Last week I declared Michigan State would have the best front court in all of the Big Ten. I’ll stand by that until proven wrong, but with a group that features Miles Bridges, Nick Ward and a ton of depth, I think this statement will hold true.
But what about the guys who will be trying to feed those bigs in the post? Or capitalize on the front court stretching the floor?
Guard play from Michigan State was inconsistent for most of last year, but a lot of that can be blamed on youth and inexperience. The Spartans relied heavily on its underclassmen to make plays for them last season, and while that young core took its lumps a year ago next season should reap the benefits of those hard times.
Here’s all of the guards that Michigan State will return next season:
- Cassius Winston (So.)
- Lourawls ‘Tum Tum’ Nairn Jr. (Sr.)
- Joshua Langford (So.)
- Matt McQuaid (Jr.)
- Kyle Ahrens (Jr.)
- Connor George (So.)
- Greg Roy (Sr.)
The Spartans didn’t lose anything up front but weren’t so lucky amongst its guards. Michigan State will lose both Eron Harris and Alvin Ellis to graduation, who combined for 17.1 points per game last season. In all honesty, both Harris and Ellis never truly lived up to expectations but both did still provide big scoring efforts at times during their careers and provided shooting threats from outside. So losing those two will still have an effect on this group of guards.
But the future is even brighter with so much young talent returning. The only issue is whether or not they can become consistent moving forward.
Of this group, four guys will see the bulk of the minutes in the backcourt: Winston, Langford, Nairn and McQuaid. Ahrens should also add some minutes off the bench, but for the most part, those are the four guys who will be playing for Michigan State. Out of this group, I believe Winston will get a majority of the starts at point guard and Langford at shooting guard. But both could easily be switched out for Nairn and McQuaid. Let’s first take a look at the two point guards.
Nairn was the primary starter a year ago, starting 30 of 35 games, while Winston came off the bench. However, they averaged nearly the same amount of minutes played per game — Nairn averaged 22.8 minutes and Winston averaged 20.7. Both provided widely different aspects to the team. Nairn was more of a game manager who was very tough on the defensive end but didn’t provide much offensively (averaged only 3.5 points and 3.6 assists per game). There were times where he’d have the wide open shot but not even look at the hoop.
On the other hand, you had Winston, who is a much more offensively gifted player. Winston only averaged 6.7 points per game but dished out 5.2 assists per game, and was solid from deep shooting 38 percent from three point range. Winston, however, had trouble with his game-to-game consistency and would make stupid turnovers. So both have room for improvement this year.
Nairn and Winston both have areas for improvement in their games and so do Langford and McQuaid. Primarily consistency in their shot. Langford averaged 6.9 points per game while McQuaid averaged 5.6 points per game. Langford led the Spartans from deep shooting 41.6 percent from three and McQuaid shot 35 percent. So both have proved they can put the ball in the hoop but putting a string of strong performances together has been the issue.
Last year, McQuaid never recorded back-to-back games of 10 or more points, and Langford only did such twice. The two also combined for nine scoreless games. Those two stats alone signify how up and down each of their performances were last year.
But when they are hot, the team was successful. Michigan State was 11-2 in games when either McQuaid or Langford reached the double digits mark with the only losses coming to Purdue and Kansas. So it’s pretty simple for these two: become more consistent and Michigan State will become a lot tougher to beat.
The 2017-18 group of guards for Michigan State has the potential to be very good. Each one of the four players who’ll get the bulk of the minutes have areas in their game to improve but ultimately have talent to make it happen. It’s a core that has the important tools you need in a backcourt. And when you combine it with that extremely talented front court then it’ll only get better.
Consistency is key for the backcourt. If this group takes the necessary steps then Michigan State will be sitting pretty come next fall.