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Tom Izzo’s Freshman Trio Needs to Hit a Growth Spurt

Photo: Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire

Matt Costello can’t do everything in the paint and on the boards by himself. Deyonta Davis has to help the senior big man in that regard.

Senior Bryn Forbes and redshirt junior Eron Harris can score, but they’re not the only ones who have to shoot well for the No. 1-ranked Michigan State Spartans (13-0).

Matt McQuaid has to do his part. So does Kyle Ahrens.

Their roles vary, and so do expectations, but Tom Izzo’s freshman trio of McQuaid, Davis and Ahrens has to do a little growing up while star senior do-all Denzel Valentine continues to nurse his injured left knee.

The national player of the year candidate had surgery to remove loose cartilage this past week, but he’s still roughly two weeks from re-joining his fellow unbeaten national-title hopefuls on the court.

In the meantime, Costello, Forbes and Harris should be able to carry the majority of the load. Count in sophomore guard Tum-Tum Nairn and sophomore forward Marvin Clark, too.

With that being said, a concentrated effort from everyone will be necessary. Davis, McQuaid and Ahrens have already proven capable of doing the little extras, but they need to amplify their efforts as the Spartans make their way through a trying four-game road swing.

Northeastern and Oakland have tried but failed. Next stop is Iowa, and then it’s onto Minnesota. Michigan State’s first loss could be right around the corner. Izzo always talks about separating boys from men, and the road should help him decide who’s ready and who still needs time to develop.

More McQuaid

This past Tuesday, McQuaid appeared gassed and out-manned while guarding a quick and physical Oakland lineup. The 6’5,” 185-pounder couldn’t keep up with Grizzlies speedster Kay Felder, a 5’9,” 178-pounder who scored 37 points and really illustrated the distance between a good freshman and seasoned vet.

McQuaid is one of Izzo’s best shooters, so he has no choice but to perform on a consistent basis. Back on Nov. 17 in Chicago, he hit three 3-pointers that all but sunk then-No. 4-ranked Kansas at the United Center. He played a season-high 22 minutes during the 79-73 win.

But since then, he’s been more of a 15-minute guy, at best.

He played a season-low 10 minutes versus Oakland, finishing with a so-so two assists and two turnovers during the 99-93 overtime victory.

Defensively and hustle-wise, McQuaid–minus a couple of lapses–has carried his weight. He just needs to do more while the Spartans play without Valentine. McQuaid has scored three points during the past two road games–and, coincidentally enough, it was a 3-pointer that put him on the board.

Now that Valentine’s sidelined, the Spartans need to replace 18 points per game. Forbes and Harris will do that… most of the time. A couple of bursts from McQuaid wouldn’t hurt, both in Valentine’s stead and throughout the season.

Double-Dose of DD

Davis, a 6’10,” 245-pound former 5-star recruit, has scored 10 or more points six times through 13 games. While at his peak, he appears to be a two-and-done player. The other side, of course, is that he’s had plenty of freshman-type struggles.

This past Tuesday, he scored 11 points and grabbed four rebounds during Michigan State’s 99-93 overtime win over Oakland. He did all of that in just 13 minutes.

“He’s got moves and a lot of talent, but he needs some work,” said former Spartans great Paul Davis. “But I think Davis is going to be a really good player for Izzo.”

Foul trouble. The lack of full, undivided focus for two halves.

Yeah, freshman stuff. More proof? Davis had scored 15 points, in total, during the four games prior to playing the Grizzlies at The Palace. He’s up and down, but he can be above the rest when he chooses to do so. That’s the consistency, growth and maturity thing that so many coaches talk about.

Davis closed November with a five-game streak that offered a real glimpse into his potential: During those games, all wins, of course, Davis combined for 59 points, 20 rebounds and 10 blocks. There were plenty of finishes at the rim, too–and he did that versus the likes of now-No. 18-ranked Louisville and now-No. 12-ranked Providence.

That’s why Izzo recruited Davis, who has become one of the Spartans’ better in-bounds passers. He’s also a great source of on-point outlet passes. His value to Michigan State can be gauged by stats and trends, but Davis’ consistent presence means more than any number could suggest–especially while Costello searches for a happy medium.

Davis has played 20 or more minutes five times this season. Add in a handful of 17-, 18- and 19-minute intervals, just for the sake of counting, and then compare to the past three games: 11 minutes during a 58-52 win over Florida; 10 minutes during a 78-58 win over Northeastern; and 13 during a win over Oakland.

Progress for Ahrens

Ahrens entered East Lansing with a world of potential at his fingertips.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like he’s completely moved past a severe leg injury suffered while in high school. The overall mobility just doesn’t seem to be there just yet.

Two years removed from the bad break, Ahrens is in danger of slipping further and further down Izzo’s depth chart.

The versatile 6’5,’ 205-pounder has played in 10 games this year, sitting out versus Florida, Louisville and Providence. Those were valuable experience games for everyone, including freshmen–and he wasn’t able to play.

Conversely, he’s averaging a meager 4.4 minutes per game (44 total on the year). Eleven of those minutes came during a 76-33 dismantling of Binghamton. Combine that with 14 total points, and it’s plain to see that Ahrens, who’s capable of being a double-digit scorer, is in need of a jump-start in any way possible.

Follow Adam Biggers of Today’s U on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

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