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Michigan State basketball: Will avoiding a portal center ultimately doom Spartans?

Tom Izzo made a controversial choice to not add a center.



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

Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo decided not to utilize the portal to add a center. Will that prevent MSU from big things?

To start, let me define what I see as a successful season for a Michigan State basketball team. Considering the standards that this program has set and the overall sustained excellence, I’d consider major success to be a Big Ten title and a trip to the Final Four.

Those were always going to be lofty expectations for the current team, but I don’t think it would have been impossible if a veteran center was picked up in the transfer portal.

When looking at a successful Tom Izzo-led team, you generally see a big man who can get buckets in the post on top of being a quality defender and rebounder. Just look at a guy like Matt Costello and think of how badly this team could use him. In his senior season, he averaged 10.7 points and 8.2 rebounds. Now, these aren’t eye-popping stats, but for all of those who watched, they can attest to the quality play of Costello. He was a player who did all of the little things, defended, rebounded well, and dove for loose balls, while also possessing a solid offense skillset.

Now I’m not saying the current Michigan State centers don’t do any of those things well, but none of them do it well enough to where they can really add value while being on the floor.

In one of my recent articles, I discussed why I thought Mady Sissoko was the most important player for the Spartans for the remainder of the season. I still think he is. Imagine if he could consistently put out performances like he did against Kentucky and Gonzaga. I believe if he was able to maintain that consistent level of play the Spartans would’ve been able to win their recent games against Illinois and Purdue — games where Sissoko tallied a combined five points. On top of the poor offensive performance in the last few games from Sissoko, the opposing big men have feasted.

Dain Dainja of Illinois when 8-for-12 from the floor while tallying 20 points against the Spartans, good for his second-highest scoring total of the season. I think all Michigan State fans were expecting a big game from Purdue center Zach Edey, but not a 32-point, 17-rebound game capped off with a game-winner. Opposing centers have faired well all season long offensively when playing Michigan State, with the Spartan bigs rarely out-scoring opponents.

The lackluster performance from the big men this season begs the question: why did Izzo not add a big man in the portal? Why was he content with starting a center who had averaged about five minutes per game for his entire career before this year? An open scholarship was there to be given.

In my opinion, the worst thing that would happen is that the big brought in turns out to not be worthy of a starting spot and adds minutes off of the bench. You had a scholarship to give, so why not use it on an obvious position of need?

Coming into this season, I was always skeptical of how much this team could accomplish, but right now it doesn’t seem like they’ll accomplish any of the goals that prior Spartan teams have become accustomed to achieving.

The guard play has been more than good enough to produce a run in March, in my opinion. AJ Hoggard has been playing exceptionally with some outstanding scoring coming from Tyson Walker as well.

Wing play has been adequate. Jaden Akins and Pierre Brooks have struggled, with the latter barely getting any recent playing time after a decent start to the season. For the sake of this article, I will also consider Joey Hauser and Malik Hall wings due to the fact that I’ve been referring to the big men as the center position. Hauser has been fine, he has his games where he is great, then he has his games where he disappears. Hall has had his moments this season, but the lingering injury issues are also hampering the performance of the team.

Finally, the center position has been the odd man out all season. The rest of the positions have been adequate to good, but Michigan State is constantly getting outplayed in the center battle.

The problem with constantly getting outplayed at the center position isn’t the fact that the battle is being lost by small margins. Spartan centers have been getting killed in terms of production and it has really been killing the team. It is hard to win games when you play each offensive position four vs. five. Not to harp on Sissoko, but he doesn’t even have a go-to post move. He looks extremely uncomfortable any time he gets the ball in the post and does a little fadeaway to his weak side every single time. After Sissoko, it is extremely clear that Carson Cooper and Jaxon Kohler just aren’t ready to play valuable minutes in the physically demanding Big Ten.

This once again brings me back to my question: what was stopping Izzo from bringing in a big man? I think it’s important to reiterate that the worst-case scenario is that one of our scholarships is occupied for the season, the player rides the bench, we get the same result that we currently have, and the scholarship becomes available after the season.

The play at the center position has really been killing the Spartans in the recent stretch of Big Ten play and with the consistent product put out each game at that position it is hard to think that it will get any better.

Because of the poor play of the center position, it appears that the Spartans may be in a battle to make the NCAA Tournament this season.


Has Michigan State basketball had the “perfect” offseason so far?

The MSU basketball offseason has felt so much better than football’s.



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

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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Michigan State basketball: AJ Hoggard earns high praise from Malik Hall (Video)

Malik Hall had nothing but good things to say about AJ Hoggard.



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

Michigan State basketball got some good news this week and Malik Hall is more than happy to have AJ Hoggard back.

In a recent interview with Justin Spiro, Malik Hall spoke in detail about AJ Hoggard. He discussed how great of a person he is on and off the court and how there are a lot of misconceptions about him from Michigan State basketball fans.

Here is a two-minute clip from that interview where Hall talks about AJ.

The star point guard AJ Hoggard dealt with a lot of criticism from the Spartan fanbase this season. Nobody plays great every game, and I think our fans mostly understand that.

The thing that bothered some of our fans however was Hoggard’s body language in the games in which he was struggling. Instead of staying positive, some fans criticized him for seemingly not trying or caring during his struggles.

AJ Hoggard: The leader

Malik Hall is here to tell you that none of that is true. Hall explained how this opinion from fans is the furthest thing from the truth. Malik mentioned that even though AJ’s face looks like he doesn’t care, that is not how he feels at all. That’s great to hear about your starting point guard and one of the leaders of the team. Guys look to AJ for leadership and motivation, so if they see negative body language from him they are likely to mirror that. So even though AJ sometimes looks like he is checked out on the court, it’s nice to know that the rest of the team doesn’t feel that way.

Malik also went on to share that AJ is one of the nicest and most genuine guys he knows. He considers Hoggard to be one of his best friends not just on the team, but in his life. Hall mentioned that AJ is the first guy to text you when you are struggling with something outside of basketball.

That’s the best type of leader in my opinion. Someone who pushes you to be great on the court but always makes sure you are okay off the court.

Sophomore guard Tre Holloman responded to this tweet on Twitter agreeing with what Hall said.

The next time you think AJ looks out of it in a game, remember this interview. Remember that Malik Hall mentioned that nobody on the team feels this way and they all know that how AJ truly feels doesn’t match the “AJ face.”

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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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