Michigan State Basketball: 10 bold predictions for 2016-17 season

Mar 7, 2015; Bloomington, IN, USA; Michigan State Spartans coach Tom Izzo watches his team warm up before the game against the Indiana Hoosiers at Assembly Hall. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State basketball is set to begin the 2016-17 season on Friday and here are some bold predictions.

It’s almost that time again. Michigan State basketball is just hours from tipping off its 2016-17 season and there are some high expectations for this year’s team. At least after last season, the Spartans will likely have a much better finish to this year. An early exit in the NCAA Tournament has left a sour taste in all of our mouths — just imagine how Tom Izzo and the players feel.

With his best freshman class coming in, Izzo knows that he has the talent to work with and a team that can make a deep run in March. However, a lack of bigs may cost this team early on.

Will this year’s Michigan State team be better than last year’s which finished the regular season and Big Ten Tournament with a 29-5 record, earning a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament? It’s possible, but it might take some time before these guys really gel and put together a solid run.

It’ll be a tough first month of play, but here our 10 bold predictions for Michigan State basketball this season.

10. Tum Tum improves on offense

Nov 13, 2015; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans guard Lourawls Nairn Jr. (11) brings the ball up court during the second half of a game against the Florida Atlantic Owls at Jack Breslin Student Events Center. MSU won 82-55. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

You can’t really say anything bad about Lourawls Nairn when it comes to his leadership and defensive prowess. Izzo has even called him one of the best leaders on the team, and that shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Before last season, we heard about how Tum Tum was going to be better on offense and how he worked all summer long to improve his jumper, but it never came to fruition. He averaged less than three points per game and dished out 3.3 assists per game. His shooting percentage was even more horrific at 38 percent and 18 percent from deep.

That will change this season as he is going to gain some confidence as the team captain and leader. He has the speed to get to the rack and in the past he has driven and dished it out for a lower percentage shot. Expect him to take it to the hole and finish on his own this year.

Look out for him in fast-break situations as well. He could be a major factor and could engineer one of the best fast-break teams in the country with his explosiveness.

Nov 23, 2015; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans guard Matt McQuaid (20) defends Eastern Michigan Eagles guard Ty Toney (32) during the 2nd half of a game at Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

9. Matt McQuaid breaks out

Watching Matt McQuaid in the first few games, especially against Kansas, of last season provided some excitement. Sure, he was just a freshman, but a deadly sharpshooter was developing before our very eyes.

The baby-faced assassin, as he has since been dubbed, averaged 15.8 minutes per game as a true freshman, which is probably more than many had expected, especially with Denzel Valentine and Bryn Forbes eating up most of the minutes at the guard positions.

McQuaid may have averaged just 3.5 points and 1.6 assists per game, but he had a nice three-point shot, making 40 percent of his long-balls, and didn’t turn the ball over much. Despite having an elite freshman class with two guards coming in — Cassius Winston and Josh Langford — McQuaid’s minutes will likely increase drastically.

In fact, he started both of the exhibition games and will probably start a majority of regular season contests. He has earned the trust of Izzo and that’s a big deal for Spartans looking to break out.

I’m not saying he’s going to average 15 points per game, but he will definitely see his 3.5-point, 1.6-assist averages increase tremendously.

Mar 26, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; McDonalds All American guard Joshua Langford (25) poses for photos on portrait day at the Marriott Hotel. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

8. Josh Langford evolves into best all-around player

On a team that features Cassius Winston, Nick Ward, Eron Harris and Miles Bridges, it’s interesting to think that Josh Langford might be the best of the bunch. No, I’m not talking best offensive threat as that will likely go to Bridges, but the best all-around player.

There’s chatter around the Spartans’ camp that Langford has one of the highest basketball IQs on the team and he could be the team’s best performer. He can pass, shoot, drive to the basket, defend, rebound well for a guard and make smart hustle plays. This kid could be the most underrated in the 2016 class.

The McDonald’s All-American doesn’t receive the same amount of hype as Bridges, but he definitely has a skill set that is intriguing. He isn’t going to drop jaws with alley-oop dunks every night, but he’s going to play smart ball and get the job done without as much praise.

Need someone to defend the perimeter if Harris is out or just struggling? Langford will be that guy. He could evolve into a Gary Harris type of player who can knock down big shots as well as play defense.

