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Michigan State basketball: 3 keys to a deep Spartan run this March

How can the Spartans make a run?



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

If Michigan State basketball is going to make a run this March, it needs to worry about these three key factors.

With the Big Ten Tournament and March Madness just around the corner, it seems like a good time to assess what this Michigan State basketball team will need to do in order to make a run.

This year has been a rollercoaster, to say the least. Part of the fan base will likely tell you that nothing has changed over the past few years and this team probably doesn’t make it out of the first weekend. On the other hand, I feel like many of the Spartan faithful believe this team has the #SpartanDawg in them and can beat anyone on any given night if the right pieces fall into place.

With that said, here are three things I think could translate to a trademark Spartan March.

1. Tom Izzo’s in-game adjustments

I want to preface this by saying I believe Tom Izzo is one of the greatest of all time (obviously). I’m a firm believer that players are the ones who win and lose games, but there’ve been times when Izzo has failed to adapt in-game, and if that happens in March, you’re likely to head home early.

One that still haunts me is the loss to Syracuse in the first round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament. As a 3-seed, MSU’s offense was contained by the 2-3 zone all night and they shot only 25 percent from the field while their future lottery pick Jaren Jackson Jr. only played 15 minutes. I doubt that playing time for any certain player will be an issue this go around, but it leads me to wonder if we’ll be prepared for things we haven’t seen much of this season.

Too many times the Spartans lose their way offensively and kill their own momentum.  They’ve also had issues closing out games that they seem well in control of. Usually, it’s due to a few stagnant offensive possessions followed by a lack of urgency on the defensive end. This usually leads to giving up second-chance points. By the time you can collect yourself, a double-digit lead has turned into a one-possession game, and we are going to commercial break sweating out what should’ve been a victory. I’d like to see  Izzo be proactive with his timeouts and control momentum throughout the game, winning or losing.

The fact is, there is no one else I’d rather have on the sideline come tourney time. His experience is made of the highest of highs and lowest of lows that March Madness has to offer. He is a master communicator and will make sure his guys don’t get too high or too low because, at this point, he’s seen it all.

This team has also had a decent amount of exposure to March Madness. Malik Hall, AJ Hoggard, Joey Hauser, Tyson Walker, and even Jaden Akins have experience on this stage, and I do believe they will rise to the occasion.

The only thing you cannot do is let a game get out of hand early or give a beaten team a chance to climb back into it.

2. Jaxon Kohler

Pressure makes diamonds, and I believe this is Jaxon Kohler’s opportunity to make his presence felt.

Don’t get me wrong, Mady Sissoko will be the starting five, and rightfully so. He is averaging six rebounds per game which we know is very important to Izzo and how MSU operates (MSU has only lost four games in which it has outrebounded opponents). We also know that Mady can get into foul trouble early in a game which could translate to more minutes for Kohler out of necessity. The Big Ten refs made it difficult for us to understand what was and wasn’t a foul this year, so there may be a learning curve for the big men in March.

Kohler seems to have the edge over Sissoko on the offensive end. With all due respect to Mady, sometimes it feels like the Spartans are playing down a man if opponents aren’t biting on the pick-and-roll lob plays. Jaxon has shown he can score in the post and has some gifted footwork for a freshman.

If the guards can get him looks in the post early in the shot clock, I believe it will create open looks at the 3-point line for Hauser, Akins, and Walker.

3. Malik Hall back at full strength

Hall is back and healthy and each game he seems to progress a little toward his full potential each time he’s on the court. To me, he is the jack of all trades that this team needs to make a run. He can score from the post, and from three. If he is hitting his shots early, it will open up the floor for everyone else. He has the ability to drive and finish, as well as spot up which makes it a headache guarding him.

My only concern of his is the forced fadeaway jump shot, and he’s usually taking those if our offense is in a real funk. If he can avoid that and look to pass out for a 3-point try, I think this team will benefit — there are better options to score from deep than trying to fade away from opponents’ big men.

If all things go as planned, hopefully we can feel what it’s like to get past the first weekend for the first time in a few years. I think Michigan State basketball has a good shot. Go Green.


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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