When the official news came down this week that Joshua Langford was done for the year, every Michigan State Spartans fan felt the punch to the gut. The junior guard was coming on as a star this season and will leave a noticeable hole in production.
But how much does this really change things for Michigan State this year?
Langford played in the first 13 games of the season for MSU, averaging 15 points and shooting 40 percent from deep. He has also shown the ability to be a strong defender.
On the other hand, since Langford started missing time, the Spartans have gone 7-1, including wins against Purdue, Maryland and Iowa. No one is ever going to argue that the team is better without Langford, that’s absurd. But there is an argument to be made that the loss of the third-leading scorer isn’t exactly a death penalty for this specific team.
For now, the projections change for Michigan State is mostly a matter of semantics. Instead of a team that “should” make the Final Four, it’s a team that can.
What should scare Spartans fans the most right now is what could happen when (if) Cassius Winston has a bad game. The Spartans have won more than a few games already this year purely because of the dominance of their point guard. Eventually, he’s going to have an off night. With Langford on the floor, that gives MSU a dependable ball-handler who can score. Everyone around the program knows exactly what can happen if a team’s stars go cold in March and the role-players aren’t there for support.
For now, the most important thing Michigan State can do is develop confidence in freshman Gabe Brown, Aaron Henry and Foster Loyer. The three young players have already been leaned upon during Lanford’s absence, but Tom Izzo will need to develop trust that they can not only handle mid-game minutes, but crunch-time.
Despite playing well in previous games, Brown and Henry both struggled against Purdue in the loss. That led directly to the Spartans falling into a major hole, which kept Izzo from getting much playing time at all for Loyer, who still isn’t being trusted to do anything but eat minutes with a lead. With Kyle Ahrens hurt as well, MSU was working with a six to seven man rotation.
If the freshman can continue to improve, the MSU expectations could return to where they were before the Langford news. Despite the pain of losing an important player, it’s not time to start scouting the 2019-20 season just yet.