Before Tuesday night’s showdown at Madison Square Garden, there were plenty of questions.
Some were bigger than others, so we wrote down five questions before the game to be answered after the final buzzer. Now, there’s only so much we can draw from an opening night game, but there were still some answers for the following five questions.
How does Aaron Henry look in his increased role?
Well, thanks to his honorary Jaren Jackson Two Fouls Before The First Media Timeout Special, we got a limited sample. Overall, he looked solid in my opinion in the second half. There were some moments where maybe he could’ve taken the rock to the basket when MSU needed aggression but, for the most part, he made it happen. He finished with nine points and pretty good defense on the other end as well.
This season isn’t going to be “wow, Henry is a nice surprise as a freshman!” It’s going to have to be “yep, Henry has to be the man when MSU needs him to be as a sophomore” and we saw glimpses of that on Tuesday.
How’s the 4 position shaking out?
It’s looking…interesting. I thought Thomas Kithier had a good game – he’s so good at just slipping away mysteriously and ending up under the hoop all by himself for an easy assist and bucket.
Marcus Bingham was the epitome of a roller coaster. Opened with an airball on a long two, followed it up with a stretch of pretty good basketball for the next four minutes but then capped it with a bad turnover in his first stint on the court. He finished with seven points, six boards, a steal and a block in his 17 minutes of work. He’s still a work in progress, but you could see the improvements already.
I thought Julius Marble, in his four minutes, played as good as you could ask him. No points, but some good defensive moments (including the “foul” that was called on him right when he got in) and a pair of boards.
Overall, I think we’re going to like that rotation a lot. Start Kithier, chase with Bingham, roll out Marble when we need to.
How will Cassius look against a great test in Hagans and Co.?
To Cassius Winston’s standards? OK. To normal standards? Pretty good! The 1-7 outside shooting wasn’t great, and getting into foul trouble with eight minutes left in the game wasn’t ideal (jury is still out on how many of those were actually fouls). But he also went to work and got a bucket or got to the line when MSU was against the ropes more times than not.
That’s one of the stingiest backcourt defenses Winston and Co. will see all year, and he did it with Henry on the bench all first half and Rocket Watts having a not-so-great debut. For Winston, 21 points and four assists is pedestrian, but I would give it an overall positive grade against that athletic Wildcats team.
What do we make of the freshmen/sophomores?
Let’s talk about the young players we haven’t riffed on yet…
Gabe Brown: Pretty decent season debut for Brown, knocking down a pair of threes and also ending on 3-10 shooting on the night. For better or for worse, Brown will have to be a shooter for this team. The good news? He looked confident with his shot and saw the ball go down early.
Foster Loyer: Look, I’m a huge Foster Loyer guy. I know he can be a walking bucket and I think he can do good things here. However, I’m already a bit concerned and wondering if he can be a key factor this year. The only scenario I need to think this is when Winston went to the bench with eight minutes left, it wasn’t the sophomore backup point guard getting the nod. It was Rocket Watts getting the call to play point guard in those key minutes. To me, that says A LOT.
Malik Hall: Fine, nothing too notable. Other than the fact it will take until January to get used to him wearing No. 25. Definitely excited to see more of him.
Rocket Watts: We all know that was not a great game for Rocket. It will only get better for him. What I did like was his confidence right off the bat and his defense. He’s got to clean up the lackadaisical passes, especially against an athletic team like Kentucky. Rocket will be fine – he just got the worst game he’ll have this season out of his system immediately.
How does the shooting look like without McQuaid and Langford?
It was a gong show of sorts behind the arch, going 2-11 in the first half and 3-15 in the second half for a grand total 3-point shooting display of 5-26. And a good handful of those were open misses in the second half that could’ve cut the deficit to a one possession game. I get the thought that these shots are going to fall eventually…but do we really know that? This team is missing a knockdown shooter without McQuaid and Langford, and we’ll have to hope that one of Watts, Brown, Henry, Ahrens or someone else can step up and be that guy. That’s not a guarantee.
And maybe I’m looking too much into this, but if we are drawing up Xavier Tillman baseline threes out of a timeout down four with 3:40 to go…oh boy.