Most of the top-tier Big 10 teams from the 2017-2018 season have lost a good amount of their core players, and Michigan State is no exception. The Spartans were a dominant force throughout the regular season going 30-5, but they were knocked out early in the NCAA Tournament yet again. Tom Izzo lost stars Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr. to the NBA Draft as well as three seniors who have now graduated. Without any high-level freshman coming in, Izzo will be relying on the remaining core from his 2015 recruiting class, which was arguably Michigan State’s best ever recruiting class.
- Cassius Winston
- Joshua Langford
- Nick Ward
The three were overshadowed by Miles Bridges in Michigan State’s 2015 recruiting class and despite them improving as sophomores, they were still role players behind Bridges and Jackson. Now, the likes of Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford and Nick Ward will have to step up and not just be higher-volume contributors but be leaders as well.
Cassius Winston was the living definition of the word “efficiency” last season. The Detroit native took over as Michigan State’s full-time point guard last year and managed to shoot 50 percent from the field, 90 percent from the free-throw line, and an absurd 75-151 from 3-point land; good for 49.7 percent. As far as advanced metrics go, he’s the best returning player in the Big 10 conference.
Winston ranked first in the conference in areas including assists (241) and assists per game (6.9), true shooting percentage (68 percent), offensive rating (131.2), offensive win shares (4.2) and offensive box plus/minus (9.0). His career 45 percent assist percentage is tops in NCAA history. He needs to be attempting more than eight shots per game, and if he does, then Winston will likely be Michigan State’s best player. Lead guard play trumps all else in college basketball, and Winston will be one of the best in the nation.
Joshua Langford was a top-15 player in the 2015 recruiting class and was expected to carry a substantial load offensively from the wing. While he has been an efficient 3-point shooter during his collegiate career at 41 percent, Langford has scored 20 points in a game just three times, with 27 career games scoring in single digits. This should be the year that Langford really steps up and produces at a higher rate. Being the Spartans’ likely No. 1 scoring option on the perimeter, Langford has a decent shot at being Michigan State’s leading scorer.
Nick Ward has had one crucial negative throughout his career that has continually hindered him from contributing more than he inevitably has: being able to stay on the floor. As a freshman, Ward played all 35 games at center, started 21 of them and played 694 total minutes. As a sophomore, Ward played all 35 games again, this time starting in all but one and played 662 total minutes. To throw even more coal on the fire, out of the 70 games Ward has played at Michigan State, he has eclipsed 30 minutes played just twice. The sky’s the limit for Nick Ward, but he won’t come close to his full potential unless he’s in better shape.
- Miles Bridges
- Jaren Jackson Jr.
- Tum Tum Nairn
- Gavin Schilling
Nairn and Schilling aren’t catastrophic losses, but they are significant ones. Both were key seniors off the bench who had a widespread amount of experience. This is a venerable team that Michigan State has, which will likely be starting all upperclassmen assuming that sharpshooter Matt McQuaid and former walk-on Kenny Goins will start. The most detrimental part of their departures is that both were hard-nosed defenders, but there isn’t too much to stress on in this regard. Jackson and Bridges both were lottery picks in the 2018 NBA Draft and just the latest pair of Spartans to hit the league looking like they might develop into great players.
Michigan State doesn’t have the sort of big-time recruit they’ve become accustomed to having over the past couple of years. Regardless of if that’s considered good or bad, Izzo still managed to accumulate a top-20 recruiting class with several exciting four-star recruits, all from the state of Michigan.
Marcus Bingham Jr. will likely be the most notable freshman on the Spartans’ roster by the time the season begins. Bingham is a lengthy forward at 6 feet 10 inches and was 24/7 Sports’ top-ranked recruit from the state of Michigan, but weighs only around 200 pounds. Foster Loyer has a chance to be Izzo’s backup point guard despite lacking size, and Gabe Brown could be a very good player after a few years of developing. It’s far from an elite group of freshman, but that’s typically how Izzo has worked best.
Projected Starting 5
G: Cassius Winston
G: Matt McQuaid
G: Joshua Langford
F: Kenny Goins
F: Nick Ward
Record Projection: 25-6 (16-4 Big 10)
There will be some growing pains with players transitioning to new roles, but Michigan State can still be one of the better teams in college basketball. They’re experienced, talented and have one of the top coaches in the nation. The Big 10 lost a lot of great players from last year but will still be a decently strong conference. Michigan State will likely go into the season as the favorites to win the regular-season Big 10 championship.