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Michigan State basketball: Analyzing notes from summer practices

We should be really excited about this team.



Michigan State basketball
© Nick King/Lansing State Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

Michigan State basketball has been busy this summer and someone who was in attendance at camp shared their thoughts.

Troy Distelrath, who sat in on numerous Michigan State basketball summer practices, recently released his observations from said practices.

Let’s go through the new info and break down some main points.

Sophomores show growth

Distelrath notes that all three sophomores (Jaxon Kohler, Tre Holloman, and Carson Cooper) have put on some muscle and look more comfortable. This was somewhat expected — players often really settle in their second year — but it’s still good to see for sure. Holloman will be needed soon — it’s possible all three of AJ Hoggard, Tyson Walker, and Jaden Akins could be gone after this season. A more confident Kohler will also be useful, providing solid minutes at power forward. If Cooper can build on some nice flashes from 2022 and be a solid backup center for Mady Sissoko, that will help a lot as well.

A.J. Hoggard (and other guards) is even better

According to Tom Izzo himself, starting point guard AJ Hoggard has had “a hell of a month, lost weight, and worked a lot on his shot.” This is great to hear because while Hoggard did an outstanding job in 2022-23, he wasn’t much of a sharpshooter. If he can add a legitimate three-point shot to his bag of tricks, he’s going to be a very, very dangerous player when you factor in his playmaking and finishing abilities.

Fans watched Hoggard take a leap from 2021 to 2022, and if he’s ready to take another one, MSU looks more dangerous than ever.

Troy noted that all three projected starting guards scrimmaged at a high level, but Akins jumped out as more assertive than last year. It should be a lot of fun to watch a more confident and bold Akins in 2023, especially given his uncommon athleticism.

Booker has some work to do

This wasn’t entirely unexpected, but it appears that incoming freshman and former five-star recruit Xavier Booker isn’t terribly polished. Distelrath noted that Booker’s shot selection was subpar during scrimmages; he appeared to be somewhat rawer than a guy like Jaren Jackson Jr. was coming in. It is worth noting, though, that the scrimmages were only half-court. Booker undoubtedly shines in transition offense, but he didn’t really get the chance to showcase that key part of his game.

Overall, remember that he is, after all, a first-year player, and it’s extremely early. There are going to be growing pains.

I wouldn’t worry too much, personally. There are months to go until the season, and the high school-college transition can be tricky for anyone.

Jeremy Fears looks as advertised

There was a decidedly limited sample size of Jeremy Fears at summer practices due to his commitment to Team USA basketball, but he was impressive regardless. Distelrath wrote that Fears appeared to have the “it” factor, and could be poised to eventually join Michigan State’s long lineage of excellent point guards. One can hardly draw any long-term conclusions from such a small amount of information, but Fears hitting the ground running bodes well for his future at MSU.

It’s likely he’ll need to take over the starting point guard job by next year, as it seems reasonable that both Hoggard and Walker could be in the NBA this time next year. The sooner Fears is ready, the better.

MSU looks poised to win Tom Izzo’s second title

There was the overall feeling among everyone present that the Spartans have something special, per Distelrath. He quotes Izzo as ending camp with: “It’s time to go hang another banner.” And if that doesn’t get you excited, I don’t know what will.

Izzo noted that the team has been great, both on the basketball court and in the classroom — the Hall of Fame coach clearly loves this group of guys.

At the end of the day, though, it’s important to remember that this was just a week of summer practice. It’s about as early in the season as it gets, so I’d try not to overreact much either way to any information you hear. That said, Michigan State appears ready to have a very, very good basketball season and I think that fans have a lot to look forward to for the 2023 campaign.

We’re going to have some fun.

See y’all in November.

All information and quotes are from Troy Distelrath via Twitter. Troy Distelrath is not an official insider with the program. I trust that these are legitimate observations from legitimate viewings, but none of this should be treated as official. Thanks.


Predicting the 2023-24 Michigan State basketball non-conference schedule

How will MSU fare?



Michigan State basketball
© Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK

The complete 2023-24 Michigan State basketball schedule is set in stone. How will the Spartans fare in non-conference play?

The Michigan State basketball non-conference schedule is loaded with great opponents once again. That has become the norm in East Lansing under Tom Izzo and makes the excitement surrounding the season skyrocket each year.

Let’s take a look at the non-conference schedule and predict how the Spartans will do in each game.

