This is the Michigan State feature in which we address what the three most important questions that each team must answer heading into the 2019-20 season.
1. How will Joshua Langford’s injury affect this team in the first half of the season?
Michigan State announced on Wednesday that Joshua Langford suffered a significant injury and will be out until at least January. The Spartans were looking forward to Langford’s return, with Izzo saying that Langford had returned to full practice participation just before Big Ten Media Day. This will be a huge loss for the Spartans as Langford was second on the team in scoring last year with 15.0 points per contest.
The good news for Michigan State fans is that the team is no stranger to having to play without their second-leading scorer. When Langford originally suffered the foot injury last January, he was forced to sit out the remainder of the 2018-19 season. While the Spartans certainly missed him, they were able to adjust, reaching the Final Four before bowing out to Texas Tech. Langford’s injury most likely means that a youngster will have to step up and play significant minutes at shooting guard. Furthermore, senior Kyle Ahrens injured his ankle in the “secret” scrimmage against Gonzaga and may miss the first week of the season. Izzo may look to put breakout candidate Aaron Henry at off-guard with fellow sophomore Gabe Brown at the three. Izzo hopes that Henry will be able to take that next step with Brown providing some more consistency in his defense and his three-point shooting.
2. Can Aaron Henry be an effective second or third option?
The sophomore wing enters the 2019-20 season with big expectations, which were exacerbated by Langford’s injury. Henry was able to put in about six points per game last season which was seventh on the team. With Matt McQuaid, Kenny Goins, and Nick Ward no longer on the team, Henry will have to take a huge step in terms of scoring for the Spartans.
While the sophomore will be leaned on much more this season than last, he has flashed signs that he may be able to carry an offense in spurts. He put up 20 points against LSU in the Sweet Sixteen game along with 8 rebounds and 6 assists. This type of output is why Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman had Henry going 23rd in his latest 2020 NBA Mock Draft.
The Spartans know what they have in Cassius Winston and can likely project that Xavier Tillman will continue doing the dirty work that makes him so effective. And Izzo will always be able to get just enough out his freshmen for them to remain effective. Henry’s offensive efficiency will be the X-factor in determining just how far the No. 1-ranked Spartans will go this season.
3. What will we think about Michigan State as they enter the Big Ten season?
Izzo continued his ways of loading up the Spartans’ schedule in non-conference play this season. Michigan State will face off against No. 2-ranked Kentucky on opening night. Two weeks after, they will travel to the Maui Invitational where they will face off against Virginia Tech, the winner of Dayton/Georgia, before possibly meeting No. 3-ranked Kansas in the tournament final. That means two or three potential quality wins in the span of three days, depending on what you think of Virginia Tech. The Spartans then host the No. 4-ranked Duke Blue Devils a week later.
Depending on how the Maui bracket shakes out, Izzo’s crew could face three teams that enter the season with No. 1-seed aspirations. Also, don’t sleep on that matchup in the second round facing the winner of Georgia and Dayton. Tom Crean and the Bulldogs are led by freshman phenom Anthony Edwards who could cause fits for the Spartan defense. Dayton, meanwhile, comes in as possibly the most underrated team in the country. They return Atlantic 10 Freshman of the Year Obi Toppin as well as standout point guard Jalen Crutcher. However, Dayton is finally getting to play arguably four of their best players in transfers Ibi Watson (transfer from Michigan), Jordy Tshimanga (Nebraska), Chase Johnson (Florida), and Rodney Chatman (Chattanooga) after they had to watch last season from the bench, per NCAA transfer rules. Watch out for this Dayton game to be a huge resume builder for Michigan State if they’re able to pull out the win against the Flyers.
Your 2019 #MauiHoops matchups!— Maui Invitational (@MauiInv) July 11, 2019
Game 1: Georgia v. Dayton
Game 2: Virginia Tech v. Michigan State
Game 3: Kansas v. Chaminade
Game 4: BYU v. UCLA
Our good friends @tatefrazier and @clubtrillion over at the @ringer @oneshiningpod have the full scoop https://t.co/PaPIafW2DV pic.twitter.com/AsxHoWbV5B
How the Spartans look heading into the Big Ten slate will be big. Having to play the three of the top four teams in the nation will be big tests for Izzo, never mind doing it without Josh Langford. We will learn a lot about some of the youth on the roster as well as how far Cassius Winston can carry this team without some of the scoring depth the Spartans had last year.