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Michigan State basketball: 3 reasons to be excited about 2023-24

It’s almost that time.

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Michigan State basketball
© Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State basketball had its first practice on Monday. Let’s look ahead and talk about why we should be excited for this season.

Michigan State basketball had its first practice on Monday which means college hoops are right around the corner — 40 days to be exact. The excitement is palpable throughout the fanbase, especially as the football season has taken a turn for the worst.

Let’s look ahead at a few things we should all be excited about.

1. The schedule

Anybody. Any place. Anytime. Tom Izzo has done it again. We are in for a treat once again during the out-of-conference part of the season. The Spartans will play:

  • Nov. 14 vs. Duke in the Champions Classic
  • Nov. 23 vs. Arizona in the Acrisure Invitational
  • Dec. 16 vs. Baylor in Detroit

Not to mention the Spartans welcome the Tennessee Volunteers into East Lansing for an exhibition on Oct. 29. The importance of this preseason game extends outside of the court as the proceeds of the scrimmage will be donated to the Hawai’i Community Foundation Maui Strong Fund to support those impacted by the Maui wildfires.

The Big Ten schedule is heavily back loaded for the Spartans. Michigan State only plays Indiana and Purdue one time this season, albeit, both in Indiana. More importantly, these two games are played within eight days of each other, in March. The second half of Big Ten Play also has Michigan State at Ann Arbor and home against Iowa and Ohio.

So why is the schedule exciting? It’s the opportunities that are exciting. Three opportunities in the non-conference to make a statement against three top programs. Two more opportunities at the end of conference play to boost a resume.

This schedule shapes out well for Michigan State to have a big year and to make some huge statements along the way.

2. The returning roster

Let’s start with the known contributors:

Backcourt

A.J. Hoggard – SR – 12.9 points, 3.7 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 2.6 turnovers, 41.7 FG%, 80.4 FT%, 32.9 3P%
Tyson Walker – GR – 14.8 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.1 steals, 1.3 turnovers, 48.4 FG%, 87.6 FT%, 46.1 3P%
Jaden Akins – JR – 9.8 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.3 turnovers, 42.0 FG%, 70.6 FT%, 42.2 3P%
Tre Holloman – SO – 1.3 points, 0.8 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 38.6 FG%, 60.0 FT%, 23.1 3P%

Frontcourt

Malik Hall – GR – 8.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 43.6 FG%, 84.6 FT%, 32.7 3P%
Jaxon Kohler – SO – 3.0 points, 2.9 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 50.5 FG%, 25.o FT%
Carson Cooper – SO – 1.6 points, 0.9 rebounds, 73.1 FG%, 47.4 FT %
Mady Sissoko – SR – 5.1 points, 6.1 rebounds, 0.8 blocks 61.2 FG%, 63.5 FT%

Michigan State essentially returns its entire squad from last year minus Joey Hauser (graduation) and Pierre Brooks (transfer). We were all shocked and ecstatic to learn Hoggard, Walker, Akins, and Malik Hall decided to return because we know what it means.

Tom Izzo had his backcourt playing exceptionally well at the end of last season. We saw Hoggard take over games in the tournament with his size and toughness. For weeks, it seemed like Jaden Akins couldn’t miss and was a stalwart on defense. Tyson Walker did Tyson Walker things, with games of 23 (twice) and 31 in the second half of the season. Holloman played sparingly last season and may be lost in the rotation as Jeremy Fears enters the fold, but he played solid defense last year. This backcourt is dangerous and balanced. It has playmaking, defense, shooting, and athleticism.

The frontcourt was a roller coaster ride last year, but we shaw flashes from everyone. Malik Hall dealt with injuries all season. Mady Sissoko had a great start against Gonzaga, fell off, and then made some terrific defensive plays down the stretch of last season. Jaxon Kohler showed flashes of great footwork and brilliant offense last season but struggled at time against the bigger bigs in the Big Ten. Carson Cooper came into his own in March, he ran the court well and defended like a mad man in the NCAA Tournament.

So, again, why is this exciting?

We haven’t seen this incredible amount of production return since maybe 2013-14. It’s also exciting because I don’t think we’ve seen the best basketball from this group yet. For one, either Kohler, Cooper, and Sissoko needs to take over. Michigan State has national title aspirations this season, and rightfully so. In order for the Spartans to get back to the Final Four, it needs to have their front court rotation solidified well before March.

