Michigan State basketball

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Michigan State basketball: 3 quick thoughts from tight win over Oregon

Michigan State basketball toughed out another win over Oregon on Friday night. Here are my quick thoughts.

Has the voice of Bill Walton been seared into your brain yet? For the second straight night, Michigan State basketball fans were treated (sarcasm) to Walton commentary and, yeah, I’m worn out.

Outside of listening to Walton make seal noises and go off on minute-long tangents while the camera angle is already causing aggravation for the average MSU viewer, fans were treated to a win. Michigan State was able to hold on to beat Oregon 74-70 in a back-and-forth affair.

Will Richardson kept the Ducks in the game with 25 points which more than doubled his season high and it just wasn’t enough as Pierre Brooks, Tyson Walker, and Joey Hauser combined for 49 points.

We’ll take this late-night win. Here are my thoughts:

1. Pierre Brooks has the greenest light, and I love it

Brooks looked aggressive on Friday night, and I loved it. You might look at his shooting percentage (6-for-16) and assume he had a bad game, but it was anything but. He looked great.

Not only was he aggressive, but he made the big shots when MSU needed a bucket. He showed no hesitation and hoisted up 11 threes, making three. Brooks almost hit five threes, but two were reviewed and his foot was on the line, marking them down to twos.

This was a great growth night for Brooks, though. And his light is unbelievably green.

2. Tyson Walker, Joey Hauser carried the offense

Outside of Brooks, both Walker and Hauser were carrying the offense. It looked like the Spartans were unable to score in long stretches in this one and when those slumps needed to be ended, those two stepped up.

Walker continued to hit big shot after big shot, finishing with 16 points and eight assists with one turnover and Hauser did the same throughout the first half and into the early second. Hauser finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds, hitting 4-for-8 from deep.

These two really stepped up when the offense looked stagnant and if they can continue to hit big shots, the Spartans will be just fine.

3. No win can ever be easy with this team

While Tom Izzo will take any win he can get, he has to wonder why it can just never be easy. He had the Kentucky game which went to double-overtime and took a perfect out-of-bounds play to get there, he snuck by Villanova after being up by 16 with eight minutes left, and on Friday, the Spartans were up eight in the final couple of minutes and continued to make mental mistakes.

The “oh no, it’s happening again” play was the inbounds from Hauser to Hoggard in the corner and an errant pass right to Oregon which led to an and-one to cut the lead to two. Fortunately, guys like Walker, Hoggard, and Mady Sissoko hit their free throws down the stretch.

Wins are not coming easily, but this team is getting its fair share of learning lessons.

Michigan State basketball

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Michigan State basketball: Tracking Joey Hauser’s continued improvement

Joey Hauser’s journey with Michigan State basketball hasn’t been an easy one but he’s proven doubters wrong along the way.

If you look at the history of streaky Michigan State basketball players, few are more polarizing than Joey Hauser. While his time at MSU has its share of up and downs, there is no more important player for the team to succeed offensively this season.

Hauser came in as a highly sought-after transfer from Marquette who could space the floor and light it up from deep. Many were comparing him to Goran Suton or A.J. Granger as a classic Tom Izzo stretch-four. The buzz he received in the offseason meant he would be subject to one of the toughest things you can receive from the fanbase of a high-level basketball program: elevated expectations.

As soon as he arrived on campus, he was unfortunately deprived of a chance to play alongside Cassius Winston and Xavier Tillman in the 2019-20 season due to a declined transfer waiver. Ultimately that season ended in disappointment as MSU never got a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament due to COVID-19.

Once Winston left campus, there was a noticeable void at point guard. During the 2020-21 season, Foster Loyer and Rocket Watts failed to pick up the mantle effectively. Likewise in 2021-22, AJ Hoggard was prone to costly mistakes and poor shooting, and Tyson Walker was too tentative with the tools he had at his disposal. Both of those teams barely scraped into the tournament, a departure from what MSU fans were accustomed to.

When you look at Hauser’s lone season at Marquette, there’s no question he benefitted from playing alongside Markus Howard, who was able to distribute in lethal fashion on dribble drives and pick-and-rolls. And once Winston left MSU, the lack of elite play at point guard meant Joey’s performance suffered as well.

This year, Michigan State basketball has displayed an offense that has a full season’s worth of experience and continuity at point guard. Hoggard and Walker have both taken steps forward, showing improved vision and decision-making. The coaches are also rolling with a tighter eight-man rotation, with each player understanding their role and spacing in the offense.

