Over the course of the 2015-16 NCAA season, the Michigan State Spartans stood out as one of the best teams in the nation. Led by AP Player Of The Year Denzel Valentine, Michigan State tore up the basketball world by finishing with an outstanding 29-6 record during the regular season. Following that, Michigan State continued their hot play by winning the Big Ten Tournament.
Following that Big Ten Tournament win, a multitude of college basketball insiders had Michigan State going to the Final Four or even winning the NCAA Tournament. Even though it’s basically impossible to predict the NCAA Tournament, Michigan State still felt one of the safer bets to get far in the tournament. That was due to the fabulous play of Denzel Valentine combined with solid role players in Bryn Forbes and Matt Costello.
However, Michigan State’s high hopes quickly vanished once they ran into Middle Tennessee State. In an absolute shocker, the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders defeated Michigan State 90-81, in what might be one of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history.
Not only was that upset crushing because of ending Michigan State’s legitimate championship aspirations , it also ended a great era in the school’s history. With the likes of Valentine, Costello and Forbes leading the way in years prior, Michigan State had a bevy of success in the NCAA Tournament. In the two prior years, the Spartans at least made it to the Elite Eight, including a trip to the Final Four during the 2014-15 season.
With the core graduating, a new era of Michigan State basketball is bound to begin. Even though we’re around three months away from tip-off, there’s already a sense of excitement surrounding the team future. That’s due to the terrific core of incoming freshmen that will lace up their sneakers with the Spartans. According to 247sports, Michigan State had the 3rd best recruiting class, only trailing Duke and Kentucky. Led by 6’7 forward Miles Bridges, the Spartans also brought in five-star guard Joshua Langford and four-star guard Cassius Winston, who ended his high school career as Michigan’s Gatorade Player of the Year.
In a similar way to how I talked about Bam Adebayo in a prior piece, Miles Bridges is a prospect that really just jumps out at you when you watch him play. I actually mean that more in a literal sense, as Bridges is arguably the most athletic wing in this stacked freshman class. Bridges features all the tools that basketball teams look for in an athletic wing: power, body control and explosiveness.
Those individual traits makes Bridges into a huge threat in transition. From the moment he catches a head of steam, there always seems to be a sense of anticipation in the air. That’s due to Bridges always being a threat to lay down a jaw-dropping dunk that would even impress Aaron Gordon or Zach LaVine. A prime example of that is seen in the play below, as Bridges just lays down a wicked slam in transition.
Outside of those amazing dunks, Bridges still remains a threat from around the rim. A lot of that is due to his ability to contort his body around the rim. That skill allows him to get away from possible contact and ultimately get an easier look around the rim. However, Bridges still does solid when he’s driving into pressure as his strong 218 pound frame allows him to absorb contact.
For Bridges to have that success at the rim, he’d obviously need to have success as an on-ball cutter. That’s definitely area where he has success as the 6’7 forward has a very quick first step that gives him an immediate advantage over the opposition. Alongside that, Bridges has developed a pretty lethal crossover that can shake opposing wings out of their shoes. An example of that crossover is seen in the play below.
When we go away from the paint, Bridges sits as more of a question mark. As either a mid-range or perimeter shooter, Bridges can be rather inconsistent. That inconsistency might be due to Bridges having a little hitch in his jumper. If you look closely at the play below, you can see the hitch in his left elbow when he’s in the process of launching his jumper.
If he does fix that small issue, which he definitely can with good coaching, Bridges can be a solid shooter. Even with that small flaw, Bridges is comfortable in his jumper, whether it’s through catch-and-shoot or off-the-dribble looks. Bridges has pretty solid touch on his perimeter jumper, as he shows pretty impressive range for a forward.
Transitioning into his work on the defensive end, Bridges has a ton of potential on that end. That’s primarily due to his athleticism, quickness and strong frame, which allows him to stick with the quicker shooting guards or work against small or power forwards. Bridges does a solid job as both an on-ball and help defender.
As an on-ball defender, Bridges tries to stick onto the opposition like velcro. Meanwhile, as a help defender, he works as a 6’6 free safety with how he surveys the court until an opponent dares cut to the paint. That free safety nature is seen on the play below.
With the Michigan State Spartans, Miles Bridges will look to be the leader of that new generation. Although that label might be considered too much for an 18-year-old kid that’s entering a basketball powerhouse, Bridges definitely stands as a player that can step in and be one of the best players in the Big 10. His work as a cutter, whether it’s in half-court or transition sets, is something that should immediately translate to the college level. Those skills will be even more apparent if he can help improve on some of his flaws as a shooter.
In terms of where he’ll play inside Tom Izzo’s system, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him play some power forward with Michigan State. Despite his smaller 6’7 frame, Bridges has a strong 218 frame. Working in that power forward position could allow him to work mainly as a basketball free safety, which could be a solid angle for him. However, it’s likely that he’ll spend the majority of his time at the small forward position, as it would create a solid trio with him, point Cassius Winston and shooting Josh Langford.
If Bridges can rectify some of those shooting flaws, then skies might be the limit for the young Michigan State guard. Although a Bridges-led squad may not reach the Final Four like teams from the past, folks in East Lansing, Michigan will still be in for another season of entertaining college basketball.