Michigan State basketball exceeding expectations early in season

Michigan State has quietly surged into the top five thanks to a hot start.

Most college basketball experts predicted that Michigan State would be good but not truly elite this season. The losses of Cassius Winston and Xavier Tillman to the NBA removed the Spartans’ top two scorers, leaving a solid rotation without a true star talent on the roster.

The core that was left behind has quietly solidified into a true threat to win the Big Ten, making an impressive statement last week by topping Duke in a true road game as part of the Champions Classic. Michigan State is now off to a 5-0 start, allowing Tom Izzo’s team to surge into the top five of the AP poll, and the question becomes whether or not this is a truly sustainable effort.

One of the big keys for this team has been the emergence of sophomore point guard Rocket Watts as Winston’s replacement. After playing alongside Winston last year, Watts is back at the point and has done a fine job serving as the engine of Michigan State’s offense, averaging 13.6 points per game and 4.2 assists a night.

Joshua Langford is healthy and thriving for Michigan State basketball

The Spartans also have benefited from better perimeter shooting thanks to key additions. Joshua Langford is finally healthy after sitting out the better part of two seasons due to a recurring foot injury and has added some much needed outside shooting, knocking down 40 percent of his three-point attempts, while Marquette transfer Joey Hauser gives Izzo the stretch four the Spartans have lacked since Jaren Jackson Jr went pro.

Another key development for Michigan State is its incredible depth, which should prove to be quite valuable in a season that could get disrupted by positive COVID tests. Sophomore Julius Marble had a breakout performance against Duke, scoring 12 points on a perfect 5-for-5 shooting performance in just 12 minutes, while Gabe Brown, Foster Loyer, Malik Hall and Marcus Bingham Jr. are all playing key roles in the Spartans’ rotation.

Michigan State’s matchup with Virginia in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge will be another formidable test for this group ahead of a rugged Big Ten slate. Teams like Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin have a bit more star power than the Spartans, but an Izzo-led team can never be counted out for the conference title.

This unbeaten run probably isn’t sustainable but it has shown that Michigan State will be far more dangerous than anyone anticipated entering the season. Don’t be surprised if the Spartans are in the mix to snag another Big Ten title and peak with another deep March Madness run by the end of the year.

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