Michigan State basketball

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What we learned about Michigan State basketball in the PKI

Michigan State basketball ended the weekend at the PKI with a 2-1 record. What did we learn about the Spartans?

Whew. That was close. 

While you never want to give up a double-digit lead late in a game, it’s important to step back and look at the bigger picture: that was an actual home game for Portland who took UNC to the brink and beat Villanova by double digits. After a brutal six-game stretch (and one freebie), Michigan State basketball is 5-2 overall with losses to No. 6 Gonzaga and a 6-1 Alabama team that beat No. 1 North Carolina in a four-overtime thriller.

This MSU team also went 2-1 for the tourney without Malik Hall or Jaden Akins. 

That last point is key because it freed up big minutes for Pierre Brooks who took full advantage with 15 points on seven shots, going 5-for-7 from the field and 4-for-4 from deep. He looks like the guy that won Mr. Basketball in the state of Michigan and should contribute valuable scoring depth for the Spartans this year. 

Tyson Walker led the Spartans in scoring with 16 points and five rebounds, and Joey Hauser had 14 points, seven rebounds, and added four assists. AJ Hoggard struggled in the first half but finished just one assist shy of a double-double recording 12 points on 5-for-11 shooting, three rebounds, and nine assists. 

MSU will finish up the month of November with a true road game in South Bend against 5-1 Notre Dame. So far they have 4-5 wins that will be considered quad-1 or quad-2 by the committee with a good chance for another on Wednesday. 

Battle-tested feels like an understatement.

Everyone said Tom Izzo was crazy to embark on this schedule, especially with this roster. It turns out this roster was better than anticipated and this schedule will wind up benefiting MSU, not only on Selection Sunday but in preparing for the grind of the Big Ten schedule and beyond. 

There were some other pleasant surprises as well:

  • Mady Sissoko isn’t really a surprise at this point but we also shouldn’t take his importance for granted. In this game he was efficient with 11 points on 4-5 from the floor, however, he was limited to 24 minutes because of foul trouble. He’s been engaged, strong, and active in every game he’s played, shooting almost 60 percent from the floor, and has improved his free throw shooting to a respectable 65 percent. And, perhaps most importantly, is only averaging 2.8 personal fouls per game despite the four fouls against Portland.
  • Tre Holloman is looking like an elite defender as a freshman and is comfortable facilitating with the ball in his hands. Izzo clearly decided after the 2020-21 season that he would never be short on primary ball handlers again. He now has four players that can handle the duties in Walker, Hoggard, Holloman, and Akins with Jeremy Fears already signed to next year’s class.
  • Jason Whitens is a good energy player off the bench that can defend, get rebounds and do the dirty work. This adds depth that most fans weren’t aware of because of his season-ending injury early last season.
  • Jaxon Kohler struggled to score in this game but had some great hustle plays. He reeled in seven rebounds against an extremely athletic Alabama team and shot 50 percent from the field in the Oregon game. He’ll continue to improve and will serve well as a backup to Sissoko with a very different play style.
  • Finally, Carson Cooper has looked promising in limited minutes. He had two big dunks on excellent passes from Hauser and Brooks and should be very helpful in Big Ten play. You can definitely see why Izzo brought him in.

While Hall is projected to be out until around Christmas, don’t be surprised if he doesn’t play until the Buffalo or Nebraska games as a precaution since the schedule lightens up for the three weeks after the game at Penn State. They’ll want to make sure he’s healthy for the main portion of Big Ten play. 

Akins could be ready for the Notre Dame game but will need to string together a few healthy practices before Izzo unleashes the explosive guard. Even if Akins plays Wednesday, we will see a heavy dose of Brooks, Holloman, and possibly even Whitens. 

This team is better than most people thought and strong guard-play wins in college basketball. The Big Ten is acquitting itself well in non-conference play so there will be ample quality wins available to build the Spartans’ resume for March.

It’s a long season but so far, so good. 

Michigan State basketball

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Michigan State basketball: We should’ve trusted the process with Mady Sissoko

Tom Izzo had a plan for Mady Sissoko this season and many doubted it. We all should’ve trusted the process.

