Michigan State Needs More From Miles Bridges

Posted by Chris Hatfield on November 23rd, 2017

By many accounts, Michigan State sophomore Miles Bridges should no longer be in college. The body, the athleticism, the talent — it’s all there and screams one-and-done. That’s why so many observers were shocked when Bridges opted to forgo the NBA Draft over the summer. Never mind that now, though. It’s in the past. He is here and we have arrived at a point of pristine clarity. Whether fair or not, anything other than a 2018 National Championship for Michigan State will be viewed as a disappointment. Tom Izzo‘s seething six-word response of “I’m sick of holding my own” and discussion of embarrassment after losing to consensus #1 Duke last week at the Champions Classic make that obvious. The Spartans, however, will not get there without more production from their superstar. That’s not necessarily a statistical knock on him — after all, he’s nearly averaging a double-double with 19.5 PPG and 7.5 rebounds per game. You have to dig a little deeper, and Izzo hinted at it: “When they [Duke] were so good, a senior rose up.” Indeed.

Miles Bridges is Fantastic but He Needs to Take Over at the End (USA Today Images)

This may seem harsh. We have limited data points but an initial review is quite revealing. With 3:24 remaining in last week’s Duke game, everything was knotted up and Duke held possession of the ball. From that point, senior All-American Grayson Allen scored eight of Duke’s final 13 points while his counterpart Bridges only took two shots and scored a single meaningless bucket. That can’t happen in those spots. He can’t shy away from shouldering the weight of performing during crunch time.  He can’t defer to others. He’s too special and the Spartans don’t have a better alternative. They didn’t for Mateen Cleaves, a Spartan who put the team on his shoulders whenever necessary on the way to delivering Izzo his only National Championship. “The experienced guys have to take over at the end and let the freshmen fall behind us,” Bridges told the Big Ten Network after the game.

Statistically, it’s pretty hard to define clutchness, killer instinct or whatever we use to define the notion of leadership. We can’t always quantify it, but we can point to past players and what they have done. North Carolina point guard Joel Berry II is a key example of this. My view on his skill set differs from others, but his performance in last year’s National Championship game single-handily resulted in his appearance on many preseason All-America lists. He led the way with 22 points that included four key three-pointers that kept the Heels afloat when they needed a boost. Most importantly, he didn’t shy away from either the moment or a shot. Not only would North Carolina have lost the title to Gonzaga without him — they would have been beaten soundly.

It may sound like an oversimplification, but that’s the prototype for Bridges to model this season. The alpha dog, the guy to shoulder the weight and the guy to shine in the spotlight — that’s who Michigan State needs him to be. Bridges is going to have a prolific professional career regardless of what happens in college basketball this season. He may or may not become the next Draymond Green in the NBA, but for him to deliver what he returned to college for, he needs to be something else — a late-game killer.

Chris Hatfield (9 Posts)

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