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Michigan State basketball: 3 key factors and a prediction at Nebraska

Michigan State needs this one.



Michigan State basketball
© Dale Young-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State basketball is looking to bounce back from a nightmare loss at Iowa. Here’s your Nebraska preview.

Michigan State basketball continues its road trip through the Great Plains on Tuesday at Nebraska. The Spartans won the first meeting in East Lansing 74-56 on Jan. 3.

Let’s dive into the key factors and a prediction for Michigan State’s last true road game of the season.

1. What is Michigan State made of?

Michigan State found itself on the losing end of one of the craziest college basketball games you’ll ever see Saturday. Leading by 13 points with 90 seconds to play, Iowa stormed back to tie the game, making five 3-pointers in the last minute to force overtime.

A loss was not unexpected. But given the way MSU played, the collapse at the end has the potential to be a season-altering event. Michigan State played their best basketball of the season for 38 and a half minutes. They shot 11-for-15 from three, 31-for-36 from the free throw line, and averaged 1.31 points per possession.

Career days from Tyson Walker (31 points) and Jaden Akins (21 points) were essentially wasted.

The Spartans were on the verge of getting their most impressive road victory of the season that would have been a giant step towards a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament. Most importantly, though, they were starting to play like a team that was finding its stride at the right time.

Now? Hitting the road again 72 hours later against a Nebraska team playing its best basketball of the season is a disastrous spot for MSU. The Spartans don’t have a ton to gain by winning at Nebraska and have much more to lose.

Tom Izzo said at his press conference on Monday that the team did not watch the tape from the Iowa game. The players seemed to say the right things afterwards about “moving on.” But saying it and physically being able to do it are two different things.

Given the circumstances, a road game against Nebraska might be the worst possible matchup following a meltdown like MSU had. Michigan State will be favored, and winning this game will do little to improve their NCAA tournament resume. Nebraska is too good to make this easy for Michigan State basketball, and playing too well right now to roll over if they get down.

We’re going to find out a lot about the Spartans’ mental toughness Tuesday.

2. Is Nebraska… good?

The Cornhuskers come into Tuesday’s game winning five of their past six, and four straight overall. This stretch includes a very impressive road win at Rutgers. This Nebraska team is a little different than ones of years past.

In Fred Hoiberg’s first three seasons as head coach, the Huskers led the conference in adjusted tempo while finishing dead last in offensive efficiency. This season, they are fourth in adjusted tempo while having only the second worst efficiency on offense. Their current defensive rank (No. 10) in league play would be a new high under Hoiberg. So, they are playing a little slower, with marginal improvements relative to years past. They’re trying to change who they’ve been.

But if Nebraska basketball from 2020-22 was Diet Coke, the 2023 team is Coke Zero. Different product – same taste. Many of the same issues that have bothered Nebraska in years past remain problems for this team. They turn the ball over, they don’t grab offensive rebounds, and they give up way too many looks from three. Even in the month of February – where they have played well – it’s too easy to poke holes in their results. Four of their five wins have been at home. Two came in overtime (Wisconsin, Maryland), with the other wins coming against Penn State and Minnesota (also at home).

The answer to the initial question is no – Nebraska is not good. They are better than the Nebraska teams that won a combined 24 games over three seasons. This is the best team Fred Hoiberg has had. But, this is still a team that has lost nine Big Ten games by double digits. They have needed three overtime victories to get to the eight they currently have.

Nebraska is better and is playing as well as they have all season. But that starting point is important.

3. Shooting

Shooting is important in every game, but the splits between these two teams jump off the page.

Let’s start with three-point shooting.

Nebraska ranks 298th in America in three-point shooting at 31.7 percent. Keisei Tominaga (40 percent) is really the only threat to get hot for Nebraska. We know Michigan State has elite three-point shooting defense (30.4 percent on the season), but I would expect it to be a point of emphasis this week after Iowa nailed 17 of them on Saturday.

Conversely, Michigan State thrives by shooting the three. Tyson Walker, Joey Hauser, and Jaden Akins are all shooting over 41 percent on the season. That’s good news for Michigan State because nobody in the Big Ten gives up more three-point attempts than the Cornhuskers. Nebraska is allowing a whopping 44 percent of conference opponent’s field goal attempts to come from three. They have actually been decent at defending the three, but at the very least, Michigan State is going to get some looks from deep. If the Spartans can catch fire again like they did on Saturday in Iowa City, they’ll have a real chance of burying the Huskers.

The other shooting component to watch for is free throw shooting. Out of 363 teams in Division I, Nebraska ranks 351st in free throw shooting percentage at 63.7 percent on the season. This presents a problem for Nebraska because Michigan State has had trouble playing defense without fouling. The Spartans put teams on the free throw line at the highest rate in the league. While Nebraska doesn’t shoot a ton of free throws, they should still see more than their season average against Michigan State’s physical defense.

On the other end, in league play, Michigan State is shooting 79 percent from the line. If the officiating in this game becomes tight in the second half, or if it’s close in the final minutes, the Spartans hold a massive edge here that could prove to be the difference.


Michigan State has opened as a three-point favorite, with a total of 135.5. Given how well Nebraska has been playing lately, and what MSU put themselves through on Saturday, this line seems high. Big Ten teams at home this season have been dynamite outright and against the spread.

Nebraska has a very underrated home-court advantage, and there should be a good crowd Tuesday for senior night. It’s another long trip for MSU, and lost in the collapse at Iowa was the fact that Michigan State exerted a ton of energy in a game that lasted nearly three hours.

But for all the things Michigan State has going against them, they still have Tom Izzo and a team full of upperclassmen.

The Spartans should want nothing more than to get back out on the court. There were a ton of positives to take away from the Iowa game, and I think we’ll continue to see those once the ball is tipped. Michigan State is better. This is a good matchup, and I think they have what it takes mentally to get the job done.

Final score: Michigan State 71, Nebraska 63


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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