Watching this kid on both sides of the floor will provide fans with a pleasant surprise. It will be hard to keep him around for multiple seasons.

Jan 7, 2016; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans forward Gavin Schilling (34) reacts to a play during the 1st half of a game against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

7. Gavin Schilling returns by January

Gavin Schilling suffering a knee injury right before Michigan State Madness a few weeks ago wasn’t the ideal scenario Izzo was hoping for. He was already down a big man in Ben Carter who injured his knee early in the fall and was relying on Schilling to be a go-to guy in the post.

No, he hasn’t ever been relied upon to take care of the production down low seeing as the Spartans have been loaded with post players in years past, but Schilling was important given the fact that Nick Ward was the only true big in the 2016 class and Deyonta Davis and Matt Costello had departed.

Losing Davis hurt this team in the offseason and Izzo admitted that when he made this grueling schedule to begin the season (Duke, Kentucky, Arizona) that he believed he would have retained the big man through at least his sophomore year.

Schilling’s knee injury wasn’t as severe as Carter’s, reportedly, and Izzo has said that he hopes to get the big man back by conference play. If Izzo can already say that’s what he goal is, then you have to believe there’s a good chance it happens.

It will be a tough couple of months without depth in the post, but once Schilling is back for the conference opener, everyone can breathe easier.

Mar 18, 2016; St. Louis, MO, USA; Michigan State Spartans head coach Tom Izzo looks on during the first half of the first round against the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders in the 2016 NCAA Tournament at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

6. Cassius Winston becomes starter

Sure, I’ve already said that Tum Tum is going to be an improved offensive player at the point guard position, but after watching Cassius Winston through the first two exhibition games, it’s clear he has what it takes to start. Plus, it would be nice to have a spark plug like Nairn come off the bench.

Winston put up over 10 points in both of the exhibition games and wasn’t afraid to take the ball to the rack. Not only that, but he didn’t take silly shots and he finished at the rim cleanly.

Michigan State has always revered point guards who can score, dating back to Mateen Cleaves, Kalin Lucas, Marcus Taylor, Drew Neitzel, Travis Trice and even Keith Appling for a short period of time. Those are the guards that thrive in this system and Winston looks to be the latest of the group.

Nairn is never going to put 10-plus points on the board on a consistent basis and the Spartans will be looking for some offense and a kid who can pass just as well as he can shoot. Winston will be that guy.

By the start of Big Ten play, the true freshman from Detroit will be the Spartans’ starting point guard.

Feb 14, 2016; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans guard Eron Harris (14) reacts to a play during the second half of a game against the Indiana Hoosiers at Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

5. Eron Harris grows into leadership role

Eron Harris caught a lot of flak last year from Izzo and even the fans. He was expected to be this breakout star after averaging 17.2 points per game in 2013-14 with West Virginia, but that really wasn’t all that realistic, or even fair, for the junior shooting guard.

Now that Bryn Forbes and Denzel Valentine have graduated and he’s one of the few seniors left on the team, you can expect him to step up into a leadership role that will grow throughout the season.

Often times he looked lost as a junior, but now that he has been in the Spartans’ system for three years and the guys look up to him, he will continue to improve both on and off the court. No, he’s not going to be the next Denzel, but he is going to average more than 10 points per game and be looked at as a go-to scorer.

We will see a definite uptick in production and he will prove himself as a floor general and fearless leader. It’s always fun to watch guys progress throughout their careers and Harris’ is one of the more interesting growths. He came in as a scoring threat and has molded into a top defender and potentially more in 2016-17.

Eron Harris will be an unquestioned leader of this team.

Jan 7, 2016; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans head coach Tom Izzo reacts to a play during the second half of a game against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Michigan State won 79-54. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

4. Nick Ward will be an All-Big Ten player

Am I nuts? Maybe, but not because of this prediction. It might seem like a far-fetched statement, but I truly believe that Nick Ward will be a second or third-team All-Big Ten performer in the post. Why do I think this before he’s even played a second of regular season college ball? Look at the need for big men on this team.

Throughout the season, we are going to see a transition of a true freshman to the likes of a Derrick Nix from year one to year two. Ward might not look the part yet, but he is going to evolve into one of the best big men in the conference and a lot of that will be due to the fact that he has to be relied upon heavily.

