After a difficult third quarter of the season, Michigan State basketball has shifted into another gear offensively.
For the 2022-23 season, Michigan State basketball has earned overall quarterly report cards of B-, A-, and C. While this may seem all over the board, it makes sense.
To start the season, Michigan State opened with extremely difficult opponents. As they began to figure themselves out and their opponent difficulty leveled out, their play and grade increased. During the third quarter, the Spartans found themselves in the thick of Big Ten play, and their grade took a hit as they struggled.
Over the final quarter of the season, Michigan State only played six games, due to the cancellation of the Minnesota game. MSU would finish 4-2 against the likes of Ohio State, Michigan, (17) Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, and OSU once again. Even with the two losses, Michigan State is playing perhaps their best basketball of the season.
Here are grade breakdowns for each position group over the final quarter of the season.
While the Michigan State guards have carried the Spartans thus far, and they continued to do so over this final quarter, they have taken a new approach over the last six games.
The emphasis from this group thus far has been superb defense, and yet, over the last six games, the defense has disappeared with that extra effort placed in offense. Suddenly, Michigan State has one of the more prolific offenses in the country, and it’s being led by the guards.
Tyson Walker has been on fire, averaging 18.2 over the last six games, creating for himself from anywhere on the court. A.J. Hoggard has, once again, turned his gameplay up to lead this team. Averaging 15 points to go with eight assists, Hoggard looks all the part of a Final Four point guard. Adkins, outside the first game against Ohio State, has been elite from deep. Even after going 0-for-6 in the win against OSU, Akins is still shooting the three ball at a 50 percent clip.
Michigan State has one of the best three guard combos in the nation right now, peaking at exactly the right time. The only reason this group did not get an A+, is their lack of defense over this fourth quarter of the season. The lack of perimeter defense from both this group and the forwards will need to be a thing of the past.
Joey Hauser has been a a constant for Michigan State this year. Even with being a constant source of scoring, Hauser, too, has upped his offensive performance over this last quarter of the season. Averaging 14 points per game throughout the season, Joey has averaged 18 points and six rebounds over the last six games. Outside a mediocre 10-point performance in the Spartans’ win against Indiana, Hauser has been right there with Walker in setting the mark for the Spartans.
For the first time this season, Malik Hall has been completely healthy for a quarterly report. After struggling to stay on the court this year, Hall has seemingly put his injury bug behind him as his senior year regular season comes to an end. Over the last six games, Hall has averaged 10 points off the bench for the green and white. While it was originally expected that Malik, a senior, would lead this team from within the starting five, Malik is playing his sixth man role well. His depth will be key as MSU begins the Big Ten and NCAA Tournament.
Similar to the guards, this shift of poor defense has brought the forwards grade down slightly. Allowing Iowa and Michigan to get hot down the stretch cost this team two wins. Tightening up around the perimeter would elevate the forwards similar to that of the guards.
If you’ve watched even a minute of Spartan basketball this season, this grade should not surprise you, nor has it changed very much. Mady Sissoko still has not improved as expected, and, while Jaxon Kohler has shown flashes during the final stretch of the season, he still has much to learn.
In a league led by centers Zach Edey, Trayce Jackson-Davis, etc., Michigan State has zero post presence. This entire position group, over the final quarter of the year, is averaging a combined 8.5 points per game to go along with 8.6 rebounds. Even combined, as a group, they are not leading this team statistically.
It is promising, however, to see Jaxon Kohler begin to get some offensive momentum. I can see both sides of the ‘start Kohler over Sissoko’ argument. After having new career highs set during the third quarter stretch of the season, Kohler has quietly shown his ability and potential when called upon to end this regular season.
Even with another below average score, this position group will be the most important as this team navigates through March. As already stated, the guards and forwards are shooting the ball as well as anyone in the country. However, at some point during the tournament, the shooting will go cold and it will be up to the big men on the roster to pick up the slack until the shots begin to fall.
To date, they still haven’t proven they can shoulder that load.
During the final six games of the regular season, Tom Izzo and company have essentially two coaching decisions that affected their grade. The first being a positive.
Izzo asked Hoggard to focus less on creating for himself, and more on distributing and creating for others. Hoggard dropped his three point attempts from 2.8 to just 1.5, and suddenly began leading this team with great success. Focusing on creating for others, Hoggard has increased his assists from 4.4 per game, to a whopping 7.5 and dropped turnovers from 2.6 to a flat 2.0.
Izzo and staff were able to channel Hoggard’s ability for the better, and has MSU’s offense rolling because of it.
The other coaching decision that had a sizable affect on this team came at the end of the Iowa game. Regardless of Iowa’s incredible final few minutes, Michigan State found themselves up by three with just 10 seconds left. Izzo refrained from forcing an intentional foul, which would cap the Hawkeyes on the final possession at just two points, barring a unique last free throw play. The argument can be made for and against the foul, but seeing as over the final two minutes of regulation, Iowa could not miss, committing the foul most likely was the correct decision.
Izzo and staff let it play out, and the Spartans would end up losing.
Michigan State finished the final six game stretch 4-2. There is an argument to be had that this team very well could have finished an undefeated 6-0 after having control of both losses going into the final 10 minutes against Michigan, and into the final two minutes against Iowa.
Even with the 4-2 record, Michigan State basketball has hit another gear offensively during the final quarter of the season. After averaging just 64 points per game during the third quarter stretch, Michigan State is now putting up an staggering 80.6.
If the center positional group can bump their C- grade up to even a B, along with the guards and forwards continuing their phenomenal play, this roster has Final Four potential. That, however, is a big If. Regardless, the Spartans are hitting their stride as a group at the perfect time, as Tom Izzo teams normally do.
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