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Michigan State Basketball: Great, good, bad, and ugly from needed win at Nebraska

You just love to be on the right side of a good comeback.



Michigan State basketball
© Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State basketball needed a bounce back win and, despite another slow start, they got it against Nebraska on Tuesday night.

Before the game Tuesday night, Tom Izzo said the loss against Iowa was possibly one of the worst losses, in any sport for him and Michigan State basketball. That much is safe to say. Izzo said the team discussed their Saturday collapse, and were allegedly able to get past it in time to take on the red-hot Nebraska Cornhuskers.

For the first 20 minutes of Tuesday night’s game, however, it did not seem that was the case.

Michigan State came out missing just about every jumper they put up. Nebraska, on the other hand, was celebrating senior night and they were playing like it. Matching great defense with lights out shooting, particularly from Keisei Tominaga, Michigan State quickly found itself down as much as 15 in the first half.

After some halftime adjustments, Michigan State basketball came out and began to light the world on fire, silencing the Husker crowd by shooting almost 70 percent from the field. Slowly, but surely, the Spartans dug their way out of the deficit they created, taking the lead with a Tyson Walker 3-pointer at the eight minute mark. Even with starting so slow and inefficient, Michigan State eventually pulled away and got a much needed 13-point win.

Here are the great, good, bad and ugly from the Spartans’ 10th conference win on the year, and 11th straight against Nebraska.

Great: 3-point shooting from Tyson Walker, Jaden Akins, Joey Hauser

If there is anything learned from this season of Spartan basketball, it’s that living and dying by the three can be extremely entertaining, but also devastating.

Forget learning from the entire season, Michigan State showcased that Tuesday night alone. MSU was getting good, open looks from deep during the first half in Lincoln, but they just weren’t falling. Call it a hangover from the Iowa debacle, regressing to the mean after shooting 75 percent from deep on Saturday, or whatever you like, but MSU was being run out of the gym because they could not bury anything.

Saved by the bell, MSU took its 12-point deficit into the locker room and came out a different team. They continued to get their open looks, but began hitting on them. Hitting just 4-of-12 from deep in the first half, MSU grew red-hot and nailed 12 of their next 17 from 3-point range. Hauser, one of the lone bright spots during the first half, continued his success by starting the second half with his fourth 3-pointer. Akins began to get in on the hot shooting, at one point demanding a final pass his way to hit second consecutive 3-pointer. Tyson Walker then put the nail in the Huskers’ coffin with a logo deep pull up with two minutes remaining.

Michigan State has developed into one of the most dangerous teams from deep over the last few weeks, getting hot at the perfect time in the season. But, again, you live by the three, you die by the three. Flipping their 27.8 percent shooting in the first half to 68 percent in the second, Michigan State just about died by the three.

Against a more well-rounded team, I’m not sure if MSU is able to pull themselves out of the hole they dug during the first half, but props to them for doing so Tuesday night.

Good: A.J. Hoggard

It was reported that Tom Izzo asked A.J. Hoggard to shift his point guard mentality from scoring to more of a distributor. While Hoggard was never lighting it up from the field, Izzo wanted him to take eight shots or less and focus on creating for others.

He would finish Tuesday night with 11 shots, but an incredible 14 assists for the junior point guard. Fourteen assists is good for third most in a game in Spartan history, and the most since Spartan legend Mateen Cleaves set the school record of 20 back in 2000. Having a playmaking, distributing point guard with elite shooters around him seemed to work for Izzo back in 2000…

Along with the career high 14 assists, Hoggard had just one turnover. Even with the double-digit deficit, he was poised with the basketball and did what needed to be done to get his teammates going. Now, if he can just work on his defense and body language, A.J. could truly lead this team some place special.

Bad: Settling for long, inefficient twos

Give credit to Nebraska and Fred Hoiberg on their defensive game plan. It was noted early on in the matchup that the Huskers were going to focus on running MSU off the 3-point line with hard close outs and that’s exactly what they did.

While Michigan State often times had the correct response of pump faking the Husker flying out at them, taking one hard dribble in, and taking the open shot, there is a reason this is called the least efficient shot in basketball. Time and time again on Tuesday night, MSU pump faked, took the one dribble in, and let a deep two point attempt fly. This shot has all the difficulty of a 3-point attempt, with the payoff of just a two.

One or two attempts of this nature are okay, but it seemed Michigan State had upwards of eight or nine situations such as this. The Spartans should have focused on another option rather than pulling up after the pump fake. An option such as continuing the drive to the hole and attempt to draw a foul on Nebraska big man Derrick Walker. Or drive and dish to get our 3-point shooting going.

Of course, this is a moot point if Michigan State is nailing its jumpers as Nebraska would be forced to change their game plan. But MSU couldn’t buy a bucket and settling for long twos was not going to break them out.

Ugly: Defense

There has been a bizarre shift over the last few weeks for this Spartan team. A team that had offensive firepower potential, but mostly relied heavily on their defense has now, for better or worse, flipped the script.

Over the last four games, MSU has shot the ball extremely well, but allowed more than their season average opponents points per game, and worse yet, has allowed teams to shoot lights out from three. For the first half of Tuesday night’s game against the Cornhuskers, Nebraska continued this trend.

Finishing the first half with 38 points, Nebraska was getting shots to fall from all levels. Sam Griesel, a normal 30 percent 3-point shooter, was pulling up with confidence from deep, Jamarques Lawerence, a freshman averaging just over three points a game, had a career high 15, and Keisei Tominaga could not miss from anywhere on the court.

Thankfully for the Spartans, an emphasis was placed on defense in the second half, forcing the Cornhuskers to cool off from the field.

Michigan State has played 90 percent of this season with a top-tier defense. Just because the offensive game plan has shifted, does not mean their defense has to take a step back. After the post-game interview, however, it’s safe to say Izzo will remedy this in practice over the next few days.


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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