Izzo knows that he has to get Ward into tip-top shape for the season ahead. His true freshman big man will probably need to play 22-25 minutes per night, at least, and being on the court that long will mean that he’s going to grab a ton of boards and put up points.

It might be a slow start to the season, but after facing teams like Duke, Kentucky, Arizona and potentially Louisville, I could see Ward take off as a player and really gain momentum as one of the Big Ten’s best post players.

The most exciting prospect of the whole ordeal? He’s only going to get better as a sophomore, junior and maybe senior — if he stays.

Mar 30, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; From left to right McDonald’s All-Americans Miles Bridges (0) and Joshua Langford (25) who both will be attending Michigan State pose for a group photo before the McDonald’s High School All-American Game at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

3. Miles Bridges leads the team in scoring

The premier recruit of the 2016 class and arguably Izzo’s best haul in over a decade, Miles Bridges seems to be “the guy” who everyone is talking about. After two exhibition games, the buzz is real. He averaged 26.5 points per game and showcased an innate ability to rebound and swat shots as well.

While Eron Harris has a history of scoring potential and is an early favorite to lead the team, my pick is for Bridges seeing as he can get to the basket with ease. Not only that, but he will create matchup problems for opponents all season long.

Bridges stands 6-foot-7 and will be forced to play a lot of minutes at the four which means he will be guarded by power forwards for a good portion of the season. As a natural wing player, the former five-star prospect from Flint will be able to drive past these slower bigs and posterize whoever stands in his way.

If you think those 53 points in the first two exhibitions were fluke-like, you clearly didn’t watch the games. Sure, it’s tough for freshmen to flourish in Izzo’s system, but they’re going to have to this season. This kid is a special talent and he’s almost surely a one-and-done player.

Moreover, Michigan State will have an elite scorer and freshman All-American.

Mar 13, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Michigan State Spartans guard Eron Harris (14) celebrates after winning the Big Ten Championship against the Purdue Boilermakers during the Big Ten conference tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Michigan State defeats Purdue 66-62. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

2. MSU finishes second in Big Ten, wins conference tourney

Right now, it’s hard to even think about where the Spartans will finish in the conference standings since there are so many question marks surrounding this team.

First off, will the defense improve? The simple answer to that is yes. Each season, Michigan State’s defense struggles a bit, but then Izzo figures out where the weaknesses are and a number of practices later, you will find that this team is going to be as tough as any defensively.

Why won’t the Spartans finish in first place? Looking at what Wisconsin returns, it will be tough to out-match them. The Badgers bring back basically everyone from a Sweet 16 team and were just a few points away from beating Notre Dame to advance to the Elite Eight. Combine that with the return of Big Ten Player of the Year favorite Nigel Hayes and they’re the team to beat.

The Spartans will give the Badgers a run for their money and truly surprise some people. It’s hard to sneak up on anyone when you’re ranked No. 12 in the preseason AP rankings, but Michigan State isn’t really considered likely to knock off Wisconsin.

The conference race will come down to a game and the Spartans earn the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament and win for yet another season.

Mar 17, 2016; St. Louis, MO, USA; Michigan State Spartans head coach Tom Izzo speaks with the media during a practice day before the first round of the NCAA men

1. Spartans earn No. 2 seed again, make Elite Eight

The conference tournament title, as explained on the previous slide, will boost Michigan State’s resume yet again. I could see Michigan State finishing with a 13-5 record in Big Ten play and maybe nine regular season losses overall, but that will still be enough to earn them the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Must Read: MSU Recruiting: 5 bold predictions for month of November

Knocking off Wisconsin in the conference title game will be enough for the committee to give Tom Izzo some respect and offer up a high seed.

Unlike last year, Michigan State won’t squander a golden opportunity to make a run at the Final Four by losing in the first round. Nope, Izzo has learned from those mistakes and he knows that’s a feeling that he never wants to go through again. It was rare to see an Izzo-coached team  unprepared in March, but we won’t see that again.

Michigan State will put together a nice run with a group of freshmen leading the way. By then, they will seem like veterans and the Spartans will make it all the way to the Elite Eight before losing to top-seeded Duke yet again — yes, they will have the unfortunate task of being slotted in the same region as the Blue Devils and trying to pull off an upset.

Growth will be obvious with this team as it finishes in the top 15 and opens the 2017-18 season ranked in the top five.

This article originally appeared on