Two “easy” games to start

For the first time in what feels like forever, Michigan State is starting their schedule off relatively easy. Instead of playing a premier opponent in their first two matchups, we have two easier opponents coming to East Lansing. Michigan State starts the season against James Madison and Southern Indiana at the Breslin Center. I think it’s safe to say we will win both matchups — hopefully by a wide margin. These games should offer us a great opportunity to figure the makeup of this team out before their first real test of the season.

Champions Classic vs. Duke

Michigan State will face Duke in this year’s Champions Classic. It will be the first time we play Duke since Coach K has retired. Don’t let that fool you though, this Duke team will be super talented. So much so that they may be one of the few teams ranked higher than Michigan State to start the season. All that being said, I have extreme confidence in our team this year. The experience of Tyson Walker and AJ Hoggard will lead our guys to a massive victory over Duke and a perfect 3-0 start to the season.

Will Michigan State stay perfect through November?

It’s easy to have a letdown game right after winning such a big game against Duke. I don’t see that happening here, however. Michigan State welcomes Butler to East Lansing for their fourth game of the season, which will be a return game for former Spartan Pierre Brooks. Butler is a tough squad, but not tough enough and Michigan State will win this hard fought game and move to 4-0.

After Butler comes Alcorn State, another easy opponent that we should easily beat. This game comes at a good time as it will hopefully allow our guys to relax a bit before their next big test. Game 6 will see the Spartans travel out west to face Arizona in a neutral site game in California. Arizona will likely be ranked as well and be a huge test for the Spartans in their longest road trip of the season. We are the better team in my opinion, but I think we drop our first game of the year here. I believe we can win every game on our non-conference schedule, but I find it unlikely to actually pull that off. So I am more or less picking a loss here just because I don’t think we will go undefeated in our entire non-conference schedule.

The final game in November is against Georgia Southern in East Lansing. Another “easy” game that should result in a win. So I have Michigan State sitting at 6-1 as November comes to an end.

Final non-conference test

After Finals Week and two Big Ten games, Michigan State will face off against Baylor in Detroit. Baylor is the last marquee opponent on our non-conference schedule and will be tough to beat. However, having the game in Detroit is huge as I expect it to feel like a home game. Give us another victory in this one.

The ninth non-conference opponent is Oakland. You may be wondering why I view this game as a test. For starters, even though Oakland has never beaten us, I’ve watched them play us tough too many times to know this isn’t an automatic win. This game also comes just two days after the Baylor game, which is not a lot of time to recover after a high emotion game. I think we still win this game, but it won’t be as easy as you might initially think. Michigan State basketball will be 8-1 against non-conference opponents coming down the home stretch.

Smooth finish

The end of the non-conference schedule is as easy as it started. Michigan State will play Stony Brook and Indiana State at home to close out the calendar year. Two more tune-up games before the full conference schedule starts will be just what we need. Give us two wins in these games and a final non-conference record of 10-1.

As I mentioned before, I think Michigan State can win all 11 of these games — 11-0 is certainly not unrealistic. However, I know how difficult winning that many games is, so I think a 10-1 record is more realistic. I think we all would be ecstatic going 10-1 against this schedule as well. That will set us up nicely come NCAA Tournament time as we aim for a No. 1 seed in this year’s tourney. More to come on the importance of that in the future.

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Michigan State basketball legend makes ESPN’s Top 25 individual performances of past 25 years

Mateen was a special player.



Michigan State basketball
© Robert Killips/Lansing State Journal

ESPN lists Michigan State basketball legend’s performance during the 2000 title game as a top individual performance over the last 25 years.

A few weeks ago, ESPN released the top 25 individual performances of the past 25 years. Written by Myron Medcalf, this is a part of a series that focused on the past 25 years of college basketball. Strictly from the years of 1998-99 through 2022-2023, installments in the series include the 25 Best Players, and 25 Greatest “What If?” Moments.

Michigan State basketball had a legend appear in the third piece written by Medcalf, and extremely high, too. 

Medcalf lists Mateen Cleaves’ performance during the 2000 title game

Coming in at No. 6 overall, Mateen Cleaves is the Spartans sole representative on Myron’s list in best individual performances in the last 25 years.

Myron writes:

“6. Mateen Cleaves’ return to the national title game after an ankle injury (2000)

The Most Outstanding Player of that year’s tournament had already scored 18 points for Michigan State, which was up by eight points on Florida, when he limped to the locker room after a collision early in the second half of the national championship game. The injury looked severe, yet he would eventually return to the floor. His scrappy playmaking would help the Spartans secure an 89-76 win and the school’s second NCAA title.”

