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Michigan State basketball: The great, good, bad, and ugly from nail-biting Iowa win

From Mady Sissoko to free throw shooting, there was a lot of good and bad from the Iowa win.



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

Michigan State basketball was down 10-0 but was able to storm back and hold off Iowa for the win. Here’s the great, good, bad, and ugly.

Coming into Thursday’s game having lost three of the last four, Michigan State basketball buckled down and beat the Iowa Hawkeyes at the Breslin. MSU was forced to brush off a slow, sluggish start, going down 10-0 within the first five minutes. Powered by a balanced offense and a healthy Malik Hall, the Spartans stormed back to take a one-point lead going into halftime.

Iowa tapped back into its first five-minute performance to start the second half, eventually pulling out to a six-point lead. Thanks to some big shots from Tyson Walker and Jaden Akins late in the game and the continued great defense from the Spartans, MSU was able to defend a last-minute opportunity for Iowa to steal a game at the Breslin and came away with the win.

Michigan State now moves to 14-7 on the year and 6-4 in conference play. Hall stated after the game how difficult it is to win in the Big Ten, but stacking games like this is a good start.

Here are the great, good, bad, and ugly from the Spartans’ win over the Hawkeyes.

Great: Defense

A continuous narrative this season has been the great defense night after night for the Spartans. Ranking in the upper half of the Big Ten, Michigan State is holding its opponents to 65.6 points per game.

What’s more impressive, however, is the Spartans’ ability to limit opponents’ 3-point shooting. Ranked as fourth-best in the Big Ten, MSU is holding opposing teams to just 30.1 percent from deep, just one percent off from conference-leading Rutgers at 29.1 percent.

Thursday night was more of the same for the Spartans’ great defense. Iowa, averaging 80.7 points per game while shooting 33.8 percent from three, was held to just 61 points and 17.6 percent from long range.

Even with their good start to the game, Michigan State was able to get Iowa out of any sort of groove. This ended up becoming a much larger factor, as Iowa had two chances from 3-point range to win the game in the final seconds. Payton Sandfort, who had the last-minute attempts, had just one successful 3-pointer over the course of the game. To ask a shooter who has not shot the ball well to win the game in the last second is a difficult ask.

The Spartans now improve to 10-2 when holding opponents below 70 points.

Good: Mady Sissoko

Rightfully so, Mady Sissoko has been the subject of heavy criticism this season. He was expected to have made vast improvements this past offseason and lead the Spartans down low. After starting the season with performances that would have fans believe that to be true, Sissoko has since disappeared.

With that being said, Thursday night against Iowa, Sissoko played well for the Spartans. Mady had 10 points to go along with 10 rebounds, the first double-double of his career. His performance marked the fifth time scoring in double digits, and the fourth time with 10-plus rebounds.

Sissoko’s defense was just average, as he was matched up against Iowa’s second-leading scorer on the night, Filip Rebraca. Regardless, this type of performance is what was expected of Sissoko this season. Hopefully he can use this momentum for the remainder of the season.

Bad: Sluggish start

As previously mentioned, Michigan State had polar opposite starts against Indiana on Sunday and Iowa on Thursday night. At the 14-minute mark against the Hoosiers, MSU had 17 points and built a nine-point lead. At home against Iowa, the Spartans had just three points and a seven-point deficit. Surprisingly, Michigan State would blow their hot start against Indiana, and come back to win against Iowa.

As Jud Heathcote used to say, “An ugly win is better than a pretty loss.” Even so, having such a slow start is extremely inefficient and will not lead to victories very often.

Michigan State started the game against the Hawkeyes missing their first nine shots. Luckily for the green and white, this game was being played at the Breslin because a 10-0 deficit in the first five minutes in an away, hostile environment is extremely difficult to overcome.

MSU did not come ready to play against Iowa, similar to the Spartans’ win against Rutgers last week. Missing open looks, taking bad shots, and having sloppy turnovers have cursed the starts to too many Michigan State basketball games.

Ugly: Free throw percentage

Almost two weeks ago, A.J. Hoggard had two missed free throws deep in the loss against Purdue while being up by one. The Spartans would end up losing by one, making Hoggard’s missed free throws that much more important. He almost found himself in the same position Thursday night at home against Iowa.

MSU was up two with just 20 seconds left when Hoggard was intentionally fouled and sent to the line. After missing his first attempt, Iowa suddenly had a chance to tie or win the game with the final shot. While Hoggard will get most of the criticism as his miss was to ice the game, the Spartans shot just 58 percent from the free throw line as a team. Well below their season average, 58 percent is abysmal and will, more often than not, lead to a loss.

