Friday, June 5, 2020

Column: Takeaways from Langford's injury and Michigan State Madness scrimmage

October 31, 2019
<p>Joshua Langford (1) watches his teammates on the court during the game against Michigan on March 9, 2019 at the Breslin Center. The Spartans defeated the Wolverines, 75-63.</p>

Joshua Langford (1) watches his teammates on the court during the game against Michigan on March 9, 2019 at the Breslin Center. The Spartans defeated the Wolverines, 75-63.

Photo by Anntaninna Biondo | The State News

In an emotional press conference on Oct. 22, Head Coach Tom Izzo announced senior guard Josh Langford had injured his foot — the same foot he had surgery on earlier in the year.

The loss hurt the Spartans both on and off the court, as Langford was a starter and a huge asset in scoring. He was also a spiritual and emotional leader.

His injury raises the question of who will step up in his place, and who will fill in behind them.

Some of those questions were answered at Michigan State Midnight Madness Oct. 25, where the players faced off in a scrimmage.

With Langford down and the season opener against No. 2 Kentucky closing in on Nov. 5, Izzo needs players to step up — and step up soon. In what might be the last glimpse of this Spartan team before the regular season begins, there were a few key players who stood out.

Freshmen step up

In a scrimmage that answered many questions about MSU's roster, one thing was certain — freshman guard Rocket Watts is good. 

Known as a shooter throughout high school, Watts displayed his range throughout the contest, but also surprised with his passing skills. It seemed he was almost always able to find the open man. Combining his speed, shot and the passing ability he has shown as of late, Watts is poised for a large role in Langford’s absence.

It’s not just Watts. The entire freshman class aren’t playing like freshmen. Forwards Julius Marble and Malik Hall both look prepared to take on college-level basketball.

The players have used their size to their advantage. Despite not touching seven feet like some prolific rebounders, both freshmen have made the most of their height.

Each of the freshmen are Kenny Goins-esque, in the way they play. Taking the underdog mentality to heart, and fighting for each board and rebound.

Marble had some impressive points from the paint during the scrimmage, while Hall was able to move the ball well and let the game come to him. Both are useful and uncommon traits from freshmen. The pair have a good relationship, and could provide some good chemistry from the second team.

With the freshmen looking strong, that's a good sign for MSU's depth, especially in a rotation that could fluctuate game to game.

Bingham Jr. stands out

The standout of the scrimmage didn’t come from the freshmen, nor did it come from upperclassmen. To say sophomore forward Marcus Bingham Jr. has improved from last year would be an understatement. When in the scrimmage, he commanded the floor and demanded constant attention from each defender on the court.

Bingham Jr. used his length to pull in rebounds and take over in the paint. On top of that, he was able to get up some good looking shots from three.

Earlier in the year, Izzo said he hadn’t seen much separation from the younger players. The toolset Bingham Jr. showed in the scrimmage might have been the separation Izzo needed to trust him to assume that role.

Tillman needs to be the swiss army knife 

With Langford down and Ahrens questionable, MSU needs to make up points, assists and rebounds. Junior forward Xavier Tillman is going to have to pick up the pieces. 

Last year, Tillman saw an increase in his role as senior forward Nick Ward went down. When he was called upon, he showed up. From running the pick and roll to perfection against the University of Michigan in the Big Ten Championship to putting up 19 against No. 1 seeded Duke in the Elite Eight, Tillman did it all.

He is going to have to have his number called on again. With Ward and Goins down, Tillman will be the guy in the paint.

For the Spartans' success, they will need to see what they saw out of Tillman at the end of that season and even more.

Tillman showed he was up for the job during the scrimmage Friday night.

Winston will be the key  

The Big Ten preseason Player of the Year will have to live up to expectations.

During the scrimmage, senior guard Cassius Winston showed he can still do it all. He went coast to coast, through Rocket Watts, to finish with a fancy reverse layup just minutes into the scrimmage.

Winston also passed the ball with ease, finding Marble in the paint for quick scores and Bingham Jr. around the perimeter for high percentage shots.

The one thing Winston will have to be careful with is turnovers.

All eyes will be on him, as he is the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year. There will be extra pressure, and Winston will have to make sure he isn’t forcing anything too much.

Limiting turnovers will be key to Spartan success, especially against a tough early schedule that will be sure to take advantage of any MSU slip-ups.

Replacing Langford

Overall, the Spartans can’t replace Langford. His scoring, floor presence and leadership makes him what Izzo calls “a generational kind of guy." But what the scrimmage showed is that the green and white has a plethora of players who can help fill in the gap.

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