EAST LANSING, Mich. — College basketball coaches have to deal with roster turnover every year. And not many of them can lose a first-team AP All-America and Big Ten Player of the Year — as Denzel Valentine was last season —and still feel pretty good about his team’s chances at playing for high stakes come March.
Tom Izzo can.
Izzo doesn’t have a player returning who averaged double figures from last season’s squad that went 29-6 overall and 13-5 in Big Ten play but as a 2-seed was stunned by 15-seed Middle Tennessee State 90-81 in its NCAA Tournament opener. But he does have a four-member freshman class that is ranked among the nation’s best. The trick will be getting the talented quartet to blend into the solid foundation Michigan State already has built.
You can check out Michigan State’s full roster here.
Valentine, Bryn Forbes, Matt Costello and Colby Wollenman won more games as a senior class than all but two other classes in Michigan State history. Valentine did it all for the Spartans last season, averaging 19.2 points per game, 7.5 rebounds and 7.8 assists. He became the third Michigan State player to win the national player of the year award from the National Association of Basketball Coaches, joining with Draymond Green (2012) and Shawn Respert (1995). Forbes (14.4 ppg) and Costello (10.7 ppg) also scored in double figures. The Spartans also lost 6-foot-10 forward Deyonta Davis, who declared for the NBA draft after his freshman season and was chosen by Boston in the second round. Davis averaged 7.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game.
Key returning players
Everything the Spartans do will start with junior point guard Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr. Valentine handled most of the point-guard duties last season but it will be up to Nairn to take over this season. He averaged 18.7 minutes last season but was slowed by a plantar fasciitis injury that caused him to miss seven games. Senior guard Eron Harris is the top returning scorer, having averaged 9.3 points per game last season. Matt McQuaid will be counted on to provide shooting from the outside, picking up the role Forbes previously held. McQuaid made 40.9 percent of his 3-point shot attempts last season. Redshirt sophomore forward Kenny Goins has gone from walk-on to valuable role player.
Joshua Langford and Miles Bridges were McDonald’s All-Americans last season and have high expectations to meet. Izzo has said both of those players plus point guard Cassius Winston will see plenty of playing time this season. It’s an oddity for that many freshmen to play early at Michigan State but they have the talent to get on the court right away. Forward Nick Ward is the fourth member of the class. He wasn’t expected to get a lot of playing time this season but he has impressed the coaches through the early practice sessions, and with the knee injury suffered by UNLV graduate transfer Ben Carter, Ward can earn himself more playing time.
Michigan State will be tested right away with a November schedule that includes a trip to Hawaii to play Arizona, a game against Kentucky in New York City, the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas and then traveling to Durham, N.C., to face Duke in the Big Ten/ACC challenge. It won’t be smooth sailing but Izzo has built a culture he likes and has the foundation to have his team playing its best basketball in March. Having this talented freshman class won’t hurt, either.