Experience buoys high expectations for Michigan State hoops

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — Michigan State won 30 games last season, but it’s generally accepted that the season ended in disappointment with a second-round exit in the NCAA Tournament.

It was seen as an opportunity lost as the Big Ten champions watched Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr. leave for the NBA. And even with a five-member recruiting class that ranked in the top 15 in the nation now on campus, some wonder if the Spartans will be in the same position at the end of the 2018-19 season — competing for a conference championship with a shot at a deep run in March.

Head coach Tom Izzo says there's a "new sense of optimism" with the Michigan State basketball team, which lost two NBA first-round picks from last season's team, but still returns plenty of experience.

But that hardly means the cupboard is bare at Michigan State.

“There’s a new sense of optimism,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said Thursday during the Spartans’ media day at the Breslin Center. “Sometimes talent doesn’t win out over experience.”

And experience is what Michigan State has in droves, led by the junior trio of guards Cassius Winston and Joshua Langford and center Nick Ward. Throw in seniors like guard Matt McQuaid and forward Kenny Goins, and Izzo believes it’s the right mix with the incoming talent that will have to play a signficant role.

“Our expectations haven’t changed,” Izzo said. “Maybe it isn’t quite as star powered, but the experience is there.”

The challenge is also there as Michigan State — ranked No. 10 in both the Associated Press and coaches’ preseason polls — will be playing another tough schedule, beginning with No. 1 Kansas in the Champions Classic on Nov. 6. Also in the non-conference mix are No. 21 UCLA, Louisville, Florida and potentially No. 8 North Carolina.

“I bet you our worst schedule in 24 years is probably better than most teams' best schedule,” Izzo said.

Michigan State hosts Northern Michigan in an exhibition game Tuesday, the only chance for fans to see the Spartans before the season opener. Michigan State also will face Gonzaga in a closed scrimmage Saturday.


Twitter: @mattcharboneau