Every team in the country would love to have the one-two punch that resides in East Lansing. Although the Spartans lost two important players from their NCAA runner-up team, Liz Shimek and Lindsay Bowen return. And the seniors are as talented as any duo in the nation.
Shimek might be the most complete player in the Big Ten conference. She is a good low-post player with outside capabilities and needs 150 rebounds to become the first Michigan State player to tally 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds. Shimek led the Spartans -- who rank No. 12 in ESPN.com's preseason top 25 poll -- with 14.8 points and 9.1 rebounds per game last season.
For all Shimek does inside, Bowen bolsters the Spartans outside. She was second on the team with 13.8 points per game last season, shooting a team-best 43 percent from 3-point range -- she was just 38.7 percent on her 2-point attempts -- last season. Bowen's 42.3 percent career average from downtown ranks No. 1 in Big Ten history.
Victoria Lucas-Perry is a slashing, take-the-ball-to-the-hole type player and will be the third scoring option. With three proven scorers, Michigan State should be fine putting points on the board.
The questions arise, however, when discussing whom the Spartans lost. Point guard Kristin Haynie was the Mateen Cleaves of last season's team. It wasn't always pretty, but she got the job done. She provided tremendous leadership and was a "glue player," making sure the team never lost focus. Kelli Roehrig was a good low-post scorer who gobbled up rebounds and defended the opponents' best inside scoring threat. She, too, will be missed.
A trio of players will rotate at point guard to start the season: junior Rene Haynes, sophomore Maggie Dwyer and Bowen. In the early part of last season, Bowen filled in at point for two games -- both wins -- when Haynie was sidelined with an injury. Haynes and Dwyer do not have much game experience at running the team because Haynie was always on the floor. So for now, it's on-the-job training for Michigan State's point guards.
The Spartans are slightly suspect at center, where they also lack experience. Sophomore Laura Hall has the size but is not as skilled as Roehrig, and Hall -- primarily a defender and rebounder -- won't be the scorer that Roehrig was last season.
The Spartan's depth is good, with solid freshmen behind the starters. Tiffanie Shives, the reigning Ms. Basketball in Michigan, is a highly touted All-American. She will be a key reserve, providing instant offense off the bench. Jenny Poff, who finished second to Shives in Michigan's Ms. Basketball voting, is another in the line of point guards who will have the responsibility of replacing Haynie. Also, Alisa Wulff, a transfer from Virginia, will back up Shimek.
With the experience of a run to the championship game, three starters returning and some very good freshmen coming in, Michigan State should once again be a top team.
Peter Newmann is the college basketball researcher for ESPN. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.