Michigan State basketball 2017-18: same team, more experience

The preseason rankings have Michigan State sitting firmly at number two. A second place rank is tied for the highest rank they have received in school history. The common theme for the 2017-18 Michigan State Spartans is experience.

The Spartans two top scorers returning this season for their sophomore seasons. Miles Bridges and Nick Ward combined to average 30.8 points per game last season and are looking to take the next step for their sophomore seasons.

The Spartans add a few highly touted recruits and return nearly their entire rotation from the 2016-17 season. Experience tends to win come March, and the Michigan State Spartans are loaded with talent and experience across the board.

The sophomore class

Michigan State basketball 2017-18

Michigan States Sophomores, (MLlive.com).

One of the best freshman classes we have seen in a while has stayed together for their sophomore seasons.

Joshua Langford, Cassius Winston, Nick Ward and Miles Bridges were four of the top five scorers for the Spartans in 2016-17. The four added 44.6 points a game which was good for 62 percent of the Spartans’ scoring last season.

Miles Bridges is one of the best returning players in college basketball this season and if he can take the next step forward he will lead a group of sophomores that could take over college basketball.

The freshmen

Lots of freshmen in big time conferences are looking to start and make an immediate impact. Although there is no doubt that Michigan States freshmen could do that, there are lots of other players that can protect the freshmen until they are ready to produce for the Spartans.

Jaren Jackson Jr. is the number nine recruit in this year’s class (via ESPN) and joins a starting lineup that is already loaded. The new freshman guards will learn from Tum Tum Nairn who is a senior.

Xavier Tillman (SF, 6-foot-8) is ranked as the 74th prospect on ESPN’s top 100 and is an excellent post player with tremendous passing skills and a high basketball IQ.

Brock Washington (SG, 6-foot-3) adds a shooting stroke from the guard position. He can help Matt Mcquaid open up a defense for guys like Ward, Bridges and Jackson inside. Washington made 148 threes in his high school career and looks to knock the top off of defenses.

Tom Izzo

This is a very impressive team that Tom Izzo has put together in just two years. He will have a chance to coach a lot of the same guys from last season and gets to work with the talented Miles Bridges again.

The three-time Big Ten Coach of the Year has been coaching Michigan State for 22 years and has had a lot of good teams. I don’t think he has had a team that has been this similar to a year prior however.

Izzo is currently studying tape just like players are, learning the tendencies of his young big men and experienced guards and looking to put them in the best position to succeed. One of the best things to have as a coach is three guys that can go out and get you buckets consistently.

With the addition of Jackson, Michigan State could have struck that this season. With Ward, Bridges and possibly Jackson, the Michigan State Spartans are loaded.

Season prediction

Due to the tremendous freshman class in college basketball there are lots of very good teams this season. Michigan State has experience to balance with great young talent. I think come March the Spartans find a way to be a one seed.

I think they win the Big 10 and end up cutting down the nets come April. Tom Izzo and Miles Bridges will be two key reasons to this Michigan State Spartans team winning the 2018 NCAA National Title. Izzo will finally get himself another National Title.

 

Featured Image from MSUtoday.com.

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College basketball preseason top 25: 5-1

It is the end of October so that means college basketball is right around the corner. What teams should be looked at as the best of the best? This is the final installment in the top 25 rundown. For teams 10-6, click here.

5. Kentucky Wildcats

College basketball preseason top 25

Hamidou Diallo (Photo by bostonherald.com)

The Wildcats lost a heart-breaker to UNC in the Elite Eight last season. Like most years they have to replace most of their team. They don’t return much at all and will be led by freshman, but they have a very talented freshmen class yet again that should be able to be successful.

Versatility is going to be the name of the game for the Kentucky bigs. Kevin Knox, P.J. Washington, Jarred Vanderbilt are all capable of playing on the perimeter and in the paint. How they fit in together is a big question. Vanderbilt is currently dealing with injuries and will not be ready for the start of the season. Nick Richards is the tallest on the team and will fight for minutes. The returnees Wenyen Gabriel, Sacha Kileya-Jones and Tai Wynyard will fight for minutes. Gabriel started 23 games last season and can be valuable if he knocks down outside shots. Wynyard is a very physical player who can step in if the other players aren’t rebounding. While there are a lot of talented players, Calipari will play the most talented.