After an exciting upset of the fellow blue-blood Kentucky and a scrappy win versus Villanova, Spartan Nation is riding high. Not only did Michigan State basketball knock off the No. 4 ranked Wildcats, but the overlooked roster is starting to take shape.

Many were questioning Tom Izzo for not getting a big in the transfer portal, and Tuesday answered that question for us. The coming out party for Mady Sissoko so far this year should not be a surprise given Izzo’s track record. Izzo has a laundry list of big men that made huge progress in their junior and senior years. The blueprint was right in our faces, and we weren’t patient enough with Mady to see it coming.

If you don’t believe me, take a look at some of the former big men that came through East Lansing.

Draymond Green

Freshman: 11.4 MPG, 3.3 PPG, 3.3 RPG
Sophomore: 25.5 MPG, 9.9 PPG, 7.7 RPG
Junior: 30.1 MPG, 12.6 PPG, 8.6 RPG
Senior: 33.2 MPG, 16.2 PPG, 10.6 RPG

Everyone knows Draymond wasn’t a highly-rated recruit out of high school. He had a decent sophomore season, but during his junior year, he became the Draymond we came to know and love. He became the third Spartan to record a triple-double (Magic, Charlie Bell) and earned third-team All-Big Ten honors. Draymond ended his career as Big Ten Player of the Year.

Derrick Nix

Freshman: 7.8 MPG, 2.3 PPG, 2.1 RPG
Sophomore: 8.2 MPG, 2.7 PPG, 2.0 RPG
Junior: 18.9 MPG, 8.1 PPG, 3.8 RPG
Senior: 27.6 MPG, 9.9 PPG, 6.6 RPG

Hands up, I was always critical of Nix before his senior season. He seemed overweight and not very aggressive when he was in the game. It all changed during his lone season as a starter where a slimmer Nix was able to play more minutes and was more effective on the boards.

Adreian Payne (RIP)

Freshman: 9.0 MPG, 2.5 PPG, 2.4 RPG
Sophomore: 17.9 MPG, 7.0 PPG, 4.2 RPG
Junior: 25.6 MPG, 10.5 PPG, 7.6 RPG
Senior: 28.1 MPG, 16.4 PPG, 7.3 RPG

Adreian was a five-star recruit that started slow because of a reduced lung capacity. He had very little touch as an underclassman, but you could see the change from sophomore to junior year. Payne shot two 3-pointers all sophomore year, compared to 42 and 104 in the following years, respectively. He was also the Big Ten leader in free throw percentage in his junior year. Payne was second-team All-Big Ten during his junior and senior seasons.

Matt Costello

Freshman: 6.1 MPG, 1.5 PPG, 1.3 RPG
Sophomore: 14.7 MPG, 4.0 PPG, 3.3 RPG
Junior: 20.4 MPG, 7.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG
Senior: 22.9 MPG, 10.7 PPG, 8.2 RPG

Matt Costello was a big recruit out of high school, but his Spartan career started off shaky. Like many of these big men, I was afraid this Mr. Basketball award winner was a bust. Matt was a solid big during his junior year, but it was his senior year that he became a standout. He finished his senior year with second-team All-Big Ten honors while also being selected to the Reese’s College All-Star Game.

Xavier Tillman

Freshman: 8.7 MPG, 2.8 PPG, 2.6 RPG
Sophomore: 24 MPG, 10 PPG, 7.3 RPG
Junior: 32.1 MPG, 13.7 PPG, 10.3 RPG

COVID-19 robbed the 2019-20 team of Izzo’s second championship, and I will fight that til the day I die. They were there because of Spartan legend Cassius Winston, but also from the development of Xavier Tillman. X was Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and second-team All-Big Ten.

Marcus Bingham Jr.

Sophomore: 11 MPG, 3.6 RPG, 3.5 PPG
Junior: 11.5 MPG, 3.2 RPG, 3.5 PPG
Senior: 18.7 MPG, 6.4 RPG, 9.3 PPG

It may not look like it on paper, but Bingham made leaps and bounds toward the end of his MSU career. He had confidence and became an inside presence. He also developed a 3-point shot.