It was reported that within 10 minutes of the game ending, A.J. was back on the court shooting free throw after free throw. While shooting just 60 percent across his first two seasons from the charity stripe, Hoggard is cashing in at an 80.3 percent clip this season. His above 80 percent mark would suggest his recent poor performance from the line is just mental.


Michigan State basketball: Way-too-early projected starting 5 for 2023-24

Next year’s team could be special.



Michigan State basketball
© Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State basketball has officially entered the offseason and now it’s time to predict what next year looks like.

Markquis Nowell will go down in Michigan State basketball history as one of those forbidden names. We will no longer be mentioning the Kansas State guard as he’s now in the same group as Giddy Potts, Boo Buie, Jabari Parker, and Shabazz Napier. We’re just throwing those names out for good.

Now that we got that out of the way, we can move forward and look ahead to next season.

And next season could be special. Michigan State brings back some key players such as Jaden Akins, AJ Hoggard, Mady Sissoko, Jaxon Kohler, Carson Cooper, Tre Holloman, and potentially Pierre Brooks. However, decisions have yet to be officially made for Tyson Walker, Malik Hall, and Joey Hauser, but an elite recruiting class is coming in.

In fact, the Spartans are bringing in one of the best recruiting classes in program history, led by five-star big man Xavier Booker, five-star point guard Jeremy Fears, four-star super-athlete Coen Carr, and four-star athletic sharpshooting wing Gehrig Normand.

The lineup next year should be athletic and the bench will be deep.

But what will the starting five look like, assuming that Hauser is gone? Here’s my best guess:

PG: AJ Hoggard, SR
G: Tyson Walker, SR
G: Jaden Akins, JR
F: Xavier Booker, FR
C: Mady Sissoko, SR

AJ Hoggard will be back for his senior year to lead the team at the point and he might just be the Big Ten’s best at the position. He showed against Kansas State that he can take over a game offensively and I’m looking forward to seeing him take another step in 2023-24.

For my bold prediction: I think we see Walker return. The way the season ended left a sour taste in his mouth and he became one of the best players in the Big Ten. If he gets the green light next year, he could be the Spartans’ go-to- scorer and potentially a Big Ten Player of the Year frontrunner.

Akins’ return is going to be huge for this team as well. If Walker were to leave, he’d assume the role of go-to scorer and I know he’d flourish. But he did play well in a No. 3 option role this season and he’s going to excel as the second option next season. He is the starting five’s top NBA prospect outside of Xavier Booker at the four.

Speaking of Booker, I see him sliding in as the starting power forward much like Jaren Jackson Jr. did as a true freshman. He’s a long, athletic big who can rebound and score in the post and that’s just what was missing this year. While I do think Hall returns and could play the four in a small-ball lineup, I think Tom Izzo brings him off the bench and Booker starts.

Lastly, Mady Sissoko grew a ton this season and I don’t think he’s done getting better. He had his ups and downs and showed how raw he truly was this year, but I think Izzo can mold him into a dominant defensive center. Will he be Oscar Tshiebwe down there? No, but I could see him averaging 2.0 blocks and 7.0-plus rebounds per game next season while continuing his lob-threat ability. Maybe he’ll even develop a post game on offense.

Coming off the bench would be Fears, Hall, Carr, Normand, Holloman, Cooper, and Brooks (assuming he doesn’t hit the portal).

This will be one of the deeper teams that Izzo has ever had and full lineup changes won’t completely crush momentum.

Raise your hand if you’re looking forward to next season.

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Michigan State basketball: Did Tyson Walker hint at return?

Something to monitor.



Michigan State basketball
© Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Tyson Walker might just be teasing us, but he hinted at a return to Michigan State basketball on Instagram.

Now that Michigan State basketball is headed back home after a crushing loss to Kansas State in the Sweet 16, a couple of storylines are going to dominate the offseason.

One, is Tom Izzo going to reach into the transfer portal for some help?

And two, will Tyson Walker, Joey Hauser, or Malik Hall decide to return?

The first question won’t be answered until the second one is and it feels like it’s been one-third answered. Hauser posted somewhat of a farewell on Instagram on Friday with the caption “that’s a wrap” and a green heart emoji. No one was shocked as he was the least likely to return, but it was Walker’s comment on the post that has people raising an eyebrow.

The “idk who I’m going to sit next to on the planes now” comment followed by Houser offering up Jaxon Kohler seems promising. Maybe it’s just two guys having fun with the fans, knowing that emotions are at an all-time high and we will find a way to make every word seem important.

But I’m putting stock in this. It just feels like Walker is leaning more toward coming back because he didn’t even think twice about writing that knowing that people would overreact (like myself).

