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 wings for Michigan State. The Spartans return possibly the best player in all of college basketball on its wing this year in Miles Bridges, as he’ll return to playing more of his natural position with more size up front then a year ago.
‘BTPowerhouse Preview’ - Michigan State Backcourt:
- 2016-’17 All-Big Ten Qualifiers: Miles Bridges (Second Team)
- Departures: None
- Additions: None
- Top Player: Miles Bridges
The best player on arguably the best team in the Big Ten is found in the wings category for Michigan State — Miles Bridges. The 6-foot-7, 225 pound sophomore was a guaranteed lottery pick had he fulfilled the one-and-done projection, but he shocked the college basketball world by returning for a second go around. That decision instantly bolstered this team, and specifically the wings position for the Spartans.
The Spartans only feature two natural wings on this year’s team — Bridges and junior Kyle Ahrens. Michigan State also has a number of lengthy guards who will play on the wing from time-to-time, but these two will be the main contributors for this position group. Expect Bridges to get a bulk of the minutes since he is one of the game’s best players, but Ahrens could also add something off the bench this year.
With Michigan State featuring more length up front this year and two natural guards in its lineup, that means there will only be one starting wing player — which is obviously going to be Bridges. Last year, Bridges led the Spartans in almost every statistical category: points (16.9 per game), rebounds (8.3), steals (0.7), blocks (1.5) and minutes played (32). When healthy, he was normally the best player on the floor for either team. That shouldn’t change this year, either.
Bridges by all counts has improved his game during this offseason. He appeared to be slimmed down during the Moneyball Pro-Am this summer and featured an improved outside shot — which already was solid at 38.9 percent from behind the arc last year. He also will actually be able to play his more natural position on the wing this season, whereas last year he at times was playing more in the post due to poor front court depth.
Bridges will need to improve upon last year’s lousy free throw percentage (68.5) and will have to play with extremely high expectations hanging over his head all season long. But if he stays healthy, we are looking at a truly special player. He has the ability, size and drive to do great things this year. When Bridges is on the floor the wings position is in good hands.
With Bridges making up the starting rotation, that means Ahrens is the lone true wing that’ll come off the bench this year. He played more as a sophomore last year, averaging 2.6 points, 1.1 rebounds and 0.2 assists across 8.2 minutes played per game. He came to Michigan State as a three point shooting threat, but still has room for improvement in that area. He made 33.3 percent of his 45 three point attempts last year, so he’s proven he can hit shots from outside, but it would be a boost to the team if he bumped that percentage up.
With more depth on this year’s team, it’s hard right now to predict how much Ahrens will actually play. Like Bridges, Ahrens was also called upon at times last season to play in the post instead of on the wing. That won’t be the case this year so that should also reduce his minutes. Ultimately, Ahrens will probably play close to five minutes per game and offer another three point threat off the bench for Michigan State.
The wings are not the deepest position for Michigan State, but it features the best player and therefore is extremely important to the Spartans. For Michigan State to live up to these lofty expectations, Bridges will have to be as good as we all expect him to be. We saw last year in the Big Ten that one great player can lead you to a championship — Caleb Swannigan at Purdue — so in order for Michigan State to be great they’ll need Bridges to be a star as well. Ahrens will add some minutes off the bench, but ultimately this position group will live and die on the play of Bridges.