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Michigan State basketball: The great, good, bad, and ugly from Rutgers win

Michigan State picked up a huge win on Thursday.



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

Here are the great, good, bad, and ugly from a fairly stress-free Michigan State basketball win over No. 23 Rutgers.

Michigan State basketball was able to halt its Big Ten losing skid at just two games, beating No. 23 Rutgers at home on Thursday night, 70-57.

Even though Rutgers has never won at Breslin, the Scarlet Knights were not to be taken lightly. Winners of seven of their last eight and sporting the third-best defense in the country with a defensive efficiency of .842, the Scarlet Knights would give Michigan State everything it had.

The Scarlet Knights came out of the gate swinging thanks to a cold, sloppy start for the Spartans. After some subbing adjustments, MSU righted the ship and ended up taking a 36-30 lead into halftime. Taking the momentum from the latter portion of the first half into the second, Michigan State did not look back, never trailing and coming away with a 13-point win.

Propelled from one of the most balanced, red-hot offenses this season, along with stifling defense, limiting Rutgers to just 11 percent from three, Michigan State moves back into a two-way tie (with Rutgers) for second place in the Big Ten.

Here are the great, good, bad, and ugly from a fairly stress-free Michigan State win over the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.

Great: Balanced scoring

One week ago, the Spartans lost to Illinois in a game in which they only shot seven 3-pointers, missing all seven. While this was clearly a one off performance/game plan, it failed miserably. For Thursday night’s game against Rutgers, Michigan State went the complete opposite direction and rained 3-pointers all night. Connecting on 55 percent of its threes, 12-for-22, Michigan State poured it on against the No. 3 defense in the country.

Tyson Walker, Joey Hauser, Jaden Akins, and even A.J. Hoggard splashed three 3-pointers each, equating for almost half the Spartans’ points.

Michigan State used the confidence of shooting over 50 percent from deep inside the arc as well. Spreading the wealth around offensively, MSU had five players scoring in double figures. This balanced attack is quite different than previous games. In recent losses, the Spartans had just one or two players scoring the majority of their points — Hoggard with 20 against Illinois and Tyson Walker with 30 against Purdue.

Having a well-balanced, superstar-less offensive squad can lead to vast scoring droughts, but when played correctly, is extremely effective and difficult to defend.

It’s not expected that the Spartans to continue shooting almost 55 percent from deep, nor is it expected to go 0-for-7 or even 6-for-19 as MSU did against Purdue earlier in the week. Splitting the difference, however, and having four to five different players contributing offensively will be the difference for this team.

Good: Freshman play

Going with the normal starters against the Scarlet Knights, Michigan State opened the game sloppy and quickly found itself trailing 11-3. Being that the game was being played at home, it didn’t quite feel like the Spartans were out of it yet, but something needed to be done to stop the bleeding. Izzo made the move around the 16-minute mark to go with a different, younger rotation.

In subbed Pierre Brooks, Jaxon Kohler, and a minute later, Tre Holloman.

The veterans were not ready to play, so Izzo brought in the freshmen and, subsequently, put an end to the lopsided start. Over the next four minutes, Michigan State rattled off a 14-5 run, taking the lead 17-16 with 11 minutes remaining in the first half. Because of this success, the freshman lineup carried over into much of the second half.

The biggest contributor out of the freshman trio was Kohler. Having the best game of his young career thus far, Kohler finished with 12 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks and one assist. Between his post moves and turn around jumpers, everything was working for Jaxon against Rutgers. Fans were able to watch his confidence grow in real time, eventually leading to a failed heat check 3-point attempt, his first of the season. What’s more, Kohler’s defense was visibly better than previous matchups. Going against one of only two big men who average a double-double in the Big Ten, Jaxon held his own. The future is very bright for the young big man, who just notched his first career double-double.

While Brooks had another lackluster performance, Holloman’s game should not be overlooked by Kohler’s outbreak. Holloman’s stats will not pop off the stat sheet, but he had some great finds for his three assists. Looking more comfortable and under control each week, Holloman will be a nice depth chart asset come March.

Bad: Free throw opportunities

In a game that had the Spartan guards red-hot offensively, and Kohler providing such an impact down low, it’s difficult to find areas of concern. With that being said, one aspect that you wish to improve on is the free throw opportunities. Shooting just 13 attempts per game from the charity stripe, MSU had even less than their season average against Rutgers. Michigan State shot just seven free throws, albeit making six of them.