There are obviously exceptions where big men can be effective at the start of their careers like Jaren Jackson Jr. and Nick Ward, and there were some bigs that did not work out. Tom Izzo has been as great as he has because he can develop talent and knows how to prepare his team for the full season grind.

Sissoko will be added to this list when his career is done, and we need to give him a shot to do so. To quote the Philadelphia 76ers’ favorite motto, we just need to “Trust The Process.”

Michigan State basketball

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

Michigan State basketball looked like it was going to run away with a win over Villanova, but the Wildcats stormed back.

It can just never be easy. Michigan State basketball fans know all too well what it’s like to struggle to close out big wins.

Villanova was just the latest case of a team that looked dead in the water but hung around long enough to make the Spartans sweat in the final minutes.

After increasing the lead to 16 late in the second half, Michigan State took its foot off the gas and Villanova stormed back to make things very interesting late. An errant inbounds pass by Joey Hauser with under a minute left led to a 3-pointer by Villanova to cut the lead to one.

This is something that Tom Izzo will make sure doesn’t happen again moving forward. But if you told me that Michigan State would be 3-1 after playing Gonzaga, Kentucky, and Villanova, I would have called you insane. That’s a big win to start the year. Villanova is a pesky team.

Here are some quick thoughts from this win.

1. Tyson Walker can be that go-to scorer

When Michigan State needed a bucket down the stretch, where did it turn? Tyson Walker.

We talked about it before the game, Walker is that X-factor and he needs to be that bucket-getter for the Spartans this year. He was just that on Friday night.

Walker didn’t shy away from the big moment or the big shot, finishing with a team-high 22 points to go along with five assists on 9-of-14 shooting. If he can be that go-to scorer for MSU this year, the Spartans will be in good shape.

2. Mady Sissoko looked gassed 

Mady Sissoko played great against two All-American over the past seven days, but he really struggled on Friday night against Eric Dixon. He looked flat-out gassed.

It’s not surprising that he looked tired because he’s not used to playing big minutes like this at the collegiate level and conditioning will only improve, but he has to be better. He finished with just one points, three rebounds, and had two fouls. Dixon was able to score 24 points with nine boards as Sissoko got lost defending him a few times at the perimeter as an inside-out big.

3. This team has to find a way to finish

I feel like I say this every year, but Michigan State looked like a really good team for about 32 minutes and then fell asleep in the final eight minutes. A 16-point lead melted down to one with just seconds left and Villanova had a shot to win the game at the buzzer but missed.

AJ Hoggard has to be smarter with the ball at the end of the game (he had a bad turnover that led to an and-one) and Joey Hauser needs to take a timeout instead of lobbing an inbounds pass into two defenders. There were some questionable decisions down the stretch and it’s up to the leaders to calm everyone down, but they were making those crucial mistakes.

Michigan State looked like a top-10 team for the first 32 minutes and an unranked team in the final eight.

Time to put together a complete game.

Michigan State basketball

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Michigan State basketball: 3 keys to victory vs. Villanova

Michigan State basketball hosts Villanova for a big non-conference battle on Friday night and here’s what the Spartans must do.

Michigan State basketball is back and, from the looks of it early on, it might be legit this year. The Spartans play host to the Villanova Wildcats on Friday night, at home, with tip-off at 8 p.m. ET.

Tom Izzo and his 2-1 squad look to grab a win over a Wildcats team that has struggled out of the gates in their first season without Jay Wright. However, we all know Villanova will be excited to play against their first major opponent, and Izzo will not allow the boys to take them lightly.

Even as MSU is a 6.5-point favorite (FanDuel) how can MSU ensure a victory Friday night?

After the Kentucky game, it became pretty evident who Coach Izzo trusted on the floor, as it was pretty much a six-man rotation. Malik Hall, Joey Hauser, AJ Hoggard, Mady Sissoko, and Tyson Walker all played upwards of 30 minutes with Jaden Akins playing 27 off the bench. These six combined for 84 of the 86 points on Tuesday night and ended up being victorious over the No. 4 team in the nation.

