Spartans vs. Jayhawks - Preview and Analysis

Spartans vs. Jayhawks - Preview and Analysis

Basketball

Spartans vs. Jayhawks - Preview and Analysis

#10 Michigan State tips off the ’18-’19 season with its Champions Classic matchup against #1 Kansas on Tuesday night in Indianapolis. SpartansWire has thoughts on what to look for from the Spartans.

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The last time Michigan State squared off against Kansas in the Champions Classic, Denzel Valentine’s triple double (29 points, 12 rebounds, and 12 assists) highlighted a 79-73 victory for the Spartans back in 2015.

That seems like a lifetime ago now.

So much promise over the last few seasons has, unfortunately for Spartan fans, been “lowlighted” by Middle Tennessee State, more losses to conference rivals, and the inability to figure out how to attack Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 matchup zone.

Tuesday night, however, #10 Michigan State tips off a a brand new season that has a much different feel to it than the last few.

There are always the highest of expectations for Michigan State basketball and Tom Izzo’s 24th year at the helm starts with the same goals as all of the previous 23 – to cut down the nets on the final Monday night of the season.

But there doesn’t seem to be the tight pressure that has been lurking and floating around the program at this time for the last few seasons, particularly last season.

Gone are Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson, of course.

But nobody should be lulled into thinking that means a slow-down for the program that Izzo has built and turned into one of the most respected in the game.

There is another well-regarded freshman class for Spartan fans to get to know – but this year’s battalion will lean on its experience and hunger to make up for three straight early exits from the NCAA Tournament.

Still, Michigan State enters the season as the defending Big Ten regular season champions – for the 9th time in Izzo’s tenure.

Raising another banner that commemorates Big Ten supremacy is right up near the top of the goals – but it’s that elusive second national championship for Izzo and his program that is, again, the main priority.

Another typically grueling non-conference season starts with a clash against the #1 ranked Jayhawks on Tuesday night.

What are a few things we’ll be keeping our eyes on as the Spartans get the season started?

CASSIUS WINSTON

Cassius Winston is coming off of a season in which he led the Big Ten in 3-point shooting but, perhaps more importantly, was second in assists-to-turnover ratio.

Will Cassius pick up where he left off by demonstrating a continued ability to drill shots from long range?

Will Cassius – as the leader and floor general of the team – protect the ball by limiting turnovers, especially ones that are unforced and/or are the result of a lack of focus?

If Winston can run the offense with efficiency and take advantage opportunities to score from long range, Michigan State will be in great shape all season long.

If Winston shows he can do this Tuesday night against the Jayhawks – and shows that he can play like a calm, focused veteran, Michigan State can win its opener against the #1 ranked team in the nation as long as the Spartans are within six to eight points with seven minutes to play.

Michigan State’s ability to stay close deep into the second half will not just hinge on Winston’s performance, of course…

NICK WARD

Is Nick Ward ready to be NICK WARD?

Can Ward elevate his ability to be dangerous in the low post by popping out and nailing a ten-foot jumper from time to time?

Can Ward take full advantage of low post opportunities by converting gimmes rather than missing chances at layups within traffic?

Has Ward really worked hard enough over the offseason to increase his stamina in order to be powerful and quick with the game on the line?

Can he give the necessary 25-ish minutes Izzo needs out of him game in and game out?

Has Ward improved his low post defense enough so that he can be relied on to deny and defend on ball screens that have given him trouble in the past?

Is Nick Ward ready to play every minute like it’s last and can he become not just a presence but a force to be reckoned with?

In Tuesday night’s game against Kansas, Ward might be able to take advantage of KU’s 7′ center, Udoka Azubuike, who has a penchant for collecting a lot of fouls (he fouled out three times last season, twice in the tournament) and had four fouls eight times.

If Ward can force Azubuike into foul trouble, Michigan State could take advantage of what would be a thinned out Jayhawk frontcourt.

If Ward can’t lull Azubuike into foul trouble, KU might dominate in the paint on the other end of the floor.

Michigan State needs Ward to WARD all season – and it starts Tuesday night.

JOSHUA LANGFORD

It’s now well known to Spartan fans – Joshua Langford has shown flashes of brilliance over the last couple of seasons while also having a tendency to disappear at other times.

Last season, Langford showed what everyone sees in him when he lit up North Carolina for 23 points in Michigan State’s blowout victory over the Tar Heels.

In Michigan State’s First Round game against against Bucknell, Langford scored 22 points in the Spartans win.

However, Langford went cold in the Second Round and was 1 for 12 against Syracuse in Michigan State’s disappointing exit from the Tournament.

Just this week, Izzo made it clear that he sees Langford as one of the keys to the Spartans’ ability to have a truly great season.

Izzo talks about how Langford is a dangerous offensive weapon from mid range.

Izzo also has spoken of how Langford is also a real weapon in the open court.

Izzo needs Cassius Winston to push, push, push the ball in order to get Langford as many opportunities in transition as possible?

Can Winston deliver?

As has been the case with some of the great Spartans over the years, it can all start for Langford on the defensive side since he’s as good a defender as Izzo has.

Against Kansas, Langford will likely be be guarding KU’s 5-star recruit, Quentin Grimes – can Langford get the season started off on the right foot by asserting some veteran skill on the 6’5″ shooting guard?

The last time Michigan State played KU was in the Second Round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament.

Kansas thumped Michigan State in that game, blowing out the Spartans 90-70.

Langford was 4 for 9 from the field and finished with 10 points.

Tuesday night gives Langford the chance to make a statement in the opening game.

WHAT ABOUT THE JAYHAWKS?

Kansas has a collection of highly touted transfers (K.J. and Dedric Lawson along with Charlie Moore) and freshmen (Grimes and Devon Dotson) making up much of its playing group.

Will the Jayhawks have the chemistry needed to fight all game against a veteran defense that will certainly challenge them?

Are the Jayhawk freshmen ready to battle all game long against the veteran Spartans?

Will the clock operator be the same clock operator who forgot to run the clock for about five full minutes and allowed the Jayhawks to climb back into a game that Jud and the Spartans clearly would have won at Kansas City’s Kemper Arena in 1986’s Sweet Sixteen?

Tuesday night will give Spartan fans a great peek at what’s in store for this year’s Spartan squad.

Get ready for another fantastic ride.

Prediction on the game coming Tuesday.

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