The number of attempts is extremely low, but what is more concerning is that six of those seven attempts came from Hoggard. Zero free throw attempts from the Spartan centers and forwards is not a formula for success.

As has been the message all season long, Michigan State basketball must find a way to get their big men to the line, for offensive opportunities as well as putting their opponents in a difficult situation resulting from foul trouble for their centers.

Ugly: Rebounding

Michigan State’s rebounding on Thursday night was one of the worst performances I have seen in quite some time. While defensive rebounds were fairly even from both teams, Rutgers with 24 and MSU with 28, the Scarlet Knights had three times the offensive boards the Spartans did, 18-6. Time and time again, Michigan State gave up second-chance opportunities.

What’s possibly worse is Rutgers out-rebounded MSU from each position.

Rutgers’ guards came away with 16 total rebounds, while their forwards and centers had 21. Neither Michigan State’s guards nor their big men were able to get a body on the opponent, leading to 15 second-chance points. MSU was lucky the Scarlet Knights were not able to convert on more opportunities.

Tom Izzo mentioned after the game that being out-rebounded might have been a good thing, as practice for Michigan State basketball will now emphasize the basics of boxing out.


Has Michigan State basketball had the “perfect” offseason so far?

The MSU basketball offseason has felt so much better than football’s.



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

Unlike the football program so far, Michigan State basketball has had an impressive, almost perfect offseason.

Anything is possible in today’s college basketball world. We have seen some crazy things with the one-time transfer rule and NIL in full effect. Star players like Hunter Dickinson are transferring to powerhouse programs like Kansas and some players are leaving the schools they love just to chase money. We are even seeing incoming freshman reopening their recruitments in June.

I’ll say it again, anything is possible in college basketball today. It seems nearly impossible for a program to have a perfect offseason nowadays. Whether they want their players to stay or they need to get a high-profile transfer to join their team, no program gets everything they want. However, I would argue that Michigan State basketball has had the perfect offseason, or as close to it as reasonably possible.

No key players transferring to new programs

As I mentioned before, star players in a great positions at their programs are still deciding to transfer. Almost every program has someone significant decide to leave the program. Thankfully for Michigan State, that did not happen this season.

Pierre Brooks is the only player to transfer to a new program when he decided to take his talents to Butler. I never like seeing players leave the program, but I think everyone saw this coming. Brooks would have struggled to make the rotation again this year, so it makes sense for him to find a better fit somewhere else.

The transfer portal can be a scary thing, but the Spartans survived it this year.

Players deciding early to return

Whether it be deciding to enter the transfer portal or go pro, some athletes take a long time to make their final decision. Michigan State, on the other hand, got a lot of good news early this offseason. Both Malik Hall and Tyson Walker announced they were returning to Michigan State early on in the offseason.

Both could have attempted to go the pro route. However, both didn’t even tempt those waters. Arguably Michigan State’s best player and this past season’s sixth man are coming back for another year and that’s massive.

Players withdrawing from the NBA draft

Jaden Akins and AJ Hoggard both entered their name into the NBA Draft. I thought it was possible for Akins to keep his name in the draft, but nobody ever knows what a player will decide to do. All it takes is one team to promise they will draft them and that player could be gone. Thankfully for Michigan State, that did not happen to either player. Both Akins and Hoggard announced their return to Michigan State on May 31 much to all Spartan fans’ delight.

Incoming freshmen class

To round out the perfect offseason, Michigan State’s elite freshmen class has stayed intact. This class is No. 5 in the country and is bringing in four players who can contribute from day one.

Once players sign, usually that means the drama is over. That, however, is not the case anymore. A decent amount of players have asked to be released from their commitments to their program, including one top player who decommitted from Kansas on June 3. With all of Michigan State’s returning production, this could have been possible for one of our incoming freshmen. Thankfully again, this did not occur to the Spartans, and the class has remained committed.

The one negative you could argue

There is one negative thing you could argue that happened to Michigan State this offseason. That is Joey Hauser deciding to go pro and not return to Michigan State basketball for a final season.

