For most of the 2020-21 season, Michigan State struggled to play up to the expectations that Michigan State Head Coach Tom Izzo has for his Michigan State basketball teams. Izzo said the team struggled to play with toughness which undermined the team’s defensive and rebounding efforts all year.
“When you get stronger you automatically get tougher,” Izzo said. “We weren't the toughest team in America last year. We did not rebound like our teams, we did not defend like our team.”
Izzo said the lack of toughness from top to bottom in last year’s team undermined the team’s efforts to be sound defensively and rebound aggressively. MSU ranked 10th in the Big Ten in points allowed (71.1) and maintained a +3.2 rebounding margin for 2020-21.
The work to improve defensively and on the boards began in May in the weight room, Izzo said. The team met every day over the summer at 7:15 a.m. to lift together. Izzo said it was the most dedicated effort from a team to the weight room over the offseason during his 26-year tenure at MSU.
The players pushed to reshape their bodies and reach a level of fitness to return to Michigan State’s ideal playing style; hard-nosed defense and a swift transition offense. Last season saw regressions in both as MSU struggled to find the right personnel and deal with the pandemic, but MSU is looking to get back on track this year through the weight room.
The early-morning lifts were led by senior forward Marcus Bingham Jr, according to Izzo. After spending the first three years of his career in and out of the lineup due to strength issues, Bingham took it upon himself to hype the team up in the weight room.
“Every coach was there every day from me to Matt McQuaid,” Izzo said. “The energy in that weight room and believe it or not, Marcus Bingham led. He went up incredibly in his strength, in his lifting.”
Bingham said he wanted to step up as a leader this summer to avoid the letdown of last year for his final year at Michigan State. Even though he was not named a captain of the team, Bingham took on the vocal role in the morning workouts this offseason.
“I didn't want to be like I was last year,” Bingham said. “I'm a senior now and there's no time for games. I have no room to play around. I just had that in the back of my head all summer and stuff like that, just cheering everyone else on because I know what coach wants out of me and I know what he wants out of this team this year.”
The combined weight room and nutritional focus this offseason has led to dramatic transformations in the players’ weight and athletic performance across the board. The players have lost or added weight to become quicker and stronger and help fix Michigan State’s issues on both ends of the court.
Sophomore point guard AJ Hoggard lost 20 pounds and looks much quicker according to Izzo. Bingham and junior forward Julius Marble have added some weight and strength to anchor the defense. Freshman guard Max Christie has added five pounds since arriving on campus and freshman guard Pierre Brooks is working quickly to shave some weight.
“I think it's going to pay big dividends for us,” Izzo said. “We had to get better defensively. It's one of the worst defensive teams I've had. We had to get better rebounding the ball and we've gone back to doing the things that we needed to do, should do and can do. Hopefully that’ll benefit us.”
The constitution of Michigan State basketball has been getting stops consistently through a rigid interior defense. The stops lead to rebounding opportunities which then lead to chances in transition. The simple yet effective blueprint broke down for MSU last year because it could not get stops, especially inside.
The push this offseason has been to return to that brand of basketball again. The work started in the weight room to reinstall a toughness in the team that was absent last year.
“I think it's the mental approach of not letting anybody push us around or not being pushed over in a sense,” Junior forward Malik Hall said. “I think we've done a lot of that mental training too, on the aspect of where we don't want to get outworked and we don't want to get outplayed so that's just how we're gonna approach it.”
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