Michigan State Spartans
2018-19 record: 32-7, 16-4 in the Big Ten
Head coach: Tom Izzo
Tenure at Michigan State: 25th season
Career coaching record: 606-232
Home court: Breslin Center
Starters: G Cassius Winston, G Kyle Ahrens, F Aaron Henry, F Thomas Kithier, C Xavier Tillman
Bench: G Rocket Watts, G Foster Loyer, F Gabe Brown, F Marcus Bingham, Jr., G Joshua Langford (injured)
Overview: Since knocking off Duke in the Elite Eight en route to Izzo’s eighth Final Four appearance, Michigan State has its eyes set squarely on the national championship this year. Despite the losses of shooter Matt McQuaid and big men Nick Ward and Kenny Goins, the Spartans come out of the gates ranked No. 1 in the AP Preseason Top 25 due to one man: senior point guard and captain Cassius Winston. The first team All-American’s return to school means everything for this MSU motion offense, as he is the motor that drives the engine with his pick-and-roll and three point ability.
The return of Aaron Henry, Kyle Ahrens and Big Ten 6th Man of the Year Xavier Tillman solidify the rest of the Spartans’ core, while Thomas Kithier will likely elevate his role to round out the starting lineup. Marcus Bingham, Jr., and Gabe Brown will help space the floor off the bench, while Foster Loyer will look to back up Winston. Freshman Rocket Watts, ranked No. 33 in his class, is a versatile combo guard who projects to play a major role in the rotation as well. This is especially true considering the injury of shooting guard Joshua Langford, who missed most of last season and was supposed to return as a starter before reaggravating his ankle.
One thing that needs to go right: Paired with Izzo’s trademark hard-nosed paint defense, Winston plays at a National Player of the Year level in leading this squad to the Big Ten Championship and a berth to the biggest stage of the NCAA tournament.
One thing that could go wrong: The Spartans cannot recover from the loss of their emotional leader Langford as they fail to live up to expectations and miss the Final Four.
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