Michigan State has the most hype of any team going into the 2019-20 college basketball season. Our Andy Katz has the Spartans ranked No. 1 in his early list, and he's not the only one.
Here are three reasons to be excited about Michigan State.
They were awesome last year, and Joshua Langford should be back and healthy
Michigan State was a No. 2 seed in the 2019 NCAA tournament. Going into the season, its two best players were Cassius Winston and Joshua Langford.
Langford missed 26 games, yet the Spartans still went 32-7 and reached the Final Four. And he'll be back next year. Winston blossomed into a legitimate superstar in his absence, averaging 18.8 points and 7.5 assists.
Michigan State loses Nick Ward, but Xavier Tillman had essentially taken his role by the end of last season. Tillman is an underrated two-way big who was immensely valuable to the Spartans, and most core pieces return.
But Langford's presence could be particularly valuable. Winston was phenomenal, but the Spartans lacked a second quality shot creator against the stingiest defenses last year. Langford fits that role perfectly. He was averaging 15 points on 40.3 percent 3-point shooting before his injury, and should be able to take a lot of the pressure off of Winston.
With that said, Winston should maintain about 90 percent of the aggression he played with as the lone alpha dog. He shouldn't revert to being a passer first and a scorer second. But Langford undeniably elevates Michigan State's ceiling, which was high to begin with.
They don't have an obvious weakness
Michigan State ranked fifth in offense and ninth in defense last year, per KenPom. A lot of schools have one end of the floor down, but struggle the on the other. Not the Spartans. They have the type of balance you need to win a national title.
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Yes, they'll lose some complementary players in Ward, Matt McQuaid and Kenny Goins. But those guys are replaceable; Langford is an upgrade over McQuaid, and the Spartans seemingly had more bigs than they knew what to do with last year. Tom Izzo welcomes an extremely talented freshman class in Malik Hall, Rocket Watts and Julius Marble that can help plug those holes. The Spartans will rely on freshmen to fill certain roles, but don't need them to carry the load. That's an ideal scenario.
Michigan State can play big or small. It can shoot; the Spartans drained 37.8 percent of their 3s last year. They can offensive rebound, but also don't allow many transition points. They rarely turn the ball over and have a bona fide star player.
The Spartans are loaded on both sides of the ball.
Winston is flat-out brilliant
We broke it down in our early 2020 Naismith Award contenders list, and Winston may be at the front of the pack. Here's a snippet of what we said:
"Winston was such a boss last year. There were questions about whether or not he would be able to carry an offense, or if he was merely a high-level facilitator. We got our answer. He's both.
"Winston averaged 18.8 points and 7.5 assists last season on 39.8 percent 3-point shooting. He did his best work with Langford and Ward sidelined near the end of the regular season. Many expected the shorthanded Spartans to falter, but Winston wouldn't let them. Michigan State's effectiveness spiked with his usage rate."
Bottom line: when you have a player as good as Winston either taking the shot or passing to the guy who's going to take the shot, your offense is going to be really good because he might be the best decision-maker in college basketball. He's an elite passer with serious 3-point range, and rarely turns the ball over.
If you had a college basketball draft right now, Winston might be the first pick. That's huge in a team context. Michigan State has all of the ingredients to bring a title back to East Lansing.