There’s plenty to be thankful for as Michigan State basketball fans, but these three things really stick out.
With a disappointing football season coming to an end, Michigan State basketball season is at the front of the minds of all Spartan fans. It has been a great start to the season and the Spartans find themselves currently sitting at No. 12 in the AP poll although they lost a Thanksgiving night matchup against No. 18 Alabama.
This was a tough test for the Spartans since they played without Malik Hall and Jaden Akins. With that being said, the Spartans are playing great and there is a lot to be thankful for in the basketball program so here are three things I’d like to highlight.
1. The elevated play of Joey Hauser
Will the real Joey Hauser please stand up? This is a question that Spartan fans have been asking since he first suited up in the green and white. We’ve seen the flashes, the games where Hauser hunts his shot and catches fire. We saw it at the end of last season when he carried the team to a win in the NCAA Tournament against Davidson. The problem with Hauser is that it had never been consistent.
He’d have a few great games here or there, but then look lost for the majority of them. He’d go missing offensively and would look like a mess on defense. This season, at least so far, Hauser looks like the player we all were expecting when he transferred in. He looks comfortable, he’s hunting his shot, he keeps shooting even when he misses, and he looks competent on defense.
Hauser is averaging 13 points a game as well as grabbing 5.8 rebounds while shooting 46 percent from behind the arc and 44 percent from the field. A great stat line even considering his poor performance against Gonzaga where he scored two points while going 0-3 from deep and 0-3 from the field. I feel like Hauser deserves a pass for that game. Anyone who has ever played basketball outdoors knows that it is not a shooter’s paradise; and that’s what he is: a shooter.
If Hauser can continue this great play where he looks to score and continues progressing on the defensive end, I think the Spartans could be in for a great season.
2. The “return” of Tom Izzo’s elite recruiting
The Spartans just got signed letters of intent from all four members of the 2023 recruiting class which according to 247Sports gives the Spartans the No. 3 group in the nation. I don’t think Izzo has done a bad job recruiting at all over the past few years, but this is by far the most exciting recruiting class to be coming to East Lansing since “The Class” of Miles Bridges, Joshua Langford, Cassius Winston, and Nick Ward which was also No. 3 in the nation.
Headlined by five-star center Xavier Booker, the class also consists of wing Coen Carr, point guard Jeremy Fears, and wing Gehrig Normand. Izzo really turned up the heat on this class and seemed to land every player he wanted outside of maybe Ohio State commit Devin Royal. The 2023 recruiting class covers nearly every position on the floor and could set the Spartans up for a lot of success down the road.
With the excitement of the 2023 class, there should also be a lot of excitement for the possibilities in the 2024 class. Although there are no commitments yet, Izzo has already got multiple visits from top prospects such as Jase Richardson, James Brown, Aiden Sherrell, and Kur Teng.
The notion that Izzo was slowing down on the recruiting trail and close to retiring seems all but gone. Tom Izzo has turned up the heat on the recruiting trail and almost seems rejuvenated in a way, possibly doing whatever he can to get himself the elusive second national title.
3. The development of Mady Sissoko
I know this topic has probably been the most popular one in terms of Michigan State basketball, but I will highlight it one more time. Coming into this season, Spartan fans had no idea what we would get out of the center position. Many fans, including myself, were hoping for freshman Jaxon Kohler to start. Mady Sissoko was a wild card, there were quotes from the coaches saying how much he improved this offseason, but who really knew?
Through the first five games, that development has seemed exponential. Sissoko has had his two best games against arguably the two best centers in all of college basketball. Watching Sissoko play, I do believe he needs to develop at least one go-to post move, but there is so much to be thankful for in terms of his astounding play.
Coming into this season, Sissoko averaged about five minutes per game over his first two years as a Spartan, and this season he is currently averaging about 25 minutes per game. The Kentucky game was personally my favorite game of his this season. He is best when he is running the floor, catching lobs, corralling rebounds, and being a high-energy defensive player; and that is exactly what he did. Sissoko gave Oscar Tshiebwe a lot of problems on the defensive end and was a big reason the Spartans ended up winning in double overtime.
Another less talked about reason that Spartan fans should be thankful for Mady’s development is that it will help our other big men develop. Whether it is Kohler this year, or both Kohler and Booker next year, going up against this version of Sissoko every day in practice can’t be an easy task. Having the young guys practice against someone who brings his kind of energy to the defensive end of the floor will only make them better in the long run.