Michigan State mailbag: Can Cassius Winston match his first-game wizardry vs. Michigan?

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Forget the fact spring football starts next week at Michigan State.

The basketball team is getting ready for one of the biggest games in the history of the Breslin Center, as the Spartans host Michigan on Saturday night with the winner earning at least a share of the Big Ten championship.

So with that in mind, this week’s mailbag is all hoops.

We tackle whether Cassius Winston will do what he did in the last meeting while wondering about the growing injury concerns for the Spartans, including the state of Winston’s knees.

We also talk about the role of a couple of freshmen, while answering the important question of whether Carsen Edwards could ever play for Tom Izzo.

Michigan State point guard Cassius Winston had 27 points and eight assists in the first meeting against Michigan.

Question. Is Cassius wearing a knee brace a bad sign for his productivity on Saturday night? — @SpartyH

Answer. To be clear, he’s not wearing a brace, but one of those compression sleeves. There’s no injury but tendinitis has been something he’s been dealing with for most of the season, especially in the last couple of months. It looked, to me, like Tuesday’s game against Nebraska was the first time it really seemed to affect Winston. He said he banged it early in the game, and Tom Izzo admitted Winston wasn’t himself. He only scored eight, but still had 10 assists in just more than 31 minutes. That’s a lot of playing time, but still the fewest minutes he’s had in a month. Which leads us to the question, will it hurt him on Saturday? Hard to say, but he’s been able to play through it all season, so my hunch is he’ll be just fine by Saturday night.

Q. Will Cassius Winston repeat his performance from 2/24? — @davidbowieUB40

A. Even if the knee doesn’t bother Winston, matching the 27 points and eight assists from the first meeting will be a challenge. He’s still facing one of the best defenders in the country in Zavier Simpson, and there’s no doubt there will be adjustments from the Wolverines. I’ll say this, if he matches that first performance, Michigan State almost certainly will win. The key for the Spartans, though, is he doesn’t need to be that good for them to win.

Winston has been so good this season because he is so in tune with his team that he understands from night to night what it needs. At times, it has been to put the team on his shoulders and score. Other times, it’s been getting others going and facilitating while he’s been great at knowing when to push the pace and when to slow down. So, he might not match the numbers he put up the first time around, but if Winston is simply the player he’s been all season, that bodes well for Michigan State.

Q. Was (Tuesday) night Aaron Henry’s coming out party? — @SpartyH

A. Maybe, but there have been other times this season we were wondering the same thing, only to see the freshman take a step back. What’s clear is the way Henry played in the win over Nebraska when he scored a career-high 15 is more of a glimpse of what he can be. The key will be finding some consistency, something that isn’t always that easy for a first-year player.

More: Niyo: As Aaron Henry's confidence grows, so can Michigan State's title chances

With Kyle Ahrens’ status unclear for Saturday, the Spartans could absolutely use another solid game from Henry. He has all the tools; it’s just a matter of putting it together.

Q. Any chance of (Nick) Ward playing Saturday? — @chriskilleen1

A. We’ll throw Kyle Ahrens into this one, too, considering we had a few questions on his status. As for Ward, Tom Izzo is making it sound like a long shot. And you know what, maybe it is. After all, by the time the game starts it will be a day shy of three weeks since Ward had surgery on his broken left hand. That’s a quick return. But my hunch is you see Ward play. How much? Who knows? But he’s looked pretty good doing what limited work he’s been allowed to do so far. The key will be can they protect the hand without restricting him too much? They don’t want to do anything that might keep him out for the postseason, but if they can protect it, I’m betting on Ward getting a few minutes.

Ahrens is a whole different story. With his back, it’s a mater of how he feels come Saturday night. He’s done very little since the Indiana game last Saturday with the hopes the inflammation in the back will calm down and he’ll be able to provide something. There’s also the postseason to think about with Ahrens, too, so they won’t push it. Izzo thinks Ahrens will be dressed. From there, it’s tough to say. I suspect Ahrens will play. It’s just not in his nature to choose not to.

Q. If I was (Marcus) Bingham, I might have been running up and down the court a little harder when it was finally my time. Am I being too hard on the guy, or did he seem, uninspired? — @spartanjonny

A. I’m gonna go ahead and say you’re being a little too hard. In the short time Bingham has been at Michigan State, Izzo has consistently praised Bingham for how hard he’s working to get stronger. I feel like Bingham is one of those guys, that because of his size and long strides, might look like he’s not going as hard even if he is. Plus, there is the fact he’s played sparingly, and for most freshmen there are plenty of moments with the old deer-in-the-headlights look that can slow you down. I say give him a chance.

Q. Carson Edwards was 7-of-31 for 22 points in Purdue's loss at Minnesota. Can you envision Izzo ever giving one player the freedom to shoot his team to a loss? — @spartanswill86

A. I think he would absolutely give a player that freedom if he believed that player was taking good shots. The problem with Edwards is often times he’s taking shots that would hardly be considered a good shot. That would drive Izzo nuts. I had this debate with someone on Twitter recently who said Izzo yells and pulls guys when they miss. That’s not true. He’s never pulled a guy because he missed. He will, frequently, get on a guy for a bad shot. He did it Tuesday after Kenny Goins chucked a corner 3 with a guy in his face. Izzo let him have it because that is not where Goins excels. So, Izzo wouldn’t have an issue with the volume of shots, just the selection.


Twitter: @mattcharboneau