The 2017-18 Michigan State basketball team will look a lot different than the one that took the court in last year’s NCAA Tournament. While the Spartans only lost one player that played significant minutes in a tournament game (Alvin Ellis III), they’ll go from one of the shortest teams in the country (ranked 289th in average height according to KenPom) to likely somewhere in the top 100.
That’s made possible by the return of Gavin Schilling (6-foot-9) and Ben Carter (6-foot-9), as well as the addition of freshmen Jaren Jackson Jr. (6-foot-11) and Xavier Tillman (6-foot-9). And so, instead of the Spartans being forced to use Kenny Goins (6-foot-6) on someone like Isaac Haas, things will be a lot different for the upcoming season.
I already compared their lineup to that of North Carolina in recent seasons and it’s not far off. So what exactly will the Michigan State frontcourt look like now that the roster appears to be set with Brian Bowen unlikely to come to East Lansing?
Against bigger teams, Tom Izzo could roll with Nick Ward and Jackson down low with Miles Bridges playing the three. That’s the ideal lineup most fans would want to see, but it’s not a guarantee Izzo puts Jackson into the starting lineup right off the bat, no matter how highly he was ranked coming in. There’s a slight chance he rolls with Bridges and Ward in the frontcourt with Cassius Winston, Matt McQuaid and Joshua Langford in the other three spots, which is a close version to what MSU used most of last season. The main problem is that it didn’t exactly work as McQuaid isn’t meant to be a starter in the Big Ten.
The difference Jackson gives is that he can stretch the floor with size, while providing a pick-and-pop option for Winston. It’s hard to see Schilling and Ward playing a ton of minutes together because that combination would clog the floor as neither has much offensive game outside of the paint.More from Spartans Basketball
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The same goes for Tillman and wherever Izzo decides to put Goins. Of course, the Tar Heels just won a championship and almost always had two bigs on the floor that had no outside game with Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks the starters. Then again, it’s a little too soon to compare Schilling and Ward to those two.
If Izzo wants to play small ball, he could turn to Langford, Bridges and Jackson in the frontcourt, which looks like a matchup nightmare on paper. If Jackson can defend bigger guys, but also stretch the floor on the other end, that would be a major advantage, not unlike Caleb Swanigan for Purdue.
As one can see, even without Bowen or Brandon McCoy on the squad, this team will be fine in terms of depth and size on the front line. In fact, with those guys on the team, Jackson and Tillman probably wouldn’t get as much run.
I haven’t even mentioned Carter yet, who’s a similar player to Schilling, although maybe won’t be able to guard opposing centers. With the new pieces, there is good and bad news, depending how you look at it. Michigan State has to replace about 48 minutes per game, which is what Eron Harris, Ellis and Matt Van Dyk combined for.
To go with that, Goins and Kyle Ahrens will likely see dips in playing time and depending how Winston’s development goes, Tum Tum Nairn may be on the floor less. Also, Matt McQuaid isn’t a guarantee to see his 21 minutes per game if he continues to not hit open shots and that’s where playing Bridges at small forward would help.
Either way, Bridges shouldn’t have to play more than 35 minutes in any of the games because MSU won’t always need him on the court like last year. It wouldn’t be surprising if his minutes dipped a tad from the 32 he averaged. Ward will still be around a 20-minute average unless his defense improves immensely in the offseason. As long as Schilling has fully healed, he could be a major player in the lineup with 20-plus minutes per game not being a stretch. His ability to guard three positions will keep him on the floor before Ward and even some of the freshmen.
Jackson is the biggest unknown. There will be about 20 minutes waiting for him, but possibly more, depending on how much he bulks up in the summer in order to defend stronger bigs. If he plays alongside Bridges and Ward, there’s a good chance Jackson has a lot of favorable matchups. There’s no telling how big of role Carter will have, but around 10 minutes can be expected. Tillman will likely be a player in waiting, similar to what Ward was supposed to be last year. And there’s always the chance that Izzo gets mad at Ward, and Tillman starts stealing his minutes.
If Tillman can defend ball screens better than Ward, that minute differential will be interesting to watch as the season goes along.Related Story: >MSU Recruiting: Constructing ideal 2018 basketball class
It’s fine to be upset that Izzo didn’t get any more high-end recruits, but it’s clear the Spartans have a deeper and more diverse team than a year ago, which should allow them to remain in the Top 25 all season. If not, well, then we can all complain together about why Tum Tum is playing 30 minutes per game and taking threes at the end of the shot clock.
Source : http://spartanavenue.com/2017/05/24/michigan-state-basketball-way-too-early-frontcourt-preview/