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Big Ten Basketball Previews: Michigan State

Old God Almost Dead?

NCAA Basketball Tournament - East Regional - Washington DC - Practice Sessions
Izzo glowers at a ball, stopping it in midair
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2022 In Review

Going back to 2021, Sparty had suffered their first losing record in the conference under Tom Izzo. Things didn’t meaningfully improve in 2022. After a a promising start, they waded though an inconsistent 11-9 B1G season, then flamed out in the second round of the tourney against Duke. Not a memorable season or pair of seasons, given MSU’s history.

Then they suffered a lot of attrition. Max Christie, the highly regarded five star freshman, left to get drafted in the second round by the Lakers. Starters Gabe Brown and Marcus Bingham moved on as well. Julius Marable decided to transfer to Texas A&M. Who is back? Just seven guys plus three true freshmen. Read on to see what Izzo has in store this year.


PG A.J. Hoggard, 6’4’’ Junior: Hoggard emerged last season as a strong option at the point. He showed a real knack for attacking the basket and getting to the line or dishing it off - his assist rate was a special 46%. What he hasn’t shown is much knack for shooting straight - his free throws and three point shooting were pretty rough. He needs to improve at least the free throw shooting - it’s no good to be able to get to the line if he can’t make foul shots.

PG Tyson Walker, 6’0’’ Senior: Tyson Walker transferred from Northeastern a year ago to run the point, but he ended up coming off the bench several times as A.J. Hoggard emerged. Walker wasn’t bad by any means, though, and was a strong defender and outside shooter, hitting 47% from three. His two point percentage was pretty poor at 41%, so pumping that up would go a long way to making him a dangerous scorer. While Hoggard will almost certainly start, I’m guessing Izzo will start Walker as well, or at least play him heavy minutes off the bench.

SF Malik Hall, 6’8’’ Senior: Sparty would love to see Hall realize his potential and be a bigtime wing. He’s actually the only Spartan on the Preseason B1G team. His numbers last year were all fine, good actually. His slash line of 55/43/69 is pretty strong, and he can defend and rebound. Still, he usually came off the bench last season and had more than a couple games where you would barely notice he was on the court. Given the lack of depth here, he’s an assured starter who will play a ton of minutes. He won’t be able to have those kinds of performances if MSU wants to contend in the conference.

PF Joey Hauser, 6’9’’ Senior: Hauser returns and at this point we have a pretty good handle on what he is, which is a dangerous spot up shooter from the four or five who will give you a bit of rebounding and want to on defense but is challenged athletically. Given Sparty’s shortage of bigs, he will probably log some time at center. If he can hold up defensively, he gives them a lot of options on offense.

C Mady Sissoko, 6’9’’ Junior: Sissoko is the biggest question mark on the team. He played pretty limited minutes his first two years and was almost a complete nonfactor offensively. He has shown athleticism and shot blocking on defense, traits that made him a top fifty recruit a couple years ago, but hasn’t shown much improvement. Behind him, Izzo is lacking options and may be forced to use freshmen heavily, and you know how I feel about freshmen.


SG Jaden Akins, 6’4’’ Sophomore: Akins is a candidate to start this year instead of Walker, and as a freshman he came off the bench and provided some strong defense and some pop from outside (38% from three). He did have a recent foot surgery, and as far as I can tell won’t be ready to start the season. Assuming he gets healthy, he figures to play a lot of minutes and provides another good option at guard.

G/F Pierre Brooks, 6’6’’ Sophomore: Brooks came in as another highly ranked recruit who came in with Akins last year, but his experience was mostly limited to garbage time. His profile remains the same - he has a good looking shot and is big enough to bully his way to the basket. He was a bit out of shape last season, but apparently got on Weight Watchers this year and figures to be a big part on the wing rotation.

PF Jaxon Kohler, 6’10’’ Freshman: Kohler was Sparty’s top ranked recruit this season, and profiles as sort of a shorter Hunter Dickinson, as he is a natural in the post but probably doesn’t move that well defensively. He could get some big minutes this year given the dearth of options up front. His nickname is “Baby Jokic” due to his offensive skills, so could we see him battling the real Dickinson this year? Maybe...

PG Tre Holloman, 6’3’’ Freshman: Holloman is the second member of the class, another top 100 recruit, and another lead guard prospect for Izzo. It’s unlikely he plays a ton this season given the guards in front of him, but with Akins’ injury he may get some early time. He profiles as a willing defender and natural point guard who needs to improve his shot.

