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Michigan State basketball: Is Spartans’ NCAA Tournament success understated?

It takes elite teams to beat MSU.



Michigan State basketball
© Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK

While the Big Ten may not see a ton of March success, Michigan State basketball has been somewhat carrying the torch.

It’s been a little over a week since the Michigan State basketball NCAA tournament loss. This year, it came in agonizing fashion against a Kansas State team that played perhaps their best game of the season. Markquis Nowell etched his name into the minds of MSU fans forever as a Spartan killer.

As I’ve finally gotten over it, I was trying to determine where this loss ranks amongst the most painful in MSU history when I was reminded of all the great teams that have knocked MSU out.

Last year’s Duke team that made the Final Four. The two North Carolina teams in 2005 and 2009 that won it all. Heck, people forget the George Mason run in 2006 started with a win over Michigan State in the Round of 64. The Spartans have won a lot of games in the NCAA tournament under Tom Izzo. But when I think about all of the great teams it took to send them home, it begs the question: is Michigan State’s NCAA tournament success… actually understated?

Let’s start at a high level. Michigan State has made 25 NCAA tournament appearances under Tom Izzo. If we take away the 2000 national championship season, that leaves 24 teams that have beaten MSU in this tournament. Three of those teams (2005 and 2009 North Carolina, 2015 Duke) have gone on to win the national title. Six more opponents went on to play for a national championship after beating MSU.

  • 1999 Duke
  • 2001 Arizona
  • 2008 Memphis
  • 2010 Butler
  • 2014 Connecticut
  • 2019 Texas Tech

To take this a step further, only eight opponents that have defeated Michigan State have failed to make the Final Four. In other words, beating MSU translates to about a 67 percent chance of getting to or already being in the Final Four. Michigan State’s 24 opponents are averaging 3.8 wins in the NCAA tournament, meaning on average they are advancing to at least the Sweet 16, and more times than not, the Elite Eight.

Nine of MSU’s 24 losses have come against No. 1 seeds. One-third of MSU’s losses have come at the hands of Duke or North Carolina. The average seed for those eight Duke and North Carolina teams was 1.25 (six No. 1 seeds and two No. 2 seeds).

For all of MSU’s success in the tournament, there is also a strong argument that they have earned every bit of it. In Michigan State’s eight Final Four trips, the Spartans have really only benefitted from a busted bracket twice. In 16 games during the second weekend of the tournament, MSU has faced a team seeded lower than 7 four times. We can calculate “seeds gained via upset” to determine the strength of the path to the Final Four by subtracting the actual seed faced from the minimum number expected. The 2000 team faced the strongest seed path possible (benefitting from no upsets), while the teams in 2009, 2015, and 2019 gained three seeds via two No. 7 vs. No. 10 results and one No. 4 over a No. 1 seed.

To expand on this point, in the seven losses Michigan State basketball has had in the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight, the Spartans have faced a team seeded outside the top four just once. They lost to 7-seeded Connecticut after taking down 1-seed Virginia in the Sweet 16. Following 19 first-round victories, Michigan State has faced a double-digit seed in the round of 32 just five times.

The point is, while the Spartans have been tremendous in the NCAA tournament, their runs have ended at the hands of some really good teams. Teams that beat Michigan State in March are typically on to special things. Think about some of the players on these teams. Players like Vince Carter, Derrick Rose, Tyler Hansbrough, Gordon Hayward, and Paolo Banchero have all helped take down MSU in the NCAA tournament under Tom Izzo.

With a little more luck involving upsets in their path, MSU could be looking at an even more impressive tournament run. The obvious problem is that so many times Michigan State has been the lower-seeded team pulling the upset. At the end of the day, to win a national championship, you’re going to have to beat good teams. MSU has obviously done that as well. The higher-seeded teams advance for a reason. It’s no coincidence that of the eight Final Four trips for the Spartans, five have come as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed.

In conclusion, I do think MSU’s tournament success is a tad understated. It’s not egregious. They haven’t gotten consistently screwed with bad draws or chalky brackets. I’d describe their overall luck as fair. The Spartans have had pretty bad luck running into really strong Duke and North Carolina teams over the years. But seeing as those programs are good year in and year out, it’s also expected if you continue to advance.

Michigan State basketball has had favorable paths to the Final Four as well in 2001 and 2010. So, it’s a little good luck, a little bad luck. Over the course of 25 years, I’ve determined that it’s evened out. Hopefully we get 25 more years of data points to evaluate.


Writer says there’s a huge gap between Purdue and Michigan State basketball

This seems like a wild claim.



Michigan State basketball
© Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Gregg Doyel of the Indy Star claims that Purdue is “historically loaded” and there’s a huge gap between them and Michigan State basketball.

With the news of Jaden Akins and AJ Hoggard returning along with Tyson Walker and Malik Hall to go along with the No. 4 recruiting class in the country, Michigan State basketball went from a conference title contender to a national title contender.

Essentially everyone who follows college basketball has Michigan State as a top-five team and right there in the Big Ten as 1B to Purdue’s 1A — some even have it the other way around.

The Spartans bring back everyone but Joey Hauser to a team that went to the Sweet 16 and Purdue returns national player of the year Zach Edey to a Big Ten title team. Both teams are loaded and should be at the top of everyone’s list when it comes to national title contention.

