Odds to win Title: +3300
2017-18 Record: 30-5 (16-2 Big Ten)
NCAA Tournament: Lost to Syracuse in Second Round
Michigan State was a chic pick in the 2018 tournament, but a chic pick that certainly did not work out for bracketeers nor college basketball bettors. It lost in the second round following a 30-win regular season, which was hardly what coaching guru Tom Izzo has come to expect from his illustrious program.
The Spartans will have to replace two NBA lottery picks this season, with Jaren Jackson Jr. and Miles Bridges both having successfully made the leap to the NBA. Izzo says the loss in talent will be made up for in experience, but that sounds more like couched optimism than anything concrete that bettors would want to cling to.
Nick Ward returns for his junior season after testing the NBA waters and finding them not quite suitable yet. He led the Big Ten in field goal percentage last year, and he is a gifted and dexterous lefty whose only major concern is his defensive blunders which he just cannot seem to fully avoid. Izzo sours on him due to it, but he is the most talented frontcourt player for the Spartans, so expect him to get his “PT” one way or another. Izzo said he is quicker now and he should be “calmer,” no doubt an allusion to his demeanor on defense which often costs him silly fouls.
Xavier Tillman is another player who should cover some of those defensive issues, though, and physically he is a monster. Both have worked on their face-up game, which should add some versatility to MSU’s offense. Kenny Goins is another big with a jumper, and he will function as a stretch-4, a role becoming even more common in the collegiate ranks than ever before, obviously.
Marcus Bingham is a spring box with a triple to boot, but he needs some seasoning and time in the weight room before he can become a fixture. Freshman Thomas Kithier could be an impact player early, and Braden Burke is a walk-on transfer from Robert Morris who stands almost 7-foot, but he, too, needs time with the iron.
Cassius Winston and Joshua Langford will both be stepping into bigger roles in MSU’s backcourt. Winston led the Big Ten in three-point percentage and assists last year, and he should be even better with more strength. It will help him especially on the defensive end against stronger guards.
Langford is a 40 percent three-point shooter who possesses a rare knack in the mid-range game, which is obviously more important in the NCAA than in the pros. He is also a great vocal leader, and he should call a lot of defensive switches for the Spartans. Matt McQuaid is a decent shooter, albeit a streaky one, and Kyle Ahrens is an athlete who has trouble finishing.
Ahrens missed last season due to a knee ailment. Aaron Henry is physically ready and a smart player who should step into a role early. Foster Loyer was Michigan’s “Mister Basketball” but there are questions regarding his athleticism and his strength. Even so, he will be a fan favorite and see some sort of role, while the depth of that role is anyone’s guess (perhaps that includes Tom Izzo, too). Gabe Brown is a nice recruit with a steady jumper, but he will need a lot of seasoning before becoming a major contributor.
Izzo keeps the goal for the Spartans on a Big Ten championship and a return to the Final Four. Last year was a disappointment, but it barely lost to Syracuse and it blew up a multitude of brackets when it did so. While the two key losses will loom as huge on the offensive end, this is still a team with a true identity and one of college basketball’s best coaches (ever).
Michigan State ranked in the top-3 of every major statistical category in the Big Ten, and it has to be the favorite to take the Conference this year. The NCAA tournament will be the real story of this team, as it should have the pieces to make a deep run as it was expected to a year ago.