Team preview: Michigan State

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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)

For nearly the last decade, Michigan State has established itself as the Big Ten's flagship school. The Spartans have won four league titles since 1998, been to four Final Fours and were the only school to win a national championship over that span. Although the Spartans have made the most noise lately, things seemed kind of quiet in East Lansing, Mich., heading into this season.

State returns just one starter from the squad that may be best known for being George Mason's first victim in the NCAA Tournament en route to a miraculous Final Four run.

Unlike other most recent seasons when you could pencil the Spartans in your Top 25 and among Big Ten contenders, no one knows exactly what to expect out of this team.

The Spartans lost four starters from last season. Shannon Brown, Maurice Ager and Paul Davis were each selected in the NBA draft. The trio accounted for 72 percent of the team's scoring and 45 percent of its rebounding. And with that talent drain, there aren't any proven players waiting to fill that void. But coach Tom Izzo doesn't think for a second he doesn't have players.

"We're a little bit of an enigma," he said. "We're a little like the team [2001-02] after we had been to three Final Fours where we lost seven players. I'm kind of hoping I can look back on my experience then and use that to help our team now."

Realistically the Spartans, who won't have any seniors playing major minutes, could be gearing up for a serious run in 2007-08. But Izzo isn't exactly ready to concede this season.

"This is a team that will get better as the season goes on," Izzo said. "It'll be a fun team to coach. We've been picked so high for the last six or seven years and we won't be picked as high -- deservingly so.

"I don't think anybody is disrespecting our program. There's no, 'We're going to prove you wrong' motivation with not being picked high, it's more like 'We're going to prove us right.' Right now we have to earn what we get because we don't have the answers to a lot of questions."

For starters, Michigan State again will have arguably the toughest conference schedule. Just like last season, the Spartans will only get to face teams that finished in the bottom third (Penn State, Northwestern, Minnesota and Purdue) once.