Thursday, October 11, 2018

Spartans look to reform their identity through Ward and Winston

Photo Credit: Scott W. Grau- Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

By: Geno Green
Twitter: @TheGenoGreen

Michigan State Spartans

2017-18 Record: 30-5, 16-2 Big Ten
2017-18 Postseason: NCAA Tournament Second Round
Coach: Tom Izzo, 574-225 (.718) at Michigan State, 24th season

Key losses:

Miles Bridges, Jaren Jackson, Jr, Lourawls (Tum Tum) Nairn Jr.

Key returning players:

Cassius Winston, Nick Ward, Joshua Langford

Notable games:

Nov. 6 vs Kansas (Indianapolis)
Nov. 22-23 (Las Vegas Invitational vs UCLA and the winner/loser of North Carolina/Texas)
Nov. 27 at Louisville
Dec. 8 at Florida
Jan. 8 vs Purdue
Feb. 24 at Michigan

The 2018-19 edition of the Michigan State Spartans look to turn a new leaf as they have enormous shoes to fill with Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson, Jr. leaving early for the NBA Draft and coach Tom Izzo admitted those players could be among the best he ever coached.

“I enjoyed that team a lot. I loved those players and had two superstars that might never pass through us again given their skillset,” Izzo said.

Despite Bridges and Jackson’s departures, the Spartans return Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford and Nick Ward.

Ward withdrew from the NBA Draft on May 29 and his return gives Michigan State a presence it can lean upon in most games. The junior averaged 12.4 points and 7.1 rebounds per game last season and will be counted on by the underclassmen for leadership on and off the court.

“I feel like I have to lead by example. What I mean by that is you show the guys that practice is not enough because you have to work on your craft, so that everyone can benefit in the long run,” Ward said.

Ward, along with Cassius Winston were named to the conference preseason all-conference team at Big Ten media day on Oct. 11.

Winston’s game elevated as a sophomore last season with a jump from 38 percent in his first year to 49 percent from three-point line, which helped stretch defenses out and allowed Bridges to be more open on the floor for drives to the rim.

Mike McQuaid and Kenny Goins provide some second-tier depth for the Spartans and the incoming freshmen class looks to be the among the best in the country with Aaron Henry and Foster Loyer as the highlights.

Henry graduated early from high school so he could enroll for summer classes at Michigan State and could start in some games this season depending on his progression.

The recognition of being Mr. Basketball in Michigan comes with grandiose expectations and Loyer will serve as the understudy to Winston in the 2018-19 season. Loyer proved to be a pivotal threat on offense in high school and should translate to college as he could be more of a threat on that end, which was a part of Nairn’s game that proved to be a weakness.

While Michigan State won the regular season Big Ten title, Michigan ended up the conference tournament champion and how poetic that the rivals finished first and second in a preseason poll conducted by selected members of the media on Oct. 10.

The Spartans now have to execute the plan on the floor, which starts on a November evening in Hoosier state against Kansas which could go a long way as to how their season goes.