As a result, we are getting more productivity from No. 10.

Hauser’s most significant improvement this season has come on the offensive end. Things are visibly clicking with his ability to operate in Tom Izzo’s pick-and-roll offense as well as in transition. And the numbers back up what we are seeing:

ORating (per 100 possessions), offensive box score +/-, PPG

2018-19: 110.3, +1.1, 9.7 PPG
2020-21: 106.1, +2.7, 9.7 PPG
2021-22: 118.1, +2.8, 7.3 PPG
2022-23: 118.5, +4.9, 14.0 PPG

Joey is posting career highs in scoring, offensive rating, and offensive box score +/-, all of which lead the team.

Many MSU fans had mixed reactions about him coming back for this season, based on how his career at MSU had gone so far. But we need to trust in Tom Izzo’s process, knowing that there will be growing pains along the way.

When Joey had one of his worst games against Gonzaga, he bounced back in strong way against Kentucky to launch MSU back into the national conversation. Izzo commented on the difference in Hauser’s demeanor this season: “There was just a different Joey than the last couple of years. He wasn’t hanging his head, he wasn’t all upset about it, and he just went back to work.”

Joey is shooting with much more confidence, even in games where he gets off to a slow start. Looking at his career numbers from deep, there is a considerable difference this season:

3-pointers made/attempted per game

2018-19: 1.3/3.1 (42.5%)
2020-21: 1.2/3.6 (34.0%)
2021-22: 1.1/2.8 (40.8%)
2022-23: 2.8/5.5 (50%)

While a 50 percent mark is likely not sustainable, it is a sign of good things to come from Hauser. Those numbers are still impressive, given they have come against stiff competition in Gonzaga, Kentucky, and Villanova. And the Gonzaga game, which was Joey’s worst on the season, had elements that will not be present for 98 percent of MSU’s games this year. 

Malik Hall said it best: “It’s going to make it a lot easier for everybody on the team if he looks for his shot. He’s going to continue to knock them down.”

Joey has also shown some flashes of creativity in the post and mid-range. He utilizes ball fakes and duck-unders effectively, and if he can’t get a clean look he has the ability to kick out the ball to an open shooter. He is not afraid to take big shots at key moments in the game, especially when MSU needs a counterpunch.

A major part of the criticism from the fanbase over the past 2 seasons has been Joey’s defensive liability. He does not have the size to contend with the plethora of high-level centers that the Big Ten churns out every year. He also does not pose the lateral quickness to face guard more mobile, athletic power forwards.

However, you can still see moderate improvement in his ability to defend this season.

DRating (per 100 possessions), defensive box score +/-

2018-19: 101.0, +1.2
2020-21: 102.6, +1.6
2021-22: 104.0, +1.3
2022-23: 97.4, +1.8

Similar to his offensive numbers, he declined from his freshman year through his preceding two seasons but has bounced back in a major way this year. Through four games, Joey posted his best defensive rating in his career, as well as his best defensive box score contribution.

Those numbers certainly don’t stack up to the likes of Marcus Bingham or Xavier Tillman, but that is not what MSU needs Hauser to do. They need him to be serviceable on that end of the floor. Don’t get embarrassed, stay in position, and don’t get into foul trouble. MSU can live with Joey occasionally getting beat on the defensive end, because of the way he lifts the team offensively.

We can all sincerely hope that Joey continues to make Michigan State basketball fans eat crow for doubting him as much as they have the past two seasons. Watching Joey playing with the confidence he has so far, the sky is the limit for this team.

Michigan State basketball

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Michigan State basketball: 3 quick thoughts from huge win over Kentucky

Michigan State basketball improved its Champions Classic record on Tuesday with a huge win over No. 4 Kentucky.

For a second straight game, Michigan State basketball took a top-five team down to the wire. This time, however, there was overtime to be had.

Also this time, Michigan State picked up a win.

Just days after nearly knocking off No. 2 Gonzaga, Michigan State took No. 4 Kentucky to overtime thanks to a huge game from Joey Hauser and also Mady Sissoko. The Spartans were able to prevail in double overtime to improve to 2-1 on the year.

AJ Hoggard was fighting with injuries late, Sissoko rose to the occasion against Oscar Tshiebwe, and this team showed a ton of grit to pull off the upset of Kentucky.

Here are my quick thoughts after this monster win.

1. Mady Sissoko is him

The more I watch of Mady Sissoko, the more I love what I see. I think everyone expected to see him struggle against Drew Timme and Oscar Tshiebwe to start the season, but he has done anything but that.

