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Season Preview: Can Michigan State live up to lofty expectations?

The Michigan State Spartans get set to begin the 2017-18 season as certainly one of if not the favorite to win the Big Ten as well as one of the favorites to cut down the nets in San Antonio. Tom Izzo begins his 23rd season with four returning sophomores, including National Player of the Year favorite, Miles Bridges, and highly-touted recruit and potential Big Ten Freshman of the Year favorite, Jaren Jackson Jr.

Izzo’s 2016-17 team disappointed compared to his usual success, going 20-15 on the year and needing an NCAA Tournament win over Miami to get to his 18th 20-win season, before falling to Kansas in the second round.

But that was last year, let’s take a look at this year.

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BACKCOURT

With all the hype surrounding the Spartans this year, the backcourt is an area that could possibly hold them back, but also catapult them into real greatness. Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn is slotted to start at point guard, which means great defense and leadership, but also spotty shooting at key moments. Nairn’s backup is Cassius Winston, a mini-Magic if you believe his Hall of Fame head coach. Winston, one of the four returning freshmen-turned-sophomores, lacks the defense and ridiculous speed that Nairn possesses, but makes up for it with fantastic court-vision and passing ability.

Josh Langford, one of the “super sophomores” if you will, is waiting for the opportunity to show he deserves the starting job.

Langford averaged 9.5 points, 2.9 rebounds and shot 49.4 percent from the field over the final 11 games of the season for MSU. He’ll need to show immediately that those stats were not a farce and that he made great improvement in the off-season.

Elsewhere in the backcourt, Matt McQuaid needs to show improvement after regressing last year in his shooting efficiency, both overall and from outside. Kyle Ahrens is another option at guard, but unless he turned into a knockdown-shooter over the past year, chances are you won’t see too much of him.

FRONTCOURT

This is where MSU gets their moneys worth, down low where the bigs could be some of the best in the country. Tom Izzo’s great teams of the past always had great bigs and usually plenty of them, and this years edition seems to mimic those traditions. After all, Izzo did say back in March, after losing to Kansas in the tournament, that “there will be some paybacks” forthcoming.

Redshirt senior Gavin Schilling (6-foot-9) and sixth-year graduate student (and UNLV transfer) Ben Carter (6-9) return after missing all of last season with injuries, giving Izzo additional bodies to add to Nick Ward (6-8), another of the returning freshmen from a season ago.

Kenny Goins (6-6) who played power forward and even center at times last year, can return to his normal position of small forward. Then there’s Miles Bridges (6-7), who can do whatever he wants — shooting guard, small forward, power forward, guard whoever, score from wherever.

Incoming freshmen Xavier Tillman (6-8) adds rebounding prowess and passing ability that Izzo hasn’t seen down low since Derrick Nix and Draymond Green. Jaren Jackson (6-foot-10), the other first-year player for Izzo and MSU this season, will have the freedom to grow his game which, if you’ve watched any of his highlights, show ability to score from deep as well as close, and play defense at multiple positions.

And according to his coach, he might be the best diaper-dandy he’s ever had.

The Spartans look to have a much better season than last year’s and if all four returning freshmen improve considerably, Michigan State will most likely add to their Final Four resume, and could quite possibly be the last team standing in April. They have the coach, they have the talent, it’s just about that coach getting that talent to play as a unit — something Izzo has proven time and time again he is quite capable of doing.

SCHEDULE

Izzo and Michigan State will tip off their 2017-18 campaign on Friday, November 10 at home against North Florida. The Ospreys out of the Atlantic Sun compiled a 15-19 last season after collecting 20+ wins each of the last two seasons, which included their first ever NCAA Tournament berth in 2015.

Written by Matt Bassin

Born in L.A., raised in Detroit and SoCal. Born Green and White, but am an Arizona Alumnus with my degree in Journalism. Have worked for newspapers as a writer/editor, and as an on-air talent for sports radio. Follow the Lions, Red Wings, Tigers, Pistons and Lakers. Go Green!

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