Michigan State Spartans
Head Coach: Tom Izzo
2018-19 Record: 32-7, 16-4 Conference
Odds to win Title: +650
Odds c/o Bovada
Tom Izzo is more confident than ever that he is coaching a true contending team, calling this just the fifth team in his time as a collegiate coach that he feels his team is a legitimate threat to win the National Title. College basketball oddsmakers agree, setting Michigan State’s title chances at +650 according to bookmaker 5dimes. Izzo has won just one title in his 25 years as a head coach, an that was in 2000, 19 years later he hopes to strike again.
Michigan State’s biggest strength is its experience this season, relying on a lot of returning talent that was not quite elite enough to be the “one and done” variety that has plagued programs like Kentucky and Duke more so. Cassius Winston should contend for National Player of the Year, and the team can go 11-deep into a bench that is filled with productive talent. It has the makings, at a minimum, of a team that can make a deep run in the NCAA tournament, but without getting too far ahead of ourselves let us examine this team.
Xavier Tillman returns after averaging 13.3 points on 58.9 percent shooting, along with 8.1 rebounds per game. He started the final 13 games at center, and Michigan State fared 11-2 over that stretch. It also completed a Big Ten regular-season title and tournament championship with Tillman at the 5-spot. After that known, the rotation becomes dicier, but it is not weak.
Izzo points to defense and rebounding as strengths of his frontcourt, and Game Brown is a long and athletic stretch-4 that should keep defenses honest on Tillman. Marcus Bingham Jr. is a 6’11” 215-pound NBA prospect who still needs some time to develop and mature. Julius Marble is another good stretch-4, but he may be redshirted.
Joey Hauser transferred from Marquette, and the 6’8” power forward is the likely starter eventually at the 4-spot, but he will have to sit for a season as a transfer most likely.
Cassius Winston won Big Ten Player of the Year last year while playing through injuries (to his knee). Winston flirted with turning pro, but he ultimately decided to return, and that places Michigan State firmly atop the list of Big Ten contenders, if not NCAA title contenders, at that. His play and composure is the key to the Spartans’ contention. It is evidenced by the fact he averaged 4.4 turnovers in the seven losses the Spartans suffered last year.
Joshua Langford and Aaron Henry will occupy the 2/3-spots. Langford is coming off a severe ankle injury last season, and he may take some time to round back into full form. Henry is a great rebounder for a 6’6” wing player, and he also is a good shooter and defender. The Spartans’ frontcourt should be very good. Mark “Rocket” Watts Jr. comes in as a freshman who can really score, and he will see some time at the 1 and 2 spots as a spark scorer even in his first NCAA season.
The 4-spot will have to be settled unless Hauser is given a waiver and allowed to play without sitting out the required transfer year. Langford must be healthy and so on, so the Spartans can look to get off to a good start. Izzo is more excited than usual, which seems to be a good sign, but how much can be read into it? Will the Spartans depth be the difference-maker when this long season grinds to its end? As strange as it sounds, the fate of Hauser could have a lot to do with whether this team has just enough to put it over the edge as a true contending team in 2019.