East Lansing — The awards kept rolling for Cassius Winston on Tuesday, giving an indication of just how important he is to Michigan State’s success.
But even after he was named a second-team All-American by the National Association of Basketball Coaches, Winston’s coach is still pushing for more.
“We’ve talked to Cassius about getting to another level,” Izzo said Saturday after No. 2 Michigan State knocked off No. 10 Minnesota to reach the Sweet 16 in the East Region of the NCAA Tournament. “Each game I'm just trying to get him to another level. Can you now lead better? Can you now suck it up better?”
It’s hard to imagine a higher level for Winston. After being named Big Ten player of the year, Winston was named a first-team All-American by The Sporting News followed by second-team honors from the USBWA.
He continued to put the Spartans on his back during three games in three days for a Big Ten tournament championship and last weekend when his seven-point surge in less than a minute broke open the game in the second half against the Gophers.
“What I like is he found another gear,” Izzo said after that performance.
Finding that other gear hasn’t been simple for Winston as teammates have dropped around him. Already playing better than 35 minutes a game in the postseason, the junior point guard has been dealing with a sore knee and an injured big toe suffered during the final game of the regular season.
Still, as Michigan State gets set to take on No. 3 LSU at 7:09 p.m. Friday in Washington, D.C., he’s pushing for more.
“Just more of a consistency,” Winston said after practice Monday. “Playing at my highest level for longer, all those types of things. Playing at a really good level but being more consistent. Instead of 32 minutes, I can put together 35.
"There’s always another level I can take it to."
For Michigan State (30-6), the Spartans will need it to advance to its first regional final since 2015, which also was the last time they made it to the Final Four. Standing in their way is an athletic team in LSU that will push the Spartans by hitting the offensive glass hard while being willing to play at a fast pace.
That’s the same pace Michigan State likes to play at. In fact, the Spartans’ fast break was rolling earlier in the season. But as the injuries have mounted and Winston has been slowed a step, the fast break has come only in shorter bursts.
If Michigan State rebounds well, the transition game could come back in full force.
“I look at that as a plus,” Izzo said. “I mean they're sending everybody including the coach to the boards and if we do get the ball, I think that helps our running game because they're heading south and we want to head north. But we have to get it first. I don't think it limits us. We haven't consistently run well. A lot of that has been Cassius and his injuries and the things he's gone through because Aaron Henry is really starting to run the court now. (Matt) McQuaid is getting back pretty healthy. The depth of not having (Kyle) Ahrens, because he was one of our best runners, has hurt.
“We think we have to run and get it in the open court against these guys too. We're going to continue to try to do what we do and at a little better level. It is nice to come on at the end of the year, we had days when we rebounded better. It was a little laxed the first half of the Bradley game, but I thought our rebounding was upgraded in the last month. It's going to have to go to another level if you watch these guys on film.”
If it is upgrade, that just leaves the door open for Winston to find that next level and play at a fast pace. Of course, it’s a double-edged sword considering the quicker pace to the game means it could wear Winston down faster.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo met the media Monday in East Lansing. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
But that’s the risk the Spartans are taking now. Winston is getting his rest and taking treatment on a daily basis. From hot tubs to cold tubs to things on his legs Izzo knows nothing about, Winston is doing what he can to be fresh, taking advantage of an extra day or two off before Friday’s game.
“We got a few days to rest because I feel like last week was a quick turnaround,” Winston said. “We get a few days to rest, got some time to practice and by the time Friday comes around we’re playing for it all, almost, so there’s no stopping us.”
And no stopping Winston, who’s figuring out there’s no limit to what level he can reach.
NO. 2 MICHIGAN STATE VS. NO. 3 LSU
Tip-off: 7:09 Friday, Capital One Arena, Washington
Records: Michigan State 30-6; LSU 28-6
Next up: Winner faces No. 1 Duke or No. 4 Virginia Tech in the Elite Eight.