Something strange happened in Portland last month that hasn’t happened before. Michigan State Spartans sophomore guard Joshua Langford scored more than 20 points, 24 in fact, and was the star for the Spartans. On top of that, his performance came on a national stage against North Carolina.
The start of the year has begged the question – what if Langford becomes a standout player?
Langford has shown flashes before, and was arguably the second most intriguing member of the 2020 class. But after last year, Langford was almost an after thought behind the rest of the Michigan State starters.
Miles Bridges is the unquestioned superstar, returning for unfinished business. Jaren Jackson Jr. is the freshman phenom expected to showcase his talents before jumping to the NBA. Nick Ward is the breakout star from last year, showing a post presence well beyond his years. Even Cassius Winston is being talked as one of the best true point guards in the country.
Then there is Langford, thought of as a defensive necessity and a virtual pivot guard on offense. If anyone was going to get pulled for either a bigger lineup or a sharpshooter, it was going to be Langford.
But against North Carolina, Langford was a star. For a few minutes, let’s live in a world Langford truly is that player.
His career high point total was more than double the next closest Spartans player. The majority of his damage from beyond the arc, going 5-7 from three.
Since that game, Langford has scored 17, 8 and 15 points. With the best two of those performances coming in a game against Notre Dame and then Rutgers, in games the Spartans needed him the most.
If this is the Langford MSU fans can expect going forward, that puts a stress on defenses that is almost unstoppable. For now, the way to beat Michigan State is by avoiding points in the paint and forcing shots from deep, not allowing Jackson, Ward and Bridges to score at the rim. But if Langford can be that true threat from deep, there is no way to safely help anywhere on the court.
In a small sample size, Langford’s three-point percentage is up to nearly 48% compared to just 41% last year. Even if that levels off to only (*only*) 45%, Langford is going to be a threat that can’t be ignored.
On a team with so many scorers, there was a chance that Langford could have seen his scoring options drop off, but instead he’s shooting at a higher clip and with more confidence. He’s become a steadying force that has helped the Spartans stay afloat during stretches of scoring droughts against both Notre Dame and Rutgers.
Izzo said Joshua Langford has learned to handle success and failure much better since the start of the season. "I think he's made great progress and he's getting more confident."— Casey Harrison (@Casey_Harrison1) November 28, 2017
The emergence of Langford does two enormous things for the Michigan State program both in the immediate and in the future. Already a favorite to dominate the Big Ten and earn one of the top seeds in the NCAA Tournament, Langford could put the Spartans in position to make a historic run into April.
Beyond that, the Spartans are almost certainly losing both Bridges and Jackson after this year, if not more. Tom Izzo will need someone to take over as the leader of the team. Listen, it’s too much to project Langford to be one of the Izzo four year stars along with Draymond Green or Denzel Valentine – but screw it, we’re doing it anyway.