Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Why MSU men's basketball's depth will key success going forward

December 7, 2020
Junior forward Gabe Brown (44) and his Spartan teammates anticipate a three-pointer from Aaron Henry and start cheering in the second half of the game. The Spartans came back in the second half to end the game against the Broncos 79-61 on Dec. 6, 2020.
Junior forward Gabe Brown (44) and his Spartan teammates anticipate a three-pointer from Aaron Henry and start cheering in the second half of the game. The Spartans came back in the second half to end the game against the Broncos 79-61 on Dec. 6, 2020. —
Photo by Lauren DeMay | The State News

In the five MSU men's basketball games this season, I’ve featured two athletes that I hadn’t written about before. 

It was Joey Hauser against Notre Dame.

It was Julius Marble against Duke.

And Sunday, in MSU’s 79-61 victory over Western Michigan, it could be any number of Spartans. 

You could highlight Hauser’s hot shooting night from deep that separated MSU from the Broncos and brought him a career-high 24 total points. Or one could focus on sophomore guard Rocket Watts and his growing control at the point position. His 10 points and six assists are a stat you probably wouldn’t have seen in his freshman year debut. 

But perhaps Sunday, it was the deep Spartan roster that truly made the difference. 

“The depth is good because we don’t have enough guys that have raised above it, but we’ve got a lot of guys that are very good players,” Izzo said. “You’re going to see more out of A.J. Hoggard, you’re going to see more out of Julius Marble."

In five games, head coach Tom Izzo has gone with a different group of starters five times.

Junior forward Aaron Henry seemed to be a shoo-in, however, Izzo took him out of the starting lineup against WMU after showing up late to a team meeting on Saturday. 

“It’s different around here, we hold people accountable and that’s something that he’s (Izzo’s) been doing since I got here,” Henry said of the situation. “I didn’t expect anything less, he told me I wasn’t starting (and) it wasn’t a big deal at all … I’m cheering the guys from the bench to start the game, that’s all it was.”

Izzo echoed the sense of accountability that he instills into his athletes. He said Henry arrived at one meeting right on time, where he gave him a warning that if he were to be late there would be consequences, which inevitably is what happened. 

“There has to be some discipline and accountability,” Izzo said. “Our society has zero and our programs don’t allow to have as many because people fear that everybody will transfer if you tell them something ... I love the way Aaron handled it.”

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So, in pure 2020 fashion, the team was forced to adjust. Junior forward Gabe Brown saw his second start of the season alongside guard Joshua Langford — who sat out the previous game to rest a sore knee — Thomas Kithier, Watts and Hauser. 

The starting five contributed 53 of the Spartan's points and the other 26 came from the bench, which was led by Henry and junior forward Marcus Bingham Jr.

Western Michigan had just four bench points.

“It’s another game where our bench scoring we must be averaging 25-28 points off the bench and those assists, that tells you that we’re sharing the ball," Izzo said.

Bench production has become a trend for the green and white.

The Spartans have outscored their opponents from the bench in each game, with the exception of Duke because the stats were not available, this season. Against Detroit Mercy the Spartans had 20 while the Titans had four, against Notre Dame MSU had 39 while Notre Dame had six and against Eastern Michigan, the margin sat at 30-12 for the bench scoring.

It plays a role in the Spartans assist categories too. As Izzo stated postgame, against Western Michigan the Spartans tallied 28 assists, the most they have all season, making things like Watts's performance at the point guard spot more efficient since he can confidently share on each offensive possession.

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“I just try to come out and just feed my guys, give them the ball because when everybody else eats it feels good," Watts said.

Fourteen of MSU's fifteen person roster saw the court against WMU, and many of them gathering significant minutes as well. Freshman guard A.J. Hoggard and Marble both saw seven minutes while freshman center Mady Sissoko saw three of his own.

“It’s important, guys get a chance to play and we got to rest some guys as well, so coach gets a variety of people to see what we need to get better at and what we need to do for the players that don’t play as much in other games,” Henry said. “Everybody got to play today I feel like and everybody got to be evaluated and that will be done for sure tomorrow on film.”

As many other things are at this point in the season, managing the team depth and unlocking the secrets to that perfect matchup is still in the works. Izzo said that it may put more pressure on him and the coaching staff to distribute minutes and evaluate their athletes, but in the end, it’ll pay off.

“I think our depth is one of the things that really is going to make us good and hopefully really good as time goes on,” Izzo said. “It’s a little more stressful on me and Dwayne Stephens working on how to manage the minutes, little more stressful but I think it’s going to pay great dividends in the end.”

Depth is key in a weird year. For MSU, it's been an obvious factor in the Spartans' early-season success.

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