Although Tom Izzo didn’t fill out the roster and lost some key players, Michigan State basketball is going to surprise people.
Who would have thought that we’d be talking about our excitement for Michigan State basketball in late-September after the football team finished 11-2 last year?
Depressing, I know.
There’s still time for the football team to turn things around, but the basketball program began practice this week and that just sparked some excitement for me.
I read a bunch of recaps from beat reporters who got to attend practice and everything made it seem like this is a tight-knit group of guys. We do hear that every year, but this is quite literally the smallest roster Tom Izzo has ever had.
He has decided not to utilize all of his open scholarships in order to ensure his team is tightly-knit. There’s no choice but for everyone to be close, warm, personal friends.
And that’s a good thing. Izzo’s best teams have played together for years and gelled at an extensive level — go back and look at the 2000 national champs and the 2009 Final Four team.
I think this year’s team — albeit not Izzo’s deepest or most talented — will surprise some people and it’ll be the best MSU team in three years.
And here’s why:
- As I mentioned, the roster is smaller and guys have been playing together for quite a while. This comfortability is bigger than you think.
- The younger guys are talented and will be forced to grow up quickly. The ceilings for Jaxon Kohler and Tre Holloman are incredibly high. And then you have Carson Cooper who Izzo says is better than he expected. He will have his redshirt burned.
- The backcourt depth is really solid as long as everyone is healthy.
- AJ Hoggard is that Mateen Cleaves/Draymond Green/Cassius Winston type leader that all good Izzo-coached teams have. He’s going to take that next step this year in all phases.
- While the frontcourt depth isn’t great, I do believe there’s plenty of flexibility in the lineups that the Spartans can run out. Mady Sissoko will get better (he has to), Kohler is going to grow up quickly, Cooper is also going to grow up fast, and Joey Hauser can stretch the floor on offense in a smaller lineup.
- Injuries are forcing key role players to step up in practice. With Jaden Akins and Malik Hall sidelines for a bit, other guys are being forced to step up and grow into larger roles in practice. This is only going to help down the line.
- The early schedule is an absolute gauntlet. This is going to be the most battle-tested team by the time conference play starts.
- Speaking of conference play, this may be the weakest Big Ten in years. A strong non-conference schedule is going to make this team more than ready.
This group has grown together and has seen what it takes to be successful. I think we’re going to see it surprise some people and exceed expectations this year. It’ll take some early lumps against top-ranked teams, but that will make it stronger when the conference campaign starts.
Am I drinking the annual Izzo Kool-aid? Dang right I am.