Michigan State basketball: How Kansas State got here and how it stops here
How did the Wildcats get here and how can MSU end their road?
How did Kansas State get to the Sweet 16 and how can Michigan State basketball make sure that the Wildcats’ road ends here?
The Sweet 16 opponent of Michigan State basketball had an interesting road here and here’s how the Spartans can stop the Wildcats here.
How Kansas State got here
What’s next for Michigan State basketball? After a triumphant 69-60 victory of Marquette on Sunday, all eyes shift to the next opponent, the Kansas State Wildcats.
The Wildcats are led by first-year head coach Jerome Tang, who has had a more-than-impressive opening season in Manhattan. Tang and Co. finished in a tie for third in the extremely tough Big 12, with an 11-7 conference record.
After an impressive 12-1 start, Kansas State really started to open eyes with an incredible 116-103 win against then-No. 6 Texas. This game took place in Austin and ended in regulation, revealing the offensive firepower of Tang’s team. They would get all the way to No. 5 in the country later in the year, before slightly faltering in February. This should not detract anything from their season, however, as they finished the regular season with a phenomenal 9-7 record against Quad 1 teams.
Drawing the No. 3 seed in the East Region, K-State was matched with 14-seeded Montana State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Bobcats hung around for a while until eventually the Wildcats pulled away to a 77-65 victory. This led to an all-Wildcats matchup in the Round of 32.
John Calipari and his Kentucky Wildcats stood in the way of Kansas State’s first Sweet 16 since 2018. The game was very much back-and-forth, but a 3-pointer by Ismael Massoud gave Kansas State the lead with 2:19 left to play, and this lead was never given back. Clutch free throws down the stretch by Markquis Nowell sealed the game, and advanced Tang and his team into the Sweet 16.
When breaking down the roster, the Spartans are going to need to contain Keyontae Johnson, and the aforementioned Nowell.
Johnson, a former top-100 recruit and Florida transfer turned in 17.5 points while shooting 51.4 percent from the field and 40.5 percent from three. As a 6-foot-6, 230-pound forward, he provides an interesting matchup for MSU. When he’s on the floor, it seems highly likely that Malik Hall would be tasked with guarding Johnson, yet many other players could contribute as well. Players like Jaden Akins, Joey Hauser, and even AJ Hoggard could mark him at points throughout Thursday’s contest.
Now onto one of the sensations of the tournament so far, Nowell. He is electrifying, bringing 17.1 points and 7.8 assists per game to the table this season. Markquis is the definition of “heart over height”, standing at only 5-foot-8. He’s been turning in consistently great performances of late, including 27 points and nine assists in the victory over Kentucky.
Outside of these two, they get production from Forward Nae’Qwan Tomlin, and Guard Desi Sills.
How the Wildcats stop here
Tang’s Wildcats are hot and there is no denying that. However, if played well, MSU has a chance, and even the upper hand according to Vegas (the Spartans are currently 2-point favorites on DraftKings).
One of the first advantages for the Spartans is the experience of the man at the helm, Tom Izzo. This is Izzo’s 15th Sweet 16 appearance, and he has a remarkable record of 10-4 in the previous 14.
While Tang has had a great season, it’s just his first. Not just his first season at Kansas State, but his first season as a head coach. This should help Michigan State substantially. Izzo will be ready as he’s been on this stage multiple times before, and as a result, will have the Spartans ready to go.
Another aspect that favors the green and white is their insane strength of schedule. Yes, Kansas State played in the Big 12 which was viewed as the best conference all year, but the metrics prove MSU played a little bit tougher. According to KenPom ratings, Kansas State played against the 21st toughest strength of schedule, while the Spartans played the sixth toughest. On top of that, Izzo’s squad played against the toughest offenses in the entire country. This shouldn’t make the Wildcats’ top 50 offense a concern at all, especially after holding the sixth-most efficient offense (Marquette) to 60 points.
Having played the schedule that it did, MSU’s defense has been pretty exceptional. This needs to be the case once again on Thursday. Limiting Johnson and Nowell is obviously vital to the success of the Spartans, but the bigs need to be ready for Tomlin as well. Forcing turnovers is key, as the Wildcats average 14 per game. This will allow the boys to get out and run, which is one of Izzo’s favorite things, the transition game.
Finally, the MSU offense has to come ready to play. After an abysmal 3-point shooting performance on Sunday, the Spartans should bounce back. They entered the contest with the third-best 3-point shooting percentage in the country and shot 2-for-16 against Marquette. Although on the surface that doesn’t seem like a good thing, there is a definite silver lining. That is, they won the game. A team that throughout the regular season was very dependent on the 3-point shot winning an NCAA Tournament game while only making two threes bodes very well.
If Michigan State basketball wants to make it back to the Elite Eight, it will need to arrive at MSG ready for another intense battle. Kansas State has been great this season but there are some flaws to be capitalized upon. They may have the advantage in prototypical star power, but it feels that Michigan State has a more put-together rotation. Guarding their two stars is important, as is bringing the offense to the table. Izzo will have the guys ready to go, hoping to overcome the inexperienced Tang and get a step closer to his ninth Final Four appearance.
My prediction: Michigan State 66, Kansas State 57
Tom Izzo had Draymond convince Jaren Jackson Jr. to go to the NBA
Tom Izzo is unbelievably selfless.
Jaren Jackson Jr. was prepared to return to Michigan State for his sophomore year but Tom Izzo had Draymond convince him to leave.
