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Michigan State Men’s Basketball 2017-18 Preview & Predictions

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With returning star power, new star power, tremendous depth and a Hall of Fame coach, Michigan State should set its sights high.

NCAA Basketball: Big 10 Media Day
Time to get down to business
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Last Year

Losing Denzel Valentine, Matt Costello, Deyonta Davis, and Bryn Forbes from the preceding season, MSU figured to look very different going into 2016-17 - and then Javon Bess and Marvin Clark Jr. both transferred, and Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter were both lost to preseason season-ending knee injuries.

With a small and shallow but talented team, MSU had a predictably up-and-down season, particularly with a midseason injury to phenom Miles Bridges that knocked him out for multiple weeks. MSU’s customary meat grinder nonconference featured games with (and losses to) Arizona, Kentucky, Baylor, and Duke.

Ebbing and flowing through the conference season, MSU’s tourney streak was probably not safeguarded until a 10-point win over wisconsin at the end of February. They bowed out of the BTT in the second round and did the same in the NCAAs at the hands of Kansas after a blowout win over Miami.

The Lineup

Key Losses: Eron Harris (22.1 min/game, 10.4 ppg, .387 3pt%); Alvin Ellis III (19.4 min/gme, 6.4 ppg, 3.0 arrow shot celebrations/game)

Key Additions: Jaren Jackson (5* PF); Xavier Tillman (4* PF/C); PF/C Gavin Schilling (missed 2016/17 - injury); PF/C Ben Carter (missed 2016/17 - injury)

Projected Starters:

PG Cassius Winston, So, 20.7 mpg, 6.7 ppg, 5.2 apg

SG Josh Langford, So, 21.0 mpg, 6.9 ppg, .416 3pt%

SF Miles Bridges, So, 32.0 mpg, 16.9 mpg, 8.3 rpg, .389 3pt% (Preseason 1st Team All-American)

PF Jaren Jackson Jr., Fr, 5*

C Nick Ward, So, 19.8 mpg, 13.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg

So there’s a lot to like here, though this is, perhaps, my preferred lineup to what Tom Izzo will actually roll with. He may opt to continue starting greased lightning senior Tum Tum Nairn Jr. at the point, but Nairn’s profound offensive limitations and even normal freshman-to-sophomore progression from Winston should give Cash the bulk of the minutes there.

Langford, Bridges, and junior Matt McQuaid figure to occupy most of the wing minutes, as Kyle Ahrens succumbed to AMSUBBFHG (Angry MSU Basketball Foot Hating God) and is out indefinitely, which will limit the wing depth.

This is where I mention it once and then promise to move on with my life: if Louisville basketball wasn’t a rotten-to-the-core nest of filth, iniquity, and CHEATING, MSU would likely also be wielding top-20 freshman Brian ‘Tugs’ Bowen II on the wing this season. Had that happened, my 40-0 predictions in the OTE Slack would no longer be tongue-in-cheek. But, Louisville’s Adidas connections paid his family, they got caught by the feds, and now Bowen will never play a minute of college hoops for anyone. Rick Pitino is an amoral cheater in every sense of the term and his program should be burnt to the ground.

The frontcourt mob will give Izzo a fun challenge in determining who gets the minutes, as there are just too many guys for everyone to play. Jackson will be decidedly stretchy and shooty at the 4, while he and Nick Ward will have more support than former walk-ons Kenny Goins and Matt Van Dyk to back him up with Schilling and Carter healthy and another large body arriving in Xavier Tillman - who may redshirt for want of sufficient minutes.

What to Watch For

1. Banners of some value. With last year’s dynamite freshman class returning intact and bolstered by another shot of premiere incoming talent and better depth up front, MSU is ranked #2 in the preseason and should have very lofty goals indeed. All homerism aside, this roster on paper should be favored in every conference game they play. If Izzo can resist the urge to tinker with his roster too deep into the season and be blessed with good health (LOL), the sky is the limit for this team.

2. Miles Bak...and at his actual position. Consensus preseason B1G POTY Miles Bridges. Oh, I didn’t have a point, I just like typing it. But anyway, he passed on being a probable lottery pick to return for his sophomore campaign. And if you thought he was a terror last year, MSU’s projected roster makeup means he no longer has to play out of position at the 4. Think back to the 7-10 plays he made against your team last year that made you shake your head in resignation. Now give him your normal freshman-to-sophomore improvement and let him work against smaller defenders and not have to defend power forwards himself. As good as he was last year, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect a considerable step forward, which would be enough of a problem by itself without...

3. J3 Heer. The guy most facilitative of Bridges’ move to the 3 is incoming consensus top-10 recruit Jaren Jackson Jr. At a spindly 6’10”, 226 lbs, Jackson is far more of a perimeter player than the prototype Izzo 4, but his skill is no joke, and if he can hold up defensively, MSU will have nightmare matchups in its frontcourt that few teams other than Kentucky and Duke will have the horses to manage.

4. MOAR PUDDIN’. And that’s without mentioning returning post force Nick Ward. You may remember him as the freshman with the Karl Malonian post game who sent your entire frontcourt to the bench with his uncanny ability to draw fouls. If he’s learned to defend without fouling himself, this frontcourt will be formidable all around.

Schedule

11/10/17 vs North Florida

11/14/17 vs Duke (neutral site)

11/19/17 vs Stony Brook

11/23/17 vs DePaul (neutral site)

11/30/17 vs Notre Dame

12/3/17 vs Nebraska

12/5/17 @ Rutgers

12/9/17 vs Southern Utah

12/16/17 vs Oakland (neutral site)

12/18/17 vs Houston Baptist

12/21/17 vs Long Beach State

12/29/17 vs Cleveland State

12/31/17 vs Savannah State

1/4/18 vs Maryland

1/7/18 @ Ohio State

1/10/18 vs Rutgers

1/13/18 vs Michigan

1/19/18 vs Indiana

1/22/18 @ Illinois

1/26/18 vs wisconsin

1/28/18 @ Maryland

1/31/18 vs Penn State

2/3/18 @ Indiana

2/6/18 @ Iowa

2/10/18 vs Purdue

2/13/18 @ Minnesota

2/17/18 @ Northwestern

2/20/18 vs Illinois

2/25/18 @ wisconsin

Fairly favorable schedule. We’ll see very early on if the national title goal is a realistic one, as public enemy #1 is the second game on the schedule. Beyond that, the noncon is unremarkable outside of the tilt with Notre Dame and should not present any landmines.

The conference schedule is favorable in that Minnesota, Purdue, and Northwestern, likely to contend for the conference, are all single plays. The conference slate also concentrates the home games in January and the road games in February, but again, the road schedule overall could be much worse. For the first time in years, I have no schedule complaints; Delany, if nothing else, knows which side his bread is buttered on.