Quade Green ad Shai Gilgeous-Alexander are both highly touted recruits who will handle the point guard duties. Whoever does not start will be able to play off of the ball. Hamidou Diallo got to campus last year in the midseason and John Calipari decided to redshirt him. His half-season with Kentucky last year will pay dividends, as well as his summer trip representing Team USA in the U19 World Cup. Diallo is an athletic freak, who needs to shoot the ball better to be a dynamic player. Jemarl Baker was supposed to provide some outside shooting for this team, but Baker had his knee scoped and will likely be out for three months.

As always if the young talent can mesh together, the sky is the limit for Kentucky. They may start off slow, but come March, Kentucky will be a factor once again.

4. Kansas Jayhawks

College basketball preseason top 25

Devonte’ Graham (Photo by draftexpress.com)

Kansas made their second straight Elite 8 last season and can do so again this season. They will have to deal with the losses of Carlton Bragg, Josh Jackson, Landen Lucas and, most importantly, Frank Mason. That is a lot to replace, but there is some significant talent returning.

Udoka Azubuike returns after getting injured last season. He will be asked to play way more than his 12.9 minutes per game that he averaged last season. In those minutes though, he showed flashes of being a great player. His per 40 minutes stats are great, as he would’ve averaged 15.5 points and 13.5 rebounds. Billy Preston, no relation to Bill S. Preston Esquire, is a great incoming freshman that is going to be thrust into any minutes Azubuike can’t be on the floor. He is very athletic, but needs to work on his inside game. The only other big on the roster is Mitch Lightfoot, who will see an increased role as the third big. There is not much depth in the frontcourt, so the Jayhawks will have to stay healthy and out of foul trouble.

The backcourt is loaded with talent. Devonte’ Graham returns and will take over at point after the loss of Frank Mason. He is a great defender that showed he could score too last season. He will need to set up teammates and find his own shot this season. Lagerald Vick and Svi Mykhailiuk return on the wing. Both can knock down the three point shot, while Vick has more athletic ability. Mykhailiuk may need to step more inside to cover up for the lack of bigs on the roster, seeing as he is 6’8″. Two transfers will have to step up for Kansas as well. Malik Newman was a big recruit going into Mississippi State and is hoping his career has new life at Kansas. Sam Cunliffe is an Arizona State transfer who will be eligible in December.

The guards and wings will be hard to match up with, but if Kansas’ frontcourt doesn’t step up it will be hard to reach a third consecutive Elite 8. Luckily they have talent so the sky is the limit.

3. Arizona Wildcats

College basketball preseason top 25

Allonzo Trier (Photo by draftexpress.com)

The Wildcats got upset by Xavier in the Sweet 16 last season, but have a lot of returning talent and incoming recruits to help them get to a Final Four. They lose Kadeem Allen, Chance Comanche, Lauri Markkanen and Kobi Simmons, but this team is actually better. Can Sean Miller reach his first Final Four of his career?

The frontcourt is going to be led by superstar recruit DeAndre Ayton. He can protect the rim and stretch the floor, making him unique. Dustan Ristic started 34 games last season and can play alongside Ayton or back him up. Rustic has a refined inside game that can compliment Ayton. Keanu Pinder is a good role player who will rebound and defend. Behind these three there isn’t much, but the guards on the roster should be able to play big if they need to.

Allonzo Trier is back after leading the team in scoring last season with 17.2 points per game. He could’ve gone pro, but elected to come back for another season. He can do a little bit of everything offensively, as a solid shooter and driver. Rawle Alkins also choose to come back to Tucson after considering the NBA. Alkins will improve in his second season with the Wildcats. Parker Jackson-Cartwright is back at point guard and will likely start every game. Backing these three up will be frehsmen and transfers, but they are talented. Emmanuel Akot, Brandon Randolph, Dylan Smith and Alex Barcello will all be expected to fight for minutes.

Sean Miller needs to get to a Final Four and this season offers his best chance to do so. If Ayton is as good as advertised, the Final Four should be an expectation for Arizona.

2. Michigan State Spartans

College basketball preseason top 25

Miles Bridges (Photo by draftexpress.com)

Tom Izzo gets a chance to make his first Final Four since 2015 with this squad. He has a lot of talent and depth, which is something he didn’t have last season due to injuries. If the Spartans can stay healthy, the team is going to be tough to beat.

