Michigan State Basketball: Who exceeded expectations in 2019-20?

Rocket Watts, Michigan State basketball (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
Rocket Watts, Michigan State basketball (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) /

With the 2019-20 Michigan State basketball season tragically in the books, let’s take a look back at which players exceeded expectations.

Ending the 2019-20 season a month early hurt, especially considering how well Michigan State was playing and the ceiling of the red-hot Spartans in March.

But looking back at the season, it’s clear that this team didn’t live up to that preseason No. 1 overall hype for a few reasons. One, Joshua Langford wasn’t healthy. Two, Joey Hauser wasn’t granted his immediate eligibility. And three, there was stuff going on off the court that affected this team more than the casual observer knew.

Even with the Spartans failing to look like the No. 1 team in the country throughout the season, they finished on a high note and looked like a true national title contender.

Because of that second-half surge in conference play, Michigan State found itself with a few players who exceeded expectations. Who were they?

I would say Cassius Winston because he put up some incredible numbers again and finished just 31 points shy of 2,000 for his career, but we’ve come to expect that from him. He met expectations in 2019-20. However, his partner in crime, Xavier Tillman, went from disappointing at the start of the year to superstar in February and March.

Tillman I would say exceeded expectations in the second half of the season after he shook off that early-season rust and became Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. It’s safe to say people expected a jump from him in 2019-20, but not quite this drastic. He’s since entered his name into the NBA draft, but is keeping his options open.

Outside of Tillman, two other names come to mind as those exceeding expectations and they would be the freshman duo of Rocket Watts and Malik Hall.

Watts was a highly-touted prospect from Detroit but this was supposed to be his learning year behind Cassius Winston as a role player, but he developed into the team’s third scoring option behind Tillman and the All-American point guard. He created his own shots, made defenders look silly and improved his shooting percentage after a rocky start to the season. He finished the year averaging 9.0 points and 1.7 assists per game, but I don’t think there’s any doubt that the team is his next year.

Hall also grew into a starting role by the end of the season as he looked like the team’s best option at the four. He had some “dawg” in him and played with toughness and grit. He had a mean streak and showed why he’ll soon be a fan favorite. He finished the season averaging 4.6 points and 3.7 rebounds and I don’t think there’s any doubt that his future is bright in East Lansing. No one expected this from Hall in year one.

A player who also exceeded expectations but won’t ever get the credit he deserves is Jack Hoiberg. He was a surprisingly effective end-of-bench player who always seemed to make positive things happen when he had the ball in his hands. He averaged 1.4 points and 0.9 assists in 14 games and was a pleasant surprise.

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Outside of these Spartans did you find yourself pleasantly surprised with anyone else in 2019-20? You could make the case for a few other players, but these seem to be the most obvious.