Medcalf is absolutely correct in ensuring Cleaves’ national title game performance is in the upper echelon of this list, if not higher. Anyone familiar with Michigan State basketball has seen the play in which Cleaves rolled his ankle and limped away. Simultaneously, every MSU fan felt as though they had just been punched in the gut as their leader, one of the best Spartans to lace it up, went down barely into the second half. But, just as fans were coming to terms that the magical Flintstone season may fall just short, he made his way back to the bench and would put on a Michael Jordan Flu Game-esque performance. As the crowd erupted, Mateen cemented himself as one of the greatest Spartans of all time, and claimed one of the best individual performances of the last 25 years. 

Call me biased, but Mateen’s heart and performance in that game deserves to be higher compared to the remaining five.

5. JJ Redick seals Duke’s No. 1 ranking over Texas (2005)
4. Jimmer Fredette takes down undefeated San Diego State (2011)
3. Eddie House records 61 points vs. California, his dream school (2000)
2. Steph Curry scores 40 points vs. Gonzaga (2008)
1. Carmelo Anthony gets hot against Texas in the Final Four (2003)

Where does this performance rank among strictly Michigan State?

For Michigan State, at least, Cleaves’ 2000 National Championship run is easily the greatest individual performance throughout March under Tom Izzo. Back in March, we put together a list of the top performances by Spartans in March Madness, and Mateen’s performance in 2000 was far and away the best.

We will revisit the list once again in March and see if Cleaves’ individual performance still reigns supreme.

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Michigan State basketball: Complete 2023-24 Big Ten schedule revealed

Who does MSU play and when?



Michigan State basketball
© Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State basketball now knows what its whole schedule looks like for the 2023-24 season. The Big Ten schedule has been revealed.

Michigan State basketball’s 2023-24 Big Ten schedule has finally been released. With basketball season just around the corner (48 days but who’s counting) it’s time to finally see what our path to a Big Ten title looks like.

Here’s the full conference schedule posted by the Michigan State basketball Twitter page:

Reactions to the 2023-24 schedule

  • December Games

Michigan State will kick off their conference schedule in the beginning of December, as has become the norm in the Big Ten. Before they take a break for Finals Week, Michigan State will play Wisconsin at home in its Big Ten opener and then travel to Nebraska. If we want to win the Big Ten, it is crucial we get off to a fast start by winning both of these games. Wisconsin is typically one of the better Big Ten teams so that will be no easy task. Nebraska, on the other hand, is slowly on the come-up. Two wins here are extremely important.

  • Michigan

Michigan State once again plays Michigan twice this year. The first meeting is in East Lansing on Jan. 30 with the return trip to Ann Arbor on Feb. 17. Michigan has been on a downward trajectory the past few years, yet we have been unable to sweep the regular season series. Winning these two games would be huge to help us win the conference and assert our dominance in this rivalry once again.

  • Tough four-game mid-season stretch

Arguably the toughest stretch in our schedule comes right in the middle as January comes to an end. Michigan State basketball will travel to Maryland on Jan. 21 and then to Wisconsin on Jan. 26. Then it will play Michigan and Maryland again at home on Jan. 3 and Feb. 3, respectively. Maryland and Wisconsin will be two of the better teams in the conference this year. Coming out of this stretch of games 3-1 would be amazing, but we need to be 2-2 at minimum.

Other notable games

The three other teams likely to compete for the Big Ten title are Illinois, Indiana, and Purdue. Fortunately for MSU, it only plays this group four times. Illinois is the team the Spartans face twice. Michigan State will travel to Illinois on Jan. 11 and then the Illini make the return trip to East Lansing on Feb. 10.

MSU fortunately only plays Indiana and Purdue once each, but they are both road games. Strangely enough, both matchups come at the very end of the season. The Spartans travel to Purdue on March 2 which is the third-to-last game, then finish the regular season at Indiana on March 10. Those two games will have massive Big Ten title implications, and MSU may need to win both if it expects to win the conference.

Tom Izzo and Michigan State have their work cut out for them. Thankfully we have enough firepower to handle the tough Big Ten slate and compete for the regular season crown. Can we win the conference for the first time since 2020? I think we will as we dethrone Purdue and win the conference outright.

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