Michigan State Hoops Preview

A look into the early season of the 2018-19 MSU basketball team


Illustration by Joshua Blatt

Michigan State University Illustration by Josh Blatt

Brody Conaty, Opinion Editor


  Football season is beginning to wrap up, and the weather is starting to become bitterly cold. In the sports world, especially in the great state of Michigan, this weather shows that the start of yet another exciting college basketball season is upon us.

    Michigan sports fans have been blessed over the past decade to have two great college basketball programs competing in the state. One of those teams, the Michigan State Spartans, is coming off a bittersweet year. In the 2017-18 season, the Spartans were able to hang a conference championship banner behind the efforts of the ever talented Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson. The Spartans were 28-3 ending the regular season and looked poised to make a deep run in the annual NCAA Tournament. Upon getting to tournament time, the Spartans defeated Bucknell in the first round and was then shocked by 11th seeded Syracuse in the second round. Subsequently, both Bridges and Jackson elected to take their talents to the NBA and both were lottery selections. These events lead to an offseason full of questions: Is Coach Tom Izzo washed up? Will MSU have the talent to be successful next year? Has Michigan surpassed MSU as the premier program in the state? All these questions will be answered soon enough, as the 2018-19 season has now commenced.

   Just six games into the season, the Spartans have looked fairly competent at most times. They opened up the season with a tough draw facing Kansas, the number one ranked team in all of college basketball. The first half had Spartan fans panicking as Kansas was completely dominating and Michigan State was looking rough at best. Turnovers, bad defense, and free throws were plaguing MSU in the first half as they entered the locker room down by 14 points. In the second half, MSU played much better basketball and was able to come all the way back from down 18 to only to lose by five points. This late performance had any Michigan State fans relieved, but not yet satisfied. The next two games were snoozers as Izzo’s team was able to dominate against clearly inferior teams, Florida Gulf Coast and Louisiana Monroe. Through these three games, there has clearly been some positives to look at, and some negatives.

   Starting with the positives, MSU has done a very good job scoring the basketball. They have two playmakers in Cassius Winston and Joshua Langford, who have proven they are able to score the basketball efficiently from all three levels. The two juniors, who are both starting guards, have shouldered the scoring load averaging 17.3 and 16.7 points, respectively. Another force in the Spartan offense is Nick Ward. Ward is putting up 12.7, which is skewed due to an early injury in the most recent matchup with ULM, forcing him to leave the game with only four points. Without a double team, Ward is virtually impossible to defend near the basket. Ward uses his large frame and strength to bully defenders in the paint. The roster is also filled many streaky shooters who can make open shots when given the opportunity. Players like Kyle Ahrens, Matt McQuaid, Kenny Goins, and Aaron Henry fit this category and need to get more consistent from the three point line to keep the entire scoring load off of Winston, Langford, and Ward. Overall, the Spartan offense has been extremely proficient from inside, mid-range, and the three point line. Another good thing going for MSU is their experience and depth. The Spartans run out two seniors and three juniors every night, which is something most teams cannot say. They also have at least twelve capable players who can contribute at a high level, which is important during a grueling, marathon like season.

    As for the negatives, there seems to be a lot of small issues that can be fixed. The biggest component holding MSU back is their turnover tendency. The Spartans are turning the ball over 13.6 times per game this season. These turnovers have been the biggest factor in slowing down the offense and also stains the defense as opposing teams have been able to get easy baskets. While on the topic of defense, MSU has not been awful, but to be an elite team, they have a lot to clean up. The hole in the defense is in the paint. Udoka Azubuike, Kansas’ center was able to dominate the entire game around the basket. In part, this may be caused by the loss of Jaren Jacksons elite shot blocking in which the remaining players relied on too heavily at times. It will take some time, but once MSU adjusts to not having a elite shot blocker, their defense should improve from where it is at currently.

    Overall, the Spartans appear to have the talent to make some noise this season. There are still questions, but it does not seem like anything hall of fame coach Tom Izzo cannot figure out.



(Michigan State went on to defeat two undefeated teams, UCLA and Texas, to win the Las Vegas Invitational. These games resolved some of the problems brought up in the article, such as the defensive struggles of the Spartans, and also gave MSU more credibility with two significant wins.)