Michigan State basketball: Scouting report for Sweet 16 opponent, Kansas State
Kansas State won’t be a cakewalk.
The Sweet 16 opponent for Michigan State basketball is beatable, but the Spartans will need to make their shots.
Now that we’ve all had time to enjoy the win over Marquette, it’s time to start thinking about the Sweet 16. Michigan State basketball will play Kansas State on Thursday in New York City.
While the Wildcats have enjoyed a stellar season, they don’t carry the same name recognition as other programs in the Big 12 like Kansas, Texas, and Baylor.
We’ll take a deeper look at Kansas State here to dissect its strengths and weaknesses.
1. Guard play
By now, you’ve probably heard all about Markquis Nowell and his potential to win games by himself – as he did on Sunday against Kentucky. But he only represents one half of the show for Jerome Tang’s Wildcats. Keyontae Johnson is an equally strong player in his own right.
Together, they form one of the best duos in America. While Johnson is a little bit more of a forward than a guard, we’re lumping him in here with Nowell because these two are the cornerstones of this Kansas State basketball team. Nowell and Johnson have played 90.2 percent and 84.3 percent of available minutes this season, respectively. Barring an injury or foul trouble, these guys won’t be coming off the floor on Thursday.
While Nowell carried Kansas State past Kentucky with 27 points, it’s actually Johnson that leads the Wildcats in scoring this season. At 6-foot-6, he has tremendous size that he has also used to lead Kansas State in rebounding. Johnson has also proved to be a much more efficient 3-point shooter at 40.5 percent on the season.
Nowell presents the threat to get hot shooting on his own, but his biggest asset this season has been his passing. He ranks second in all of America in assist rate at 41.4 percent. To give Michigan State basketball fans an idea of how good that is, AJ Hoggard’s assist rate on the season is 39.1 percent — good for sixth in the country.
So, when you think about how important Hoggard is for the Michigan State basketball offense, keep in mind that Nowell is just as – if not more – important for Kansas State. He is also tremendous at generating turnovers and converting from the free throw line. He averages 2.4 steals per game while shooting almost 89 percent from the stripe.
2. Playing fast
It doesn’t show up as much in the season-long metrics, but in Big 12 play, nobody played faster than Kansas State. Per KenPom, they led the conference in adjusted tempo and average possession length on offense.
Normally, teams play fast to offset offensive inefficiencies in an effort to create more possessions, and therefore scoring chances. Kansas State managed to play fast and efficiently this season. They ranked in the top three in the Big 12 in effective field goal percentage, 3-point field goal percentage, and assist-to-field goals made ratio.
Kansas State also did a phenomenal job of getting to and making foul shots. Twenty-three percent of the Wildcats’ points in conference play came from the free throw line.
This is an offense that wants to run, get to the rim, and draw fouls or find open shooters.
3. Defending the three
On the season, opponents are converting just 29.7 percent of their 3-point attempts against the Wildcats. Outside of Nowell, Kansas State possesses good length all over the roster that can bother 3-point shooters.
Opponents are getting just 27.3 percent of their points from beyond the arc this season. The national average is almost 31 percent. Teams are still taking an average number of threes per game against the Wildcats, but they are converting at a far less successful rate than average. Some of this could have to do with the Big 12. While the conference graded out as the top league in the country per KenPom, it was not a good three-point shooting league. Of the 10 teams in the league, seven shot below 34 percent within league play.
4. Beating non-conference opponents
Of Kansas State’s nine losses this season, all but one came in the Big 12. The Wildcats lost a head-scratcher to Butler on Nov. 30. Outside of that, they are 14-1 in non-conference games this season (including the NCAA tournament). While their non-conference schedule graded out as 255th in America, wins against Nevada, LSU, Wichita State, Nebraska, Florida, and now Kentucky are noteworthy.
If you watched any of Kansas State’s game against Kentucky, you know exactly what we’re talking about. Oscar Tshiebwe dominated the Wildcats on the glass. He collected 18 rebounds total, nine of them offensive.
This highlights an area where Kansas State can be had – offensive rebounding. The Wildcats ranked last in the Big 12 and 241st in the country this season in offensive rebounds allowed. In league play, opponents were grabbing an offensive board on over 31 percent of their misses. Kansas State’s own ability to grab offensive rebounds is better but still ranks outside the top 100 in KenPom.
