With the start of college basketball season on the horizon, we’ll be taking a long look at the conference at large as well as Indiana’s roster over the next month. Today, we continue our Big Ten team previews with the Michigan State Spartans.
It’s no secret Tom Izzo lost one of his best groups of seniors after last season. The Chicago Bulls drafted forward Denzel Valentine in the first round, guard Bryn Forbes signed with the San Antonio Spurs and center Matt Costello with the Atlanta Hawks. In addition, forward Colby Wollenman is now enrolled in medical school at Vanderbilt.
The Spartans also lost one-and-done forward Deyonta Davis, who was drafted in the second round by Boston and landed with the Memphis Grizzles.
So who is left in East Lansing?
Izzo is out with the old, and in with the new. The new being Izzo’s highest rated class of freshmen. All four players are ranked in top 45 of the 247Composite for the class of 2016.
Drawing most of the pre-season attention and hype is forward Miles Bridges. He is explosive, powerful and the Spartans beat out Kentucky to land him. Second is shooting guard Joshua Langford, a top 20 recruit and McDonald’s All-American. The Spartans also welcome Jordan Brand All-Star point guard Cassius Winston and Ohio big man Nick Ward. The 6-foot-8 Ward is a power forward who plays seeking contact, rather than avoiding it. All four are expected to play immediately.
In addition to the stellar freshman class, the Spartans also return a strong group of contributors from last season’s 29-6 team.
Guard Eron Harris is Michigan State’s leading returning scorer at 9.3 points per game. Harris, an Indianapolis native, shot close to 44 percent last season on 3s. Senior guard Alvin Ellis III had ups and downs and fell into Izzo’s doghouse at times last season, but he could carve out a bigger role in 2016-2017.
Senior forward Gavin Schilling is expected to be fully available this season after a foot injury slowed him a season ago. Sophomore forward Kenny Goins is recovering from an off-season knee injury. Sophomore sharp shooter Matt McQuaid had successful surgery for a double sports hernia.
Graduate transfer Ben Carter had another injury with his left knee over the weekend and is out indefinitely. Carter had just recovered from tearing his ACL while at UNLV nine months prior. MSU’s senior point guard Tum Tum Nairn missed time with foot problems, but will be responsible for handling a leadership role either as the starter or as Winston’s backup.
Bottom Line: MSU has the toughest start to college basketball its program has ever seen. On Nov. 11, they face Arizona in Hawaii, Nov. 15 against Kentucky in New York City and then to the Bahamas to play three games (potential opponents are St. John’s, Baylor or VCU, and Louisville or Wichita State). Then, they go to Durham to play Duke on Nov. 29. This challenging slate should tell Izzo plenty about his team before conference play begins. If MSU can stay healthy, handle the schedule and manage to get some key wins early, it should be another season at or near the top of the Big Ten standings.
Quotable: “We have a couple of what I call great players. And a lot of very good players. In those very good players, there is not a lot of separation. That is good and bad. It is going to be more difficult to figure out who to play. The other thing is, when you are playing 1s against 2s, we haven’t had a one or two, but when you are playing five guys against five guys, you have a situation where the other guys is defending really well, so nobody looks as good offensively at times. So, that is going to take some time, but we have 40 days.” –Izzo in a press conference before MSU’s first practice of the season.