Bilas: MSU hoops can ‘make a run at the whole thing’

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — Expectations are always high around Michigan State’s basketball program and that will be no different when the Spartans take the court late this fall.

The early rankings are already starting to come in and Michigan State is near the top of most, settling at No. 2 in The Sporting News’ early top 25 that was released on Tuesday.

And there are plenty of reasons to believe that billing is justified, putting the Spartans in prime position to compete for not only a Big Ten championship but delivering Tom Izzo that coveted second national title.

The return of Miles Bridges is reason No. 1 that ESPN analyst Jay Bilas believes the Spartans are among the best teams in the country heading into the 2017-18 season.

“It’s a huge deal,” Bilas said. “To bring back not only a tremendous amount of talent but maturity and experience is a gigantic gain for Michigan State.

“Michigan State winds up getting Nick Ward and Miles Bridges back and then Ben Carter is healthy and has another year, stuff like that. That bodes well for having a great year. I think Michigan State is really well-positioned to have one of those years where they can make a run at the whole thing.”

As usual, Michigan State will test itself with a difficult schedule, including a matchup with Duke in the Champions Classic, a yet-to-be-named opponent in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and a spot in the PK80 Tournament in Portland, Ore., in late November that includes a matchup with Georgetown and potential games with Connecticut, Oregon, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Arkansas.

“I think it’s awesome and I’m really excited about it,” Bilas said of the event that includes the likes of Duke, Florida, Butler and Gonzaga in another bracket. “To have two tournaments side by side with the caliber of competition that we’re gonna see is unprecedented. It’s really extraordinary. I almost can’t wait to start.”

Michigan State’s place in that tournament brings plenty of attention, but the Spartans already have been turning heads with the return of Bridges, the potential freshman-to-sophomore jumps of Ward, Cassius Winston and Joshua Langford as well as the arrival of freshmen Jaren Jackson Jr. and Xavier Tillman.

It’s enough that has Bilas thinking big things are set to happen in East Lansing.

“If everybody is healthy and they get great guard play,” Bilas said. “Winston is coming back and he’s a special player. (Tum Tum) Nairn is a coming back and he’s a great leader. They lost a few things, but to have so many quality players back and have them healthy … Langford is back, too. So you got so many guys coming back that have had experience and have been through it and I think Michigan State has got to be confident that personnel-wise they’re not gonna be short-handed against anybody in numbers and in talent.”