Nae’Qan Tomlin is going to draw most of the minutes at center, with David N’Guessan and Abayomi Iyiola backing him up. Tomlin has shown to be the most effective rebounder of the three, but Johnson, Nowell, and Desi Sills (guards) are grabbing the majority of misses.
For as strong as Kansas State is at guard, they have had a major problem with turnovers this season. Jerome Tang’s group has turned the ball over on almost 20 percent of their possessions this season. Nowell, Johnson, Sills, and Cam Carter all own individual turnover rates of greater than 20 percent.
In their nine losses this season, Kansas State has averaged over 17 turnovers per game. In their 25 wins, they are averaging about 13. There is a pretty strict correlation between Kansas State turnovers and their win/loss record. In fact, the Wildcats have yet to lose a game this season when committing fewer than 13 turnovers.
3. Hero ball
This actually turned into a strength in the closing minutes against Kentucky.
The Wildcats took – and made – several deep 3-pointers in the closing minutes on Sunday. While it’s good to have guys who aren’t afraid to take big shots, it can also work against you.
Nowell is a classic example of a volume shooter. While he has made 81 threes on the season, it has taken him 231 attempts to get there. For context, the Michigan State basketball leader in 3-point attempts is Joey Hauser with 158. In eight Big 12 losses this season, here are Nowell’s shooting numbers from three:
- 2-7 at TCU
- 4-5 at Iowa State
- 3-11 at Kansas
- 0-5 vs. Texas
- 1-10 at Texas Tech
- 2-9 at Oklahoma
- 6-12 at West Virginia
- 1-9 neutral site vs. TCU
There are two good games in there sprinkled with a bunch of very off nights. The other thing to notice is the volume of shots being taken in these games. Nowell has the mindset of being able to shoot his way out of any slump. When the shots are falling, it looks tremendous. When they’re not, it usually spells trouble for Kansas State’s offense.
The first-year head coach for Kansas State has done a marvelous job. The Wildcats were picked to finish last in the Big 12 in the preseason poll. Now, they’re one of the 16 teams still playing for a national championship. The Wildcats have been playing with house money for the majority of this season.
But with all of that being said, this game on Thursday will be the biggest of his coaching career. He was a longtime assistant at Baylor, so he’s no stranger to these types of games. But seeing as it is his first time leading a team into the second weekend, we just don’t know what to expect.
We’ve seen first-year head coaches succeed in this spot before. Last year, Hubert Davis had North Carolina in the final game. Kevin Ollie won six in a row in his first year at Connecticut in 2014. So, while it’s not unheard of for first-year coaches to make a run, experience is usually leaned on at some point in this tournament. It’s key on the court and on the sidelines. But it’s also not a requirement.
As of now, Tang’s scouting, approach, and in-game adjustments are as much of an unknown as anything. That’s neither good nor bad. It’s just one more reason to tune in on Thursday and find out.
Tom Izzo had Draymond convince Jaren Jackson Jr. to go to the NBA
Tom Izzo is unbelievably selfless.
Jaren Jackson Jr. was prepared to return to Michigan State for his sophomore year but Tom Izzo had Draymond convince him to leave.
There were a lot of things said about Tom Izzo and Jaren Jackson Jr. after the Syracuse loss in 2018. There were narratives that Izzo was losing his touch or that Jaren might not like Izzo. Both of these narratives proved to be wrong especially after Jackson’s recent interview on Paul George’s podcast.
Jaren Jackson Jr. talked a lot about MSU on Paul George's podcast yesterday, including this story I hadn't heard before: JJJ was set to come back for his sophomore year, but Izzo had Draymond call him to convince him to leave https://t.co/LGxr3GdDk5
— Kyle Austin (@kylebaustin) June 6, 2023
In this interview, Jaren talks about his time at Michigan State and especially about his decision after the season ended. For those who thought Jackson might not like Michigan State or would never consider going back, those narratives were proved wrong today.
Not only did Jaren say he considered it, he was scheduling his whole sophomore schedule right before the draft. Jaren’s plan was to be at Michigan State for a second year. Imagine that team with him at center. Not only would Jaren have gotten better and been really good at Michigan State, but that would have been one of the most loaded teams, talent-wise, the Spartans would’ve ever had. While that was Jackson’s plan, that wasn’t Izzo’s.
