The Spartans are in the Bahamas for The Battle 4 Atlantis tournament and the field is loaded.
If history is any indication, odds are Michigan State will make the Final Four if they win The Battle 4 Atlantis. The last two champions of this tournament have done just that — Wisconsin Badgers in 2014 and the Syracuse Orange in 2015. Ok, it doesn’t always work like that but we’re trying here.
Let’s take a look at the field and, more specifically, MSU’s first opponent.
The Battle 4 Atlantis
This is Sparty’s first time participating in the Bahamas-based tournament that is entering its sixth year and has featured a Big Ten team every year except for the first.
Spartan fans can expect an extremely competitive tournament. This year’s participants are Louisville, Wichita State, Baylor, LSU VCU, St. John’s and Old Dominion, programs that, along with MSU, combine for 30 Final Four appearances in the past decade.
Fun fact — all the games are played in the Imperial Arena, which is actually a grand ballroom repurposed into a basketball venue for the occasion.
Getting to know The Red Storm
Michigan State’s first opponent is a St. John's team that features a couple familiar faces. The first is their new Head Coach, former NBA player Chris Mullin, who has been tasked with turning around a team that went 8-24 a year ago. The other is former MSU forward Marvin Clark Jr, who is sitting out the season after transferring last year.
College basketball fans may very well be looking at the best class of freshmen the nation has ever seen, and St John’s looks like they have two special youngsters of their own. The Red Storm (2-3) have two freshmen in Marcus LoVett and Shamorie Ponds that are already huge contributors this year.
Just recently St. John's lost a nail biter to Big Ten counterpart Minnesota, but not without a valiant effort by their young duo. Ponds logged 23 points and 8 boards while LoVett ended up with 31 pts and 5 assists. The only upper classman starter for the Red Storm, Bashir Ahmed, ended up having a successful night as well. Much like the Spartans this years St Johns team is going to be led by their freshmen.
Michigan State guards need to play good defense all night against the talented back court, as LoVett and Ponds are both averaging more than 30 minutes a game so far. Look for a steady diet of Josh Langford, whom Izzo has eluded to as the team’s best on ball defender, and Bahamas native Tum Tum Nairn in defense.
Freshmen Taking Over
We might be close to seeing as many as three or four starting freshmen for Michigan State.
One of them, Miles Bridges, already starts and, yeah, need we say more?
Miles. Freakin. Bridges. pic.twitter.com/ZzdjjhjmCV— Phil Byrne (@Phil_Byrne) November 19, 2016
Bridges isn’t the only freshman ready to take the reins — Nick Ward, Josh Langford and Cassius Winston look like they aren’t far behind.
Ward provides the only real size on the roster and is already looking comfortable. His post moves should remind Spartan fans of a young Zach Randolph although he could use a little more touch around the rim. Ward is probably the closest to getting his name into the starting lineup.
Langford’s defense and shooting would provide a much needed scoring spark alongside Eron Harris and would relegate Matt McQuaid, currently a one-dimensional player whose one dimension (shooting) isn’t going well, to a more suitable bench role.
The final member of “The Class” is Winston, who is already averaging more points and assists per game than starting point guard Tum Tum Nairn Jr. Nairn is a quick, elusive and crafty guard but ultimately he does not trust his shot and, with the way the offense has stalled out at times, Michigan State can ill afford to have a point guard on the floor who will not shoot a jumper. Right now, Nairn will remain the starter as the game seems to still be moving just a bit too fast for Winston but sometime during the Big Ten season he will probably be the starter.
As this group goes, so will the Spartans.
Bottom Line and Prediction
After a too-close-for-comfort victory over Florida Gulf Coast, Tom Izzo is done fooling around. He is sick of feeling like this team is soft out on the court, as he puts it “I want to be honest, I don’t give a damn if we are walking on our hands and knees, we are going to practice harder and play harder.”
This was probably the hardest week of practice this team has had all year and in a short week Izzo will have this team mentally and physically prepared for anything. Izzo is done playing “sissy ball” and he certainly expressed that in his post game presser.
The team is hungry, they have all the tools and now is the time for everything to come together for Michigan State and Tom Izzo. Turnovers and personal fouls will both be at a season low for Sparty which will lead them to a good fundamental basketball victory.