Arguably no team entered this past season with more expectations based on pure talent and having a deep roster than the Michigan State Spartans. You could also argue that no other team did a worse job at living up to those expectations than the green-and-white.
The Spartans finished this past season with a 30-5 record and a Big Ten regular season championship. That’s nothing to scoff at and for most programs is a record year. However, a second round exit in the NCAA Tournament has casted disappointment over the season and left a bad taste in the mouth of Spartans everywhere.
Even worse for Michigan State is that they’ll be losing quite a few key players off this past year’s team, including project lottery picks Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr. — who are both leaving school early. Losing those two guys — and possibly fellow forward Nick Ward — will hurt the Spartans next year, but there are still some key returning pieces and some intriguing new faces joining the roster as well.
Next season is still a long ways away, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take an early look at the makeup of Tom Izzo’s 2018-19 squad. Here’s a look at the roster Michigan State will field next year — and also a quick recap of this past season.
- Record: 30-5 (knocked out in second round of NCAA Tournament)
- Achievements: PK80 Invitational champions; Big Ten regular season champions; 21st consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance
- Top performers: Forward Miles Bridges (17.1 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game), guard Cassius Winston (12.6 points, 6.9 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game) and forward Nick Ward (12.4 points, 7.1 rebounds and 0.5 assists per game).
- Guards: Lourawls ‘Tum Tum’ Nairn (graduating)
- Forwards: Bridges (leaving early), Jaren Jackson Jr. (leaving early), Ward (possibly leaving early), Gavin Schilling (graduating) and Ben Carter (graduating)
- Guards: Winston (returning starter), Joshua Langford (returning starter), Matt McQuaid, Kyle Ahrens, Connor George, Jack Hoiberg and Brock Washington
- Forwards: Ward (possibly returning starter), Xavier Tillman, Kenny Goins and Braden Burke
- Guards: Foster Loyer (four-star prospect out of Clarkston, Mich.)
- Forwards: Marcus Bingham Jr. (four-star prospect out of Grand Rapids, Mich.), Gabe Brown (four-star prospect out of Belleville, Mich.), Aaron Henry (four-star prospect out of Indianapolis) and Thomas Kithier (four-star prospect out of Macomb, Mich.)
NOTE: Recruiting rankings are from 247Sports
If you did the math, you’ll see the Spartans are losing at least five guys from this past year’s team. Two of those guys were starters in Bridges and Jackson, while the other three were role players off the bench. So that means there will be some openings in the starting lineup next season.
At first glance I see the starting lineup featuring three guards and two forwards — a smaller lineup then this past season and one that more resembles the 2016-17 Spartans. Winston and Langford will keep their spots in the starting lineup, and should start every game as long as they stay healthy. McQuaid was the most productive scorer off the bench this past year and should join WInston and Langford in the starting backcourt.
The frontcourt is a little bit more tricky. If Ward takes his name out of the NBA Draft then he’s a lock to start next year — he has started 55 of 70 career games, including all but one this past year. He’s really a game changer for Michigan State, and should he stay he’ll be the primary post weapon for the Spartans.
The fifth and final starting spot will be a toss-up between Tillman, Goins and Bingham, who at 6-foot-10 is Michigan State’s highest-rated incoming freshman. I’m leaning towards Tillman getting the nod to start the season but wouldn’t be surprised if all three get a handful of starts throughout the year. If Ward leaves early, then two of these three will most likely be starters.
I already hinted at Ward’s crucial decision and the impact it has on Michigan State next year, but it’s so important that I’ll touch on it again. Despite playing only 18.9 minutes per game this past year, Ward averaged 12.4 points and a team-high 7.1 rebounds. With Jackson gone, Ward would be the Spartans’ primary post weapon next season and his decision will ultimately determine how good Michigan State can be in 2018-19. I personally believe he’s coming back, but that’s something I’ll take a closer look at in the coming weeks.
Regardless of Ward’s decision, the Spartans will welcome in some young talent as part of their incoming recruiting class. This class ranks 11th nationally on 247Sports, and features five four-star recruits with three ranked in the top 100. This is another strong class put together by Izzo, but it doesn’t feature that hands down lottery pick like the past two years, and looks more like a group of three or four year players. That’s not a bad thing at all, but with that being said I’m not sure how much of a role these freshmen will have on next year’s team. That’s something we truly won’t know until at least early next season.
Overall, when you look at this roster it’s fair to say the Spartans will again contend for a Big Ten title in 2018-19. The biggest factors for this team will be whether or not Ward returns and how much this past season’s role guys improve during the summer. However, even if the Spartans get positive outcomes in both of those areas, don’t expect them to be as loaded as this past year. They won’t be as talented and surely will experience more bumps on the road in 2018-19.