East Lansing — When you’re picked to be the preseason No. 1 team in the nation and a favorite to get back to the Final Four and win a national champinoship, there probably aren’t many holes in the lineup.
Such is the case for Michigan State as it continues practice in preparation for the 2019-20 season which begins officially on Nov. 5 against Kentucky in the Champions Classic.
The Spartans will do so with the core of last year’s team back, led by Big Ten player of the year Cassius Winston as well as center Xavier Tillman and wing Aaron Henry. Senior guard Joshua Langford returns after missing most of last season with a broken foot while players like Gabe Brown and Thomas Kithier expect to move into bigger roles.
Add in newcomers like guard Rocket Watts and forward Malik Hall, and the Spartans have the makings of a potent rotation.
There is one spot, though, that there is at least some question entering the season — power forward.
The “4,” as it is called, was manned last season by fifth-year senior Kenny Goins. But with Goins now playing overseas, the task for head coach Tom Izzo and his staff is to find the right replacement.
“Kithier has played really well, and yet, (Marcus) Bingham has had his moments,” Izzo said. “Those two guys have probably showed the most. We’ve also looked a little bit at Gabe Brown at the four if we want to go a little smaller because he’s such a good rebounder. So we purposely have rotated guys. We've even put Malik Hall in there.
“What we really need to do starting (this) week is get that first group together and put a four man in there and see how he plays with the other players instead of with subs at those positions.”
Kithier has the more experience than Bingham, playing 5.9 minutes a game last season at both the 4 and the 5 spots. Bingham, who played only 83 total minutes all season, offers more of an upside offensively. At 6-foot-11 and now roughly 225 pounds, his 7-4 wingspan creates problems for opposing big men while Bingham has shown the ability to score from the perimeter.
But how Bingham would adjust to guarding more athletic forwards is a question mark.
“We've got a shooter in Bingham, but it’s whether he can guard a 4,” Izzo said. “But there is no numbering system anymore really the way it is, but if we do play Bingham he could guard a post and we could have Xavier guard a 4. So we have some versatility in that area, but it's gonna be interesting to see how they work together.”
Michigan State will also have the flexibility to go small at times. That would likely mean Hall (6-7), Brown (6-7) and even Henry (6-6) or Kyle Ahrens (6-6) seeing some time at the power forward spot.
However it shakes out, Izzo knows it’s not something the Spartans can wait to sort out.
“That has to get ironed out,” he said. “I don't think we can let it go until a week before the season. I think we’ve got to get somebody in there because whoever it is, he’s going to be inexperienced and I’d like to see him playing with those guys.”
Of course, there is one wild card still in play.
The Spartans have applied for a waiver for transfer Joey Hauser to become immediately eligible. While Izzo believes it’s still a longshot Hauser will be able to play this season, it would solve the problem of a starting power forward.
“That would be an easier one,” Izzo said.
“But I do think it's going to be a little bit of a revolving door, meaning we might start the same guy, but we're going to have to (do) a lot of rotating,”