What's next for every Michigan State basketball player
Matt Charboneau of The Detroit News on what's next for all of Michigan State's potentially returning scholarship players, as well as projected incoming freshmen:
► Kyle Ahrens, junior guard/forward: The versatile wing was a key player early in the season as Matt McQuaid missed three games with an injury and Joshua Langford suffered a broken foot. But Ahrens battled back problems the second half of the season, sprained his ankle in the Big Ten tournament title game, and missed the NCAA Tournament. He’ll be back for his final season and provides the Spartans with an athletic wing who can hit a 3-pointer or two along the way.
► Joshua Langford, junior guard: It looked like the former high school All-American was primed for big things, as he scored in double figures in each of the first 12 games of the season. He left the Northern Illinois game after the first half and never returned, eventually having surgery to repair his foot. He’ll be back next season, and assuming his rehab doesn’t hit any road blocks, he should be one of Michigan State’s top scorers while also having the ability to guard opponents’ top perimeter players.
► Foster Loyer, freshman guard: It wasn’t the season some envisioned for the former Mr. Basketball in the state of Michigan. Loyer was overmatched at times during the season when he did get to play, and over the last half of the season only played sparingly as Cassius Winston was often playing the entire game. Loyer showed a glimpse of what he could become by scoring 14 against Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament. He’ll need to get stronger in the offseason and prove he can be an adequate defender to become a regular part of the rotation.
► Cassius Winston, junior guard: There’s not much more Winston could have done this season, short of leading the Spartans to the national championship. He was Big Ten Player of the Year and earned first-team All-America honors from the Associated Press and The Sporting News. There’s a chance Winston tests the NBA waters over the summer, but odds are he’ll be back for his senior season with the focus on getting stronger as his minutes likely won’t decrease.
► Aaron Henry, freshman guard/forward: The athletic wing had his share of first-year growing pains, but showed late in the season why the coaching staff is so high on him and why folks at the next level will start paying closer attention. He can get to the basket and improved on his shooting over the last few weeks while becoming Michigan State’s best perimeter defender over the final few weeks of the season. A player to watch next season, Henry should be on the verge of a breakout.
► Gabe Brown, freshman forward: The playing time wasn’t consistent for the first-year player, and that hurt his consistency. But a career-high 15 points in the Sweet 16 win over LSU showed the big upside for the sharpshooter. He’s not afraid to shoot, and when he’s confident, he can get hot in a hurry. The key for Brown becoming part of the rotation is becoming a solid defender, something that was his biggest challenge this season.
► Thomas Kithier, freshman forward: For what he was asked to do, Kithier had an impressive first season for the Spartans. Not expected to play that much, he excelled in spot duty whenever Xavier Tillman and Nick Ward found themselves in foul trouble and was a steady performer when Ward missed five games with a broken hand. He understands the game well and plays hard. An offseason of working on his strength will only help Kithier, who almost certainly will see his role grow next season.
►Xavier Tillman, sophomore forward: From the opener against Kansas, no player made a bigger jump this season than Tillman. He went from Nick Ward’s backup to a guy that was playing roughly 30 minutes a game over the last few weeks of the season, taking advantage of Ward’s injury by grabbing a starting spot and not letting go. He scored in double figures in five of the last seven games and even hit a 3-pointer in each of the last three games. One of the smartest players on the court, Tillman also can guard nearly any position, and should be primed for a big junior season.
► Marcus Bingham Jr., freshman forward: The 6-foot-11 first-year player only saw spot minutes all season as he worked to put some bulk on his 215-pound frame. That will be the key in the offseason for Bingham — getting stronger. He’s got the ability to score from the perimeter, but he’ll need to be able to rebound and guard bigger opponents to be part of the rotation. If he does that, he could be a difference-maker who would be a matchup problem for most opponents.
►Nick Ward, junior forward: It had to be a frustrating season for the big man, who was one of the most efficient scorers in the country for the first two-thirds of the season. However, the broken hand suffered in mid-February derailed a fine season. He missed the next five games and returned for the Big Ten tournament, but he struggled to get back into playing shape as he got used to playing with a pad on his hand. It was even tougher as Xavier Tillman was taking off in Ward’s place. He’ll likely explore leaving for the NBA, as he did last season. If he does return, it likely would be in a support role, much like he played over the last couple of weeks.
► Malik Hall, forward: The four-star recruit is the lone player signed at the moment, and brings plenty of athleticism. It’s a crowded position group, but Hall can get to the basket and shoots the ball better than some might realize. He’s a good rebounder and defender, two things that could get him on the court sooner than any other attribute.
► Rocket Watts, guard: Rated in the top 35 players in the nation, the combo guard is a scoring machine who likely will make an immediate impact on Michigan State’s offense. He’s a good shooter who also can get in the lane and attack the basket. He’s been committed for a long time, and has said recently he intends to sign later this month.
► Julius Marble, forward: A late bloomer, the Dallas native had an outstanding senior season. At 6-8 and 225 pounds, Marble is athletic and strong and fits many of the attributes of a Tom Izzo program with the ability to defend and rebound. He’s improved greatly as a scorer and depending on Ward’s status, could find himself getting regular minutes in his first season with the Spartans.