After a treacherous first quarter of the season, Michigan State basketball spent most of the second quarter getting healthy.
Michigan State basketball fared well throughout the second quarter of the 2022-23 season. Immediately following a difficult loss against Northwestern, the Spartans traveled to University Park and took care of business against Penn State for their second Big Ten game of the year.
Michigan State then went through a lighter stretch of opponents, going head to head across multiple different leagues. Against the Ivy League, the MAC, and the Horizon league, along with a few Big Ten teams towards the end, MSU finished with a record of 7-1 across December and through the first 10 days of January.
The trio of games that were Brown, Oakland, and Buffalo allowed Tom Izzo and company to weather the injury storm from the extremely difficult first quarter of the season. Finishing the second quarter with wins against Nebraska, Michigan, and a thriller against Wisconsin on Tuesday night held much more weight, and sets the Spartans up tremendously for the upcoming dog days of Big Ten play.
So, here are grades for each positional group from the second quarter of the Michigan State basketball season.
In what has easily been the strength of this team, the guard play has been fantastic this season thus far. In just the second quarter of the season alone, the combination of A.J. Hoggard, Tyson Walker, and Jaden Akins have averaged 34.35 points per game.
Scoring 69.5 as a team throughout this stretch, the guards are accounting for roughly 49 percent of Michigan State’s points. When points have been needed, it is our guards who have stepped up and pulled through. Guard play is priceless in March and will take this team beyond where originally expected. The only question is whether or not they can do it alone.
Outside of the starting trio, MSU’s guards have played somewhat sparingly. Pierre Brooks and Tre Holloman each have logged an average of 16 and 10 minutes, respectively. While these minutes have provided confidence and experience, neither have scored at a consistent rate enough to make an impact. Brooks has shown he has the ability to average 7-8 points per game off the bench, but sits at just 4.75 points. Providing more scoring off the bench from Brooks and Holloman can take this guard unit into the upper most tier in the Big Ten.
Michigan State’s forward play took a major hit when, during the first quarter of the season, senior forward Malik Hall went down. Malik is more than just a captain, he gives the Spartans a versatile, experienced starter when healthy. Once returning to the rotation midway through this second quarter of the season, Hall was able to jump back in with little hesitancy, averaging almost 10 points per game since his return.
The Spartans’ only other forwards on roster are Joey Hauser and Jaxon Kohler. Hauser has been an offensive leader throughout this stretch of the season, scoring in double figures in seven out of eight games, and leading our team in scoring in four out of eight of those matchups. Outside of the Michigan game in which Hauser was extremely off, Joey is knocking down 3-pointers at a rate of 36 percent.
The combination of these two forwards should take pressure off our guards, if they can stay healthy, that is.
During the first quarter of the season, Mady Sissoko had a coming out party. Putting out great performances over the first couple of games, Sissoko seemed to be a force in the Big Ten.
Unfortunately, it seems as though water has found it’s level. Sissoko has averaged 4.6 points per game to go along with just 8.3 rebounds. While it is not expected to have the three year big man average 15-plus points, having him closer to 8-10 points per game would open the court up tremendously for the Spartan wings and guards.
Jaxon Kohler is on roster as a forward, but Tom Izzo and Co. have decided to use him in reserve of Sissoko instead. Whatever athleticism Kohler lacks in comparison to Sissoko, he makes up for in offensive touch. With each game, you can watch Jaxon become more comfortable. While he still needs to work on his defense and his offensive skill set directly below the rim, he has proven he can knock down shots away from the basket along the exterior of the paint.
There isn’t much more to ask for from the big man out of Utah.
Michigan State’s thrilling win against Kentucky in November included set plays, drawn up by Izzo and his assistants, that forced me to give the coaching an A for the first quarter of the season. For this past second quarter, Michigan State did not find themselves in such a situation, but the Spartans’ coaching should get no complaints.
While dealing with a number of injuries, the coaching staff did a good job weathering the storm, going to players such as Tre Holloman, Pierre Brooks, Carson Cooper, and Jason Whitens more often. The two former should see more time regardless, Cooper and Whitens did just enough to get by and, as players began to return from injury, were downgraded back to a reserve/bench role. It may have not been pretty over these few games, the experience gained from these players will come in handy come March. Cooper has already shown growth from this time, as seen in the win against Wisconsin.
The only grievance from the Spartan staff was on Dec. 21 against the in-state Oakland Grizzlies. Despite only holding a five-point lead at half time, Brooks had not seen any court time. As fans questioned what the reason may have been as to why Whitens had taken most of Pierre’s first-half minutes, Izzo clarified after the game that Brooks had been late to multiple meetings throughout the week and was sitting in punishment. While not ideal, understandable.
After such a difficult stretch of games to begin the season, Michigan State has used the second quarter to work through their injuries, and even get invaluable experience to would-be bench players when given a healthy rotation.
Towards the end of the second quarter stretch, the rotation eventually did get healthy, and fans got a glimpse of what can be. When given appropriate time to heal and to practice, it was reported in mid-December that the Spartans were set to have one of their first practices since the season tipped off, this team can compete for a Big Ten banner, as they currently sit tied with Purdue at first in the conference.
With that being said, we will learn a lot about Michigan State basketball in the third quarter of the season, as it will be the heart of Big Ten play. If the Spartans can stay healthy throughout this next stretch, the rest of the Big Ten better be put on notice.
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