Last year Michigan State was dominated on the boards often. Teams like Purdue simply had too much size for the Spartans to keep up. That’s why Michigan State lived and died with the three ball. That won’t be the case next year in East Lansing.
The good news for Michigan State basketball continued on Monday when it became official that graduate transfer forward Ben Carter will be granted a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA. Carter was expected to play a big role in the Spartans’ post during this past season after transferring from UNLV, but suffered a season-ending knee injury during the preseason. With the NCAA granting a medical hardship waiver to Carter Michigan State will be officially loaded in the front court next season.
Carter joins a group of big men that head coach Tom Izzo dreamed about last year. Here is what the front court for Michigan State will look like in 2017-18:
- Miles Bridges — sophomore forward — 6-foot-7
- Nick Ward — sophomore forward — 6-foot-8
- Gavin Schilling — senior forward — 6-foot-9
- Ben Carter — graduate transfer forward — 6-foot-9
- Kenny Goins — junior forward — 6-foot-6
- Jaren Jackson — freshman forward — 6-foot-10
- Xavier Tillman — freshman forward — 6-foot-8
You can debate whether or not Bridges is a forward or guard but most of the time he’ll be playing small forward for Michigan State next year. Even if you want to take Bridges out of this class, it is still loaded. This is a scary good group of guys that features both size and talent.
The Spartans roster will feature six players that are 6-foot-7 or taller. Last year only two players met that criteria — Bridges and Ward. Size will no longer be an issue for Michigan State in 2017-18. Size is one thing but doing something with it is another. It doesn’t matter if you have a bunch of bigs who aren’t talented. However, that shouldn’t be an issue for this group.
I would break the front court up into three different groups: elite scorers, upperclassmen role players and intriguing incoming freshmen.
Bridges and Ward will start off the season as the leaders of the front court as the elite scorers. The freshmen duo were the two leading scorers for the team last year — Bridges averaged 16.9 points per game and Ward averaged 13.9 — and both considered jumping to the NBA. Bridges was considered a lottery pick before the season even began so it was shocking when he decided to come back for his sophomore season.
Ward on the other hand was the biggest surprise of last year’s team after being thrown into early action thanks to Carter and Schilling’s season-ending injuries. Ward held his own in the paint all season long and became a go-to scorer for the Spartans late in the year. If his game progresses this off-season then he’ll have the tools to be an All-Big Ten performer next year.
Next up are the three guys who will give the front court depth and some good minutes either off the bench or possibly in the starting lineup. Schilling, Carter and Goins each bring different tools to the table and will provide some good depth to the front court. None of these guys are considered dominant scorers but can give you strong minutes when called upon and serve as strong role players. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of these guys begins the season in the starting lineup with Bridges and Ward (my guess would be Schilling) but ultimately I see these guys as role players off the bench. That of course is if the incoming freshmen live up to the hype they’ve been receiving.
The last group of this loaded Spartan front court is the incoming freshmen — Jackson and Tillman. Both were highly touted recruits with Jackson ranked No. 7 overall and Tillman at No. 87 in 247Sports class of 2017 rankings. Jackson was also a McDonald’s All-American and should be starting for Michigan State for most of next season, if not the entire season. It may take time for these two to adapt to the speed of Big Ten hoops but the talent appears to be there and both should play significant roles on next year’s team.
Between these three groups of players Michigan State’s front court has it all. Dominant scorers, role players to help in whatever is needed and incoming freshmen who could/should make an instant impact. On paper no other team in the Big Ten has this up front.
Now listen, there are some other teams that also possess strong front courts. Minnesota returns a strong core and if Moritz Wagner and D.J. Wilson decide to come back then Michigan will also be deep up front. But no other team in the Big Ten has the overall depth and pure talent in the front court like Michigan State.
This next season will be back to pounding the glass and second chance scoring for Michigan State just like some of Izzo’s best teams of the past. If this group stays healthy then it might just be his best front court he’s ever had.