In the weeks leading up to the 2016-’17 college basketball season, BTPowerhouse will be releasing its preview series breaking down each Big Ten team. These will come in a set of series previewing the overall team, the team’s backcourt, wings, and big men, and the team’s schedule. Each post will take a look at its top in-depth and give predictions on the upcoming season.
Today’s edition of the ‘BTPowerhouse Preview Series’ will focus on the frontcourt for Michigan State. The loss of an effective senior and high-ceiling underclassmen, combined with key injuries, has Sparty adjusting on the fly.
'BTPowerhouse Preview' - Michigan State Frontcourt:
- 2015-’16 All-Big Ten Qualifiers: Matt Costello (Third Team)
- Key Departures: Matt Costello, Deyonta Davis
- Additions: Nick Ward
- Top Player: ??
Be careful what you wish for. In the past two weeks I’ve been advocating for Michigan State playing a largely small-ball lineup as the season progresses, with Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr. at the point, Eron Harris as the two guard, Joshua Langford on the wing, and Miles Bridges at power/point forward.
I projected these lineups on the assumption that transfer Ben Carter and senior Gavin Schilling would anchor the front court, providing Izzo with a host of match-up flexibility. But now both Carter and Schilling are out indefinitely after non-contact practice injuries. With no timetable for their return, the most under-the-radar freshman of the bunch (who happens to share my name) will see big minutes down low.
Nick Ward was the lowest-ranked freshman in this year’s historic class, but #39 overall is nothing to scoff at. And since arriving in East Lansing, his coach sees promise.
Via the Detroit Free Press:
“He has vacuum hands and shoots a little better from the line than I thought he would,” Izzo said, calling Ward the surprise player of September workouts. “The big key with him would be keeping him out of foul trouble would be one, and get him in the best shape of his life. When we recruited him, when you had Ben Carter, you had Gavin Schilling, you could think of him as one role. Now you have to think of him as a completely different role. But I think he's capable of fill that role.”
So whereas before they could maybe work him into games a little bit at a time, and let the other, more athletic freshman fly a little freer, now the whole starting five will see as many as three freshman start. Not something that’s happened often under Izzo’s watch.
Kenny Goins, at 6’6”, will have to move down a slot and maybe even play some center. He’s looking to improve from limited action last year (though he did have a 13-rebound game against Louisville). Kyle Ahrens, listed as a guard on the official roster, has put in some practice work at power forward. The loss of Carter and Schilling means that everyone perhaps plays out of a position they’re used to.
If there’s anybody who manage these changes on the fly, it’s Izzo. The Hall of Famer is a crafty coach, adept at switching and playing around with lineups as the season progresses, and demanding improvements from previously unforeseen players. He’ll have a few tricks up his sleeve.
Whatever happens, the success of Sparty in the post will depend on the development of their young, unproven players. Maybe that means Goins makes the leap, or Ward emerges as the most trusted freshman on the roster. It’d be nice to see my name in lights.