After witnessing the comeback at Northwestern in person on Saturday I was all set to write about Cassius Winston this week. The incredible second half turnaround doesn’t happen without Winston leading the way, both as a scorer, and a facilitator. He was in complete control in the second half of that game and the team responded to him. He was also playing with extreme confidence, as evidenced by some of the shots he took without hesitation.
It has been said many times by many different people over the course of this season that while Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson are lottery picks, Cassius Winston is the key to this Michigan State team and how far they will go. They go as he goes. When he is turning the ball over or indecisive, they struggle. When he is playing with confidence and in control of the game, they are as good as anyone, as Northwestern found out first hand.
All this was floating around in my head and then came a story from The Athletic, where Seth Davis published some comments from anonymous coaches regarding several teams. The blurb about Michigan State was quite interesting. While most of it was hard to argue with, there was this curious statement about MSU’s starting point guard:
“Cassius Winston is their weak link because he’s not overly athletic. He’ll make shots, but they have to run a set. He facilitates, but he doesn’t necessarily get anybody else looks.”
Cassius Winston is Michigan State’s weak link. Cassius Winston. The guy who just helped lead the biggest comeback in Big Ten history, is the weak link. If this is the case then there is no reason to even play the rest of the season because if Winston is the weak link for the Spartans you might as well give them the national title now.
Here are some stats this coach might want to consider regarding Winston. Let’s start with some advanced stats courtesy of kenpom.
To start, Michigan State leads the nation in assists rate at 69.3 percent. That is almost a full four points ahead of the second place team. I would believe the starting point guard is at least somewhat responsible for that figure.
On an individual basis, Winston is among the national leaders in several different areas. He is 17th out of 2151 players in kenpom’s offensive rating stat. He is 16th nationally (out 1280 players) in eFG% at 66.5. Winston checks in at third nationally in true shooting percentage (69.9) and assist rate (44.4). And he is second nationally in three-point shooting at 53.9 percent.
That three-point shooting percentage is on pace to blow away the current MSU single season record, held by Kirk Manns at 50.7% set back in the 1988-89 season.
That isn’t the only spot in the record books Winston is looking to leave a mark this year. He is also working his way up the single season assist record list. During the Northwestern game he became just the sixth player in school history to record 200 assists in a season. He is currently at 204 dimes, which puts him one ahead of Scott Skiles for eighth best all time.
If he holds to his seven assists per game average, Winston will be sitting alone in fifth place at the end of the regular season, and will likely move into fourth before the end of the Big Ten tournament.
By the way, if you are looking at the stats for the Big Ten season only, Winston is fourth overall in ORtg, seventh in eFG%, third in true shooting percentage, and first in assist rate and three-point percentage. He is also sixth in the conference in free throw percentage and 20th in fouls drawn and 13th in free throw rate. All this while playing over 68% of the minutes.
You could make a case that not only is Winston the most valuable member of the Spartans, he is probably one of the most valuable players in the Big Ten.
I guess it’s no surprise that with Winston as the weak link, Michigan State is closing in on another Big Ten championship.
Which leads perfectly into…
Big Ten Titles
With a win over Illinois on senior night Michigan State can claim at least a share of their first Big Ten regular season title since 2012. It would be the eighth regular season title for Tom Izzo, to go along with five Big Ten Tournament titles.
The eight conference titles would move Izzo into a tie with Walter Meanwell (Wisconsin) for the third most in conference history, trailing only Bob Knight and Ward Lambert, who had 11 each.
The five years in between titles would be the longest drought for MSU since they went seven years between titles from 2002-2008.
With two wins this week, the Spartans can claim their first outright Big Ten regular season title since 2009. It would also be the fourth outright title under Tom Izzo and just the seventh overall in program history.
In addition to a win on Tuesday claiming at least a share of the regular season title, the Spartans would also lock up at least the two seed in the Big Ten Tournament. One more win or one more Ohio State loss gives them the top seed in Madison Square Garden.