Last year’s Michigan State basketball team differed from typical Tom Izzo squads in a variety of ways.
But there was no more stark difference between last year’s 15-loss team and most MSU hoops teams of the past two decades than size. It was one of, if not the biggest story of the Spartans’ season last year as injuries to big men Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter erased any type of frontcourt depth Izzo hoped to have coming into the year.
But for how frustrating it was at times to watch the inexperienced Nick Ward and the undersized Kenny Goins man the center position last season, it should be equally satisfying to watch the potent lineup of bigs Izzo will be able to trot out next year.
Everything will start with Ward up front, who was a revelation for the Spartans last year, averaging 13.9 points and 6.3 rebounds in 19.8 minutes per game. He went from MSU’s fourth-best recruit to one of the most egregious All-Big Ten Freshman Team snubs in recent memory by showcasing elite hands and touch around the rim.
While Ward found himself on the bench for long stretches last year because of foul trouble and defensive lapses, he should be able to cut down on both going into next season. And if he is forced to the pine, it won’t be nearly as crippling to MSU because of the reinforcements the Spartans have behind him.
The aforementioned Schilling and Carter will both return to the lineup after Carter was somewhat surprisingly granted a sixth-year of eligibility recently. Both are 6-foot-9 and should provide much more productive minutes than the undersized Goins behind Ward at the five position.
Schilling’s defense was sorely missed last year as Ward often struggled to guard when he got pulled out on the perimeter — an area where Schilling excels. He likely won’t be a significant offensive contributor outside of dunks and putbacks, but Schilling’s defense and screen-setting will be a game-changer. Conversely, Carter has the potential to give the Spartans a bit of an offensive spark with his more polished post-up game and ability to knock down mid-range jump shots.
The addition of Schilling and Carter allows Goins to slide back into a reserve role at his natural power-forward position, likely behind heralded recruit Jaren Jackson (6-foot-10), who will further bolster Michigan State’s inside presence both directly and indirectly. Newcomer Xavier Tillman may not log a ton of minutes as a freshman, but his 6-foot-9, 250 pound frame could come in handy if MSU finds itself in foul trouble or gets bitten by the injury bug again.
The domino effect of Michigan State’s replenished frontcourt also extends to the Spartans’ best player Miles Bridges. The 6-foot-7 lottery talent will be able to slide into his more natural role at small forward, as opposed to power forward where he was forced to play last year. That could not only lead to more production on both ends for Bridges, but also a lineup with three big-time rebounders at any given time.
After laboring through a season with only one legitimate big man, Izzo will now have an embarrassment of riches in the post. The MSU program prides itself on toughness, specifically when it comes to rebounding, and with a loaded frontcourt the Spartans are ready to do a complete 180 from last year and return to being a Big Ten bully.