Everyone is well aware of sophomore phenom Miles Bridges. He was unanimously voted Big Ten preseason player of the year by the media and recently pegged by ESPN as their national player of the year. Most people are aware of big men Nick Ward and Jaren Jackson Jr., who each could also be NBA lottery picks after this year.
So it’s easy to look at that big three and say they alone can take Michigan State basketball back to the promise land and give head coach Tom Izzo his second national championship. Those three will definitely be leading contributors this year but for the Spartans to truly become elite and live up to the hype they’ll need better performances from two particular players — Josh Langford and Matt McQuaid. If those two can become consistent outside threats then Michigan State will be cutting down nets in San Antonio next April.
You know what you’re going to get from Bridges. Things point to both Ward and Jackson being pretty dominant in the paint. Point guard is stable with either Cassius Winston and Lourawls ‘Tum Tum’ Nairn. But what about the shooting guard position. If you go off last year — and even the first two exhibition games this year — there are a lot of questions.
Langford was an abysmal 0-for-12 from the field on Thursday’s preseason opener against Division II foe Ferris State. He missed all five of his attempts from three point range. McQuaid wasn’t much better. He was 2-for-10 from the field, with a 2-for-8 shooting mark from outside the arc.
Following Langford’s poor performance against Ferris State, Izzo considered him “out of character” and after an impressive offseason he doesn’t expect this to be the norm.
“He was pressed a little bit,” Izzo said during his postgame press conference. “He took a couple of bad shots early, then had some great shots in the second half and just missed them. Out of character for him with some of the shots he took.”
Langford did, however, bounce back with a solid performance on Sunday against Georgia — 5-for-8 for 11 points in 32 minutes. McQuaid also hit a pair of three-pointers to finish with 6 points in 19 minutes.
It’s no coincidence that Michigan State struggled against Ferris State when these two were a combined 2-for-22 from the field and took care of a decent Georgia team when both performed better. These two exhibition games highlight the importance of both players, but it also highlights a bigger issue that we saw last year.
Last season, consistency was never there for either Langford or McQuaid. Langford led the team in three-point shooting at 41.6 percent and McQuaid was not far behind at 35 percent so both have proven they can be threats from outside. However, between the two they only reached double digit points in back-to-back games twice and had nine scoreless outings. There simply was no consistency between the two and you just never knew going into the game what’d you get from either. That can’t be the case this year.
Bridges and Winston have proven they can hit shots from outside — both combined for a 38.6 three point shooting percentage last year — and each have combined for eight makes behind the arc in the Spartans two exhibition games so far this year. But you don’t want those two to be your primary go-to three point shooters. That’s not their roles — it’s a perk in their games, but not their primary roles. They can’t be expected to be the go-to three point shooters with everything else they already provide.
I’m not expecting either Langford or McQuaid to be leading scorers for this team on a nightly basis — that’ll normally be Bridges, Ward or Jackson. But Michigan State needs them to fulfill their role. They need to be consistent shooters from outside to help stretch the floor and give the Spartans more threats from outside.
Michigan State has all of the pieces to be elite and achieve great things this year. One of those pieces is solid three-point shooting from Langford and McQuaid. If that piece is found and put into this Spartans puzzle then we will be looking at a true National Championship contender.