WE ARE BACK GANG!
Welcome back to basketball season after an offseason that felt like it was roughly three weeks long. I swear Kenny Goins was burying daggers in the eyes of Zion Williamson just the other day.
I’m pumped for this whole thing to start again just based off of how fun last year’s team was. And I’m not even talking about the success they had – winning the Las Vegas tournament, beating Michigan three times in second half comebacks, winning two Big Ten titles and heading to the Final Four. Yeah, that was kind of pretty awesome, but just the guys on the team made last season a blast.
The chemistry was A+. Watching Cassius Winston play basketball is the 21st century version of watching Van Gogh do his work in real time. Xavier Tillman doing (name literally anything) is a blast to watch. Aaron Henry, Thomas Kithier and Gabe Brown were thrilling to watch grow as freshmen. Foster Loyer and Marcus Bingham are due for big years. The freshmen stable of Rocket Watts, Malik Hall and Julius Marble will be exciting to watch.
Last year’s season was a blast. This year’s season will be a whole lot of fun too, but now they have those dreaded high expectations over them all year.
So let’s talk about that expectations elephant in the room. You like how bubbly and positive those last few paragraphs were? Well, I’m going to drag us straight down to earth for a hot second (I’m sorry, but I’m just trying to prepare us).
Let’s list last year’s accomplishments one more time, because it’s that fun to rehash.
· Big Ten regular season champs, again
· Big Ten Tournament champs
· 3-0 against in-state Big Ten teams
· Beating a team with three top ten NBA picks to reach a Final Four
Alright, I’m not going to say that kind of success is impossible to replicate…but it will be very, very, very hard to do. The only other times MSU has swept the Big Ten titles, the series against Michigan and reached a Final Four was in the 1999 and 2000 seasons.
So other than being a world class Debbie Downer, what am I trying to say? I guess just don’t be shocked if they can’t replicate last season’s success. Could they do it? Absolutely. Should they do it? Yeah…probably. Will they do it? I don’t know…the tournament is a crapshoot even with the best teams.
Alright now that I got you all in a mopey mood (sorry about that, I’ll give you a Fireball shot on Saturday if we run into each other tailgating), let’s talk about concerns. The three glaring ones are Kenny Goins, Matt McQuaid and Nick Ward all being gone. That’s 129 3-pointers between Goins and McQuaid to be missing plus Goins’ rebounding and McQuaid’s perimeter defense. With Ward, that’s 12.9 points and 6.1 rebounds to fill in for.
I’ve also got a hunch that turnovers will once again be an issue early on in the season as the team combines their new lineups with their urge to play fast. Then again, what would a MSU season be without that problem?
With those concerns on the table, I love MSU’s prospective solutions. I feel like between Aaron Henry, Gabe Brown, Rocket Watts and MY BOY FOSTER LOYER, the 3-point void can be filled enough to make it work. Maybe not 129 3-pointers between them, but it will be enough to keep the 3-point threat alive. And this team will be aggressive in getting to the rim, so the reliance on what happens behind the arc will be a smidge less than what it was last season anyway. Brown and Henry’s perimeter defense was solid last year and Izzo has been high on their improvement in that regard this offseason. He’s also talked about how strong Watts can be on defense too.
As for filling in for Ward, I don’t really know what to think to shoot you all straight. Yes, Tillman surpassed him last season but let’s not forget the value Ward brought to the table. Can Kithier, Bingham and Marble fill the void that Ward’s 20.8 minutes, 12.9 points and 6.1 rebounds per game? We know one of those options is guaranteed to be at least solid in Kithier. We’ll see how closer to his ceiling Bingham got. And Marble remains a mystery.
Here are the five regular season games I’m most excited for this season, ranked:
5. Michigan State at Seton Hall
4. The whole Maui Invitational
3. MSU vs. Kentucky
2. Any game against Michigan
1. MSU vs. Duke (considering selling a kidney on the black market to buy tickets)
Last but not least, I love this time of year. I call it Gravy Season. Why? Because everything good you do is all gravy.
You lose a marquee game before conference play? Alright, in the grand scheme of things it really doesn’t matter. You win these big games? WELL BOY HOWDY, IT’S THE GREATEST THING EVER! IT’S ALL GRAVY FROM HERE ON OUT, BABY.
Early in the season you get to look forward to great players taking the court again and/or watching young players find their way into the system. MSU is an “and” member, getting to do both early on. This will be a fun November and December before jumping straight into Big Ten play.