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: The great, good, bad, and ugly from Villanova win

Michigan State basketball took down Villanova. Let’s take a look at the great, good, bad, and ugly from the win.

In terms of 3-point shooting, when it rains, it pours. And it was an absolute hurricane in East Lansing against Villanova. Michigan State basketball came out of the gate absolutely on fire, shooting 52 percent in the first half.

It quickly became apparent that MSU was not playing around and called game shortly into the second half, finishing as a team shooting an incredible 52 percent from deep.

After the outstanding upset against Kentucky earlier in the week, this game would tell a lot about this team. Will they have an upset hangover? Was the upset a fluke? Are the Spartans truly that good?

Going off this performance, that answer has to be a yes.

Now, that’s not to say Villanova didn’t make it close and uncomfortable late. If it weren’t for Tyson Walker’s heroic performance down the stretch, I don’t know if the Spartans win. But, a performance like this is nothing but a good sign of things to come and the places this team can go.

So, without further ado, here is the great, the good, the bad, and the ugly against Villanova.

Great: 3-point shooting

The performance against the Wildcats from a 3-point perspective might be the best the Spartans have put on in quite some time. Going 13-for-25 from deep is a feat that not many teams can accomplish. It seemed as though just about everyone got in on the action as Joey Hauser, AJ Hoggard, Malik Hall, Pierre Brooks, Tyson Walker, and Jaden Akins all connected for three.

When you’re as hot as MSU was against Villanova, the hoop begins to get larger and larger and on Friday, they were shooting into a hula hoop. 

Good: Jaden Akins and his athletic ability

The more time you give Akins, the more he rises to the challenge. Throughout this season thus far, while he doesn’t fill up the stat sheet, Akins is constantly bringing the effort, energy, and confidence. Whether he is flying around for a rebound, or using his cat like reflexes to go for a steal, he is constantly inserting himself into the play.

Akins just about blew the roof off the Breslin with his poster dunk over Villanova’s Brandon Slater mid-way through the second half. His scoring will clearly catch up, but even just being on the court gives MSU an edge.

Bad: Zero low-post presence

When you shoot the three ball as well as the Spartans did, there isn’t much emphasis on scoring in any other way. If you simply cannot miss, why stop shooting? With that being said, it is a good thing the Spartans couldn’t miss because they had absolutely zero presence in the post.

Mady Sissoko finished with just one point while Jaxon Kohler had exactly zero in reserve.

In any other game, when Michigan State basketball isn’t shooting over 50 percent from deep, that’s not going to get it done. In fact, there were more than a few possessions that our guards did not even look to get the ball down low, resulting in a forced shot late in the shot clock. Inefficient possessions like these will eventually come back to bite the Spartans if they are not careful.

Ugly: Closing out the game

If you turned the game off at about the nine-minute mark in the second half, you would have assumed the Spartans won by 20 at least. Yet, MSU only came away with a two-point victory. Over the last six minutes of the game, Villanova slowly began to crawl back into the game and, against a proficient opponent, they may just have. When you live by the three, you die by the three. And MSU almost died by the three.

Bonus ugly: Injuries

In a non-conference game, one of the main hopes is to come away with no injuries. Unfortunately for the Spartans, two stars went down on Friday night.

Around the six-minute mark in the second half, Hoggard came off the court hobbling. Fast forward to the four-minute mark, Akins did the same.

Hoggard seemed to be in some pain a few different times over the last few games, and has ended up a 100 percent a few days later. He ended up coming back in and finishing the game but, Akins’ injury is more worrisome. Jaden was just recently cleared for game play after his September foot surgery. As mentioned earlier, Akins relies heavily on his jumping and agility so re-aggravating a foot injury could lead to a prolonged absence.

Alright, Alabama is on the clock.

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: Is Tyson Walker this year’s X-factor?

Tyson Walker has been important to Michigan State basketball’s success early on, but is he this team’s X-factor?

Listen, I’m well aware that there is more than one piece to this Michigan State basketball team that will impact their sustained success, or lack thereof. You could look at Mady Sissoko, or any of the unproven bigs, or tell me that the season rides on Malik Hall and AJ Hoggard. Jaden Akins’ pending success deserves a nod as well.

With that being said, Tyson Walker might be the most dynamic player Tom Izzo has right now. His ability to impact the game on both sides of the floor is key for a successful Izzo team. Look at Gary Harris, Matt McQuaid, or even Xavier Tillman. The DNA of an Izzo team doesn’t necessarily rely on the offensive side of the ball, though you are almost always going to need a bucket-getter. You can look at Cassius Winston, Miles Bridges, Denzel Valentine, or even Travis Trice for that. 

Through three games, the most consistent part of this squad has been on the defensive side. Everyone stepped up for their defensive assignments against both Kentucky and Gonzaga. At the same time, everyone has shown what they can offer on offense. What sets Walker apart from everyone else is his ability to affect the game so quickly. We’ve see flashes, whether it’s been a steal, intercepting a pass, or his shot-creating ability, as well as shooting the three-ball efficiently. 

Outside of really only one game last season, with 26 points in the second loss to Illinois, Walker hasn’t shown us the offensive explosiveness he had during his sophomore year at Northeastern. That year, he averaged almost 19 points per game, but what sticks out most is the nine games with 20 points or more. Of those nine, he had three games with 30 points or more, as well as games with 29 and 27, respectively. I know these are just numbers, but for Izzo, he has only three games with at least 15 and only one game over 20. Walker also has yet to shoot better than 3-for-6 from three.

