Cassius Winston Playing Like Best Point Guard In Big Ten -- And Possibly In Country

He outclassed Carsen Edwards Tuesday night.

Will Burchfield
January 09, 2019 - 5:59 am

© Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

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They’re all circled now, says Cassius Winston, every game on the schedule, especially with Big Ten play beginning in earnest. But yeah, he allows, Tuesday’s night tilt with Purdue may have been circled twice – because it was also a tilt with fellow point guard Carsen Edwards, one of the leading scorers in the country.

Any discussion about the best point guard in the Big Ten begins with Edwards and Winston, the former the conference’s preseason Player of the Year. On Tuesday night it ended with Winston, who put up 23 points – plus six boards and five assists – all of which came in the final 24 minutes of No. 6 Michigan State’s 77-59 win over Purdue.

“I thought from the individual standpoint,” said Purdue’s Matt Painter, “he was the difference tonight.”

For Michigan State, off to a 14-2 start, Winston has been the difference this season. He’s gone from quarterbacking the Spartans, as he did last season surrounded by flashier players, to putting them on his back. Nick Ward carries a heavy load as well, but this is Winston’s team now, and this was once again his burden to bear Tuesday night.

The Boilermakers hounded Winston from start to finish, checking him the length of the court and making every step a struggle. They defended him with 6’6, 220-pound guard Nojel Eastern. They tried their best to wear him down. Ultimately Winston wore them out. Meanwhile, Edwards never found his shot and finished with a season-low 11 points.

It was the kind of night that turned Winston’s standing among Big Ten point guards into a narrow-minded matter. 

“Big Ten? I mean, number one, obviously. He might be number one in the nation right now,” said Kenny Goins, who chipped in seven points and 11 big rebounds.

That’s a debate for another time, but for the moment consider this: Winston is one of only two guards in the country averaging at least 18 points and 7.5 assists per game. And he’s doing it while committing just two turnovers per game. If the job of a point guard is to score and facilitate for his teammates, while also taking care of the ball, Winston is doing it better than arguably any of his peers.

With Edwards in town Tuesday night, his gaudy scoring average in tow, Winston felt compelled to prove it.

“Definitely, definitely. I knew he was a high caliber player, definitely a talented guy, so I just wanted to play to that level, play to that standard, and even raise it up a little bit more,” he said.

On last year’s team, these kind of marquee encounters typically involved the likes of Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr., a pair of soon-to-be lottery picks. Winston was happy to let them absorb the spotlight. It was in the locker room following Michigan State’s shocking loss in the second round of the NCAA Tournament that Bridges and Jackson, not to mention Ward, deflected questions about the NBA Draft, pushing their respective decisions down the road.

When Winston was asked about the same thing that day, he chuckled, incredulous that his name would even be in the converstion. Who, me? He assured those who were curious that he’d be back for his junior season. Then he went to work in the offseason.

The result is nights like Tuesday, a night that earned him a shoutout from Jackson. Per usual, the 19-year-old was colorful in his description.

“He texts in, like, all caps and a whole bunch of emojis and stuff like that. He’s weird,” Winston laughed.

Jackson's also right. Winston is on another level this year. He’s not suddenly more athletic, and he’ll never have the most bounce or quickness on the floor, but he’s taken his game to a place where he can handle the extra attention that comes with being the engine of his team's offense, even in a physical mismatch against a player like Eastern.

“You see someone like Eastern that guarded him today that was 6’6, probably outweighed him by 40, 50 pounds, last year Cassius wouldn’t have been able to muscle through it and kind of tough it out,” Goins said. “This year, with him changing his body and just being more experienced, he’s able to just keep going and keep going. …

“He was always a great scorer, but he’s kind of got the mental and physical aspect now too.”

If Tom Izzo has one lament about Winston’s start to the season, it’s that he hasn’t been able to get all that much rest. He played a team-high 35:36 against Purdue, three days after logging over 36 minutes in a win over Ohio State. Of course, Winston is no worse for the wear. His adrenaline still pumping after Tuesday night’s win, he pshh’d the idea of playing 40 minutes. He said he’d play 45 if he had to.

As MSU’s locker room emptied, Winston remained in the chair in front of his stall, talking up Matt McQuaid’s “flair” of all things. It was past midnight, and he was just starting to pull on a fresh pair of socks – a moment of luxury after all his hard work. Goins issued a final salute on his way toward the door, calling in Winston’s direction, “Alright, Cash, get some rest, man.” Winston, now the last player left, laughed and said, “Alright, bro,” then went on talking, still full of energy after pouring himself into another win.

He was the best point guard on the floor Tuesday night, and he’s staking his claim to best point guard in the Big Ten. There’s no debate among his teammates, who have ridden Winston to a terrific start and quietly have the look of a group that could do some damage in March. No matter who they might encounter, they’ll have a player that can measure up at the most important position on the floor.

“I’m always going to take Cassius,” said McQuaid. “I think he’s if not one of the best point guards in the country, he’s my point guard. I love him to death.”