Bridges might be Izzo's best player ever at Michigan State

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) Miles Bridges may be the best player Hall of Famer Tom Izzo has coached in more than two decades at Michigan State.

And, Izzo has had some good ones: Denzel Valentine, Draymond Green, Zach Randolph, Jason Richardson and Mateen Cleaves just to mention a handful. None of those former stars seemed to have Bridge's combination of skills, size, speed and strength.

The 6-foot-7, 230-pound freshman forward can run, jump and dunk in spectacular fashion. He can handle the ball well enough that he might even play point guard at times. A smooth shooting stroke allows him to score from the outside. His body looks built for Big Ten play and the rigors that come with it.

In terms of talent, Izzo said Bridges ranks among the ''top couple'' of players he's had entering his 22nd season.

''I hate to put that kind of pressure on him, but he's got shoulders two axe-handles wide,'' Izzo said. ''I should be able to put that kind of pressure on him. He's definitely up there. He's different.

''He's got that powerful explosiveness like Jason Richardson, who was one of the best. Miles, I think, can play both ends. Miles has a high basketball IQ. He can do some Draymond things where he can make passes and plays.''

If Bridges matches or exceeds the hype this season for the Spartans, he may be a one-and-done player in college.

''I just plan on leaving when I'm ready,'' he said. ''When I'm ready off the court and on the court and whenever that time will be, I'll know. But I'm not rushing anything right now.''

Here are some other things to watch this season from the Izzo-led Spartans:

HELP WANTED

Michigan State's weakness will likely be its lack of size inside. Freshman Nick Ward, who is 6-8, 250 pounds, is the team's biggest player that will be available to play in Thursday night's exhibition opener against Northwood. Seniors Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter, a graduate transfer from UNLV, are both 6-9 and are recovering from knee surgeries. The Spartans plan to play two guards, two wings and a post player. Kenny Goins, who is 6-6, 230 pounds, will probably have to play in the post. The Spartans would have been in much better shape in the paint if Deyonta Davis returned for his sophomore season instead of entering the NBA draft. Davis was drafted in the second round by Boston and traded to Memphis.

''There's no question the big loss we had of course was DD,'' Izzo said. ''Not only was he a big loss but it was a little bit of a surprise. I've got to make sure I never get caught that way again.''

MAN TO ZONE

The Spartans have not played zone more than a ''couple possessions here and there,'' associate head coach Dwayne Stephens said Tuesday night. They might have to slip into a zone, though, and away from their traditional, man-to-man defense if Ward and Goins get into foul trouble or an opponent likes to pound the ball into the post to big men.

NO-NAME CLASS

Bridges is the top player in perhaps Izzo's best recruiting class that includes shooting guard Joshua Langford, point guard Cassius Winston and power forward Nick Ward. Izzo said he might end up starting all four together this season.

The group does not have a nickname yet.

''We're just Michigan State,'' Bridges said. ''That's it.''

GREEN LIGHT

Senior guard Eron Harris averaged 9.3 points last season, more than any other returning player. The 6-3 shooting guard scored much more as a sophomore at West Virginia two years ago, averaging 17.2 points before transferring.

''He has put a lot of emphasis on the defense, now it's time to put it back on his offense,'' Izzo said. ''We're going to need him to score.''

TOUGH SLEDDING

Michigan State opens the season Nov. 11 against Arizona in Hawaii, plays Kentucky in New York four days later, goes to the Bahamas a little more than a week later to potentially play Louisville and wraps up the month at Duke.

''The schedule in November will be brutal for me, and it's going to be brutal for our players,'' Izzo said. ''It's 13,600 miles in 22 days. That is taking on something that we've never really taken on before.''

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Follow Larry Lage at www.twitter.com/larrylage and follow his work at www.bigstory.ap.org/content/larry-lage

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AP college basketball website: http://collegebasketball.ap.org/

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