Basketball season is almost here, and after a long offseason it’s about time. Spartan fans are even more eager to start the season with such high expectations for the 2017-18 team.
Michigan State enters this season as the hands down pick to win the Big Ten, and one of the favorites to raise a National Championship banner in the Breslin Center. Michigan State returns a bulk of last year’s team, including its four sophomores who made up arguably Tom Izzo’s best recruiting class ever.
While many expect Michigan State to dominate in the Big Ten — one coach even said the Spartans shouldn’t lose more than two games in league play — there is still some unanswered questions entering this season.
Is the turnover issue fixed?
When it came to turning the ball over, Michigan State was one of the worst teams in the entire country last year. Michigan State ranked 314th out of 351 teams in all of college basketball with 489 turnovers. That came out to an average of 13.2 turnovers per game. The only team in the Big Ten that turned the ball over more was Indiana — who missed the NCAA Tournament.
So as we enter a season full of high expectations, one key question that needs to be answered is whether or not the Spartans have solved their turnover problem. We won’t know the answer to this question until we’ve seen at least a handful of games, but we can definitely speculate based on what the team returns.
The turnover problem falls on everyone on the team, but based on last year’s numbers it was primarily an issue with the freshmen. The four freshmen — Miles Bridges, Cassius Winston, Nick Ward and Josh Langford — were each in the team’s top six for turnovers, combining for 7.4 giveaways per game. Surprisingly, Bridges was the leader on the team with 2.4 turnovers per game.
I would expect that after having a year under their belts that this issue will improve. It has to if Michigan State wants to live up to those lofty expectations.
What can we expect from Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter?
A year ago Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter were expected to have substantial roles for the Spartans. However, both experienced season-ending knee injuries before the first game and Michigan State had to improvise. It certainly had an effect on last year’s team, but both are back this year and could play key roles for Michigan State.
With Ward emerging as a go-to guy in the post last year and the addition of highly-touted recruit Jaren Jackson, both Schilling and Carter will most likely come off the bench this season. That bodes well for Michigan State, with both of them combining for 50 career starts (Carter’s starts came with Oregon and UNLV). The question, though, is whether or not each is actually healthy and going to provide depth off the bench.
Both are big bodies listed at 6-foot-9 and have produced in the past in varying levels. So having two extra bigs — along with Kenny Goins — to rotate off the bench would be highly beneficial for Michigan State. Both should be ready to go when practice begins, but it’ll be interesting to see if either suffer setbacks from last year’s injury or are simply still bothered by it. That’ll be something to keep an eye on early in the season.
Will Miles Bridges take the next step and live up to expectations?
The top reason why Michigan State has been hailed all offseason as a national championship contender is the return of Bridges. As we all know by now, Bridges shocked the college basketball world when he decided to return to Michigan State for his sophomore season instead of entering the NBA Draft — where he would have been a lottery pick.
The Spartans were considered by many as a contender to win the Big Ten before Bridges’ announcement, and since then they’ve become the hands down favorite. So with that, will Bridges be able to live up to these lofty expectations?
Bridges was by far the best player on the Spartans a year ago, leading the team in points (16.9), rebounds (8.3) and blocks (1.5) per game. Reports throughout the offseason suggest he’s slimmed down a bit and is expected to primarily play his more natural position at small forward. He also dazzled the crowd throughout this summer’s Moneyball Pro-Am, proving he has only improved his game this offseason.
If Bridges lives up to the expectations — and stays healthy — then Michigan State will remain a contender in the Big Ten and on the national level all season long.
When looking at each of these questions, the one I worry the most about is the turnover issue. As I mentioned, this year’s team is not as young as a year ago so that alone should improve this area. However, it was so bad last year that for Michigan State to truly contend they’ll need to drastically improve in this area. Michigan State features a ton of talent this year and has one of the game’s best coaches in Izzo, but it takes a lot to win a conference championship and even more to win a national championship. For both of those to happen, they’ll need positive results in each of these questions.