Tom Izzo was proud of his players' fight in a 90-70 second-round NCAA loss to Kansas Sunday in Tulsa, Okla. Video by Chris Solari/DFP
Michigan State Spartans head coach Tom Izzo looks on during the second half of MSU's 90-70 loss to Kansas in the second round of the 2017 NCAA tournament at BOK Center on March 19, 2017 in Tulsa, Okla.(Photo: Brett Rojo, USA TODAY Sports)
Free Press sports writer Chris Solari goes through Michigan State's roster following Sunday's loss to Kansas in the NCAA tournament:
G Alvin Ellis, Senior
So much of what Ellis had to do for much of the year came from playing out of position, sometimes at the 4-position. Defense and toughness served as his strengths, with a few big offensive games against Minnesota and Ohio State mixed with a lot of scoring inconsistency. When Eron Harris suffered his season-ending knee injury, Ellis took over the role of starting shooting guard and as the glue guy on defense.
>Michigan State senior Alvin Ellis III proud of his team after finale
F Matt Van Dyk, Senior
Speaking of out-of-position players, Van Dyk found himself in a vital role after Miles Bridges’ foot injury in the middle of the season, including a four-game starting stint for the former walk-on. The offensively challenged, gritty 6-foot-5 wing matched up with 7-2 Isaac Haas against Purdue for a stretch, perhaps the visual representation of MSU’s height challenges after injuries to Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter.
G Eron Harris, Senior
Harris never developed into a consistent scoring threat in his two seasons at MSU, but he did become a valuable perimeter defender and conductor of younger players on that side of the ball. His streaky shooting produced some big games early, but his offense waned before he suffered his emotional, season-ending knee injury at Purdue. That turned him into a de facto coach and motivator for the remaining players.
C Gavin Schilling, Senior
The season ended just before it began for Schilling, who suffered a knee injury just before the team’s unveiling to fans in late October. The Spartans sorely missed the 6-9 Schilling’s ability to guard ball screens and rebound, as well as the solid screens he set on offense. He is expected to return after taking a medical redshirt.
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F Ben Carter, Senior
Carter’s MSU career never began, with the UNLV grad transfer, in his first official practice, suffering a second knee injury in less than a year. The 6-9 stretch-4 will petition the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility, which will be difficult to receive considering he sat out one year after transferring from Oregon and played past the midpoint of UNLV’s 2015-16 season before getting hurt.
G Tum Tum Nairn, Junior
No player was more of a lightning rod than Nairn, who started most of the season at point guard. The two-time captain never discovered his shot and struggled to orchestrate the offense in the halfcourt. Still, his defense and ability to push the pace in transition were essential to MSU getting to 20 wins. He needs to improve his jumper or risk losing minutes to Cassius Winston next season, despite his leadership capabilities.>
Mar 19, 2017; Tulsa, OK, USA; Michigan State Spartans players huddle before the game against the Kansas Jayhawks in the second round of the 2017 NCAA tournament at BOK Center. (Photo: Brett Rojo, USA TODAY Sports)
G Matt McQuaid, Sophomore
After missing all last summer following double sports hernia surgery, McQuaid took most of the season to rediscover his rhythm offensively. He continued to be an up-and-down scorer and outside shooter, but McQuaid’s defensive quickness and tenacity proved better than expected coming off the injury. MSU needs him to build upon a strong finish to the season as a spot-up shooter and slasher.
F Kenny Goins, Sophomore
As much grief as Nairn got, Goins got almost as much despite being placed in perhaps the most difficult spot of any Spartan. Tom Izzo used the 6-6 former walk-on in tandem with Nick Ward at center most of the season, with his height limitations evident against bigger post players. The incoming freshmen and Schilling’s return should allow Goins to return to his 8-to-12 minutes a game at power forward next season.