There were a lot of things said about Tom Izzo and Jaren Jackson Jr. after the Syracuse loss in 2018. There were narratives that Izzo was losing his touch or that Jaren might not like Izzo. Both of these narratives proved to be wrong especially after Jackson’s recent interview on Paul George’s podcast.
Jaren Jackson Jr. talked a lot about MSU on Paul George's podcast yesterday, including this story I hadn't heard before: JJJ was set to come back for his sophomore year, but Izzo had Draymond call him to convince him to leave https://t.co/LGxr3GdDk5
— Kyle Austin (@kylebaustin) June 6, 2023
In this interview, Jaren talks about his time at Michigan State and especially about his decision after the season ended. For those who thought Jackson might not like Michigan State or would never consider going back, those narratives were proved wrong today.
Not only did Jaren say he considered it, he was scheduling his whole sophomore schedule right before the draft. Jaren’s plan was to be at Michigan State for a second year. Imagine that team with him at center. Not only would Jaren have gotten better and been really good at Michigan State, but that would have been one of the most loaded teams, talent-wise, the Spartans would’ve ever had. While that was Jackson’s plan, that wasn’t Izzo’s.
In fact, Izzo had Draymond Green, a player who had never talked to Jackson before, call him and convince him to go to the NBA. Draymond was asking Jaren: “What are you doing?”
Eventually, Jackson would enter the draft and get selected in the top five. This probably worked out the best for Jaren as he is a young star especially on the defensive end. While this worked out on his end, what does this say about Tom Izzo?
This shows that Izzo isn’t going to make a player stick around if he thinks they’re ready. Izzo saw the potential of Jackson and that it would be the best interest for him to go to the NBA. Was this the best interest of the basketball program? Probably not, but it shows that the whole narrative around Jackson and Izzo was never true. Why would Jaren want to go back to Michigan State if he was mad about everything that happened?
This just is another example of how Izzo wants what is best for his players and is not afraid to push someone out the door if he thinks they are ready for the next step.
Michigan State Basketball: Allocating forward/wing minutes for 2023-24
How will the wing/forward rotation play out?
What could the forward/wing minutes look like this upcoming season for Michigan State basketball with Jaden Akins and Malik Hall back?
This Michigan State basketball team is going to be reliant on some new faces at the forward/wing positions going forward as it loses Joey Hauser to graduation. Being able to replace Joey’s 34 minutes, 14 points per game, seven rebounds, and 45 percent shooting from three is going to be difficult to replace.
But this group isn’t lacking in talent just not a whole lot of experience.
This group will be led by Jaden Akins on the wing (I know he doesn’t want the “wing” label) and Malik Hall at forward as the only two returning guys in this position group.
Adding to this group will be five-star freshman Xavier Booker and four-stars Coen Carr and Gehrig Normand.
Let’s dive into the forward/wing minutes for 2023-24 Michigan State basketball.
The starting wing is clearly going going to be Akins as he announced he was returning last week. Akins is a major asset to this team on the offensive end but even more so on the defensive end. He will get between 2-5 minutes at the guard position and should average 25 minutes at the wing position. Akins will find himself as one of the top options on the offensive end due to the loss of Hauser. I would expect him to become more of a ball-handler in the pick and rolls and on pin down screens. Michigan State fans will expect an increased role offensively which should lead to him averaging 13-plus points per game.
At the power forward position, this could go one of two ways with either Malik Hall or Xavier Booker. Hall probably gets the nod early on in the season, but I would expect Booker to take this spot over. Booker will be able to provide length, good defense, and enough offense with the starters to become the starter. I would expect Booker to average around 18-20 minutes per game in this role and around 8-10 points and six-plus rebounds per game.
Hall will be coming off the bench but really that’s just in title. He will be an extremely valuable piece to this team and will help close out games during crunch time. His ability to handle the ball, get others involved, create his own shots, and his experience will lead the bench group. He should expect around 22-24 minutes per game at the forward position and 2-4 minutes coming at the center position when MSU needs to play small ball.
A healthy Hall should average around 10-plus points and five rebounds per game.
Coen Carr is a cause for major excitement for Michigan State basketball fans due to him being a tremendous athlete. Carr will be able to play at either forward position due to his athleticism but expect to see him more at the power forward position. The athleticism is only part of Carr’s game, but he will need to become a more consistent offensive threat. Coen’s ability to defend will put him in a good position to earn minutes early on as a freshman. I would expect Carr to average around 8-10 minutes per game. I wouldn’t expect a major offensive game from Carr but expect some rim shaking dunks in transition or on the pick and roll.
Gehrig Normand seems to be the odd guy out in the freshman class currently. But he has the ability to earn the most time if neither Carr nor Booker aren’t getting the job done. Normand provides shooting that this team may need which may slide Malik to the power forward role. He provides a greater offensive scoring threat which the bench may need. I would expect Gehrig to average around five minutes but could find himself outside the rotation if he isn’t able to defend at a high level.
- Jaden Akins: 25 minutes per game on the wing; 2-5 minutes at guard
- Xavier Booker: 18-20 minutes per game
- Malik Hall: 22-24 minutes per game at forward; 2-4 minutes at small-ball center
- Coen Carr: 8-10 minutes per game
- Gehrig Normand: 5-7 minutes per game
Has Michigan State basketball had the “perfect” offseason so far?
The MSU basketball offseason has felt so much better than football’s.
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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