Michigan State will take the court in this weekend’s Final Four led by junior Cassius Winston. He’s among the Big Ten’s leaders in scoring (fourth), 3-point percentage (12th), free throw percentage (fourth), assists per game (first, third nationally), 3-point FGs made (tied for sixth) and assist-to-turnover ratio (third, 30th nationally). He’s also second nationally in assists.
Here are five things that make the 6-1 guard valuable to the Spartans.
“Cool, Calm and Collected”
While it has been widely documented Michigan State coach Tom Izzo has a loud, fiery approach to coaching, the team values Winston’s ability to stay calm. “He’s never too emotional,” sophomore forward Xavier Tillman said. “He’s always just steady. Cool, calm and collected. It helps in tense situations.”
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Freshman forward Thomas Kithier believes it was Winston’s coolness that helped the Spartans endure their three-game losing streak that included losses to unranked Illinois and Indiana. “We had a team meeting after we got back from Illinois,” Kithier said. “Cash was the main guy talking: ‘We’re going to be good, this happens in basketball, we’re going to do bigger things.’”
Final Four moood 💃 pic.twitter.com/SHTXjVVgla— Spartan Vision (@Spartan_Vision) April 1, 2019
That influence is what Winton considers to be his job. “That’s just my job for this team,” he said after Michigan State’s 68-67 win against Duke in the Elite Eight. “It’s a big game. I don’t blame people for being nervous, it’s my job to keep us composed, keep us afloat.”
Winston’s “take over ability”
Great players want the ball in their hands in big moments, and that’s how Winston feels. Multiple players credit Winston’s ability to put the team on his shoulders when things are going wrong. “I remember back in November (against Louisiana-Monroe) Nick (Ward) got hurt and Josh (Langford) had to sit because of fouls,” senior forward Kenny Goins said. “He scored 14 points in the final few minutes of the first half to give us a spark.”
Izzo was impressed with what he saw. “To know that he’s gotta take over,” he said after the game. “Cassius did what great players gotta do. They gotta get the ball rolling, and he got it rolling.”
He’s a Point Guard Who Can Score
Winston leads the team in scoring with an average of 18.9 points. With Langford injured, Winston is just one of three players on the active roster averaging more than 10 points per game. Tillman averages 10.1 as a starter, and Ward averages 13.2 points off the bench.
“He’s won the Player of the Year in his conference for a reason,” Texas Tech senior guard Matt Mooney said. “When you have a guy who can pass and shoot, they’re tough to guard and anybody would have a tough time guarding him.
Passes as Well As He Scores
Winston has had a record-breaking year passing the ball. His 289 assists are Michigan State and Big Ten single-season records. The total is second highest in the nation. His 7.6 assists per game average is third best. As a team, the Spartans have 709 assists this season, which ranks first in the nation.
This ability creates problems for a defense. “It definitely takes a team effort to guard Winston,” Texas Tech sophomore guard Jarrett Culver said. “When a guy can find an open man while on a drive, it keeps the entire team on our feet.”
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Not only does Winston pass the ball well, he takes care of it. He has a 2.63 assist-to-turnover ratio this season.
He’s One of a Kind
Winston is the only player in the country to average at least 18 points and seven assists and shoot at least 40 percent from 3-point range this season. Since the 1992-93 season, Winston is just the 18th Division I player to have averaged at least 18 points and 7 assists. He has scored 20 points or more 20 times this season and accounts for 24.1 percent of the Spartans’ scoring as well as 40.8 percent (289 of 709) of their assists this season.
He is also just the fourth Spartan player in program history to score at least 1,200 points while passing for at least 600 assists in a season. He joins Scott Skiles (1982-86), Denzel Valentine (2012-16) and Mateen Cleaves (1996-2000). “He’s earned his way,” said Izzo. “He’s gone through the process, he’s gone through a tough year, he’s made commitments to himself and the team.”