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Michigan State 2017-18 Preview: Breaking Down the Spartans Backcourt

Michigan State returns a strong backcourt rotation that will be amongst the best in the league.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Michigan State vs Penn State Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

In the weeks leading up to the 2017-’18 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 backcourt for Michigan State. The Spartans say goodbye to Eron Harris and Alvin Ellis from last year, but return a core of young players to field possibly the best backcourt in the Big Ten.

‘BTPowerhouse Preview’ - Michigan State Backcourt:

  • 2016-’17 All-Big Ten Qualifiers: None
  • Departures: Eron Harris and Alvin Ellis
  • Additions: Brock Washington and Jack Hoiberg
  • Top Player: Cassius Winston

The Spartans don’t return any true stars in the backcourt, but have four solid players that make up the point guard and shooting guard rotation.

Michigan State only lost Harris and Ellis to graduation, and neither are leaving huge holes that need to be replaced. Both were solid players for Michigan State during their careers, but never became stars. The Spartans also got used to life without Harris after he experienced a season-ending injury late last year.

What the Spartans do return is four players who all have the ability to start — Lourawls ‘Tum Tum’ Nairn, Cassius Winston, Josh Langford and Matt McQuaid. All of them have started games throughout their careers, and should again play crucial roles on this year’s team. Entering this season, it’s unclear who is the top player in this group to be honest. Winston gets the nod from me for now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if any of those four emerge as the most productive player in the backcourt.

Starting Rotation

It’s hard at this point in time to peg who will be the starters in the backcourt since they all have experience and bring different tools to the table. However, all offseason I’ve been predicting Winston and Langford as the two that’ll get a bulk of the starts so I’ll stick with those two.

Winston has the make of a perfect Big Ten point guard. He’s got decent size at 6-foot, 185 pounds, and is still very quick. He proved to be productive as a freshman last year, averaging 6.7 points and 5.2 assists across only 20.7 minutes played per game. He was consistent from behind the arc — shooting 38 percent last year — and I anticipate he’ll take more three point attempts this season. However, one key area for improvement needed in Winston’s game is turnovers. He was second on the team last year in turnovers per game at 2.2. That must improve if he’s going to move into this starting point guard role.

As for Langford, the potential is there and now he needs to take that next step. He also posted solid numbers last year as a freshman. He averaged 6.9 points per game and led the team in three point shooting percentage at 41.6 percent. Despite starting 27 of 35 games last year, he only averaged 21 minutes per game so expect that to go up now that he is the backcourt’s top scoring threat.

Bench Rotation

The bench is led by Nairn and McQuaid, but don’t be surprised if these two are starting by the end of the year.

Out of anyone on Michigan State, Nairn started the most games last year with 30 starts. So it might be surprising that as a senior I predict he’ll be coming off the bench. He is one of the leaders on this team despite not being an offensive threat — 3.5 points and 3.6 assists per game in 2016-17 — and also provides great defense. He will never light up the scoreboard on a consistent level, but he’s overall solid and very important to this team — whether he’s starting or coming off the bench.

McQuaid has proved during his first two seasons that he can hit some big shots and be a three-point shooting threat. But he needs to become more consistent, especially on a game-to-game basis. Last year, McQuaid never had consecutive games of scoring 10 or more points, and he went seven games without scoring a single point. His role will be greater this year, so he simply can’t have games where he doesn’t score.

The rest of the bench is made up of walk-on’s and other players who won’t contribute much this year. The two additions — Brock Washington and Jack Hoiberg — are prefered walk-ons so don’t expect to see a lot of playing time for them unless Michigan State is severely plagued by injuries.


This backcourt has the potential to be the best in the Big Ten. If each one of these guys takes the next step — which I anticipate happening — then we are looking at a great group.

Each guy brings something different to the table: Nairn is the leader, Winston is a playmaker, Langford is the top scoring threat and McQuaid can hit deep shots off the bench. Each also have areas where they need to improve from last year, including consistency and limiting turnovers. Make those improvements, and we are looking at a complete unit in the backcourt.