Michigan State Basketball: 5 bold predictions for February

Jan 29, 2017; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans student section performs during the first half of a game against the Michigan Wolverines at the Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 29, 2017; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans student section performs during the first half of a game against the Michigan Wolverines at the Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State basketball is facing a big month of February and here are five bold predictions for the Spartans.

The month of February will be an important one for Michigan State basketball both on and off the court. The Spartans have a slew of games approaching that could be the difference between an NCAA Tournament berth and the NIT. Also, the recruiting aspect of Spartan basketball should not be forgotten.

Guys like Greg Elliott, Brandon McCoy and Brian Bowen remain on the Spartans’ radar for the 2017 recruiting class and at least two of them could very well pick a school this month. Could all three become Spartans sooner or later? It’s possible.

On the hardwood, the Spartans face teams like Michigan, Purdue and Wisconsin and it could be one of those stretches in which Tom Izzo’s team gets hot at the right time and cruises into the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments. An important stretch awaits.

Here are our five bold predictions for MSU basketball this month.

5. Greg Elliott commits

Sure, this is just something on the recruiting trail, but the Spartans will likely land at least one commitment this month and I think it’ll be Greg Elliott. The three-star shooting guard out of Detroit was just offered by Tom Izzo last week and it may have been the one he was waiting for.

The Spartans would be a good fit for him, especially since they need a guard who can create his own shots and score off the dribble. Brian Bowen could come in and do that as a wing player, but Elliott would be a nice option off the bench.

After receiving the offer on an unofficial visit, Elliott seemed to speak highly of the Spartans and Izzo. There’s a rumor going around that Michigan offered him and he wasn’t as interested in the Wolverines’ scholarship.

Elliott is one of the most underrated players in the 2017 class and could make a serious jump in the rankings before too long. He could make the pledge to Michigan State before the month of February is over.

Jan 11, 2017; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans guard Eron Harris (14) looks to pass the ball against Minnesota Golden Gophers guard Akeem Springs (0) during the second half of a game at Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 11, 2017; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans guard Eron Harris (14) looks to pass the ball against Minnesota Golden Gophers guard Akeem Springs (0) during the second half of a game at Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

4. Eron Harris finally steps up as an offensive weapon

It’s been a tough season for senior guard Eron Harris. He was expected to be the offensive weapon that all teams would have to focus on and even double-team, but he has been a non-factor since Big Ten play began. Nick Ward is receiving more double-teams, as is Miles Bridges.

Before the season, people who watched Harris’ performance at the Midnight Madness scrimmage believed he would be the next Bryn Forbes, but he has been as inconsistent a player as Izzo has ever coached.

Harris began the season slow against Arizona and Kentucky, but he strung together a stretch of 10 double-digit scoring performances in 11 games. Since Big Ten play began, he has scored in double figures just two times and has scored five points of less four times.

With the final month of his college career approaching, Harris is going to realize it’s now or never and finally break out of Izzo’s doghouse and put together his best month of play. No, he’s not going to average 20 points per game, but rather 13 through the rest of February.

The senior guard has a decent shot, shooting 40 percent from long range, but he needs to be comfortable enough to take over games.

Jan 4, 2017; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans guard Cassius Winston (5) brings the ball up court against Rutgers Scarlet Knights guard Corey Sanders (3) during the second half of a game at the Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 4, 2017; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans guard Cassius Winston (5) brings the ball up court against Rutgers Scarlet Knights guard Corey Sanders (3) during the second half of a game at the Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

3. Cassius Winston sparks end of season run

Why doesn’t Cassius Winston get the starting point guard duties? That’s a good question, but Izzo likes what Tum Tum Nairn brings to the team defensively, which could be the major reason the junior still starts. He’s a lockdown defender and can bring the ball up the floor faster than anyone on the team.

Still, Winston is the better overall player and actually brings another scoring option to the offense when he’s in the game. While he likes to find the open man more than he does take his own shots, Winston can still fill it up from long range and he’s not afraid to take the ball to the hole.

In fact, he scored 16 points in a win over Michigan last week which included 10-of-11 free throws and three assists. He followed that up with a 10-point performance against Nebraska with four assists and three rebounds. He also shot 2-of-3 from long range.

The players believe and trust in Winston even though he’s a true freshman and that’s a positive sign for the future. He commands respect on both sides of the ball and his ability to finish at the rim is comparable to that of Kalin Lucas.

Michigan State is going to finish the regular season strong and it’ll be due to a surge from Winston off the bench and, eventually, back into the starting lineup.

Dec 6, 2016; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans guard Joshua Langford (1) celebrates with guard Lourawls Nairn Jr. (11) during the second half against the Youngstown State Penguins at Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Spartans win 77-57. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 6, 2016; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans guard Joshua Langford (1) celebrates with guard Lourawls Nairn Jr. (11) during the second half against the Youngstown State Penguins at Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Spartans win 77-57. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

2. Josh Langford begins transformation to star status

If you listen closely, you can hear the grumblings of few Spartan fans who are displeased with the play of freshman guard Josh Langford. He began the season with a hamstring injury, which is hard to overcome, and eased his way into extended minutes.

Eventually, the former McDonald’s All-American infiltrated the starting lineup and was giving consistent five-plus point performances. No one truly expected him to come in and be the best player on the court as a freshman, especially after his injury issues, but he is starting to play like a solid role player despite the doubters voicing their opinions.

Langford has scored in every game but one this season and that’s pretty good for a player who averages just 4.6 shot attempts per game. He doesn’t often look for his shot, but he’s also not afraid to take open jumpers and threes, and I would argue he has the best stroke on the team.

In fact, Langford is shooting 50 percent from the floor and 46 percent from 3-point land. He’s averaging 6.0 points and 2.3 rebounds per game, but I’m expecting a big month out of him. He got it started with a nice nine-point showing against Nebraska and I fully expect him to exceed his normal averages.

We might see the start of Langford’s ascension into stardom in February, in my opinion.

Jan 29, 2017; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans student section performs during the first half of a game against the Michigan Wolverines at the Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 29, 2017; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans student section performs during the first half of a game against the Michigan Wolverines at the Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

1. Spartans finish the month 6-1

Izzo has faith that his team can get even better. The Spartans aren’t quite at the level he’d hoped they would be, but he has reiterated the point that he believes Michigan State could be one of the best teams in the Big Ten and he has made the NCAA Tournament with worse.

Must Read: MSU Basketball: 10 bold predictions for 2016-17 season

Barring an epic meltdown, Michigan State should make the Big Dance in March and after a solid month of February, everything will be figured out but the Spartans’ seed. I think Michigan State will win 6-of-7 games in the month (already counting the Nebraska win) and improve to 19-10 on the year.

The Spartans will take down Michigan in Ann Arbor Tuesday in one of the toughest road games of the season and then follow that up with victories against Iowa and Ohio State at home. Avenging the loss against the Buckeyes earlier in the year will be important to these young Spartans.

Purdue will provide the toughest test for the Spartans, in my estimation. Michigan State struggles in West Lafayette and revenge will have to wait until next season, or even until the Big Ten Tournament. The Boilermakers win that one by 10.

Michigan State’s best win of the season has yet to come and it will take place on Feb. 26 against Wisconsin, just one game after beating Nebraska at home. That victory over the Badgers at home will have a March Madness feel to it and will solidify Michigan State’s place in the NCAA Tournament field.

A 6-1 finish to the month of February is not too shabby for a ‘bubble’ team.

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