Izzo and team embrace high expectations at men’s basketball media day
After ending last season with a second round NCAA Tournament loss to Kansas, expectations are high for the Spartans coming into this season, as many preseason polls have them ranked as a top five team. Head coach Tom Izzo held a press conference in which he addressed the lofty expectations for the team, and said the squad will embrace the challenge.
“Handling expectations or success is always a key,” Izzo said during a press conference. “There are no goals that are any loftier that you’re going to put on us that we haven’t put on ourselves.”
With sophomore forward Miles Bridges deciding not to enter the NBA Draft and to return to MSU last spring, the Spartans are returning four out of their top five scorers from last season.
Bridges – the 2016-17 Big Ten Freshman of the Year – was widely projected to be a lottery pick in the 2017 NBA Draft; coming off a freshman season in which he averaged close to 17 points a game and just over eight rebounds per contest.
Bridges, along with senior guard Lourawls ‘Tum Tum’ Nairn, are team-elected captains this season; and while Izzo raved about the star forwards stellar abilities on and off the court, he acknowledged that the sophomore isn’t a finished product.
“He’s got some things he’s got to get better at,” Izzo said. “I can’t think of a guy who’s worked harder all summer to make sure he’s ready. I think he’ll be more than ready for an incredible season.”
With Cassius Winston, Nick Ward, and Joshua Langford once again accompanying Bridges, the team is returning their entire freshman class from last season. These four sophomores combined for 57.1 percent of MSU’s total points and 54.0 percent total shots attempted in the 2016-17 season.
Due to a lack of depth, this group was relied upon last season to play heavy minutes in crucial games. Winston and Ward believe that gained experience will only help the team this season in regards to their cohesiveness on the court.
“Us four sophomores, we were responsible for a lot of everything last year,” Winston said. “We know what we’re doing, we know what to expect.”
“It’s going to help us a lot as far as experience and bringing the freshmen along because we had to jump in the fire early,” Ward said.
MSU will feature two highly touted freshmen this season who were both ranked among the top 100 players in their class coming out of high school by ESPN, in forwards Xavier Tillman and Jaren Jackson.
Jackson – a 2017 McDonald’s All-American – said that despite being widely recognized as one of the nation’s elite freshman, he will accept whatever role given to him that is beneficial to the team’s success.
“I expect to make an impact in whatever way we need to win,” Jackson said. “Whether that’s rebounding, scoring, or cheering on the bench, whatever is needed I’m going to do it.”
At 6-11 with a 7-4 wingspan, Izzo said Jackson’s services will certainly be utilized on the defensive end and in the front court; an area decimated by injuries last season with sixth and fifth year forwards Ben Carter and Gavin Schilling both missing all of last season with knee injuries.
With the addition Jackson and Tillman, along with their returning big men being healthy this time around, Schilling said the newly-acquired front court depth will make the team more versatile.
“That’s one good part about having so much depth, is that we’re just going to have so many lineups we can play with,” Schilling said.
The Spartan’s first team scrimmage in front of a live audience will take place at Midnight Madness on Oct. 20.