In fact, Izzo had Draymond Green, a player who had never talked to Jackson before, call him and convince him to go to the NBA. Draymond was asking Jaren: “What are you doing?”
Eventually, Jackson would enter the draft and get selected in the top five. This probably worked out the best for Jaren as he is a young star especially on the defensive end. While this worked out on his end, what does this say about Tom Izzo?
This shows that Izzo isn’t going to make a player stick around if he thinks they’re ready. Izzo saw the potential of Jackson and that it would be the best interest for him to go to the NBA. Was this the best interest of the basketball program? Probably not, but it shows that the whole narrative around Jackson and Izzo was never true. Why would Jaren want to go back to Michigan State if he was mad about everything that happened?
This just is another example of how Izzo wants what is best for his players and is not afraid to push someone out the door if he thinks they are ready for the next step.
Michigan State Basketball: Allocating forward/wing minutes for 2023-24
How will the wing/forward rotation play out?
What could the forward/wing minutes look like this upcoming season for Michigan State basketball with Jaden Akins and Malik Hall back?
This Michigan State basketball team is going to be reliant on some new faces at the forward/wing positions going forward as it loses Joey Hauser to graduation. Being able to replace Joey’s 34 minutes, 14 points per game, seven rebounds, and 45 percent shooting from three is going to be difficult to replace.
But this group isn’t lacking in talent just not a whole lot of experience.
This group will be led by Jaden Akins on the wing (I know he doesn’t want the “wing” label) and Malik Hall at forward as the only two returning guys in this position group.
Adding to this group will be five-star freshman Xavier Booker and four-stars Coen Carr and Gehrig Normand.
Let’s dive into the forward/wing minutes for 2023-24 Michigan State basketball.
The starting wing is clearly going going to be Akins as he announced he was returning last week. Akins is a major asset to this team on the offensive end but even more so on the defensive end. He will get between 2-5 minutes at the guard position and should average 25 minutes at the wing position. Akins will find himself as one of the top options on the offensive end due to the loss of Hauser. I would expect him to become more of a ball-handler in the pick and rolls and on pin down screens. Michigan State fans will expect an increased role offensively which should lead to him averaging 13-plus points per game.
At the power forward position, this could go one of two ways with either Malik Hall or Xavier Booker. Hall probably gets the nod early on in the season, but I would expect Booker to take this spot over. Booker will be able to provide length, good defense, and enough offense with the starters to become the starter. I would expect Booker to average around 18-20 minutes per game in this role and around 8-10 points and six-plus rebounds per game.
Hall will be coming off the bench but really that’s just in title. He will be an extremely valuable piece to this team and will help close out games during crunch time. His ability to handle the ball, get others involved, create his own shots, and his experience will lead the bench group. He should expect around 22-24 minutes per game at the forward position and 2-4 minutes coming at the center position when MSU needs to play small ball.
A healthy Hall should average around 10-plus points and five rebounds per game.
Coen Carr is a cause for major excitement for Michigan State basketball fans due to him being a tremendous athlete. Carr will be able to play at either forward position due to his athleticism but expect to see him more at the power forward position. The athleticism is only part of Carr’s game, but he will need to become a more consistent offensive threat. Coen’s ability to defend will put him in a good position to earn minutes early on as a freshman. I would expect Carr to average around 8-10 minutes per game. I wouldn’t expect a major offensive game from Carr but expect some rim shaking dunks in transition or on the pick and roll.
Gehrig Normand seems to be the odd guy out in the freshman class currently. But he has the ability to earn the most time if neither Carr nor Booker aren’t getting the job done. Normand provides shooting that this team may need which may slide Malik to the power forward role. He provides a greater offensive scoring threat which the bench may need. I would expect Gehrig to average around five minutes but could find himself outside the rotation if he isn’t able to defend at a high level.
- Jaden Akins: 25 minutes per game on the wing; 2-5 minutes at guard
- Xavier Booker: 18-20 minutes per game
- Malik Hall: 22-24 minutes per game at forward; 2-4 minutes at small-ball center
- Coen Carr: 8-10 minutes per game
- Gehrig Normand: 5-7 minutes per game
Has Michigan State basketball had the “perfect” offseason so far?
The MSU basketball offseason has felt so much better than football’s.
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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