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Michigan State basketball: Key factors and a prediction vs. Rutgers

Will MSU squeak out a win at MSG?



Michigan State basketball
© Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State basketball will head to Madison Square Garden for a huge matchup with a pesky Rutgers team on Saturday.

Michigan State basketball and Scarlet Knights will meet for the second time this season at the world’s most famous arena in New York City. Michigan State won the first matchup in East Lansing 70-57.

Let’s discuss what will be important in round two.

1. The three-ball

The first matchup between these two teams on Jan. 19 was a great example of how the three-point shot can be the great equalizer in basketball. MSU and Rutgers shot 42 percent from two while turning it over 10 and 11 times, respectively. Rutgers shot eight more free throws and committed five fewer fouls.

The Scarlet Knights abused the Spartans on the glass – 42-34. Yet, Rutgers lost by double digits because Michigan State hit 12 3-pointers compared to just two for Rutgers. It’s hard to win when you get outscored 36-6 from the 3-point line. This is a Rutgers team that struggles to shoot the ball, converting just 32.7 percent of their 3-point attempts on the season.

Believe it or not, though, Michigan State may have had something to do with that performance earlier in the season. The Spartans currently lead the Big Ten in 3-point shooting defense. Opponents are making just 29.6 percent of their attempts against MSU. So, while that terrible shooting performance from Rutgers is likely an outlier, the Scarlet Knights shouldn’t expect to see a vast improvement.

Michigan State, meanwhile, is very reliant on shooting well to score. Three-point shooting percentage is about the only thing MSU has going for it from an offensive metrics standpoint. Keep in mind, this Rutgers defense currently ranks second in America in KenPom’s defensive efficiency rating. Baskets will be hard to come by for MSU. It’s not simple enough to say, “whoever makes more threes will win,” but Rutgers will need to make more than they did on Jan. 19.

Conversely, for a struggling offense, Michigan State probably needs to hit as many – if not more – than they did in round one to come away with a victory.

2. Can Michigan State rebound?

As noted, Rutgers dominated the glass in the first matchup. Because the Rutgers offense generates a lot of missed shots, there are going to be plenty of chances for rebounds. This is a classic “something’s gotta give” scenario. Rutgers is second in the Big Ten in offensive rebound percentage, while Michigan State ranks second in defensive rebounding percentage. So it’s not surprising to see how well Rutgers rebounded in the first game.

It was surprising to see Michigan State give up so many offensive rebounds.

The Spartans should find some comfort in knowing that Malik Hall did not play on Jan. 19. His return should help on the glass. But they still have to be really concerned with Cliff Omoruyi and Caleb McConnell. The two combined for nine offensive boards. They can also do it from different areas on the floor. Omoruyi is going to bang down low in the post while McConnell is going to come crashing in from the perimeter. Neither is a particularly skilled offensive player, so second-chance points are where a lot of their production is going to come from. MSU’s ability to keep those two off the offensive glass will go in tandem with Rutgers’ ability to score.

Jaxon Kohler came up huge in the first meeting, scoring 12 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. It’s unlikely that Kohler can be as efficient as he was from the field (6-for-8 shooting), but Michigan State will absolutely need him to be as aggressive as he was rebounding. He and Mady Sissoko will be tasked with keeping Omoruyi in check.

3. Balance

These two teams are very similar in terms of their reliance on the collective over an individual. Both teams obviously need their best players to play well. But neither team is extremely reliant on one guy to carry them. For both teams, any number of guys has the potential to be that go-to guy in the second half.

We saw it in the first meeting when Michigan State got an unexpected game out of Jaxon Kohler.

It would not surprise any MSU fans to see A.J. Hoggard, Tyson Walker, Malik Hall, or Joey Hauser lead the team in scoring. For Rutgers, it’s a similar story with Omoruyi, Cam Spencer, Aundre Hyatt, or Paul Mulcahy. Both teams are at their best when they’re getting contributions from everyone, on both ends of the floor. Because of that, I think the coaching in this game is going to be crucial. Both coaches are going to have to recognize who has an advantage and who is playing well. They’re going to have to manage minutes in what should be a very physical game that will be littered with whistles.

The fact that I don’t give an edge to either coach in this matchup should say how much respect Steve Pikiell has earned. He’s taken a program that couldn’t sniff the NIT and turned them into a legitimate Big Ten force that should see consistent NCAA tournament bids.


The projected line for this game is Rutgers -5, with a low total of 125. Michigan State got a huge break from the schedule gods for avoiding a trip to Jersey Mike’s arena. It ranks as the ninth-best home-court advantage in the country according to KenPom. Because of MSU’s alumni base, and the game being on a Saturday, this should be a true neutral site game. That’s significant because Rutgers has won just two games away from home this season.

Because of that, I’d expect this line to move toward MSU. I can’t see Rutgers giving any more than 3 or 3.5 by the time this game tips off.

I like Michigan State to cover the number and win this game outright for two reasons. First, Malik Hall. The Spartans didn’t have him the first go around and his presence should be crucial from an offensive and rebounding perspective. Second, turnovers. Michigan State’s guard play has made them less susceptible to turnovers this season. It’s a Rutgers defense that relies on turnovers for transition opportunities.

Offensively, the lack of a true point guard has Rutgers turning the ball over on 18 percent of its possessions in conference play. Tyson Walker, Jaden Akins, and A.J. Hoggard are good enough defensively to exploit this weakness.

As long as Michigan State can win the turnover battle and clean up their rebounding, I think they can steal a few extra possessions and hit enough shots to squeak out a win.

Final Score: Michigan State: 64, Rutgers: 62


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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