With North Carolina’s win over Gonzaga earlier this month, the 2016-’17 college basketball season officially came to a close. And with that development, attention quickly turned to next season and, for our site, next year’s Big Ten.
In an effort to help with that transition, we are taking a look at some of the biggest offseason storylines for each team. Here’s a look at the previous editions:
As such, here are the three most important things for the Michigan State Spartans this offseason.
Three Key Offseason Storylines For Michigan State:
1. Who fills out the roster?
Once Miles Bridges announced that he would be returning to East Lansing for his sophomore season, many fans immediately turned their attention toward 2017-’18 and what it could mean for the program. Much of the focus has centered around whether the Spartans can bring home the program’s first national title since 2000.
However, before Tom Izzo and Michigan State can move forward, they need to figure out what the roster will look like for next season. Getting back Bridges was, obviously, massive news for the Spartans, but the program still has one open scholarship.
The prime candidate to fill the spot is elite 2017 prospect Brian Bowen. He’s rated as a five-star recruit by 247Sports and the No. 18 player in the nation for 2017. Bowen has been offered by virtually every program in the country. At this point, Michigan State likely has an uphill battle to land him, but it’s certainly still possible.
Outside of Bowen, there doesn’t seem to be a clear frontrunner for the last scholarship. Izzo would then have to make a decision on whether he wanted to pursue a potential transfer, a late 2017 prospect, or offer it to a walk-on and “bank” the scholarship for the 2018 recruiting class.
In most years, banking the scholarship wouldn’t be a bad idea. Michigan State has more than enough talent and depth to make it through the upcoming season without a 13th scholarship player and it would give Izzo more flexibility to add a 2018 prospect.
But this isn’t most years. Michigan State has a loaded roster with the goal of winning a national championship. Izzo needs to find a way to fill that scholarship, one way or another. If the Spartans do miss out on Bowen, which is more than possible at this point, Izzo will need to get on the phones and find another option.
2. Can Michigan State figure out its backcourt?
Michigan State is set to have as loaded of a roster as anyone next season. For anybody familiar with the Spartans, this isn’t exactly a bold statement. The team figures to have the preseason Big Ten Player of the Year, five underclassmen returning who played starter minutes last season, and a handful of talented new pieces.
It’s a plethora of riches that would make Warren Buffett blush.
But it also comes with a major question mark. Even if the roster is loaded on paper, the backcourt remains a concern. The Spartans struggled with inconsistency in that area all of last season and need to find a way for that group to take the next step, if Michigan State is going to meet its lofty preseason expectations.
The focus here will surely be on Josh Langford and Cassius Winston. Admittedly, Langford will spend a great deal of time on the wing, but with Michigan State’s impressive depth upfront, don’t be shocked if Langford has some of his minutes pushed down to the two spot this season.
Unfortunately, Langford and Winston were a mix of good and bad last season. Winston was an outstanding passer, but only scored double-digits in four of the team’s final 20 games. And while Langford was a nice shooter, he made little impact elsewhere on the floor and was a pretty small part of the offense overall.
Along with those two, Michigan State will welcome back Kyle Ahrens, Matt McQuaid, and Tum Tum Nairn. Like Langford, Ahrens will get most of his (limited) minutes on the wing, but could be pushed down due to the team’s frontcourt depth.
At this point, there’s little denying that McQuaid and Nairn will get serious minutes next season. Both are going to be needed to provide a bench boost. However, neither has the ceiling of Langford and Winston. If Michigan State wants to have an elite backcourt, McQuaid and Nairn need to be in the 10 to 15 minute range.
Michigan State has the pieces to have a really nice backcourt this season. But until we see some of the inconsistency resolve, this will be the group that could unravel what is setting up to be a monster season for the Spartans.
3. Avoid the curse of expectations.
On the list of things that can derail a season, this is probably closer to the bottom than the top. But with how good Michigan State projects to be next season, it’s something that is going to be relevant for the Spartans.
Whether fans want to hear it or not, Michigan State has had some recent trouble with expectations. In particular, the 2013-’14 and 2015-’16 seasons come to mind. In 2013-’14, Michigan State failed to win the Big Ten regular season title despite being a unanimous favorite and in 2015-’16, the team lost in the First Round of the Tournament to Middle Tennessee, despite being a favorite to make the Final Four.
Of course, falling short of expectations hasn’t been unique to Michigan State. Two years ago, Maryland failed to win the Big Ten despite being a unanimous pick in the preseason and even John Calipari’s Kentucky team that went undefeated in the regular season failed to make the National Championship game.
Living up to lofty preseason expectations is not an easy task.
For Michigan State, that’s going to be the goal this season. It’s unfair to hold previous seasons against this year’s group of players, but the skeptics will be there. And many of them will come from Michigan State’s own fanbase. Just get ready for months of fans whining about the team not looking impressive enough in blowout victories. It’s not fair, but how the Spartans react to it could tell a lot about next season.
Spartans fans have plenty to be excited about for next season. The team figures to be a national power and more than capable of winning the Big Ten and returning to the Final Four. However, there are still a few question marks before fans should start gearing up before next season. And those could tell a good deal about how things shape up for the Spartans in the months to come.