MSU mailbag: Winston piles up minutes; Spartans miss on another big man
East Lansing — It’s late January, so I guess it’s fitting we are starting to lock in on basketball for this week’s Michigan State mailbag.
And why not? After all, the Spartans are the only unbeaten team left in the Big Ten and are currently a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament in Joe Lundardi’s latest bracketology over at ESPN. And they’re doing it all without Joshua Langford.
So, it seems the success of winning 12 straight has everyone getting over the Isaiah Stewart snub. But, that doesn’t mean there aren’t questions. We hit the recruiting trail as best we can, and try and give some answers on Langford and how in the heck do you keep Cassius Winston from running out of gas.
►Question. Izzo keeps mentioning “I gotta find a way to get Cash some rest.” I don’t see Loyer making enough (quick) progress and McQuaid isn’t running it much. What is the answer? Just wait on Loyer? — @bernst27
►Answer. Well, when it comes to game time, yeah, the only way to get him more rest is if you can count on Foster Loyer. That’s a process that is proving to be a slow one, and I’m not expecting it to change a whole lot throughout the season. There are more times during games lately where you’ll see Matt McQuaid run the point, but that is often with Winston still on the court and is simply an effort to get Winston a few more shots, something that can be harder running the point.
The best chance for rest is what you saw take place early this week — giving Winston time off from practice. It’s not something Tom Izzo has done often, but as he also said this week, times are different. In the past, Big Ten teams would play on specific days of the week and never more than twice in a week. That’s all changed the last two seasons, forcing teams to take a new approach to practice schedules and how hard they push the players. So, Winston got a break Tuesday, something that could happen regularly down the stretch.
►Q. If you voted, would you have Michigan ranked above MSU in the basketball poll? And where would you place each team this week? — @DavidJa88692244
►A. See, I was happy to be done with the Associated Press football poll after three years because it meant I didn’t have to worry about these sorts of things. So, thanks, Dave. Boy, this is a tough one because I think the teams are so close. The point totals in this week’s poll show that. I would have Michigan State with a slight edge. The Spartans have gotten it done on the road in a couple of tough environments, and haven’t really been in games that ended up being that close. And, they’re doing it without Joshua Langford.
So, yeah, I’d have MSU ahead by a tiny bit, but as we know in the Big Ten, that could change quickly as MSU’s road gets tougher this week at Iowa and Purdue.
►Q. How likely is it that Langford becomes a coach at MSU this season, he obviously is never playing again right? — @angavartin
►A. I might not be the most positive guy in the world, but this question certainly belongs in the glass half-empty category. He’s started to go through some shooting and is doing it without the boot, so I’m not sure how that adds up to him obviously not playing again. I think Langford is still a week or two away and it will take some time to get back in a groove, but the idea that he’s done for the year is, I think, a bit drastic. When he does come back, the key will be how the ankle responds. That’s when we’ll have a real idea on how long-term this injury really is.
►Q. Hi Matt, now that we have lost out on Carey and Stewart, have you heard about any rumblings in terms of new offers. Perhaps someone who has already accepted a scholarship or just has yet to decide. I know a grad transfer is likely, but I would not think Izzo is done yet. — @mark_rosen_1999
►A. This is one that we’re gonna have to let play out a bit. There are no other bigs out there for 2019 that Michigan State was really after, and the chances of someone changing their mind or decommitting aren’t that likely. That’s really more of a football thing; it just doesn’t happen often in basketball. So Michigan State’s best bet if it still seeks a big man is likely the transfer route, graduate or otherwise. The name getting thrown around a lot is Oakland’s Xavier Hill-Mais. But, there’s been no indication he has any intention of leaving Oakland and there’s no guarantee if he did it would be to come to MSU. Plus, at 6-foot-7, he’s a tad undersized. However, he’s strong and athletic and would do just fine in the Big Ten.
The real recruiting story to follow is keeping Rocket Watts locked in and getting him signed in the spring while continuing the pursuit of five-star Keion Brooks. If you asked me last week if Brooks would pick MSU — and I think someone did — I would have said no. This week, I’m not so sure. I still think he’s leaning toward Indiana, but some information in the last few days tells me that it’s at least not a slam dunk.
►Q. Scoring average is down past several games. Games are becoming grinders. Other than Winston, where can MSU create scoring? — @jimdegraaf
►A. Easy. Nick Ward. That’s the obvious answer, though, right? But let’s be honest, outside of Maryland where fouls created most of the issues, Ward has thrived even when getting double-teamed. He’s done so because he’s been so much smarter and patient in those situations. That helps the team overall and leads to a few other scoring options, like Matt McQuaid or Aaron Henry, even Gabe Brown if he continues to see consistent minutes, something that didn’t come against Maryland.
And, of course, if/when Langford gets back, that’s the easiest answer. He’s the best option outside of Winston and Ward.
►Q. How should Ward shape his game to be more ref-friendly? Men with his size and aggressiveness fare poorly in March, especially if they don’t play for Duke. — @thejeffjoy
►A. I think this is an overreaction to Monday’s game against Maryland. Yeah, Ward is still committing his share of fouls — about 4.8 per 40 minutes, in fact. But it hasn’t had the same effect as in past seasons when Ward would commit careless fouls early in games to limit his playing time. Outside of Maryland, that hasn’t really happened this season. Plus, there’s the fact Ward leads the nation in fouls drawn per 40 minutes at 8.4. That has already been critical in some games, namely the Ohio State win when Kaleb Wesson was in foul trouble early and eventually fouled out. So, yeah, being a big physical guy means you won’t get every call. But Ward and the refs has been a much better combination this season than the last two.
►Q. Over / under 3.5 B10 losses? — @Montice3
►A. Another tough one. The more MSU wins, the lower that number gets. I thought before the season that the Big Ten champ would be around 16-4. Now I’m thinking it could be 17-3, putting me right on that line. Still a tough road. I’ll take the over.
►Q. What game other than the in-state rivalry do you see as a potential pitfall for this team? We can play balanced scoring (five guys in double figures or hero-ball type scoring with Cash and Ward). Right now, it doesn’t seem like we have many games where we can’t get 70 pts to win — @JTNH1489
►A. The toughest game outside of Michigan might be Thursday night at Iowa, possibly at Wisconsin on Feb. 12. And as far as not getting to 70 — MSU has failed to reach 70 twice all season. Monday’s 69 points against Maryland was the first time since Langford has been out.