And Hauser’s response makes it seem even more likely. Like he knows Walker wants to return.

Of course Walker had to post this to calm the rumor mill, but maybe he just let his intentions slip in the original post on Hauser’s Instagram post?

Maybe both guys are just messing around and both Hauser and Walker want to return along with Hall? OK, now I’m going way too far down the “what does this comment mean?” rabbit hole.

Either way, I would venture a guess of Walker returning with Hall while Hauser hangs up the green and white jersey for good.

If that’s the case, it was one heck of a career for Joey and Walker has big things ahead of him in East Lansing.

We can hope.

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Michigan State Basketball: 3 potential 2023-24 lineup options

There will be plenty of options.



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

The Michigan State basketball season came to an unfortunate end yesterday after the devastating overtime loss in the Sweet 16. But what about 2023-24?

That loss is going to sting for at least the next few months. With Tennessee losing as well, the path to the Final Four was Michigan State’s for the taking. Unfortunately, the better team won Thursday night, and it wasn’t Michigan State basketball.

With that being said, there’s a lot of hope and optimism looking forward. Along with the hope, however, comes numerous variables regarding the Spartans’ roster.

Let’s go through a few options Tom Izzo and staff can roll with, roster-wise, in 2023-24.

Option 1: Roll with the roster we have (with a returning member)

  1. A.J. Hoggard/Jeremy Fears
  2. Tyson Walker
  3. Jaden Akins/Coen Carr/Gehrig Normand
  4. Xavier Booker/Jaxon Kohler
  5. Mady Sissoko/Carson Cooper

In option one, Tyson Walker doesn’t want to leave Michigan State with the Kansas State loss looming over him and so he decides to return for one final year. One of the nation’s best guard combinations of AJ Hoggard, Tyson, and Jaden Akins run it back with more experience and more expectations.

Being that Walker returning is the main variable in this scenario rather than a transfer acquisition, Michigan State moves forward with the players and recruits already bought in.

With that being said, Michigan State basketball would be left extremely thin at the four in this scenario. This would force Xavier Booker to step up (a common theme in these scenarios), along with a possible big ball lineup, shifting Jaxon Kohler to the four. With his offensive upside shown this season, but defensive downfalls, this could actually act as a plus.

Option 2: Attack the transfer portal

  1. A.J. Hoggard/Jeremy Fears
  2. Jaden Akins
  3. Transfer Player/Pierre Brooks/Gehrig Normand
  4. Xavier Booker/Coen Carr
  5. Mady Sissoko/Jaxon Kohler

Most fans will be shouting for option two to become reality but, with Tom Izzo’s track record, it’s not as likely.

The variable for option two is Walker, Joey Hauser, and Malik Hall all electing to move on, so Izzo and Co. turn to the well that is the transfer portal. Doing so in the past has seemed to work out with Tyson, so Izzo will be looking to strike gold once again to fill the open wing position.

While there are plenty of names within the portal, the Spartans have been linked to just a few. Six-foot-6 small forward Zack Austin from High Point, 6-foot-5 shooting guard Jace Carter from UIC, and 6-foot-3 combo guard Jayden Taylor from Butler have all been contacted by MSU and would fill the three-guard/small four role well.

Still, MSU would be somewhat light at the four, so the coveted 6-foot-10 freshman Booker would find himself in the starting lineup once again.

The offense would be led by Hoggard, but run through Akins, as he’s proven to be up to the challenge

Option 3: Feed the young bucks

  1. A.J. Hoggard/Jeremy Fears
  2. Jaden Akins/Pierre Brooks
  3. Coen Carr/Gehrig Normand
  4. Xavier Booker/Jaxon Kohler
  5. Mady Sissoko/Carson Cooper

Even less likely than turning to the transfer portal, is option three.

A staple for Tom Izzo-led teams is veteran leadership. It isn’t often a freshman steps in and is given a starting role right away. Think Kalin Lucas, Miles Bridges, or Jaren Jackson Jr. to name a few who were.

In this scenario, not only do Tyson, Hauser, and Hall all move on, but the Spartans also decline to bring in any transfer players. A young starting core would pose a difficult task for Izzo, leading this to being the least likely scenario. I can see plenty of frustration from Hoggard and Akins resulting from the inexperience around them, not to mention a possible second line of Tre Holloman, Pierre Brooks, Jeremy Fears, Gehrig Normand, and Carson Cooper. While it isn’t likely this lineup would see the floor all at the same time, it’s hard to find the trusted go-to guy in that group. MSU is better off avoiding this scenario.

In all reality, Michigan State’s 2024 lineup will likely combine all three of these options. Why choose just one when the most realistic path back to the Final Four is a combination of the three? We will see.

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