Tuesday night, Michigan State ran off the floor of Little Caesars Arena, after handing the Oakland Golden Grizzlies a 90-78 loss. Tom Izzo had beaten OU head coach Greg Kampe for the 20th time in his career, but what was more impressive, was the all around play of his team. Not only did MSU record a season low nine turnovers, but also had five different players finish with double digits in the scoring column.
One of those players was senior center, Marcus Bingham Jr. In fact, it was the eighth time in twelve games he has scored ten or more points after failing to do so for the entirety of last season. Bingham also chipped in ten rebounds and four blocks in the win over Oakland, both are categories he leads his team in.
What was even more promising was the way he filled up the box score and how much fun he seemed to have while doing it. It seemed as though every basket Bingham scored was via an alley-top dunk, and if not, it was a high percentage shot. Hyping up the heavily favored Michigan State crowd, laughing with opposing coaches, and even a skirmish with OU star Jamal Cain, was part of a eventful night for the Grand Rapids native. But if the Spartans want to stay hot, Marcus Bingham Jr. will have to keep himself busy for many games to come.
A Long Time Coming
In the summer of 2018, Marcus Bingham Jr. arrived in East Lansing with a 6’11” frame, and weighed in at just 190 pounds. Although he rarely saw playing time, the lanky forward went along for a ride to a Big Ten tournament championship and a Final Four birth. While Bingham was wearing a red jersey in practices and focusing on getting his weight up, he learned from the likes of Kenny Goins, Nick Ward, and Xavier Tillman.
Fast forward to present day, and Michigan State’s starting center now measures at an even 7 feet tall and 225 pounds. It isn’t even Christmas yet, and the Spartans have ten wins to their names, and part of it is thanks to Bingham.
Instead of camping outside the three point line, he is now using new aspects of his game that his predecessors were known for, to man the center position for Tom Izzo. Using the off-ball movement of Kenny Goins, Marcus Bingham is burning defenders on multiple pick and rolls a game. Resembling the physicality of Nick Ward allows him to not get ran out of the paint on offense, and stand up to other big men on defense. Lastly, Bingham has upped his defensive game tremendously this season, averaging nearly three blocks per contest. Xavier Tillman is probably very proud of that last statement.
As a result, the patience is finally paying off, and MSU finds themselves with an anchor in the paint on an already very well balanced team. Julius Marble and Mady Sissoko have played productive back-up minutes as well. Bingham Jr. has helped this Michigan State team quickly find its identity, just in time for when games count twice as much.
The Big Men Run The Big Ten
After beating Oakland after an eleven day break for final exams, the Spartans have another 8 days off before playing High Point for their final non-conference game of 2021. January 2nd will not only mark the start of non-stop conference games for MSU, but the beginning of make-or-break time for Marcus Bingham Jr.
The Big Ten is arguably the toughest conference in College Basketball, and that is because of its big men. Hunter Dickinson of Michigan, Kofi Cockburn of Illinois, and Trevion Williams of Purdue are just a few of the elite. It shouldn’t be difficult for Michigan State to top their 8th place finish in the conference last season, but if they want to be in the championship conversation come February, Marcus Bingham will have to play his best basketball.
Shutting down the aforementioned stars will be priority number one. Will he be able to avoid foul trouble? Will Tom Izzo have to resort to the double team he so often tries to avoid at all costs?
Bingham will also have to be a consistent scoring option for the Spartans. By continuing to run the floor on fast breaks, rolling hard to the basket after setting screens, and making the most of his post touches, there is no reason why the senior can’t hold his current average of 10.8 points per game. There will be nights where Bingham is shut down, but it will be important for him to keep his emotions in check. Just by using his size alone, he needs to be able to recognize he can get himself going by cashing in on easy put-back buckets and baiting smaller defenders into fouling.
Michigan State is off to an incredible start, but the team and fanbase alike know their toughest test still lies ahead. Especially when it comes to the gauntlet that is the Big Ten, this team will go as far as Marcus Bingham Jr. will take them.
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