Thursday, October 21, 2021

3 takeaways from Michigan State men's basketball's open practice

October 4, 2021
<p>The MSU basketball team gathers during a timeout in the Big Ten basketball tournament during a game against Maryland on March 11, 2020.</p>

The MSU basketball team gathers during a timeout in the Big Ten basketball tournament during a game against Maryland on March 11, 2020.

Photo by Alyte Katilius | The State News

As East Lansing was caught up in the hustle and bustle of Homecoming weekend, Michigan State men’s basketball took the floor on Saturday afternoon for an open practice. The occasion marked the first time fans could watch the Spartans in person since 2019.

MSU engaged in an intrasquad scrimmage that pitted half of the team against the other over the period of two 14-minute halves. With plenty of fresh faces and returners alike, the public got their first and only taste of a new lineup until the Spartans host Ferris State for an exhibition on Oct. 27.

Here are some takeaways from the practice:

Expect a higher level of play from the point guards this season

Michigan State had plenty of issues throughout their disappointing 2020 season but none was more frustrating than their point guard situation. Junior Foster Loyer and sophomores Rocket Watts and A.J. Hoggard all saw time at the position and routinely struggled to consistently produce, leading to Loyer and Watts to transfer to Davidson and Mississippi State respectively.

After Saturday’s practice, that all seems like a distant memory.

Junior transfer guard Tyson Walker II impressed in his first public action for the Spartans, displaying the vision and quickness of a true floor general that led to a number of high-level assists. Hoggard has clearly benefited from his first true offseason and looked far more comfortable with only a few passing miscues throughout the scrimmage. In addition, freshman guard Jaden Akins looked solid running the point and will surely get further opportunities to grow into the role.

The options are back and they’re as good as they can get.

Walker’s strong defense and experience at the position give him a greater chance to start but Hoggard’s improved play and form will earn him plenty of quality minutes throughout this season. There’s no clear-cut starter just yet and there doesn’t need to be this early in the season: the promise is there and it bodes well for the future of the position.

Max Christie can, and should, start

Freshman guard Max Christie certainly didn’t come to East Lansing without hype. Five-star recruits never fail to excite an ever-active MSU fanbase, but when Memphis freshman Emoni Bates was still in the mix for the Spartans, it still felt as if he was being slightly overshadowed. When Bates committed to Memphis in late August, Christie officially became the headliner for MSU’s highly-touted class of 2021, garnering high expectations to boot.

And while it’s only one practice, he looks as if he’s more than living up to them.

Christie dropped 20 points in the intrasquad scrimmage, showcasing a natural feel for the offense and few defensive lapses. His shooting, athleticism and length add a new dimension to a team that desperately could have used such production from a shooting guard last year—and now.

While he’s a true freshman, no aspect of Christie’s game is raw enough to warrant him starting the season on the bench. He’s more than capable of producing for this team at a high level and should be in the starting lineup for Michigan State’s season opener with Kansas on Nov. 9.

Marcus Bingham Jr. is taking the right steps forward

Senior forward Marcus Bingham Jr. has always had the frame to be a stellar big but his development has never been smooth sailing. His defense has typically been that of a starter and yet, his offensive production has never truly reflected his usage, even as he rounded into form down the stretch last season.

Saturday’s scrimmage showed otherwise. Bingham only racked up nine points but there were flashes of a more improved offensive approach, seemingly less forced and more aggressive. On Tuesday, Izzo noted he’s brought a greater focus to the game than any previous year.

If Bingham continues to refine his offensive game while retaining that aforementioned focus, there’s no doubt he could start and finally become the high-caliber big MSU needs to be successful this year. It’s a small sample size so far but it can go a long way to keep hopes for a big season for Bingham alive until the start of the season.

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