Miles Bridges returns on the wing. He is going to be the best player in all of college basketball this season. As a freshman he averaged 16.9 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists. He didn’t have a lot of help last season, but will this year. Nick Ward was thrust into playing a lot last year as a freshman and was a physical force on the inside. Jaren Jackson is a very good recruit who will be hard to keep off the floor. Gavin Schilling, Ben Carter and Kenny Goins return to give them some of the best frontcourt depth in the country. They can ride the hot hand this season.

Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairns Jr. is a senior leader now who is a great defender and can set up his teammates. He needs to hit more perimeter shots to be more effective in the offense. Cassius Winston has turned heads with his passing and playmaking ability and will provide Michigan State with a chance to have two point guards on the floor at once. He can also shoot the ball and spread the floor. Mike McQuaid will add a three point specialist to the backcourt. Joshua Langford will also play a bit and is a good wing that can drive and shoot.

With so much talent and perhaps the best player in college basketball, this team can win the National Championship.

1. Duke Blue Devils

College basketball preseason top 25

Marvin Bagley (Photo by accsports.com)

Coach K has had one and dones before, but Coach K has fully embraced recruiting one and dones. He has a roster chalk full of them. A few key players return from a team that lost in the second round, but the freshman are what make this Blue Devils’ squad the best in the country.

Marques Bolden returns at center after a disappointing freshman season. He only played 6.5 minutes a game and needs to improve. He is the only returning player that will see significant minutes. Marvin Bagley Jr. is a dynamic player that is in contention to be the number one overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. He reclassified to play at Duke this season and added to their great recruiting class. Wendell Carter is another freshman who can add to the depth on the inside. He is more of a stretch four and should get a lot of minutes, even if he is overshadowed by Bagley.

Grayson Allen is back for his senior season. Love him or hate him, he is a good scorer that has a lot of experience, which is something this team desperately needed. He saw his scoring decline last season as Luke Kennard stepped up, but may be asked to score a lot until the freshmen get into their groove. Trevon Duval is one of the best point guards of the class and will be the best point guard that Duke has had since their National Championship in 2015. If for some reason he fails, or gets injured, Allen can play point guard once again and run the offense decently well. Gary Trent Jr. is a great wing that will play on the wing with Allen, giving Duke a very talented starting lineup. Depth could be a problem, so role players will need to step up.

The only thing that can derail Duke this season is Grayson Allen’s attitude or a lack of depth. If Coach K can get the most out of this team, he may be cutting down the nets in April.

 

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Miles Bridges Declines Draft

Why Miles Bridges Declining the Draft is a Good Thing

Last week, Miles Bridges said he would return to Michigan State for his sophomore year of college basketball. Spartan fans couldn’t be happier that their star freshman will be coming back.

He told fans at his press conference last week, “I have personal goals here. I want to win a national championship.” ESPN has had a few mock drafts which put him in the top 20 but the NBA will not see Bridges for another year. Here is why Bridges made the right decision to return to college:

1. Another Year with Coach Izzo

Coach Tom Izzo is unarguably a legendary coach, and his awards are mere evidence of his success. Izzo won a national championship in 2000, appeared in the Final Four seven times and has been named Big Ten Coach of the Year three times. In 2016 he was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame with a .712 winning percentage in his career.

Miles Bridges Declines Draft

Tom Izzo speaks with guard Miles Bridges (22) during the first half against the Wichita State Shockers. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

This is all to say that the guy knows his stuff. Bridges will continue to learn a lot about Izzo’s motto: “players play, but tough players win.”

Coach Izzo is also well known for scheduling a very tough non-conference schedule in preparation for March, which will only benefit Bridges and the rest of the Spartans.

Along with Coach Izzo, think about Draymond Green. He stayed at Michigan State for four years and is now having one heck of a career in the NBA.

Green has had a lot of success with the Golden State Warriors over the course of five seasons. He won a championship in 2015 and has the perk of a 15.3 million dollar salary for 2017.

Miles Bridges is a lot like Green with a 6’7” stature and strong explosive moves. Bridges looks more like a guard than Green did in his Michigan State days, however there are lots of similarities.

2. The College Experience Will Help Miles Bridges and his Draft Stock

Miles Bridges Declines Draft

Miles Bridges of Michigan State Spartans. Mandatory Credit to spartanavanue.com

This statement rides on a lot of “ifs” because it won’t be true unless Bridges really improves his sophomore season. The experience will help if he can produce better statistics, take his team further in the tournament and have more success. However, if all of these ifs become reality, his draft stock will increase.

Bridges had the potential to make millions but he turned it down for the opportunity to go to school and win a national title. That says a lot about him as a player and a person.