He’s been him.

Sissoko looked great against Gonzaga and shut Timme down and then played really well against Tshiebwe. He finished with 16 points and nine rebounds against Kentucky and looked great on both ends of the floor. It’s time to start throwing respect his way.

2. Joey Hauser bounced back in a monster way

Wow, what else is there to say about Joey Hauser’s bounce-back performance? He shook off one of the worst games of his career against Gonzaga and put together one of the best games of his career, scoring 23 points with eight rebounds against the No. 4 team in the country.

It’s nice to see that Joey isn’t letting his bad games spill over into the next one because that was a major problem for him last year and the season before.

Joey looks confident again.

3. This is a top 10-15 team

I know this may be a hot take, but Michigan State is easily a top 10-15 team in my eyes. This may be a biased take, but unranked teams don’t take the No. 2 team down to the wire (and probably should have won) nor beat No. 4 in overtime by nine points. Heck, top 20-25 teams don’t do that.

Michigan State deserves to not only be ranked but it deserves to be in that 10-15 range or at the very least 15-20. But the Spartans have to avoid a hangover from this win against Villanova on Friday night.

Tom Izzo is already proving a ton of people wrong.

Michigan State basketball

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Michigan State Basketball: What are realistic expectations for 2022-23?

Michigan State basketball is about to tip off its season in a few weeks. What are realistic expectations for this team?

The 2022-23 Michigan State basketball season is still a couple of weeks from tipoff as it’ll open things up with an exhibition game against Grand Valley on Nov. 1, followed by the regular-season opener vs. Northern Arizona on Nov. 7.

But we’re already starting to talk about realistic expectations for the upcoming season.

Michigan State is coming off a disappointing second-round exit and it’s lost Julius Marble, Marcus Bingham Jr., Max Christie, and Gabe Brown. How did Tom Izzo replace all of those departures? With a freshman class consisting of three guys: Jaxon Kohler, Carson Cooper, and Tre Holloman.

Confidence hasn’t exactly been injected into the fanbase by Izzo’s dismissal of the transfer portal this offseason. He has two former transfers in his projected starting five, but he preached culture in his preseason presser and stated that he has to give the guys he recruited a chance.

It makes sense to a point, but he has shown that he’s not afraid to use the portal. Plus, I don’t think Joey Hauser and Tyson Walker are bad for culture. Actually the contrary is true there.

Walker and Hauser opted to return, Malik Hall is back, AJ Hoggard is arguably back as the best point guard in the Big Ten, Mady Sissoko has developed per Izzo, and Jaden Akins and Pierre Brooks both look to improve drastically (as long as Akins can stay healthy). Oh, and the three freshmen figure to play healthy roles, especially Kohler in the post.

So what are the expectations for this team with a limited roster?

Look, I know what Izzo is doing with his scholarships is unorthodox and it may be tough to see his vision, but he did make some good points when he stated that it’s impossible to make a dozen-plus scholarship guys all happy at the same time. So keeping this roster on the slimmer end may actually help the rotation. Heck, Izzo usually struggles to trim the rotation for months anyways.

And Michigan State’s starting five is easily one of the best in the conference. Hoggard is an All-Big Ten first-team talent, Hall has shown in the past he can be special, Hauser is finally gaining confidence, Walker has shown to be a legit two-way threat, Akins might end up as the most improved player on the team, Brooks can shoot the lights out, Sissoko has “developed,” Kohler is a future star, Cooper is a “diamond in the rough” per Izzo, and Holloman can be a lockdown defender.

No, this team isn’t super deep, but even the best teams play 7-8 guys regularly. It’s when you’re forced to reach into the No. 9 and No. 10 player off the bench that you’re probably in trouble.

An injury would derail things, no doubt, but this team has talent.

Not only do they have talent, but they’re going to be more battle-tested than every single team in the Big Ten when conference play begins. That early-season gauntlet is going to force these guys to grow up in a hurry.

But this squad is structured to be one of those surprisingly-solid underrated Izzo teams.

Realistic expectations have to be a top-four finish in the conference standings in a down year for the Big Ten and an NCAA Tournament berth. Those should be the expectations for this team. The ceiling would probably be conference title contention and a top-five seed in the NCAA Tournament. I can see MSU starting the season 2-5 and then reeling off 10 straight wins. That’s just how the schedule is structured.

One thing is certain, however: Michigan State is going to grow up quickly and be dang good by the start of conference play. Then anything is possible.