MSU mailbag: What does Nick Ward's return mean for Spartans?

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — With summer creeping in, Michigan State's basketball roster is set with the news Nick Ward is returning for his junior season.

It was an important piece to the off-season for the Spartans, who will adjust to the departures of Jaren Jackson Jr. and Miles Bridges.

An emerging jump shot would bolster Nick Ward's offensive game as he enters his junior season at Michigan State.

Needless to say, Ward's return was a hot topic in the latest MSU mailbag, as well as a look to recruiting for 2019.

It's only a few months until football, as well, as we jump into some names to watch for the upcoming season.

Question: Where will Nick Ward show the greatest improvement next season in hopes of making it to the League and not the G League? — @spartanswill86

Answer: Where will Ward show the greatest improvement and where he needs to show the greatest improvement might not go hand-in-hand, but time will ultimately tell on that. It's clear there are specific aspects of Ward's game that need to improve — defending the high-ball screen, identifying the double team and playing through it as well as developing a mid-range jump shot.

The defense showed some improvement last year, and while the double-team issue should improve as he continues to face that from opponents, something he did increasingly as last season progressed. The jump shot will be the wild card. One workout video posted this off-season showed Ward hitting them consistently, but that wasn't with a defender in his face. If he can make that a consistent part of his game, it only makes his low-post offense that much more effective.

Q. Who’s your ideal starting 5? — @JakeMatheson4

A. Coming up with the four of the five is simple — Cassius Winston running the point with Matt McQuaid and Joshua Langford on the wings and Nick Ward at center. The four spot is the one that could see change throughout the season. Incoming freshman Marcus Bingham is an intriguing possibility there, but that could take some time as he builds some strength, a vital part of his development as he finished high school at about 220 pounds. Senior Kenny Goins is a safe option and he has the versatility to play multiple positions, while incoming freshman Thomas Kithier could get a shot, as well. Also, keep an eye on incoming freshman Gabe Brown and junior Kyle Ahrens in certain matchups, but in terms of starters, it looks like Bingham and Goins are the best bets. 

Q. With no Romeo (Weems) what does the MSU bball recruitment look like in the future? — @lucaswestblade

Q. Any bball news on 2019 recruits?? — @CoolTarnue14

A. Weems and guard Tyrese Maxey are off the board, but that hardly means the options are limited for the Spartans. The biggest prize remains Vernon Carey, the 6-foot-8 forward from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who is ranked the No. 2 prospect in the nation. He has the Spartans in his final five along with Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina and Miami with Duke and Miami viewed as MSU's biggest challengers. For whatever it's worth, Michigan State remains the only school Carey has taken an official visit.

Michigan State is in the top five for Vernon Carey, right, considered the second-ranked basketball recruit in the country.

Forward Keion Brooks (No. 23 national ranking) of Fort Wayne has been high on MSU's list for several years, and many believe the Spartans lead in his recruitment, though he reportedly is taking a visit to Kentucky this weekend. Six-foot-8 center Isaiah Stewart (No. 25) of La Lumiere — Jaren Jackson' alma mater — has MSU in his final 10 schools while 6-2 Mark "Rocket" Watts (No. 57) of Old Redford Academy is expected to narrow his list of schools this week. 

Also, keep an eye on 6-8 center Trayce Jackson-Davis (No. 20) of Greenwood, Ind., and 6-6 guard Josiah James (No. 14) of Charleston, S.C.

Q. Which of the two (men's basketball/football) will return to a final four/college football playoff first? — @samensign11

A. That is a tough call. I think the football team has a far better shot this season, but I'm not sure it's a great shot considering it's never a guarantee even winning the division. However, with 19 of 22 starters returning, Mark Dantonio's team will have as good a shot as any team in the Big Ten East to get to the conference title game.

As for the basketball team, it's an even tougher call. The Big Ten has its share of teams that are hard to nail down at this point, meaning the conference is there for the taking. However, it's hard to ignore recent early exits in the NCAA Tournament for Tom Izzo's team. That said, experience counts and the Spartans will have it. If they get a spark from a couple of the freshmen — Foster Loyer or Marcus Bingham? — and Joshua Langford takes off, I wouldn't count the Spartans out.

So, the answer? Flip a coin.

Q. Which true freshman do you think will play significantly this Fall? — @linda_heston

A. What a difference a year makes when it comes to true freshmen seeing the field. The tough part for this year's group is there aren't a lot of opportunities. That said, it's hard to ignore the spring from safety Xavier Henderson, who could work into certain defensive packages, while cornerback Kalon Gervin is supremely talented, as well. That said, the secondary is deep, meaning it won't be simple for either player. 

A few other names to keep an eye on — LB Chase Kline, TE Trenton Gillison, OL James Ohonba, RB Elijah Collins and RB La'Darius Jefferson.

Despite plenty of talent and experience returning in the Michigan State secondary, freshman Kalon Gervin (18) could carve out an immediate role with the Spartans.

Q. How well do you feel State’s O-line will hold up against UofM and OSU’s D and blitz packages this season? — @Timo_Slice

A. Much better, regardless of which team they're facing. Why? Simple. Experience. Sure, they lose Brian Allen at center and that remains the biggest unknown for this offense, but with tackles Cole Chewins, Luke Campbell and Jordan Reid back as well as interior linemen David Beedle, Kevin Jarvis and Tyler Higby, the offensive line has plenty of snaps under its belt.

Q. What will be the story behind UofM at State on Oct 20th, how will you describe State’s D at the end of the game, and what will be the final score? — @Timo_Slice

A. Predictions already? I reserve the right to see how the first few weeks go, namely if Michigan's made any progress on the offensive line and what sort of impact Shea Patterson might have at quarterback. If pressed, right now I'd take Michigan State. The defenses are both good, but I suspect MSU's offense will be ahead.

Q. Is (Jon) Reschke coming back? — @MSUDersh

A. Still haven't gotten word on that. As Mark Dantonio said last month, it would be a decision made by the players. Personally, I'm surprised it is a possibility, but I'm not in the room every day.