This leads me to my first key to tonight’s game: stick with what has worked.

1. Stick with what’s been working

I think in order to build momentum for the season, we need to get some continuity early. Play the guys who played Tuesday, allow them to develop chemistry, and limit new lineups if possible. Villanova is looking for answers early, and if we stick to the same game plan, we should be able to limit any type of run from them early.

2. Mady Sissoko needs to stay out of foul trouble

Key No. 2 I would say is pretty obvious: Mady Sissoko must stay out of foul trouble. He did a great job of this down the stretch last time out and, hopefully, it will be easier on Friday night as Villanova has nobody among the talent of Oscar Tshiebwe.

When on the floor, Mady has been incredible. Averaging 11 points on 65 percent shooting from the field, and nearly eight rebounds per game. Sissoko has arguably been MSU’s best player. Maybe the most encouraging thing from his performance on Tuesday was his 6-for-8 shooting from the charity stripe. He will draw fouls all season, and if he can knock down free throws both on Friday night and for the rest of the year, he could draw some national recognition.

3. Shooters need to shoot early, often

Finally, in order to bring home a win, our shooters need to shoot early. We saw the best game of Hauser’s career on Tuesday, scoring 23 points and grabbing eight rebounds. Hall showed his “closer” mentality, tying the game up twice with a dunk to extend into overtime. Walker also hit clutch shots down the stretch, something we saw from time to time last season. All three of these guys need to seek out their own shot early. They all have the ability to score 20-plus every night, and this could elevate them to a big win on Friday in the Breslin.

If MSU can do at least two, or hopefully all three of these things against Villanova, we should see a Spartan win. This would propel their record to 3-1, awaiting an assured spot in the rankings come Monday.

After Villanova, Michigan State travels west to face No. 18 Alabama in the first round of the Phil Knight Invitational, in Portland, Ore.

Prediction: 71-59 MSU wins

GO GREEN.

Michigan State basketball

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Michigan State basketball: We all owe Mady Sissoko an apology

After doubting him all offseason, many Michigan State basketball fans owe big man Mady Sissoko a sincere apology.

Look to your left. Now look to your right. You just saw two doubters of Mady Sissoko before the Michigan State basketball season tipped off.

Look, it’s OK. A lot of us were in that position. I’m not going to say I was a Mady truther (I was) to make you feel bad, but I think it’s time we all apologize to the junior big man for doubting him.

Most of the doubt was fueled by a disappointing 2021-22 season and no portal additions in the post to make up for the losses of Marcus Bingham Jr. and Julius Marble, but it was doubt nonetheless.

It was fair, however. Mady averaged about five minutes per game through two seasons and played in 55 career games, scoring 1.1 points per game throughout his career with a little over a rebound per game. But he still should have been given a little respect. He showed flashes when he did play with some epic swats or a dunk here and there with high energy, but he just wasn’t polished.

What did he do all offseason long knowing that he would be expected to play big minutes? He polished up his game.

Fans were expecting the Sissoko that we’ve seen through three games of the 2022-23 season when he committed and was ranked a couple of spots ahead of Michigan All-American center Hunter Dickinson. It was discouraging to see Hunter break out for two years while Mady rode the pine.

But all Mady needed was an opportunity. And he’s proving himself at an elite level.

Everything we thought we knew about the junior from Mali has been thrown out the window. Oh he’s averaged just under 5.0 minutes per game throughout his career? Doesn’t matter, he’s going to average 25.7 this year. Mady hasn’t proven himself against elite bigs? Doesn’t matter, he’s going to shut down Drew Timme and Oscar Tshiebwe. He’s looked like a baby deer on the floor? Doesn’t matter, he’s going to develop like no other in the offseason and look like one of the best bigs in the Big Ten. Mady can’t play offense? That’s too bad, he’s going to average 11.3 points and shoot 63 percent from the floor.

Mady is just obliterating all the narratives people prepared for him before the season.

