Michigan State Basketball: How will Tom Izzo replace Eron Harris?

Michigan State basketball lost yet another scholarship senior to injury in Eron Harris, which leaves Tom Izzo even less to work with over the last month of the season.

Both sides of the Eron Harris injury have come about from Michigan State fans and the media. One is that his absence won’t change the team that much because he hasn’t been doing much as it was. The more reasonable one is that the team loses one of its leaders and few players that can create shots on his own. The former is likely coming from fans hoping for the best, but know that the latter is more likely the case.

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So let’s try and determine what Tom Izzo will do going forward in place of Harris. My immediate thoughts turned to oft-criticized (by me) Matt McQuaid (I wrote an article detailing MSU’s lack of actual depth a week ago and the loss of Harris doesn’t help). He’ll likely be moved into the starting lineup and while some will disapprove of that move, it’s the one that makes the most sense for Izzo. Alvin Ellis III has come on this season and some will call for him to start, but that would leave the Spartans with minimal production off the bench. And even if McQuaid starts, it’s not like that will change how Izzo closes games.

The lineup that Izzo has turned to down the stretch in recent games (when possible) is either Tum Tum Nairn or Cassius Winston at point followed by Ellis, Joshua Langford, Miles Bridges and Nick Ward. Ideally, that’s the group you want on the floor when it matters and starting McQuaid won’t change that.

But there’s still a question of where Harris’s 20-25 minutes per game will go. Ellis has played 27 minutes the last two games and likely won’t push those numbers. Langford has been around 20 minutes the last five games and could see a five-plus minute boost. McQuaid played 22 minutes at Purdue after not reaching more than 18 in the previous four games, so he’s the logical player to get most of Harris’s minutes.

However, the reason he played those minutes was because he was actually making shots, something he hadn’t done the previous four games. If McQuaid isn’t making (or taking) shots, what will Izzo do?

A couple times this season, Izzo has turned to both Winston and Nairn on the court at the same time, so that sample size is small. The reason for that move would have to be for defensive reasons. Harris has arguably been Michigan State’s best perimeter defender over the last month, something Izzo pointed out after the injury. Based on the eye test, McQuaid and Langford lack quickness on the defensive end that could be highlighted in the final month of the season. Not to say Harris was a lockdown defender, but McQuaid regularly gets beaten off the dribble.

And so, the quest for the tournament continues for the Spartans, now with only one of four scholarship seniors playing (Ellis). The good thing is that the committee probably won’t have to put too much into the Harris injury. Either way, MSU has to win two of its next four games and at least one in the Big Ten tournament to have a shot at the Big Dance.

But with Harris gone, others will have to step up. Can McQuaid make threes or create anything offensively? Will Langford continue his improved play with more minutes? And if McQuaid’s struggles continue, will Izzo turn to two point guards at the same time or use Kyle Ahrens at his more natural position? Whatever the case, none of them seem to have good results for the Spartans.

For now, the main goal will be stopping Tai Webster and Glynn Watson from stealing a win in East Lansing, something the Cornhuskers just did in Columbus over the weekend. Without Harris to defend those guys on the perimeter, we’ll get a good look at just what team we’ll have over the next few weeks.