Vegas: Spartans among top title contenders with Miles Bridges returning next season

Fans of Michigan State received some big news Thursday evening when superstar freshman Miles Bridges announced on campus that he was returning for his sophomore season. He confirmed it a day after sources close to the situation revealed that he was “leaning towards” returning to MSU.

NCAA Basketball: Nebraska at Michigan State
Feb 23, 2017; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans head coach Tom Izzo jokes with Michigan State Spartans guard Miles Bridges (22) during the second half of a game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at the Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

The standout Flint freshman was widely projected to be a one-and-done talent, and would have been the second in as many seasons to leave after one season at Michigan State (Deyonta Davis, 2015-16). His decision comes less than a month after the Spartans were ousted in the second round of the NCAA Tournament by Kansas, 90-70.

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Michigan State ultimately finished 20-15 overall and the season was filled with a lot of “what if” questions — What if they had their full complement of players for an entire season? What if head coach Tom Izzo had taken the training wheels off his freshman sooner? What if senior Eron Harris had not gotten hurt late in the season? All are questions that will remain as pure speculation.

What we do know is that the official return of Bridges puts Michigan State, albeit months away from the beginning of next season, immediately among the top contenders to win a national title… at least according to Vegas.

Michigan State and Kentucky currently have the best odds to win the 2018 national title. And it’s a Kentucky team that will be reloading once again, as they have a whole rotation of five new 5-star prospects coming in.

NCAA Basketball: Battle 4 Atlantis-Wichita State vs Michigan State
Nov 25, 2016; Paradise Island, BAHAMAS; Michigan State Spartans head coach Tom Izzo speaks with guard Miles Bridges (22) during the first half against the Wichita State Shockers in the 2016 Battle 4 Atlantis in the Imperial Arena at the Atlantis Resort. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

But back to Bridges and the Spartans. The decision comes after Miles’ father Raymond suggested that his phenom son should return for another season, citing that it would be perfect for his development into becoming a star at the professional level. The elder Bridges felt that with a replenished front court for Michigan State, Miles could play on the wing with regularity and not have to worry about wearing multiple hats for Izzo.

Because of the injuries and Izzo always having to shuffle the lineups, the Hall of Fame coach often leaned on Bridges to do everything, from contesting with big men down low (Bridges stands 6-foot-7 and 220 pounds) to running the offense like a point guard and creating plays for himself. But with at least one veteran big man returning (Gavin Schilling) and potentially another (Ben Carter) from season-long injuries, along with two high-profile freshman forwards coming in next season, Bridges will not have to fight his way in the paint nearly as much as he was asked, even though he was more than capable.

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If one were to look at the team stats, Bridges was everything for Michigan State this past season. He led the Spartans in minutes played per game (32.0 — no other MSU player played more than 23.0 per game), points (16.9) and rebounds (8.3), and only fellow freshman Joshua Langford (41.6 percent) shot better from downtown than Bridges (38.9 percent). Simply put, he is a match-up nightmare for opposing teams.

Photo Credit: Carly Geraci/Flickr

It’s scary to imagine how much better Bridges and the Spartans can improve on from this past season. The other three freshman for MSU that make up “The Class” — Nick Ward, Cassius Winston and the aforementioned Joshua Langford — will all have a year of college ball under their belt and be leading the team. Fans of MSU saw Izzo slowly but surely let this quartet carry the way towards the end of the season. The success of the Spartans was directly correlated to how those four freshmen played.

It’s important to note that this remains pure hype until next fall, as anything can happen between now and then. We saw MSU lose both Schilling and Carter just weeks before the season tipped off, and it immediately set the Spartans back a step or two. All fingers are crossed that something like that doesn’t happen again to any key names.

There is a major trickle-down effect to Bridges returning. He is the type of player that makes everyone around him that much better when he is on the floor. A rejuvenated lineup allows players to play their more natural positions. And it allows for some of the soon-to-be veterans, namely Lourawls ‘Tum Tum’ Nairn Jr., Matt McQuaid and Kenny Goins — three players who Izzo relied heavily on to contribute maybe more than what is expected of them — to play in a role more suited for them, but also be viable assets in a pinch.

Here is something else to consider:

The 2013-14 team (left) was a team that was ranked high in the polls all season, including at No. 1 for three weeks, and ultimately finished the year at 29-9, losing in the Elite 8 to eventual champion Connecticut. The graphic above would be merely a suggestion that, based on recruitment composite rankings, next year’s club could and perhaps should finish better than the 2013-14 Michigan State club.

Michigan State fans everywhere are ecstatic to have Miles Bridges for another season. Fans of other Big Ten schools are already hiding away somewhere of the potential damage he and MSU could cause come next season.

Written by Alex Muller

MSU Graduate. Just a city boy born and raised in south Detroit. Baseball is life, a pitcher at heart. Freelance writer for MIPrepZone (News-Herald, Press & Guide).

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