G Kyle Ahrens, Sophomore
The 6-5 Ahrens got some minutes at power forward and a few at center as Izzo juggled lineups due to foul troubles in the middle of the season. He finally got a chance to settle in and play a little more at the 3, his natural position, where his spot-up shooting delivered some timely three-pointers when MSU needed them. He’ll need to show better defense to see more playing time there as a junior.
G Conner George, Freshman
The son of MSU volleyball coach Cathy George became a fan favorite in blowouts, and he has the shooting ability to see some time off the bench later in his walk-on career.
G/F Miles Bridges, Freshman
There wasn’t anything the 6-7 McDonald’s All-America couldn’t do as a rookie, leading the Spartans in points and rebounds. Bridges created off the bounce, hit from long range, facilitated for his teammates and elevated to block shots. If he leaves for the NBA draft, he could be a lottery pick. If he stays at MSU, he gives Izzo a legitimate shot at his second national title.
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G Joshua Langford, Freshman
It took Langford a while to find his footing at the college level, slowed early by a hamstring injury and then struggling to adjust to the speed and athleticism at his new level. By the end of the season, the 6-5 McDonald’s All-America was creating his own shot off the dribble, starting to slash to the rim and rebound from his wing position and flashing his deadly outside shot.>
Mar 19, 2017; Tulsa, OK, USA; Michigan State Spartans forward Nick Ward reacts during the second half of MSU's 90-70 loss to Kansas in the second round of the 2017 NCAA tournament at BOK Center on March 19, 2017 in Tulsa, Okla. (Photo: Kevin Jairaj, USA TODAY Sports)
F/C Nick Ward, Freshman
As much as Ward shrank his body, beginning in the summer, he grew his game just as much throughout his debut season. The 6-8 freshman started seeing double teams against Duke and continued to draw attention with his combination of bullish power and feathery touch around the basket as MSU’s only post option. His next steps will be to make a leap in defending high ball screens and to develop a 10- to 15-foot jump shot.
G Cassius Winston, Freshman
It’s not easy to be a point guard for Izzo, and the 6-0 rookie caught plenty of intense tongue-lashings from his coach for a season full of defensive issues and some lackadaisical decision-making at times. Those are areas for off-season growth. However, Winston also impressed with his play-making ability to set up his teammates, his innate feel for penetrating the paint and a better-than-anticipated outside shot.
F/C Jaren Jackson Jr.
With all of MSU’s injuries this winter, Izzo could have used Jackson’s lean 6-10 frame that allows him to sky for rebounds and block shots. The Spartans don’t have a player on the roster right now like the McDonald’s All-America from La Lumiere School (Indiana), with his length and height on defense, as well as his ability to stretch the floor as a shooter and to drive to the basket and finish above the rim.
F/C Xavier Tillman
The Michigan Mr. Basketball runner-up arrives with a similar mold to Ward, a 6-8 big-body post player who will be working to hone his conditioning and strength. Tillman possesses a little better jumper right now than Ward and is a deft passer, which could allow for some high-low big man offense Izzo hasn’t had since Derrick Nix.
G/F Brian Bowen
The 6-7 Saginaw native, Jackson’s teammate at La Lumiere, profiles a little more like Kansas’ Josh Jackson than Bridges – a more wiry guard-like body at this point with the ability to score in a variety of ways. He is expected to choose between MSU, Arizona, Creighton, North Carolina State and Texas, with UCLA and DePaul still hovering.
C Brandon McCoy
The Spartans continue to pursue the powerful 6-11 big man from San Diego, a legitimate center who would allow Izzo all kinds of lineup flexibility he did not have this year. McCoy, ESPN’s No. 6 player nationally, also considering Arizona, Oregon, UNLV and San Diego State. He took an official visit to MSU in November.
G Greg Elliott
The late-rising, high-scoring senior from Detroit East English Village picked up an MSU offer in late January. The 6-3 shooting guard also is considering Marquette, Providence and Toledo. How many of the final three targets Izzo can take is dependent on the futures of Bridges and Carter – and the recruits picking MSU.