At Northeastern, Tyson had three games where he made four 3-pointers. Tack on two games in which he made seven and it’s obvious he has the ability and, hopefully, willingness to shoot the ball more frequently. 

I think there will be times during games this season when MSU struggles to get an offense going. That shouldn’t come as a surprise as they have a clear turnover problem, and streaky scorers, from Hoggard and Walker to Hall and Joey Hauser.

Although not at the heart of their DNA, if you look deeper into Izzo’s successful teams of the last 10 years, there’s seemingly always been a bucket-getter.

Below is a list of the leading scorers per game, from the past 10 years who have gone over 20 points, four or more times.

  • 2012-13: Gary Harris (4), Keith Appling (4)
  • 2013-14: Gary Harris (9), Adriean Payne (7), Keith Appling (7)
  • 2014-15: Travis Trice (9), Denzel Valentine (7)
  • 2015-16: Denzel Valentine (11), Bryn Forbes (7) 
  • 2016-17: Miles Bridges (9), Nick Ward (6), Eron Harris (4)
  • 2017-18: Miles Bridges (11)
  • 2018-19: Cassius Winston (20 – insane), Nick Ward (6)
  • 2019-20: Cassius Winston (16)
  • 2020-21: Aaron Henry (7)
  • 2021-22: The leading scorer had at least 20 points in only 7 games

To put all of this into perspective, this season, with a core of Hauser, Hall, Hoggard, Walker, Akins, and Sissoko, you get only 15 games across their entire careers with 20 points or more. And if you take Walker out of this, you’re left with six.

Nothing against those guys as they have much-needed skills everywhere else. Based on last season’s team, and the makeup of this season’s team, I think someone needs to emerge as a go-to bucket-getter, and they need to score 20 points in at least 8-10 games this season. Walker is the best candidate for the job. Hauser is the next closest to Walker in the scoring category, but he is way too streaky.

Tyson has the ability to shot create, knock down open threes and get to the rim creatively. He needs to emerge as an offensive threat much like during his time at Northeastern.

This is why I have him as my X-factor for what this team’s ceiling is. Walker can get buckets, and he can be this team’s best defender, the only question is, will he?

Michigan State basketball

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Michigan State basketball: 3 positive signs from exhibition opener

Michigan State basketball opened exhibition play vs. Grand Valley and came away with a win thanks to some guys underrated stepping up.

The official start of Michigan State basketball’s 2022-23 season isn’t until Nov. 7 against Northern Arizona but Tuesday night’s exhibition opener still gave us a good look at this year’s squad.

We saw the Spartans fall behind by five at the half and then come out firing in the final 20 minutes to win 73-56. It wasn’t the prettiest win, but Michigan State shook off some rust and overcame some ice-cold shooting from deep to come out of exhibition play unscathed.

Tom Izzo used this game as a learning lesson for his team and while there were some shortcomings (depth, shooting), there were some positives as well.

1. Guard play was as advertised

There’s talk that Michigan State has the best backcourt in the Big Ten this year and that notion was only strengthened against Grand Valley. Both Tyson Walker and AJ Hoggard looked great on both ends of the floor and kind of controlled the game.

Hoggard finished with 14 points and five assists, making both 3-point attempts, and defensively he had five steals. He kind of picked up where he left off last year. Walker had 12 points, four assists, and six steals.

If these guys can combine for 20-plus points, 10 assists, and a handful of steals every game, the Spartans are going to be really tough to beat. Their combination of strong defense and solid offense was impressive.

Tre Holloman even looked comfortable at the point.

Keep in mind, Michigan State’s backcourt looked great even without Jaden Akins.

2. Mady Sissoko’s growth

All eyes were on Mady Sissoko as the game tipped off on Tuesday night. I know I was watching closely because I’ve been all in on the Mady hype train this offseason.

I think everyone was pleasantly surprised with his play and the fact that he avoided foul trouble was a major bonus. He finished the game with 11 points, six rebounds, and two blocks, and didn’t miss a single shot from the floor. Though he looked lost, at times, on the defensive end, he showed off some athleticism by making sure he didn’t give up any easy shots on a beat.

Sissoko looked much more polished against Grand Valley. But then again, it was Grand Valley.

3. New guys looked comfortable

We saw three newcomers playing against Grand Valley and it was the perfect opportunity for them to get their feet wet and get a taste of college hoops.

Holloman, as mentioned earlier, looked comfortable running the point. He was rocking the familiar No. 5 (hopefully this gets retired soon) with a headband and had the same calm demeanor with the ball in his hands. Tre had no problem hoisting up open shots, but he was off on those attempts. Still, I was impressed with him running the floor and the offense.

Jaxon Kohler was a little too jacked up in the first half and settled down in the second half. He made three nice-looking buckets and showed some energy. It felt like the team was feeding off his emotion.

Lastly, there was Carson Cooper who didn’t look as raw as I was expecting. He had himself a nice game, scoring a couple of points from the free throw stripe and he had an impressive block in the second half. Cooper looked strong and long out there.

Michigan State basketball will be back on the floor on Nov. 7 against Northern Arizona in East Lansing.

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.