MSU point guard Cassius Winston talks about what the team accomplished, and the disappointment of falling in the NCAA Tournament. Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
Detroit — Michigan State’s run in the NCAA Tournament run ended well before the Spartans expected it to.
The question now is if the run is over for at least a couple of underclassmen who are potential lottery picks if they declare for this summer’s NBA Draft.
In the moments after Michigan State’s 55-53 loss to Syracuse in the second round the Midwest Region at Little Caesars Arena, neither sophomore Miles Bridges nor freshman Jaren Jackson Jr. gave any indication of which way they’re leaning.
“I appreciate you asking the question but I’m not thinking about that,” Jackson said. “No, I really don’t (have a timetable). That’s not a stock answer. I have no idea.”
Most mock drafts have the 6-foot-11 Jackson going somewhere in the top five picks, which makes it seem likely he’ll head to the NBA after just one season. However, that is hardly a guarantee as Bridges showed when he decided to come back.
As for Bridges, it has seemed likely for some time that this is his last season. On Senior Night at Breslin Center a few weeks ago, Bridges addressed the crowd as if he had played his last home game.
And when coach Tom Izzo talked after the game on Sunday, he sounded like he believes he’s coached Bridges for the last time. However, he wasn’t saying 100 percent.
“Sure, we’ll miss a great player in Miles, probably, and if that happens, that happens,” Izzo said. “I’ve been fooled before so I won’t say what will happen.”
"I created real relationships with those guys," MSU freshman forward Xavier Tillman said. "Not being able to play with them anymore is really hard." David Guralnick, The Detroit News
Heading to the NBA was not on Bridges’ mind in the locker room.
“I’m not thinking about that,” Bridges said. “I’m thinking about my teammates.”
Projections have Bridges going later in the first round but likely a late lottery pick. He said on Sunday, despite the loss, he has no regrets about returning for another year.
“No, I don’t have any regrets,” Bridges said. “I gave my all this year. My teammates gave their all. We only lost five games, but it’s tough.”
Izzo said he’s content with whatever decision his players make, and that’s because of the way Bridges handled things after last season.
“Miles said he didn’t want to go and it was his decision,” Izzo said. “He didn’t worry about anybody else and I think he’ll tell Jaren that, he’ll tell me that and anybody else looking to leave and make a tough decision. It comes down to what’s best for you and that’s it, because you have to be happy.
“I’ll try to get the best information I can get, but it’s about their decision and I’m comfortable with their decision. I was comfortable with his decision because I thought he was leaving the whole time. He gave me an extra 10, 11 months. I’m the lucky one, not him. I’m the lucky one.”
Sophomore Nick Ward doesn’t show up on most mock drafts, but his return is not a slam dunk. However, he was taking the same approach as Bridges and Jackson.
“Ah, man, it’s too soon to tell. I’m not thinking about that right now,” Ward said. “I’m always going to stay for my dogs through thick and thin. But, you know, a decision is too soon. Right now, I just got done with the game.”
Whatever the roster looks like next season — the Spartans have five members of a top-10 recruiting class coming in — Izzo is confident.
“I like the roster we have,” he said. “I think you saw a lot out of (Xavier Tillman). Jaren, hopefully I’ll meet with his family. I think Nick is gonna get better. Cassius (Winston) has gotten a lot better in the last month, a lot better. (Joshua) Langford has gotten lot better. I woudn’t feel sorry for my roster. I like what we’ve got coming in, I like what we’ve got coming back.”
Less bang for the buck
Michigan State dominated the rebounding battle, grabbing 51 to just 30 for Syracuse. It was even more dominant on the offensive end, where the Spartans grabbed a season-high 29.
However, it only led to 21 second-chance points.
“That must have been a North American record,” Izzo said. “But we didn’t finish a lot of those. The effort was there.”
Bridges scored 11 points, giving him 1,055 for his career, which moves him into 46th all-time at Michigan State. He passed Marcus Sanders (1,054) on Sunday. Bridges scored in double figures for the 30th time this season and made three 3-pointers for the fourth consecutive game.
… Winston had six assists to finish with 241 on the season, which is the fourth-best single season total in MSU history.
… Tillman recorded a career-high 12 rebounds, including nine offensive boards.