The way he looked against Grand Valley was encouraging. And then he looked decent in limited action against Northern Arizona. Then he arguably out-played Timme. And to cap it all off, he went toe-to-toe with Tshiebwe and put up 16 points and eight rebounds while making Oscar earn every bucket he got.

Yeah, Tom Izzo’s scholarship plan was a little crazy. Pushing ahead with 10 scholarship guys is a little unorthodox. Not touching the transfer portal when you’re left with zero (!!) proven bigs is quite the move. But it’s paid off. Mady has developed more than anyone on the team and he looks like an All-Big Ten player.

Imagine reading that before the season.

A lot of us doubted Mady. Many of us gave up on Mady. But Mady bet on himself and Izzo went all-in with his junior big man. And now a lot of us look silly.

We owe Mady an apology.

Michigan State basketball

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3 things I liked from Michigan State basketball’s win over Kentucky

Beating Kentucky was impressive, but what did I like the most about Michigan State basketball’s Champions Classic win?

Still can’t get over how impressive Tuesday night’s Michigan State basketball win was? Yeah, me neither.

Michigan State scoffed at all the doubters, following up a near-upset of No. 2 Gonzaga last Friday with a win over No. 4 Kentucky in double-overtime to pick up its fifth Champions Classic win.

It was one of those typical Tom Izzo wins where everyone seems to be doubting his team all offseason and all he does is play the nation’s No. 2 team down to the wire and beat the No. 4 team by nine points through the first three contests of the season.

Not too shabby.

I like a lot from the win over Kentucky and it’s hard to really narrow it down to three things, in particular, but I think everyone that played had a mostly positive effect on MSU’s win.

Here’s what I liked the most:

1. Mady Sissoko

I have to lead this off with Mady Sissoko because I’ve been driving his hype train all offseason long. I was called an idiot or laughed at when I said Mady was going to be a beast this year. Now look at the situation. He might be one of the best bigs in the Big Ten.

For a second straight game, he played some lockdown defense on a national player of the year candidate. Oscar Tshiebwe still scored 22 points and had 18 boards, but Mady made him work for everything as he shot just 50 percent from the floor and most of his buckets were on second-chance opportunities.

On the offensive end, he looked like prime Shaq at the end of the game, catching lob after lob from Tyson Walker, finishing with 16 points and eight boards.

The rise of Mady is happening, folks.

2. No one was shying away from the big shot, spotlight

Typically in a game like Tuesday night’s Champions Classic, guys will get some nerves and crumble under the pressure of playing in the spotlight. A year ago, we may have seen that happen to guys like AJ Hoggard, Joey Hauser, Tyson Walker, and Malik Hall. All four of those guys stepped up in the clutch with the lights shining the brightest against Kentucky.

AJ didn’t play his best game but he made the pass of the night on an inbounds play to Walker. Hauser played out of his mind after struggling against Gonzaga, scoring a game-high 23 points. Walker had a great finish to the game after a sloppy start, making some clutch shots and tossing some nice lobs to Mady. And Hall was just solid throughout, scoring 20 points.

When you have a team full of guys who love the spotlight and aren’t afraid of the big shot in a pressure-packed situation, you’re going to be scary good.

3. Stingy defense

Michigan State continues to show that it’s going to be a good defensive team this year, holding Gonzaga to 64 points last week and now keeping Kentucky under 80 in double-overtime.

When you have scrappy guards like Hoggard, Walker, Tre Holloman, and Jaden Akins mixed with willing post defenders like Hall and Sissoko, you’re going to have a really solid defense. That’s beginning to show as Walker and Hoggard don’t often get beat and if they do, Malik and Mady don’t give up easy buckets. Plus, Sissoko has played unbelievably well against Timme and Tshiebwe, so we know he can hold his own.

Tom Izzo has to be thrilled with this Michigan State basketball defense.

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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3 things Michigan State basketball must do in order to upset Kentucky

Michigan State basketball has another talk task ahead of it: upsetting Kentucky. What must the Spartans do in order to accomplish that?

For the second time in the span of five days, Michigan State basketball will be facing a top-five team on a neutral court.