He also averaged 16.9 points per game, which is the highest for a freshman since Magic Johnson who averaged 17 points per game his freshman season.

A lot of people are worried about his draft stock declining if he stays another year. However, the risk of staying another year could put him in the top 5 for overall picks. Another year with Coach Izzo and more growth, could be the key to even greater success in the NBA.

3. NEXT YEar is looking even better

The Spartans will have a lot of returners for the 2017-2018 season. Cassius Winston and Nick Ward will be coming back, along with Joshua Langford and Tum Tum Nair Jr. for his senior season. Eight of the top ten players will be returning for next year. They will have something special if Coach Izzo can keep everyone healthy and working hard.

Just last week Jack Hoiberg, son of Fred Hoiberg (Chicago Bulls head coach), said he would be walking onto Michigan State’s basketball team for the 2017-2018 season. Hoiberg will be joined by Jaren Jackson and Xavier Tillman, two power forwards who have signed with the Spartans. Jackson stands at 6’11, ranked 16th in the nation and will play good minutes for the Spartans next year. Tillman is 6’9 and 250 pounds, a little bit thicker than Jackson but will also add size to the Spartan roster for next year.

Bridges made the right decision to stay, despite the NBA being a very enticing choice. Teammates and fans of Spartan Basketball will get to watch him at the college level for one more year and next year could be big for the Spartans because of his decision.

 

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Michigan State Poised For A Late Run Next Season

Don’t be fooled by Michigan State’s past season struggles. They’re not going anywhere.

The Spartans somewhat fell off the wagon this year after they went 20-15 in a rather shaky Big Ten. Not to say the Spartans had a bad season, but it just wasn’t the Michigan State we are used to seeing.

The Spartans finished 10-8 in the Big Ten with a loss in the second round of the Big Ten tournament to Minnesota. Many thought the Spartans might miss out on a trip to the big dance. However, the Spartans were rewarded with a nine seed and a matchup against eighth-seeded Miami.

Michigan State defeated Miami rather handily. However, in the round of 32, the Spartans were faced with the one seed and tournament favorite, Kansas. Despite keeping it close for much of the game, Michigan State lost 90-70.

After Tom Izzo’s young, injured and often overwhelmed team lost, he said the group “gave me everything they could give me.”

Michigan State

Bridges told fans he has “unfinished business” after declaring he would come back for his sophomore season (Photo/ Al Goldis)

The Spartans are looking forward, starting with returning star forward Miles Bridges.

Bridges, who was considered by many to be a lottery pick in next year’s upcoming NBA draft, officially decided to come back for his sophomore season a few days ago. He averaged 16.9 points per game, which are the highest points per game for a freshman at Michigan State since Magic Johnson. Bridges also averaged 8.3 rebounds, which is the most by a Michigan State freshmen since Greg Kelser in 1975-76.

“I got some unfinished business here,” Bridges said. “I want to stay.”

Even though Bridges could have left for the NBA and made millions of dollars, he decided to work on his game while enjoying the college life both on and off the court.

“I’d rather stay here and get better,” he said.

Many still had Michigan State as a highly ranked team going into next year even before Bridges decided to return. Much of that has to do with a core group of young guys, who showed towards the end of the season that they can be really good.

They have an elite low-post scorer with Nick Ward, a potential future quarterback of the offense with Cassius Winston and a dangerous off-ball wing with Joshua Langford. Those players, along with Bridges, were all freshmen and are all returning for their sophomore seasons.

There is a lot that this group has to improve upon, like reducing turnovers and improving on the glass. They will have to get a good contribution from additional players like Matt McQuaid and their incoming class. The new class consists of two really good top recruits.

Michigan State

Top recruit Jaren Jackson will join the Spartans next season in their hunt for another championship (Photo/ Mike Dinovo).

First, there is 6-foot-11, 225 pound forward Jaren Jackson, who was one of the top recruits in the country. The big man has not only been praised for being a big presence down low, but he can also step out and hit the mid or long range jumper, making him a matchup nightmare.

The Spartans also signed 6-foot-9, 250 pound forward Xavier Tillman, who was voted first team all state in Michigan. They are also trying to land highly recruited high school seniors Brandon McCoy, a 7-foot center from California and Mark Smith, an elite point guard from Illinois.

Regardless of if they end up signing McCoy and Smith or not, the Spartans will have a high-powered team on both ends of the floor. They will be more experienced, formulated and ready to make a serious run late in March.

 

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