This is the 11th in a 50-day summer series, counting down the top players in Michigan State basketball history, as I see them. The criteria is impact and performance at MSU only, professional career irrelevant. Have your own opinion? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
No. 40 – Branden Dawson
Forward, 2011-present, Gary, Ind.
The skinny: Dawson’s story at MSU is still being written. But this ranking has nothing to do with next year, or where he projects all-time in points or rebounds. Through three seasons, his presence and absence has largely determined the fate of some of Michigan State’s better teams in this elite post-1997 era. Statistically, his numbers as a junior (11.2 points, 8.3 rebounds, 62 percent shooting) put him fairly alongside the other players in the bottom quarter of the Top 50.
What separates him from many is his impact defensively and a six-game postseason stretch that raised his profile — similar to what Marcus Taylor did with an incredible February in 2002. Dawson averaged 17.5 points from the opening of the Big Ten tournament through the Sweet 16, scoring a combined 50 in NCAA tournament wins over Harvard and Virginia.
Why he’s No. 40: There is unquestionably and unintentionally era bias in this selection. Dawson is recent — he’s now — and I’ve analyzed and written about his impact seemingly constantly over the last three years. But he also shouldn’t be punished for being current and having a legacy unfinished. Dawson is a rare athlete, among the great physical freaks in MSU history, standing out as a rebounder, defender and around-the-rim scorer even in the golden age of Spartan basketball.
His ranking here is hurt by missing the 2012 NCAA tournament (torn ACL) and nine games in the middle of the last Big Ten season (broken hand for punching an object). But those injuries have also clarified his importance. MSU had no chance at a deep NCAA tournament run three years ago without him. The Spartans were 4-5, never winning back-to-back games, in his absence this January and February. Few college wing players I’ve seen alter matchups in their team’s favor so drastically.
No. 41: Bill Kilgore
No. 42: Pete Gent
No. 43: Al Ferrari
No. 44: Ken Redfield
No. 45: Chris Hill
No. 46: Raymar Morgan
No. 47: Kevin Smith
No. 48: Kevin Willis
No. 49: Matt Steigenga
No. 50: Marcus Taylor