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An Early Look at the 2017-18 Michigan State Spartans

With Miles Bridges officially returning, Michigan State is poised for a strong season in 2017-18.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Michigan State vs Miami Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State was set up to be one of, if not, the favorite in the Big Ten for next season. That was even before projected NBA lottery pick Miles Bridges decided to return for his sophomore season. Now, the Spartans are at the top of the class in the Big Ten and considered one of the early picks to win it all next year.

Bridges’ decision to return to East Lansing was a head scratcher to many, but certainly a pleasant surprise to those sporting the green-and-white. The Spartans will return nearly its entire roster in 2017-18, including four of its top five scorers from this past season.

You can also throw in a couple of stud recruits in power forwards Jaren Jackson and Xavier Tillman to improve the post game. And, of course, you still have a Hall of Famer on the bench in head coach Tom Izzo. This recipe creates what should be the, hands-down, favorite in the Big Ten and a definite Final Four contender.

The Spartans’ 2017-18 roster, for the most part, is set now that Bridges made it official that he’s coming back to East Lansing next year. There is still a chance Michigan State will land another elite prospect and graduate transfer Ben Carter is petitioning for his sixth year of eligibility after missing this past year, but, other then that, the roster is assembled for next year.

So, with that being said, it’s time to take the first complete early look at Michigan State for the 2017-18 season. I’ll take a look at the projected starting lineup, strengths, weaknesses and overall expectations for the 2017-18 Spartans.

-Projected Starting Lineup and Bench

  • Guard: Sophomore Cassius Winston
  • Guard: Sophomore Joshua Langford
  • Forward: Sophomore Miles Bridges
  • Forward: Freshman Jaren Jackson
  • Forward/Center: Sophomore Nick Ward

NOTE: Still unsure if Ben Carter will receive sixth year of eligibility.

-Team Strengths

There are going to be a lot of strengths to this team in 2017-18. I mean, there is a reason why so many are so high on them. One of those strengths is having a true difference-maker in Bridges.

Anyone who follows Big Ten basketball and this blog knows how dominant Bridges was at times this year. He led the Spartans with 16.9 points and 8.3 rebounds per game, and earned Big Ten Freshman of the Year. He will be the Spartans’ difference-maker and go-to scorer next season, similar to what Denzel Valentine was to Michigan State in 2015-16. Just, hopefully, Bridges has a better ending to his career then Valentine did in the NCAA Tournament.

Another strength for next year’s team will be the improved post game. This was a weakness for the 2016-17 Spartans but will be an area to watch next year. Michigan State welcomes back Nick Ward, who averaged 13.9 points and 6.5 rebounds per game as a freshman, and will add a few new faces. Senior Gavin Schilling isn’t necessarily a new face but after missing last season with a knee injury he might as well be and will add more depth. The Spartans will also add the aforementioned elite power forward recruits Jackson and Tillman. Those four, plus Kenny Goins in more of a reserve role, will make up a strong low post presence for the Spartans.

-Team Weaknesses

This section is called weaknesses but it really should be labeled as “areas for improvement” since these are fixable things. Two areas where Michigan State will need to improve for next year is consistency from its guards and limiting turnovers.

This past season, it seemed like Michigan State could never get consistent solid performances from its guards, especially Matt McQuaid, Cassius Winston and Joshua Langford. Those three proved, at times, in 2016-17 that they could put the ball in the hoop, especially from outside. But the consistency was never there for them. The three combined for only three back-to-back double digit scoring games during this past season. That ultimately means that one night they are hot and the next they are not. That must change next year for Michigan State to truly become elite.

The abundance of turnovers must also change next season for Michigan State to truly contend for a National Championship. Michigan State committed nearly 14 turnovers per game last year, which ranked 314th out of 351 schools in all of college basketball. That won’t cut it next year if they want to hang with the best.

-Team Expectations

Bridges came back to Michigan State to leave behind a legacy. The only way he’ll do that is if he carries the Spartans deep into March next year and raises a banner.

As I already mentioned, Michigan State will enter 2017-18 as the favorite to win the Big Ten. So, the expectation should be a regular season Big Ten Championship. That’s something Izzo hasn’t achieved since the 2011-12 season.

The next goal for Michigan State should be winning it all. I’m not going to sit here and say Michigan State has to win the 2018 National Championship for it to be a good season, but it would feel like a let down if they don’t at least make it to the Final Four. According to Bovada, the Spartans are the co-favorites to win the National Championship with Kentucky at 10-to-1 odds. So I think it’s fair to say this is a Final Four or bust kind of season.

Many close to Izzo say he badly wants a second National Championship. This might be his best chance he’ll ever have to get another ring. We’ll see if they can live up to the hype and raise another banner in the Breslin Center.