But one Indy Star writer believes that Purdue is “historically loaded” and the talent-and-depth gap between the Boilermakers and “everyone else” is as large as he’s seen in years. Just a wild claim.

Gregg Doyel cites a solid incoming class to go along with Edey returning and the two freshmen guards with another year in the system. But he fails to recognize that Michigan State got even better. The Spartans are bringing in an even better recruiting class and they return their 2-3 most talented players from a year ago. The only loss is Hauser.

Saying that this year’s Purdue team is far-and-away the most talented and deepest team in the Big Ten and the gap is the biggest it’s been in years is asinine. There was a much larger gap last year.

Michigan State will go toe-to-toe with the Boilermakers and as long as Edey can be neutralized, the Spartans will have a chance to take them down for the Big Ten crown.

It’s tough to say a team like Michigan State basketball that’s 11-12 guys deep is not nearly as talented or deep as Purdue, but hey, let’s put that early chip on the shoulder.

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Michigan State Basketball: Allocating guard minutes for 2023-24

A lot of guards, not a lot of minutes to be had.



Michigan State basketball
© Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State basketball has an absolutely loaded backcourt heading into 2023-24. Let’s allocate the guard minutes.

Michigan State basketball has a loaded backcourt with the news of AJ Hoggard and Jaden Akins returning next season. Add this on top of Tyson Walker coming back and Michigan State adding a four-star point guard in Jeremy Fears just loads up this back court even more.

Let’s take a look at what the minute allocation could look like between the five guards on the roster.


The starting point guard is clearly set into place with AJ Hoggard starting 33 of 34 games last year. Next year’s team still goes as Hoggard goes and he will most likely average 28-30 minutes per game. AJ being able to defend multiple positions allows him to play alongside any of the other three guards on the roster next year. He should average around 15 points per game and six-plus assists. Him being able to increase his 3-point percentage up to 35 percent next year should help his scoring dramatically.

The starting shooting guard is Walker who started in all 34 games last season and nothing will change this season. This team is going to rely plenty on Tyson to begin the season as this team continues to mesh with all of the different lineups. He played almost 34 minutes per game this season due to injuries and necessity. Tyson will take a step back and only play 30-32 minutes this upcoming season. He will look to average 16-plus points per game and 2.5-plus assists.


This may come as a surprise, but I believe the backup point guard role will fall to Tre Holloman. He has a year under the belt with the system and should take a step forward in his role. He is able to defend either guard position allowing him to play with any of the other four guards on the team. Holloman will play anywhere between 8-12 minutes per game and will look to be in a more featured role running the backup offense. Tre should average 3-5 points per game and 1.5 assists.

Jeremy Fears will fill in and be able to learn from a loaded backcourt while playing 6-8 minutes per game which could be pushed to 8-10 by the end of the season. Fears defense should rival what Walker brings to this team with this second group. Fears offensive role will look like Tre’s freshman year and not looked upon much offensively. He should look to average 1.5-plus points and one assist per game.

Finally, Jaden Akins will fill in anywhere from 2-5 minutes at the two-guard spot. He can help fill an offensive role when Tyson is out of the game and can handle some of the pick and roll duties in this spot. Akins will mostly play on the wing as he started 25 games there last season. He is a guard, but he’ll be forced into playing on the wing.

Minutes Summary

  • AJ Hoggard: 28-30 per game
  • Tyson Walker: 30-32 per game
  • Tre Holloman: 8-12 per game
  • Jeremy Fears: 6-8 per game
  • Jaden Akins: 2-5 per game

Akins did tweet this out the other day:

So he could see more ball-handling duties.

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Jeremy Fears makes final cut for U19 USA Basketball team

Jeremy Fears could represent USA Basketball again.



Jeremy Fears
© Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Incoming Michigan State freshman Jeremy Fears has made the final cut for the U19 USA Basketball team.

Incoming Michigan State basketball freshman Jeremy Fears is hard at work this summer. He is currently in the process of trying to make the final roster for the U19 USA Basketball team. Thirty-five athletes have been selected to participate in their upcoming training camp, and Fears is included on that list.

Training camp for these 35 athletes with take place June 11-18. Twelve players will then be selected to participate in the FIBA U19 Wold Cup at the conclusion of this training camp. The World Cup takes place from June 24 through July 2.

The 35 players consist of some athletes in the 2022 class that have one year of college ball under their belts. The pool of players also consists of athletes from the 2023 incoming freshmen class and the 2024 class who will be high school seniors. More than half of these participants have USA Basketball experience and ten of them have won gold for the USA already.

Jeremy Fears’ USA Basketball history

Jeremy Fears is one of the 10 players mentioned to have already won gold for the USA. In fact, Fears has won a gold medal twice. He won the 2021 U16 FIBA Championships and in 2022 won gold in the U17 FIBA World Cup.

Based on this history alone, I love his chances to make the team again. The USA Basketball program is obviously very familiar with him already which gives him an advantage. Also, why wouldn’t they want someone who has won two gold medals to play for them again?

Fears has yet to move in to East Lansing like some of his fellow members of his freshman class have. He likely will see this event out before moving to campus to start gearing up for the regular season. Michigan State has had many athletes compete with team USA in the past, so Tom Izzo is more than happy to let his players participate.

For the full USA Basketball press release, click here.

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