Next, I think we are interested to see the backcourt of Hoggard, Walker, and Akins start for a full season. Akins possesses incredible athleticism, deadly accuracy from long range, and lock down defensive potential. Can Izzo get the ball into Akins’ hands enough so we can see his full potential? Akins appeared too much like a 3-and-D player last season which doesn’t utilize his talents to the fullest.

Michigan State’s ability to win games against Duke, Arizona, Baylor, and Purdue may rely on how Jaden Akins is used. We’ve seen flashes of his game breaking ability at both ends of the floor. Tom Izzo has likened Akins to Gary Harris. If this is a fair comparison, it’s time for Izzo to unleash him.

3. The freshmen

My oh my, what a class Izzo has put together. The 2023 freshmen class has the intangibles, talent, and untapped potential to be among the best that’s ever worn the Green and White.

Let’s look at each one of the recruits and how they could make an impact this season.

  • Jeremy Fears, 6-foot-3 PG — 4-star recruit from Joliet, Ill.

When a Michigan State point guard recruit’s intangibles and game usher comparisons to that of Mateen Cleaves, we need to pay attention. Cleaves displayed leadership qualities we’ve only seen a few times since he graduated in Draymond Green and Cassius Winston. For a freshmen to be receiving this level of praise is rare, especially for not having stepped on the court yet. “The Floor General” possesses great floor vision and playmaking, especially in the open court. All the high school scouts praised his intangibles and his ability to run a team although, he needs to develop into a consistent shooter and protect the ball more. Fears should be part of the rotation, and if he can spell Hoggard and Walker time to play off ball, the Spartans backcourt would become unstoppable and undoubtedly the best in the country.  

  • Xavier Booker, 6-foot-11 PF/C — 5-star recruit from Indianapolis, Ind.

Izzo poached another big-time recruit from Indiana. Xavier Booker shot up recruiting boards last summer and signed his letter of intent to Michigan State last November. Booker possesses bounce, length, and a shooting ability that would allow Michigan State basketball to spread the floor while he is in the game. He is also unselfish and has good vision for a player his size. Booker has untapped potential on both ends of the court. It is important to note that Booker is very raw and reports from the summer report similar things. If he was able to get stronger and polish his skills during the offseason the ceiling is raised for the Spartans this season and the sky’s the limit for the young freshman from Indianapolis.

  • Coen Carr, 6-foot-7 SF — 4-star recruit from Greenville, S.C.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you already know all about Coen Carr. Described as a “violent leaper”, Carr is an amazing athlete, sensational dunker, and versatile defender. Do you love him yet? Carr may be the best athlete to play for Tom Izzo since Miles Bridges and even then, Carr may be the better athlete. While Izzo may love his ability to flip a game on its head with his aerial artistry, he may love his defense more. With his size and athleticism, Carr showed in high school the ability to defend bigger guys and multiple positions. One thing we’ve seen from Tom Izzo is that if freshmen can defend, they’ll see the court. Coen Carr should the biggest contributor among the freshmen class to start the season. I, for one, cannot wait to his game changing athleticism on display.

  • Gehrig Normand – SF – 6’6 – 4 star recruit from North Richland Hills, TX

A knockdown shooter drawing comparisons to beloved Spartan, Matt McQuaid? Sign me up. While Normand has long range shooting ability, he can also make plays at the rim and has underrated athleticism. Normand’s room for improvement? Defense. He has the size to be a Matt McQuaid type defender, he just needs to get bigger and be coached by one of the best coaches in the game in Izzo. With the loss of Joey Hauser, Michigan State basketball is missing a knockdown shooter with height. I can’t imagine Normand will get the green light that we saw Hauser have, but if he can be dependable on defense and make his shots, his ability to spread the floor with his 3-point shooting may be tough for Izzo to leave off the court.

Final thoughts

You should be excited for this season. The schedule, the returning roster, the freshmen, all point towards a very promising year for Michigan State basketball. The Spartans have many opportunities to make a statement early in the season and in the second half of Big Ten play to boost their resume. Tom Izzo has one of the best backcourts in the country coupled with an improving, but unproven front court and highly touted freshmen class.

Michigan State has the schedule, team, and coach to be special this year so let’s enjoy it and hang another banner. Go Green.

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