As much as Michigan State wants to forget about — and maybe more so, wants the nation to forget — last March's tourney debacle, it'll never be forgotten. Until a No. 16 seeds knocks off a No. 1, the eight (and counting) wins by No. 15 seeds over No 2 seeds will remain among the biggest in sports history.
While no one will forget, the Spartans can give everyone something else to think about in the form of another deep tournament run. They lose the quartet of Denzell Valentine, Mat Costello, Bryn Forbes and Deyonta Davis, and leave Tom Izzo with two upperclassmen guards in Lourawls Nairn, Jr., and Eron Harris (only returning player to average more than four points per game last season) and a pile of freshman that formed the best recruiting class in program history, including five-star talents Miles Bridges and Joshua Langford.
Nairn, Harris, Bridges, Lang and others should have no problem extending Izzo's streak of 19 straight tourney appearances. It's just a matter of gelling quick enough to deliver another Final Four trip.
|Lourawls Nairn, Jr.||Guard||Jr.||2.8||1.1||3.3|
Miles Bridges – F – Freshman
Bridges is 6-foot-7, 230 pounds but he moves like a diminutive point guard. The Flint, Mich., native and Huntington Prep (W.V.) product has a lights-out mid-range game and is a matchup nightmare for nearly anyone.
Joshua Langford – G – Freshman
A tender hamstring has limited Langford in camp and he missed the Spartans' two exhibition games. Don't be surprised if Izzo plays it safe with his elite combo guard who can score from anywhere on the court.
Cassius Winston – PG – Freshman
Winston, a local product and Michigan's Mr. Basketball, may struggle for playing time as a freshman but still could provide key bench minutes in the event of foul trouble.
Nick Ward – F – Freshman
Ward is one of the most meaty freshman in the nation (6-foot-9, 265 pounds) and though he needs work defensively against quick, savvy big men, he's mobile enough and had good enough hands to warrant immediate playing time.
Ben Carter – F – Senior
Carter, a graduate transfer from UNLV, comes into an ideal situation. Like Michigan State's other forwards, he's not gigantic (6-foot-9, 225 pounds) but uses his size well and could compete for a starting job if Bridges and Ward aren't ready immediately.
Even with a slew of veterans, last year's Michigan State team was not aggressive enough. We can look past the slow tempo — 66.9 possession per game, 10th in Big Ten — because they led the nation in assists (20.5 per game) and averaged nearly 80 points per game on 48.6 percent shooting, but their free throw and steal numbers were putrid.
They attempted just 623 free throws, 260th nationally, and had 156 steals, 301st nationally. Izzo will never encourage over-aggressiveness but they need to do a better job of recognizing vulnerabilities. They attempted just 15 free throws in their loss to Middle Tennessee, a low number against a very inferior opponent.