The first top-five opponent for the Spartans pieced together a big second-half comeback to hold off an unranked Michigan State team on the USS Abraham Lincoln, 64-63.

Michigan State played a nearly-perfect game, given the circumstances, and nearly upset the No. 2 team in the country. That one-point loss stung because the Spartans had the win locked up before a late-second-half meltdown, but they’ll get another chance to prove themselves on Tuesday night against No. 4 Kentucky in the Champions Classic.

The Wildcats are 2-0 and returning elite big man Oscar Tshiebwe. Don’t expect this matchup to be any easier for the Spartans than Gonzaga.

Here’s what the Spartans must do if they plan on pulling off the upset.

1. Lock down the perimeter

Last year, Kentucky was not a very good 3-point shooting team. This year, things have changed drastically. The Wildcats are averaging 11 made 3-pointers per game and they’re shooting over 50 percent from deep. A big reason for this improvement has been the addition of CJ Fredrick from Iowa.

Fortunately, Michigan State has some plus defenders on the perimeter in AJ Hoggard, Tyson Walker, and Jaden Akins. All three guys must lock down that 3-point line. No easy shots from deep. If Michigan State can force the Wildcats into some mid-range jumpers or contested shots in the post, it’ll take away what has been the biggest strength for Kentucky thus far.

2. Crash the post when Tshiebwe touches the ball

We saw Drew Timme in an absolute torture chamber on Friday night when Michigan State doubled the post after he caught the ball. Well, that was when Mady Sissoko was on the court, not so much Joey Hauser. When Mady was in and the wing or guard on that side crashed on Timme, he turned it over or took a bad, contested shot. More of that with Oscar, please.

Tshiebwe is likely to play on Tuesday night, according to reports, and that’s going to be a huge test for Mady. If he holds his own and the guard crash on him, forcing him into some uncomfortable doubles, they’ll be able to limit his damage.

This is the most dangerous man on the floor when he’s healthy.

3. Shooters need to shoot

Michigan State doesn’t have a great post game this year although Mady has shown that he might be better than people expected. So since that’s the case, Michigan State’s shooters need to shoot.

No more hesitating like I saw quite a bit against Gonzaga and Northern Arizona. I want to see more of the Joey Hauser I saw against Northern Arizona or the Tyson Walker we saw in the exhibition or the Jaden Akins we saw in the opener. Don’t be afraid to go up with the open shot.

That’s not me saying to take ill-advised and contested jumpers, but no more passive play that leads to a rushed shot with three seconds left on the clock.

Shooters have to shoot and quite the hesitation game.

Bonus: Get to the foul line

I wrote this whole thing out and realized that one of the biggest things Michigan State basketball needs to do wasn’t included. So here I am with a bonus task for the Spartans: get to the dang foul line.

Michigan State barely shot free throws against Northern Arizona and struggled to pull away. They played too much around the perimeter and didn’t work the ball inside enough. Plus, AJ Hoggard and Tyson Walker were too quick to pass instead of looking for their shots or driving. We saw plenty more foul shooting against Gonzaga and the Spartans nearly pulled off the win because of it.

Of course, when Michigan State gets to the line, it needs to make those freebies. But getting Kentucky into some foul trouble with aggressive drives and good ball movement will be a major key to pulling off the upset.

Michigan State basketball

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Michigan State basketball: 3 quick thoughts from exhibition win over GVSU

Michigan State basketball opened its 2022-23 season with an exhibition battle against Grand Valley State on Tuesday.

After watching the football team struggle all year, Michigan State basketball was supposed to be a palate cleanser for Spartan fans.

That wasn’t entirely the case on Tuesday night as the Spartans hosted Grand Valley for an exhibition opener and trailed by five points at halftime with the Lakers shooting lights out.

Michigan State opened the second half with much more focus and took that lead back early on and the run was sparked by a Joey Hauser and-one to begin the second frame. The Spartans took what was once a 7-point deficit and turned it into a healthy lead in the second half. They pulled away and won 73-56.

Not everything was perfect, but there were definitely some positive takeaways from this one.

