Miles Bridges is the face of Michigan State basketball for the 2017-18 season, but Josh Langford may be the most important player on the team.
Josh Langford played like a freshman last year, which was disappointing even if he was a freshman. Coming into the season, he was hyped by a number of beat writers as being the best defender on the team with the offensive skill set to make a difference. Even Langford said early in the campaign that his goal was to become the next Denzel Valentine.
But combine lofty expectations along with a nagging hamstring injury and you have the 2016-17 season for Langford. In the opener against Arizona, he only played 12 minutes, yet was tasked with guarding Kadeem Allen in the final seconds. What ensued was a game-winning, coast-to-coast layup for Allen that left Langford in the dust. That game was a microcosm for Michigan State’s season; at times showing enough to compete, but usually never enough to win.
The same could be said for Langford, who had sparks throughout the season, but never enough consistency until it was too late. The main question of why Langford didn’t shoot more was never answered. Even though he led the team in three-point field-goal percentage (41.6 percent), Langford attempted the fifth-most on the team. Was there a reason Eron Harris or Alvin Ellis III attempted more? Not really except that Langford played like a freshman, often too passive to be a factor.
Things changed toward the end of the season after Harris’s knee injury and the hope is that Langford builds off that experienced. Langford had a made three in the final eight games and reached double-digits in three of the last four. There were times when he faltered like in the three-shot, three-point performance against Maryland or the six-point outing in the Big Ten tournament loss to Minnesota. And if those types of games remain part of Langford’s repertoire in the upcoming season, then the Spartans backcourt could have some issues.
There is little backcourt depth off the bench for MSU with Matt McQuaid, Tum Tum Nairn and Kyle Ahrens maybe the only choices. In order for Michigan State basketball to live up to its preseason hype, Langford will need to reach close to 30 minutes per game. Otherwise, the Spartans will be forced to use lesser options.
Then again, Tom Izzo may see things differently as he views (at least publicly) McQuaid as a solid defender and decent playmaker. But after watching how he performed last year, McQuaid needs to improve every area of his game. He often got beat off the dribble and couldn’t create shots for himself. Of course, he’ll have another offseason under his belt, but seeing as his shooting numbers were worse across the board as a sophomore, that’s not something to bet on.
It’s also important not to go crazy after Michigan State players take over this summer’s Moneyball Pro-Am. A year ago, Langford was called out for his “ball-handling wizardry” and labeled as “MSU’s most complete freshman.” If Langford displayed any of that wizardry in a game last season, I must’ve missed it.
Miles Bridges will be the team’s best player, but Langford may be the most vital. When Cassius Winston struggles, Nairn will be there to help out. When Nick Ward struggles, the depth in the frontcourt is a nice safety net. But if Langford struggles, the answer may have to be McQuaid. Sure, McQuaid could improve a ton and I’ll have to eat my words, but either way, Langford needs to be better if Michigan State is to do anything significant in the 2017-18 season.