A solid if unexceptional season for Izzo and company. A tight loss to Gonzaga and tight win against Kentucky showed this team was good early, but they couldn’t really ever get a winning streak going. They were thin and struggled with injuries before finishing 11-8 in conference. That good for fourth, though they did cancel a game with Minnesota due to a shooting on campus that probably would have put them tied for second. In any event, that was good for a seven seed in the tourney, and they beat USC and Marquette before getting bounced in a banger of an OT game against Kansas State.
A short list here. Joey Hauser joined the AARP rec squad. Pierre Brooks transferred to Butler.
PG A.J. Hoggard, 6’4’’ 4th Year: Hoggard runs out at the top yet again. His assist rates have always been awesome, but he finally limited the turnovers and became more of a scorer. No reason to expect a drop off - he will attack the lane and dish with the best of them. He has risen his three point shooting every year - he hit 33% last year and his assignment this year will be to raise it even higher.
SG Tyson Walker, 6’1’’ 5th Year: Feel free to flip flop Walker and Hoggard, as MSU will run out two very experienced point guards. But Walker is the superior shooter, hitting 42% of his threes last season. He was also a very consistent scorer - he only had five games where he didn’t hit double digits in points. Expect more of the same this season.
SF Jaden Akins, 6’4’’ 3rd Year: Akins struggled with a foot injury early in the year and took a bit to to get integrated into the offense, but he is a sharpshooter and defender who can also (theoretically) get to the rim. His two point shooting was pretty rough last year and that will be where Akins can improve the most. He flirted with the NBA, and the good news is the NBA probably wants the same things MSU does, namely, stay healthy and show more efficiency at things besides shooting threes.
PF Malik Hall, 6’8’’ 5th Year: Hall also struggled a lot with injury last year and really never got going. At his best, he’s a solid scorer all the way out to the three point line who can also defend and rebound. He didn’t show much of any of that last year. He’s an important player for the Spartans as Joey Hauser leaves behind 339 shots that need to get replaced somewhere.
C Mady Sissoko, 6’10’’ 4th Year: Sissoko is probably in the shakiest position, as the Spartans have a non-freshman backup in Jaxon Kohler and a Superfrosh in Xavier Booker. Still, Sissoko is a very experienced center who will block shots and get rebounds and maybe dunk the ball. Cutting down on his turnovers is probably the key to him staying on the court. Giving him the ball is more of a black hole experience than a productive one, which frankly isn’t good enough for a fourth year player.
C Jaxon Kohler, 6’9’’ 2nd Year: Kohler has an opportunity to start or play a lot of minutes even with the competition, because he has some big man skills around the basket. Any sets that involve throwing the ball in the post may be better served by Kohler, even if he isn’t the defender Sissoko is nor does he get the NBA salivating.
PG Trejuan Holloman, 6’2’’ 2nd Year: Hey look, Yet Another Sparty Point Guard. This team is the anti-Illinois. Holloman got a few minutes a game last year and it is unclear if that will improve with Jeremy Fears on the team.
C Carson Cooper, 6’11’’ 2nd Year: Another second year guy and another big man, it’s tough to see Cooper getting many minutes. Stranger things have happened and he did show a bit of scoring when he did get in last season, but with the glut at center it feels like another developmental year for him.
F/C Xavier Booker, 6’10’’ Freshman: Even though the Spartans have a pretty experienced team, they also have a big time freshman class, led by the five star frosh Booker. While he’s big enough to be a center, the NBA looks at him more as a wing because he can shoot and defend away from the basket. That makes him a pretty good swiss army knife for Izzo who can bring him in at multiple positions.
PG Jeremy Fears, 6’1’’ Freshman: Hey, it’s Yet Another Spartan Point Guard. Fears was a top 35 recruit and comes with the reputation of a true point guard who can shoot with the best of them. He figures to get consistent minutes off the bench.
PF Coen Carr, 6’7” Freshman: A top fifty recruit, Carr comes with the reputation of being a Big Time Athlete who Jumps Out of the Gym. Can he play basketball? That’s a different question, though he seems like a guy who will bring energy and defense this season.
A Conversation With Our Writers
MaximumSam: It’s Sparty Time. What are we thinking?
BoilerUp89: MSU is getting a lot of credit for beating Marquette in the NCAA tournament last year (and rightfully so - none of the rest of our teams made the Sweet 16). Let’s remember though that last year’s Marquette team was a good matchup for MSU. The Golden Eagles also played small ball and couldn’t punish MSU in the paint or on the boards.
Sparty has supremely talented guards and wings with a lot of experience. Great incoming recruits. Probably going to be my pick to win the conference regular season - I’ve gone back and forth but I think MSU has the easier conference schedule. But I have some concerns about their post play. While I think Xavier Booker has tremendous upside, I’m not sure it all clicks this season. I think he’s more of perimeter based big this year and while that’s going to get him drafted, I’m not sure he will have enough strength down low in the trenches to win battles against more experienced and stronger upperclassmen centers. The other option is Sissoko and he’s never been a top-notch scorer and has issues with foul trouble. When the Spartans have an off-shooting night from the perimeter they could struggle to score easy buckets in the paint against teams that have a rim protector type. I think that will ultimately cost them in March unless Sissoko takes a step forward or Booker is even better than projected.
But I’m getting ahead of myself talking about March. Before then, Izzo has a really good roster to work with. Hoggard, Akins, and Walker have all performed at a high level and I’m still waiting for Malik Hall to have his breakout season after predicting it the past two years.
MaximumSam: I don’t think you are getting ahead of yourself. I have almost the exact opposite take. This team may struggle at times in the conference slog, but this team is built for March. Two experienced point guards who can score, surrounded by shooters, and plenty of options off the bench.
My theory of March basketball is that coaching is overrated and players who handle the ball run your team. Izzo schedule himself a nice Hawaii vacation during the tournament and this team will still be an extremely tough out because the people with the ball know what to do with it.