1. Jaxon Kohler is going to be fun

When Jaxon Kohler checked in for Mady Sissoko in the first half, he kind of looked like a deer in headlights. There were some nerves there and he came out pretty shortly after. But the second half was a different story.

Kohler didn’t play a ton, but he showed his package of moves from a turnaround jumper to grabbing an offensive board and putting it right back up to improvement on defense. He looked like a freshman who could play a ton this year and hold his own. He has an impressive arsenal and I want to see a lot of it this year.

Kohler might be a bigger problem for some opposing big men this year than we thought.

2. Mady Sissoko looked much better

Sissoko was the one guy I was most looking forward to seeing on Tuesday night and he didn’t disappoint. The junior big man was assuming a larger role with Marcus Bingham Jr. and Julius Marble both gone and he took full advantage against Grand Valley.

While he looked lost, at times, on defense, he recovered nicely and even had a nice block in the first half. He also wasn’t picking up a ton of fouls as he was smart on defense.

Not only did he look much more polished defensively, he actually made some noise on offense, scoring in double figures and he was incredibly efficient.

3. Defense from the guards was impressive

It felt like every time Grand Valley tried to drive, Tyson Walker, Tre Holloman, and AJ Hoggard were staying in front of their man. They didn’t give up any easy looks all game long and their hands were all incredibly active. To make up for the lack of depth in the post, these guys are going to need to have active hands when the ball enters the block, and they did.

Without looking at the box score, I’d guess that these guys accounted for 7-8 steals from the guard spots and they probably didn’t give up any open shots. It was impressive to watch these guys on defense.

Bonus: MSU was rusty but it didn’t matter

Michigan State didn’t play very well offensively and all five starters still scored in double figures. Shooting numbers will improve as the season progresses and it’s a great sign that the defense looks good.

The balanced scoring was a breath of fresh air.

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Michigan State basketball: Has Mady Sissoko turned a corner?

Michigan State basketball was picked to finish fourth in the Big Ten this season, but Mady Sissoko’s growth dictates that.

Mady Sissoko has been an anomaly in the post for Michigan State basketball over the past two years.

He’s been lightly-used, oft-confused, and he’s as raw as any big man Tom Izzo has ever had.

So when Julius Marble decided to transfer back home to Texas A&M this offseason and Marcus Bingham Jr. graduated, you can imagine the panic that ensued in the fanbase about the center position.

Sissoko was unproven and he was about to be playing starting minutes.

Sure, he had been in the system for two seasons already and should know the ropes, but he has come along slowly, to say the least. It didn’t look like there was any improvement in his game from his freshman to his sophomore year.

In fact, he played fewer minutes, grabbed fewer rebounds, and averaged more fouls and turnovers per game as a sophomore. Not ideal for a Michigan State big man on the verge of starting.

But this has been a huge offseason for him. This is a “prove it” year for Sissoko as he takes the reins down low and is forced to show why he belongs in the starting group. He’ll be forced to learn on the fly and take his lumps as he’s “thrown into the fire” in 2022-23 — not a term usually used for third-year guys.

At Big Ten media days, however, Izzo hinted at something that should make Michigan State fans hopeful. He hinted at Sissoko growth.

Izzo also pretty much solidified Sissoko as the starting center.

Defense and rebounding are what’s going to earn Mady minutes. He’s not going to score 20-30 points a night. Heck, he might not even score 8-10 points, but as long as he can stay out of foul trouble, play good defense, and rebound, he’ll play.

And that’s all Michigan State needs.

The biggest concern surrounding Sissoko this offseason has been his comfortability in the post. He’s looked out of place far too often and he needs to feel comfortable in his role. This quote from Izzo alludes to the fact that he’s getting there.

Is he going to be an All-Big Ten center? Probably not, but Michigan State just needs him to be a defender, rebounder, and rim protector. He needs to play with a purpose.

Izzo doesn’t often make statements like this unless a player has improved drastically and that would be a great sign for the Spartans.

Sissoko’s growth is imperative if Michigan State wants to make a Big Ten title run.

And I think we’re about to see him take that next step.