An early look at Michigan State basketball for the 2020-21 season

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — It didn’t end the way anyone expected, but the reality remains —Michigan State’s basketball season is over.

It happened to end right about the same time as it did for every other team in America, but like we do each season, we have to start looking ahead to what’s next for the Spartans.

Michigan State guard Rocket Watts averaged nine points per game as a freshman.

Some of this is speculation. We don’t really know who will be back. As the idea of granting another year of eligibility is bounced around, there’s also the chance some players leave early to chase the dream of playing in the NBA.

At this point, we’ll assume there will be not changes in eligibility as we attempt to take a look at what Michigan State’s roster will look like next season.

Who’s out

Cassius Winston, point guard, senior

It’s not an exaggeration to say Winston likely ends his career as one of the best to ever play at Michigan State. His 890 assists are more than any player in Big Ten history, while he is one of only five players in Division I history to score more than 1,900 points (1,969) and hand out 850 assists. Even if an extra year is granted, it’s far from a guarantee Winston would take it. There’s not much he hasn’t accomplished at the college level and he is probably ready to take his shot at the NBA.

Kyle Ahrens, guard, senior

The fifth-year senior has been through it all during his career, battling injuries from before he even arrived on campus right through his final season. He was laying it all on the court the last few weeks and provided steady leadership with the knack for making big shots. His experience and heart will be missed next season as much as any production in the box score.

Conner George, guard, senior

Winston said if there was a scout team Hall of Fame, George would be inducted. The walk-on was critical in practice while providing depth, making the most of his time in the rotation three seasons ago, grabbing seven rebounds in 16 minutes against DePaul.

Who knows

Joshua Langford, guard, senior

When Langford first found out he’d miss the season, he said he would not be back for another year. That stance has softened of late and there’s chance he could return, a move that would provide quite a scoring punch for the Spartans, as well as a veteran presence. How responds to rehab likely will determine which way Langford turns.

A strong junior season and a growing family might be enough to push Michigan State center Xavier Tillman to the NBA.

Xavier Tillman Sr., junior, center

Tillman has emerged as one of the best players in the Big Ten and one who the NBA scouts are starting to notice. His return for a senior season obviously would be critical to Michigan State’s potential success next season, but given Tillman and his wife welcomed their second child in February, he could decide to join the professional ranks.

Aaron Henry, guard/forward, sophomore

After struggling through the first half of the season, Henry was beginning to become one of Michigan State’s most important pieces down the stretch. His ability to create his own shot while being a top-flight defender has NBA scouts intrigued by his upside. Another year would seem like the best move for Henry, but if the feedback heading into the draft is positive, that could change quickly.

Who’s back

Foster Loyer, guard, sophomore

The Clarkston native continues to struggle to find a regular role, seeing only spot minutes to spell Winston over the past two seasons. He’s been a good shooter, but has struggled at both ends of the floor against bigger, stronger opponents. How much that changes over the next few months will determine whether his role increases.

Gabe Brown averaged 6.8 points and 3.6 rebounds per game for Michigan State.

Gabe Brown, guard/forward, sophomore

Brown remains one of the Spartans’ most intriguing players, one who can be deadly from the perimeter with the ability to slash to the hoop. However, consistency has eluded Brown and his playing time has fluctuated because of it. If he becomes a serviceable defender and eliminates the streakiness on offense, Brown could be a huge part of next season’s rotation.

Thomas Kithier, forward, sophomore

He’s not the biggest and strongest post player, but Kithier is as solid as they come. He rarely finds himself out of position defensively, is effective on the glass and runs the floor well, leading to plenty of easy buckets. He’ll continue to see 15-20 minutes heading into next season.

Marcus Bingham, forward, sophomore

This should be a big offseason for Bingham, who showed flashes throughout the season of becoming the player the Spartans are expecting. His length causes all sorts of problems for the opponent, but he’ll have to continue to get stronger while becoming more comfortable offensively to become an every-night go, instead of jumping in and out of the rotation.

Rocket Watts, guard, freshman

The explosive guard took off over the final few weeks season, providing an offensive spark while becoming an elite perimeter defender. As he continues to evolve offensively into a player who can attack the rim for get hot from the outside, things will only get better for a guy who seems to have limitless potential.

Malik Hall, forward, freshman

After his breakout in November in the victory at Seton Hall, the versatile forward had more of a typical freshman season. But down the stretch, Hall started to separate himself in a crowded position group and was the No. 1 option at the 4 spot in crunch time. He’ll certainly become a better shooter in the offseason, as he’ll likely expand to playing the wing at times, as well.

Julius Marble, forward, freshman

In a perfect world, Marble would have redshirted this season. However, the time he did get was valuable. He’s probably the quickest of Michigan State’s big men and should become much more comfortable as his minutes increase, an idea that becomes a guarantee if Tillman does not return.

Other players expected to return

► Jack Hoiberg, guard, redshirt sophomore; Braden Burke, center, redshirt junior; Steven Izzo, guard, freshman

Who’s coming

Joey Hauser, forward, sophomore

Odds are the stretch 4 jumps right into the starting lineup for the Spartans. Hauser would have been a huge addition this season, but was denied a waiver after transferring from Marquette. Now he’ll get a chance to shine in a lineup that could have plenty of firepower.

AJ Hoggard, guard, freshman

The combo guard likely will find an immediate spot in the rotation with the departure of Winston. Odds are Watts will play plenty at the point along with Loyer, but Hoggard will have his chance to prove he belongs as, at the very least, someone to spell Watts or allow him to play off the ball.

Mady Sissoko, forward, freshman

With a 7-foot-4 wingspan, the incoming freshman will provide another rim protector for the Spartans as well as depth in the frontcourt. We’ll have to wait and see what the roster looks like next fall to guess on Sissoko’s role, but it would seem likely he’ll be valuable for at least a handful of minutes.

Twitter: @mattcharboneau