Michigan State tops 'way-too-early' basketball rankings; Michigan in top 10

The Detroit News
Forward Xavier Tillman returns  next season to a Michigan State team that should be loaded with talent.

It was a big season for Michigan State, between a Big Ten regular-season co-championship, a conference tournament title, and a trip to the Final Four.

Next season could be even bigger.

The completion of the college basketball season, capped by Virginia's 85-77 overtime win over Texas Tech in Monday night's national title game, ushers in a number of way-too-early predictions for 2019-20 season.

Michigan State leads a few of them, topping "way-too-early" rankings from ESPN and Sports Illustrated, to name two, with Michigan also sitting in the top 10. The two were Nos. 2 and 4, respectively, in the Sporting News' early projections, which were released ahead of the national title game.

The Spartans, who fell to the national runner-up Red Raiders on Saturday night, lose senior starters Matt McQuaid and Kenny Goins off a 32-7 team. Rising seniors Nick Ward and Cassius Winston could test the NBA draft waters.

"They lose Matt McQuaid and Kenny Goins, but everyone else is expected to return to East Lansing, and Winston could open as Preseason Player of the Year," Jeff Borzello of ESPN writes. "Joshua Langford should return at full health, and Rocket Watts will be an impact freshman. Keep an eye on rising sophomore Marcus Bingham Jr., a potential breakout player up front. A healthy and focused Nick Ward would help, but Xavier Tillman has been an asset."

Winston is coming off a season in which he led the Spartans in scoring (18.8 points), was third in nation in assists (7.5), and was named the Big Ten Player of the Year, as well as a first-team All-American by the Associated Press.

Langford's junior season was cut short by a foot injury, while Tillman shined in a starting role after Ward suffered a broken hand.

"While the Spartans’ late-season run ended in the Final Four," Sports Illustrated's Jeremy Woo writes, "they’ll return a large part of their core, graduating only Matt McQuaid and Kenny Goins, assuming Cassius Winston returns for his senior year. Xavier Tillman has emerged in a big way, Aaron Henry continues to improve, highly rated newcomer Rocket Watts adds scoring in the backcourt, and the Spartans should be easy Big Ten favorites entering the fall.

"Keep an eye on rising sophomore Marcus Bingham, who spent this season mostly on the bench but might actually be Michigan State’s best pro prospect."

Michigan, also returns the bulk of its talent from a 30-7 team that made a Sweet 16 appearance, with Charles Matthews the most likely to leave early for the NBA. The Wolverines are ranked No. 4 by Sports Illustrated, and No. 7 by ESPN.

"Michigan will lose Charles Matthews to the NBA," Woo writes, "and Jordan Poole and Ignas Brazdeikis could potentially be out the door as well. Getting either of the latter two back would be huge, but this is a well-oiled program that will find ways to keep things rolling.

"At minimum, Michigan will bring back Zavier Simpson, Jon Teske and Isaiah Livers (who will be a breakout candidate in a starting role). Top recruit Jalen Wilson could also make an early impact. There could be some holes on the wing, but at this point, you just kind of assume John Beilein is going to figure things out."