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Assessing Michigan State’s Exhibition Games

Robert Bondy hands out a few takeaways from the Spartans’ three exhibition games.

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

While it wasn’t always pretty, No. 2 Michigan State did take care of business this exhibition season with wins in each of its preseason tilts.

Two of those victories came against Division II opponents in Ferris State, 80-72, and Hillsdale, 75-44, while the other was a neutral court victory in Grand Rapids, Mich., against middle-of-the-pack SEC foe Georgia, 80-68. Those are all games Michigan State was expected to win so the final results don’t necessarily tell us much, but there are certainly some things we can take away from this slate of games.

It was our first true look at this highly-hype Spartans’ team and we finally got some answers for a few questions like how good is Jaren Jackson or who will be the starting point guard or has Michigan State solved the turnover problem from last year? I’ll weigh in on each of those questions and a few more as we are only days away from the regular season opener against North Florida.

Jaren Jackson Jr. has the tools, but there’s still room for growth

Maybe the most exciting thing I saw this preseason was the true potential Jaren Jackson Jr. flashed and how he could certainly be a game-changer for the Spartans. Jackson came to East Lansing with plenty of hype — he was a top 10 recruit so naturally plenty of excitement surrounded his arrival. Through three exhibition games he proved the hype is real.

Jackson averaged 10 points, 8.3 rebounds and possibly the most impressive stat from these three games was his three blocks per game. On the offensive end, he proved he can stretch the floor for the Spartans by piling up points in the paint, as well as hitting shots from outside — he was 2-for-5 from behind the arc. It’s almost not fair that he can also hit the three when he’s 6-foot-11.

The potential is there for Jackson but he’s not a finished product. In Michigan State’s toughest exhibition game against Georgia, he struggled with only four points and four rebounds, and also fouled out. So obviously there is still room for growth for him, but overall I’m very excited about what he could possibly achieve this year.

Cassius Winston is starting point guard

Entering the year we assumed Cassius Winston would be the starting point guard instead of senior Lourawls ‘Tum Tum’ Nairn Jr. but it wasn’t etched in stone. After this preseason I think it’s fair to say we now know for sure that Winston will be the Spartans’ starting point guard.

Winston started all three games, and had more minutes than Nairn in each of those games as well. That alone should say something. The numbers also backed it up as Winston was extremely efficient too. He averaged 15.3 points in the three games, shooting 57.7 percent from the field. He was also smart with the ball, picking up 21 assists compared to six turnovers. Tum Tum will still provide leadership and contribute off the bench this year, but it’s pretty clear that Winston is the starting point guard for Michigan State.

Shooting guard play still shaky

I wrote about this last week in a feature on Michigan State, but it needs to again be mentioned in these few takeaways from the exhibition season. Just like last year, from game to game we got completely different results from the two primary shooting guards — Josh Langford and Matt McQuaid.

Langford finished the preseason 8-for-30 from the field, including 1-for-11 from three point range. McQuaid was equally disappointing at 5-for-19 overall, with all five of those makes coming from behind the arc. With Langford, we saw the same inconsistency as last year — two points in opener, then 11 points against Georgia and finished up with only six points in the preseason finale.

My biggest issue with the shooting guard position is the up-and-down play of both guys. I don’t anticipate either Langford or McQuaid being dominant players, but they have the talent to be consistent threats from outside. Finding that consistency is still the issue at this point in time.

Jury is still out on whether turnovers issue has been solved

Through three exhibition games we still don’t really know if the Spartans have solved their turnovers problem from last year. If you go by the numbers, there’s slight improvement compared to last year — Michigan State averaged 12.3 turnovers in the three exhibition games versus 14 per game during 35 games last year. So yes, there is a slight improvement.

Coincidentally, Michigan State averaged 14 turnovers in its two preseason games last year too, so if you compare the preseason slates to each other than again you can say there’s improvement. But let’s face the facts here, that’s still way too many turnovers and it’s not like Michigan State was facing top of the line talent either. So I’m not really ready to say there’s been a drastic improvement yet, and not close to saying the problem is fixed.