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Michigan State’s struggles to overcome lack of scoring depth

The Spartans are a very top heavy team, but to make a legitimate run for a tournament spot they’ll need others to step up.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Nebraska Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan State Spartans rely a lot on their top players, but they’ll need others to contribute if they want to turn things around down the stretch. Of course that’s been one of the main issues this season, with the lack of depth becoming an ongoing issue for Tom Izzo and the Spartans.

This is uncharted territory for Michigan State. In the past 10 years this is a program that has only experienced losing 10 or more games in a season just three times. The team’s overall record currently stands at 15-10 (7-5 Big Ten) with six games left on the conference regular season schedule and at least one additional game in the Big Ten Tournament.

If there’s one problem that’s played a major role and contributed to this sub-par season for the Spartans standards, excluding the youth factor, it’s the lack of depth on this team.

Only four players are averaging more than seven points per game and only three of those are reaching double figures. In at least the past five seasons, the Spartans have never had freshmen lead as three of the top four scorers on the team and that’s exactly what’s happening now with Miles Bridges, Nick Ward and Cassius Winston. The lone senior in that group is Eron Harris, who has been adding just over 11 points per game to the mix, but after these guys that’s where it seems to stop for this team.

Though freshman guard Winston is averaging just a little over seven points per game, his performance against Michigan and Nebraska was a huge spark for the Spartans, helping spark their first back-to-back wins since early January. Winston also performed admirably in the Spartans win over Iowa this weekend, adding 12 points and 5 assists in the team’s 77-66 victory.

Now the question is where is the rest of the team?

Some may forget this team also lost veteran big men Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter before the season after each suffered season-ending leg injuries around October. This is obviously not helpful to a team who’s in need of depth (especially in the frontcourt), but the Spartans have played all season without both players and Izzo’s available options need to perform better if the Spartans want to land in the NCAA Tournament.

Production must start appearing from the remaining players rounding out the roster, with State needing some of the back end of the rotation to start stepping up. Guys like Matt McQuaid, Joshua Langford, Lourawls Nairn Jr. and Kenny Goins have all been relatively underwhelming this season and with the teams depth issues, that has caused major issues. These guys are all averaging over at least 19 minutes per game and not one is averaging over six points per game (Langford leads the bunch with 6.0 points per game). If someone could step and start contributing more consistently on the offensive side of the ball, it would change the landscape of the way this team plays and help balance out the offense. The reality is Miles Bridges can’t do it all in East Lansing.

There was a lot of hype surrounding both Bridges and Langford before the season, but Bridges is the one who has exceeded those expectations, whereas Langford has been fairly underwhelming up until this point. The freshman wing was the 19th ranked ESPN 100 recruit and at 6’6” with an ability to shoot, attack the rim and create scoring chances on-and-off the dribble. Coming into the 2016-17 season, it was easy to see why people were excited about him. The misfortune for the Spartans is that they’ve only seen flashes of those abilities this year and have yet to see Langford completely figure the college game out.

It’s not just about Langford, but the lack of scoring from a good portion of the rotation has been a glaring void that’s plagued this team. Miles Bridges is one of the best players in the conference, but the Big Ten has enough talent that the Spartans need a more balanced approach to compete at the level they’re accustomed to.

The Spartans rely a lot on their top players and being that they’re not loaded with supreme talent this year makes that difficult. Issues with inconsistency on the roster have plagued the team all season and they’ll need to start figuring things out this winter if Izzo is going to get this team to the NCAA Tournament for the 20th season in a row.