C Carson Cooper, 6’10’’ Freshman: The final member of the freshman class and the One Least Likely to Play, Cooper is a bit of an odd recruit. He reclassified from the 2023 class, and doesn’t have a rating on 247. He picked MSU over Vermont and Eastern Michigan. All indications are that he plans to redshirt this season, though that could change if anyone ahead of him gets injured. Izzo made the controversial choice to not explore the transfer portal to fill out the team, so these ten guys are what he has.


Green Akers: Confidence seems to be building in the MSU fandom and media about this team’s potential, but I suspect that is bleed over from a surprisingly excellent recruiting off-season. I still expect this to be something like a 5th place conference finish season, which is ok with me as long as the main pieces with more than a year left like AJ Hoggard and Jaden Akins develop into a core that can contend for everything in ‘23 with an injection of fantastic incoming talent.

They’ll be at least very good and potentially great at the guard spots, and for all I’ve ragged on him in the past, Joey Hauser’s redemption arc sounds like it’s on track. Center is going to be an adventure though, even if the league isn’t as prolific there as it usually is. MSU needs a quantum leap from Mady Sissoko if they want to contain guys like Edey, Jackson-Davis, and Dickinson. Plenty of team sources are bullish on freshman big Jaxon Kohler, so we’ll see if he’s able to give MSU a functional tandem down low.

They’ll know their ceiling pretty early, as even by Tom Izzo standards this noncon schedule is ungodly difficult. After one tune-up, they play #2 Gonzaga on an aircraft carrier, then #4 Kentucky in the Champions Classic, then #16 Villanova in the Gavitt games, then off to the Phil Knight Invitational for #20 Alabama followed by either UConn or Oregon, then a trip to Notre Dame for B1G/ACC before the first two games of league play. MSU could easily lose 5 games before the calendar turns to December and still turn out to be decent.

BoilerUp89: I expect a return trip to the NCAA tournament and them to be competitive in the B1G. Would like to see Malik Hall finally take that next step but after predicting it last year I’m not going to do it again this year. As long as Sparty’s noncon doesn’t kill them (in terms of confidence or taking too many early losses so that a 10-10 or 11-9 B1G record is still 16 losses overall), it should pay off.

MaximumSam: This is probably the toughest prediction yet. One hand, this team has 10 scholarship players, three of whom are freshman, and it’s unclear if Cooper can play at this level at all this year. They are relying on a couple guys for heavy minutes who barely played last season. They weren’t that great last season, and lost a tremendous amount of production. There are a lot of reasons to doubt this team.

Still, I look around the league and see a big hole at guard. Only a few teams have proven lead guards, and Michigan State can play two. They will have to thread the needle on a few things (Sissoko and Brooks being able to play, Akins getting healthy), but there are ingredients here for a strong team. I went from doubting them to thinking they have a shot at a top four finish after looking at the roster, and I’m predicting they will contend for the title and be in that top group.

Other Takes

BTPowerhouse: Michigan State is a tough team to peg. There is plenty of talent, but little depth. The Big Ten is looking to be down overall this year, so that should help cushion a rough non-conference schedule record in terms of March hopes. At the end of the day, though, a losing record in the non-conference is entirely plausible looking at that schedule. Despite the tough schedule, even in conference play, this team can make it difficult for everyone if playing at full potential. A few upsets in the non-conference and a strong showing in league play should all but ensure Michigan State is once again dancing come March. If anyone expects this squad to win a Big Ten title, though, they are wearing the greenest shade of glasses when making that prediction.

Inside the Hall: Michigan State has been an average team the last two seasons and the Spartans still lack the high-end talent that Izzo’s best teams have possessed. However, the league lost a lot in the offseason and is wide open. Izzo has a track record of getting the most out of his teams and in Hoggard, Walker, Hauser, Hall and Akins, he has some pieces to work with. Michigan State doesn’t have a go-to scorer and will need someone to step up and demand the ball in key situations. It would be a surprise to see Michigan State win the Big Ten, but the Spartans should be in the second tier of teams competing for a conference tournament bye.

Daily Hoosier: Izzo is just 38-26 over the last two years overall, and just .500 (20-20) in league play. He is thought of by some as one of the last coaches who resembles the more authoritarian Knight style, and that’s an approach even Mike Woodson knows won’t work in today’s game. Add in the transfer portal and NIL, along with the fact that Izzo is 67, and it seems at least plausible that we’ve seen the end of dominant MSU under his guidance.