Under Tom Izzo Michigan State normally leans heavily on its seniors in order to experience success. This year wasn’t the case as the freshmen were the ones who stole the spotlight for most of the season, and thus may be the reason why the Spartans had an average year.
The season didn’t start off this way, however, for Michigan State. The Spartans were welcoming in an elite recruiting class — best in the Big Ten and a top five class nationally — but also featured four seniors — Gavin Schilling, Eron Harris, Ben Carter and Alvin Ellis — who were expected to play big roles in the team’s success. However, two of those seniors never saw the floor because of injuries, one more was lost for the last month of the season and the other was simply a role player. It’s no surprise Michigan State was a second round exit in the NCAA Tournament this year.
Schilling and Carter never played a minute this year after both experiencing knee injuries in the preseason. Both of these 6-foot-9 forwards were expected to have a big impact this year in the Spartans’ post game and the losses of both were certainly felt throughout the year. Freshman forward Nick Ward and sophomore forward Kenny Goins were the two that made to make up for these two key losses in the post.
With neither of these guys playing at all this year that means there’s a chance both will be back. Michigan State has already announced that Shilling will be back next year with a medical redshirt being used this past season and there’s a chance that Carter could return as well. Carter was a fifth-year graduate transfer and will have to petition for a sixth year of eligibility. You never know with the NCAA and how it’ll rule but I like Carter’s chances at getting a sixth year and returning for the Spartans.
Michigan State also lost another senior this year to a knee injury in Harris. The 6-foot-3 guard didn’t suffer his season-ending knee injury till late February, but up until then he still only had an average year in my opinion. Harris averaged 10.7 points, 3 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game across the 27 contests he played in this year. Those numbers aren’t bad but entering the season he was expected to be the Spartans’ go to scorer and he never lived up to that. He was too inconsistent at times, scoring 20 points one night and following it up with only one bucket the next time out. Harris finished the season with eight games of 14 or more points but also seven games with five or less. You just never knew what you were going to get from him on a night-to-night basis.
The loss of Harris will certainly be felt as he became a tough defender and someone who had the ability to drop 20-plus points on any given night. However, he just never lived up to hype while with the Spartans.
The final senior for Michigan State was Ellis, who was the only senior to make it through the entire season without an injury. The 6-foot-4 guard from Matteson, Ill., averaged 6.4 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game this past season for Michigan State, which were all career highs. Ellis proved to be a spark plug off the bench for Michigan State this season in an enhanced role. He was also inconsistent this year but proved to be very important in a few key wins during the season, scoring 20 at Minnesota and 18 vs. Ohio State. He developed an accurate three-point shot and at times was a true sharp shooter from behind the arc. Combine that with his hard-nosed defensive ability and he created the perfect role player off the bench.
So in the end what are we looking at when it comes to departing seniors on this team? It could be only two guys — Harris and Ellis. So that’s not too bad at all when you think about it and if you were to also lose Carter then you’re still losing only two guys who’ve ever sported the green-and-white in a game. Compared to some other teams around the league it’s fair to say Michigan State isn’t losing all that much from its seniors.
The real question for Michigan State remains if they’ll lose any underclassmen, primarily freshman phenom Miles Bridges. If the projected lottery pick decides to return to East Lansing then we are looking at the favorites to win the league next year.
Overall, this senior class helped continue a strong legacy at Michigan State. They were part of a Final Four team in 2015, won the Big Ten Tournament twice and reached the NCAA Tournament each year. The odds are that only two of the four seniors will be gone and that bodes well for the Spartans next year. But to Harris and Ellis it is farewell. This senior class wasn’t as accomplished as last year’s by any means but they both stepped up at times in their Spartan careers and will be missed going forward.