The Michigan State Spartans have been picked to finish atop the Big Ten, but there are some factors that could keep them from attaining that goal. There’s a major injury they will have to work through for possibly the majority of the season, as well as conference competition that is beefing up this season.
Here are the three reasons why Sparty won’t win the Big Ten this season.
1. Joshua Langford’s injury
Michigan State was expecting to have its full squad this season, but those plans flew out the window the same day that the Spartans were named the top team in the AP Poll. Coach Tom Izzo announced that senior guard Joshua Langford would be out indefinitely with recurring foot and ankle issues.
These are the same issues that kept him out for much of last season. He suffered the injury in December and had surgery in February on his left foot. Izzo also said he would be re-evaluated in January of 2020 to see if he can come back.
While Michigan State managed to get a No. 2 seed and even advance to the Final Four last season, they won’t be quite as good a team without Langford. His absence will be felt immediately as will his 15 points per game. He was also a 40 percent three-point shooter, which will have to be replaced by someone in this lineup.
Cassius Winston will undoubtedly step up his game and earn his reputation as the Preseason Big Ten Player of the Year, but a relative unknown on this team will have to produce in a big way to match Langford’s contributions.
2. The rest of the Big Ten is just too good this season
The Big Ten is more often than not a great basketball conference. This season should be no different.
While the Michigan State Spartans were picked as the top dog in the preseason, they didn’t beat out some of the other top teams by much. Maryland, Ohio State and Purdue were right on their heels. All of those teams have a couple things in common: great returning players, key newcomers and good coaching.
Maryland is the most obvious contender, as they really only lost Bruno Fernando from last season’s team. They bring back a stronger Jalen Smith; as well as a much more experienced front court in Darryl Morsell, Anthony Cowan, Aaron Wiggins and Eric Ayala.
They also landed some big men in their 2019 recruiting class with Makhi and Makhel Mitchell, as well as 7-foot-2 center Chol Marial. They aren’t Fernando, but they’ll do their best to fill his void.
Ohio State brings back a bunch of good starters in Kaleb Wesson, Andre Wesson and Luther Muhammad. They also did well in recruiting, bringing in the top class in the Big Ten (according to 247Sports). Point guard DJ Carton could contribute right away and they should be a tough out for any team.
Purdue is also a threat as they are every year with coach Matt Painter leading the way. They have the biggest player in the conference in Matt Haarms while returning some good starters in Nojel Eastern and Grady Eifert.
3. Loss of key upperclassmen
Michigan State brings back some great players in Cassius Winston, Xavier Tillman, Aaron Henry and Kyle Ahrens, but also lost some superb upperclassmen in Nick Ward, Matt McQuaid and Kenny Goins. They combined for about 40 percent of the offensive output for the Spartans and 42 percent of the total rebounds corralled.
Replacing that kind of production will be tough and it will fall on some of the other returners like Tillman and Henry to pick up the slack; though there will undoubtedly be some newcomers who will be asked to step in too.
Tom Izzo is a great coach and will certainly make it all work, but it may take more time than he thinks, potentially costing his team a seed line or two come March. He will have to figure out his rotations without those leaders and will need someone besides Winston to be a vocal and active leader on this team. The question is who that will be and how quickly they will show themselves.