You can add Michigan State forward Thomas Kithier to the list, as the sophomore forward suffered a broken nose in practice this week but is expected to play next week vs. Kentucky. Kithier started in the Spartans’ 85-50 exhibition win over Albion, recording a game-high 11 rebounds to go with seven points.
In the blink of an eye, Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo went from celebrating the program’s first ever No. 1 pr-season ranking to scrambling to find a healthy lineup as the top-ranked Spartans get set for No. 2-ranked Kentucky on November 5th at Madison Square Garden.
First, senior guard Joshua Langford will be lost until January due to a foot injury. Langford, who missed all of last season with a broken foot, is a team co-captain and was expected to have a breakout season after starting 75 of 83 games during his first three years.
Now it appears that senior Kyle Ahrens, Langford’s projected replacement for a second season, is day-to-day with a sprained ankle and is questionable for the season opener against the Wildcats.
If Ahren’s can’t go against UK, the next man up for the Spartans is incoming freshman Rocket Watts, a Top 40 recruit from Detroit, who has battled his own injury the past week, a nagging Achilles strain, that could limit his practice time prior to the season opener.
As for healthy players on the Michigan State roster, Junior guard Cassius Winston returns as the Preseason Player of the Year in the Big Ten Conference after averaging 18.8 points per game last season and dishing out 7.5 assists as one of the nation’s elite point guards.
The Spartans will also look to sophomore Aaron Henry to have a big year at the three position, while Junior Xavier Tillman, a 6-foot-8 center, is expected to be a force in the post.
Last season, Henry started 22 of Michigan State’s final 23 games and is projected as one of the Spartan’s top NBA prospect with great athleticism and scoring ability.
Here’s Tom Izzo discussing Langford’s injury. Emotional last 24 hours for Michigan State pic.twitter.com/W1ENgCrjWp— Kyle Austin (@kylebaustin) October 22, 2019
Despite the injury bug, Michigan State’s lineup should make for some interesting matchups against Kentucky who’s the pre-season favorite to with the Southeastern Conference. In fact, the battle between point guards (Winston and SEC Defensive Player of the Year Ashton Hagans) could be an epic battle of future NBA stars.
Kentucky’s depth includes a nine-man rotation that includes Hagans, Tyrese Maxey and Immanuel Quickley splitting time at the guard spots, while Kahlil Whitney and Johnny Juzang will split time at the three position. EJ Montgomery, Nick Richards, Nate Sestina and Keion Brooks will all share playing time at the four and five spots.
However, that frontcourt depth will be tested if Nick Richards can’t go, as he’s battling an ankle injury that has him questionable to play Tuesday.
The Spartans are coming off a 32-7 season that included a Big Ten title and the school’s tenth Final Four. Kentucky finished 30-7 last year and fell just short of its 18th trip to the Final Four after losing in overtime to conference rival Auburn. UK has been to 17 Final Fours, which ranks second behind UCLA. The Cats last national title came in 2012.
Kentucky is in exhibition action at 5:00 p.m. on Sunday against Georgetown College.