Here's a look at Michigan State basketball's projected 2020-21 lineup
While there is still little to no certainty about the upcoming college basketball season, there is at least some certainty when it comes to Michigan State’s roster.
On Sunday, Xavier Tillman announced he would remain in the NBA Draft and forgo his final season of eligibility while Aaron Henry said he was withdrawing from the draft and would be back with the Spartans for his junior season.
As Michigan State prepares for a 2020-21 season that is far from a sure thing as the country and the sports world continues to navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic, Tom Izzo and his staff at least know what they have to work with.
There already was going to be a significant adjustment after the graduation of point guard Cassius Winston, ensuring the Spartans were heading into a new era after Winston left as the all-time assist leader in Big Ten history and part of three conference championship teams. But the departure of Tillman creates an even more significant hole, as the big man emerged as one of the most valuable players in the conference last season.
It leaves Izzo and Co. with plenty of work to do replacing the two most important parts of its roster, though that blow is lessened a bit by the return of Henry, a wing with sky’s-the-limit potential who is still seeking consistency.
The cupboard is hardly bare, though, and with recruiting on a remarkable run — three five-star commitments in the past several weeks — the Spartans are still in good shape. With that, here’s a peek at the roster for the upcoming season.
► Rocket Watts, sophomore: An explosive scorer who progressed steadily throughout his freshman season, Watts likely will get plenty of work running the point. He’s a natural shooting guard with a streaky jumper and a lightning-quick first step, but he’ll mix in running the show this season as well. Watts saw some spot minutes at the point last season, but it seems likely now he’ll be the No. 1 option when the Spartans hit the floor again.
► Joshua Langford, senior: It’s been a long time since Langford last played — December 2018, to be exact — but his return could be one of the most critical moves for the Spartans. Assuming there are no setbacks in his recovery from a broken foot that has wiped out the bulk of the last two seasons, he’ll step in as the starting shooting guard. It might not be fair to expect 15 points a game like Langford was averaging before his injury, but his experience and ability to put the ball in the basket as well as play solid defense will be critical.
► Aaron Henry, junior: Things could be aligning for Henry to enjoy a breakout season. An athletically gifted wing who has shown flashes over the past two seasons — the NCAA Tournament as a freshman and the final two weeks of his sophomore year —there’s a reason Henry is on the NBA Draft boards and was considering a jump. Consistency, however, has been his biggest hurdle. But with his work ethic and the fact he’ll become one of the offensive focal points, odds are good he’ll start to become the player many expect.
► Joey Hauser, junior: After sitting out last season following his transfer from Marquette, the Spartans will be glad to add the size and shooting ability from the 6-9 forward. After failing to secure a transfer waiver, Hauser likely will be eager to prove how valuable he can be in the Michigan State offense, providing another perimeter scoring threat.
► Marcus Bingham Jr., junior: This was a simple prediction if Tillman would have returned, but the center spot now could end up being a revolving door. Expect Bingham to get a significant look, simply based on his potential as a scorer and a rim protector. How his thin frame holds up over an entire season, though, remains to be seen.
► Foster Loyer, junior: There’s no doubt Loyer will be needed at the point, but how much is hard to say. If Langford is healthy and Watts adapts well to the point, Loyer’s minutes could be limited with a similar scenario playing out if freshman AJ Hoggard progresses quickly. However, if Watts and/or Hoggard struggle and Langford is not 100%, it could mean Loyer finally will get his shot to run the offense on a consistent basis.
► AJ Hoggard, freshman: The incoming freshman likely will get a shot to see some backup minutes running the point as he acclimates to Big Ten basketball. How quickly he adapts could say a lot about the backcourt rotation.
► Gabe Brown, junior: Much like Henry, the sharp-shooting wing with an athletic burst has had his moments over the past two seasons but is still seeking consistency. If Brown finds that this season, it likely would mean heavy minutes and a shot at all-conference recognition.
► Malik Hall, sophomore: Hall proved last season to be among the most reliable big men outside of Tillman. He started quickly with some big games early in the season, had some ups and downs and closed the season as the starting power forward. Expect Hall to continue to progress as his shot becomes more consistent.
► Thomas Kithier, junior: He’ll never be the flashiest player on the court, but Kithier is often the most reliable. A good rebound who runs the floor well and can shoot it when called upon, Kithier always will have a spot in the rotation.
► Julius Marble, sophomore: A physical presence on the block, Marble could get a shot at a starting spot if Bingham fails to seize the opportunity. Marble likely won’t be a major scoring threat, but his rebounding and physical defense will make him valuable.
► Mady Sissoko, freshman: Perhaps the most intriguing player on this year’s roster, Sissoko has a huge wingspan and brings immediate value as a rim protector. He’ll bring immediate value as a defender and rebounder and could see his playing time increase quickly once the season gets rolling.