the last quarter of the season) contributed mightily to the Spartans' overall success.
This year's team returns four starters, led by the athletic duo of Maurice Ager and Shannon Brown. These two players simply do things you cannot teach, while also getting better at doing the things you can, and that's scary.
Add point guard Drew Neitzel to the mix and Michigan State has a terrific triumvirate in the backcourt. Davis again will anchor the paint, and he'll get some help from returning frontcourt reserves Drew Naymick and Matt Trannon. A couple of freshman big men also will vie for playing time.
The Spartans should be a good rebounding and defensive team, and that will fuel a potentially lethal transition game. I also think their perimeter shooting will be solid, and if one of the big guys can become a consistent outside shooter, Izzo will have the same kind of versatility that his Big Ten championship teams had just a few seasons ago.
This team will not have the overall experience that last year's squad had, but if the newcomers can contribute consistently, it could be more talented and versatile at both ends of the floor.
Tom Izzo and his staff have proven quite capable of handling and meeting high expectations over the years and, barring injuries, this looks like another championship-caliber team.