Sunday, October 17, 2021

What transfers, incoming class means for the 2021-22 men's hoops squad

April 1, 2021
<p>Junior guard Aaron Henry shoots a contested layup on March 2, 2021. Henry had an all-around performance with 22 points, eight rebounds and five assists in the Spartan victory against the Hoosiers.</p>

Junior guard Aaron Henry shoots a contested layup on March 2, 2021. Henry had an all-around performance with 22 points, eight rebounds and five assists in the Spartan victory against the Hoosiers.

Photo by Devin Anderson-Torrez | The State News

In February, with his team struggling, MSU men’s basketball head coach Tom Izzo said his athletes were up for “audition.” 

“You’ve got to see progress or there’s going to be changes,” Izzo said that day. “That’s the way it is in this world.”

Izzo continued. 

“A scholarship is a two-way street. We have an obligation to you. You have an obligation to us.”

Now, roughly a month later, those changes are coming to life. The college basketball season has yet to conclude on the NCAA Tournament level, but in East Lansing, Michigan State men’s basketball is in full offseason roster shake-up mode. Technically, this all started the night MSU fell to UCLA in the First Four round of the NCAA Tournament. Graduate student guard Joshua Langford confirmed he would not be returning to the Spartans, despite an additional year of eligibility. 

Then, on March 24, redshirt junior guard Jack Hoiberg entered the transfer portal. Hoiberg walked-on to the team in 2017 but played on scholarship during the 2020-21 campaign as Xavier Tillman’s scholarship opened up when he departed for the NBA. 

On March 27, Northeastern guard Tyson Walker announced his decision to transfer to Michigan State. Then, two days later, sophomore guard Rocket Watts announced his decision to transfer from Michigan State.

So, what do these changes, which may not be done yet, mean for Michigan State’s 2021-22 campaign?

The scholarship juggle

Before the transfer portal and postseason chaos ensued, Izzo’s 2021-22 scholarship chart was top-heavy. The entering freshman class of Pierre Brooks, Max Christie and Jaden Akins put the scholarship total at 14, one over the NCAA limit of 13. 

Even with Watts departing, the Spartans remain at that spot due to the addition of Walker from the portal. Additionally, that’s assuming five-star recruit Emoni Bates does not reclassify to join MSU next season. 

The extra spot seems to assume that Aaron Henry will depart for the NBA, a move many see as probable after he originally explored NBA potential during the last offseason. However, nothing is confirmed from Henry and despite his stand-out year on the personal level, his junior campaign as a whole might not have been the one he had hoped for when he returned. 

If Henry stays, someone else could be a probable transfer portal candidate.

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With the roster now, what could MSU’s rotation look like in 2021-22?

Last season, MSU entered the season with a question mark at the point guard spot and three eligible athletes fighting for the spot. This upcoming season may look similar.

It’s assumed that Walker, the 6-foot, Northeastern transfer will take on MSU’s point guard role, but he won’t be alone competing for that spot in the offseason. Future senior Foster Loyer, sophomore AJ Hoggard and freshman Jaden Akins will join him with the latter probably being the second-best candidate for the starting spot.

Loyer’s status is questionable given his season-ending shoulder surgery in February.

Hoggard, on the other hand, stepped up as a freshman at the point in multiple instances for MSU while Watts transitioned to shooting guard and Loyer played primarily off the bench.  

In late December, Hoggard looked like he could be the guy but freshman growing pains came naturally as the season progressed. Before the addition of Walker, Hoggard’s offseason development looked like it could be key, but Walker will join the Spartans with three years of eligibility remaining and two years already under his belt. Walker is known for his court vision, which MSU is hungry for and he will likely take on the starting point guard role for the Spartans.

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Even with the Spartans returning players, MSU will have a senior-heavy roster in 2021-22, which differs from its layout last season. Thomas Kithier, Loyer, Gabe Brown, Marcus Bingham, Joey Hauser and, as of now, Aaron Henry mark the largest class on the Spartan roster and will bring veteran knowledge to the court.

Brown and Bingham ended the 2020-21 season on the highest of notes and they'll likely take on larger roles should their developments continue in the offseason.

This veteran knowledge, paired with an all-star freshman class should bring back balance to Izzo's squad.

Although the changes may not be done, MSU's squad will look different entering next season. They'll debut in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament Nov. 24-26.

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