Like Brooks, I think most expected this, but I can’t deny how amazing it would have been to have him back again next year. However, who knows what could have happened if he did return. Maybe another player decides to transfer because there aren’t enough minutes to go around. Maybe an incoming freshman decides he’d be better off somewhere else. Nobody knows what would have happened if Joey came back. With all the positives that occurred this offseason, I am fine with Hauser deciding to leave the program.

Michigan State has everything to play for next season. A conference title, Final Four, and national championship are all very realistic. Michigan State will likely be a top-five team in the country to start the season, and that is thanks to a near-perfect offseason for the program.

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Michigan State basketball: AJ Hoggard earns high praise from Malik Hall (Video)

Malik Hall had nothing but good things to say about AJ Hoggard.



Michigan State basketball
© Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Michigan State basketball got some good news this week and Malik Hall is more than happy to have AJ Hoggard back.

In a recent interview with Justin Spiro, Malik Hall spoke in detail about AJ Hoggard. He discussed how great of a person he is on and off the court and how there are a lot of misconceptions about him from Michigan State basketball fans.

Here is a two-minute clip from that interview where Hall talks about AJ.

The star point guard AJ Hoggard dealt with a lot of criticism from the Spartan fanbase this season. Nobody plays great every game, and I think our fans mostly understand that.

The thing that bothered some of our fans however was Hoggard’s body language in the games in which he was struggling. Instead of staying positive, some fans criticized him for seemingly not trying or caring during his struggles.

AJ Hoggard: The leader

Malik Hall is here to tell you that none of that is true. Hall explained how this opinion from fans is the furthest thing from the truth. Malik mentioned that even though AJ’s face looks like he doesn’t care, that is not how he feels at all. That’s great to hear about your starting point guard and one of the leaders of the team. Guys look to AJ for leadership and motivation, so if they see negative body language from him they are likely to mirror that. So even though AJ sometimes looks like he is checked out on the court, it’s nice to know that the rest of the team doesn’t feel that way.

Malik also went on to share that AJ is one of the nicest and most genuine guys he knows. He considers Hoggard to be one of his best friends not just on the team, but in his life. Hall mentioned that AJ is the first guy to text you when you are struggling with something outside of basketball.

That’s the best type of leader in my opinion. Someone who pushes you to be great on the court but always makes sure you are okay off the court.

Sophomore guard Tre Holloman responded to this tweet on Twitter agreeing with what Hall said.

The next time you think AJ looks out of it in a game, remember this interview. Remember that Malik Hall mentioned that nobody on the team feels this way and they all know that how AJ truly feels doesn’t match the “AJ face.”

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Writer says there’s a huge gap between Purdue and Michigan State basketball

This seems like a wild claim.



Michigan State basketball
© Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Gregg Doyel of the Indy Star claims that Purdue is “historically loaded” and there’s a huge gap between them and Michigan State basketball.

With the news of Jaden Akins and AJ Hoggard returning along with Tyson Walker and Malik Hall to go along with the No. 4 recruiting class in the country, Michigan State basketball went from a conference title contender to a national title contender.

Essentially everyone who follows college basketball has Michigan State as a top-five team and right there in the Big Ten as 1B to Purdue’s 1A — some even have it the other way around.

The Spartans bring back everyone but Joey Hauser to a team that went to the Sweet 16 and Purdue returns national player of the year Zach Edey to a Big Ten title team. Both teams are loaded and should be at the top of everyone’s list when it comes to national title contention.

But one Indy Star writer believes that Purdue is “historically loaded” and the talent-and-depth gap between the Boilermakers and “everyone else” is as large as he’s seen in years. Just a wild claim.

Gregg Doyel cites a solid incoming class to go along with Edey returning and the two freshmen guards with another year in the system. But he fails to recognize that Michigan State got even better. The Spartans are bringing in an even better recruiting class and they return their 2-3 most talented players from a year ago. The only loss is Hauser.

Saying that this year’s Purdue team is far-and-away the most talented and deepest team in the Big Ten and the gap is the biggest it’s been in years is asinine. There was a much larger gap last year.

Michigan State will go toe-to-toe with the Boilermakers and as long as Edey can be neutralized, the Spartans will have a chance to take them down for the Big Ten crown.

It’s tough to say a team like Michigan State basketball that’s 11-12 guys deep is not nearly as talented or deep as Purdue, but hey, let’s put that early chip on the shoulder.

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