Michigan State women’s basketball is looking to build off of a strong 2020-21 campaign that saw them reach the NCAA Tournament and fall to Iowa State in the first round.
Michigan State Women's Basketball Head Coach Suzy Merchant brings back nearly everyone from last year’s squad including star senior point guard Nia Clouden and her backcourt partner junior guard Alyza Winston to lead the squad.
Before they open their season versus Morehead State Tuesday night, here are three things that will determine the Spartans’ season in 2021-22.
Growth from Alyza Winston
Winston at times was Robin to Clouden’s Batman. At times though, Winston was absent from Gotham entirely.
For Winston, effort is certainly not an issue. The junior guard from Muskegon is one of the peskiest defenders in the league and is always the fastest player when she takes the court with the ball in her hands. Winston’s ability to shoot makes her even more lethal with her ability to drive and convert at the rim or kick out to an open shooter.
Winston's problem a year ago was hesitancy in the offensive side of the ball. Battling taking good shots while also being aggressive was a challenge all season long for Winston.
Against Iowa State, Winston took the blame for the loss with missed shots down the stretch. This has seemingly pushed her this off-season in the weight room and by putting up shots at the gym.
If Winston can be that consistent 15 to 20 points per game scorer alongside Clouden, this might be the best backcourt in the nation.
“I think her focus really has to be consistent,” Merchant said. “Great players are consistent. Are you going to have a night where you’re a little bit off? Of course, everybody does. But I think you look at Nia, Tory (Ozment), kids that have been very good players. Caitlin Clark, she’s consistent. Ali Patberg, she’s consistent. You never have a high or a low. You may have a great game and maybe a not so good one, but the drop isn’t there. I think for Alyza, she was disappointed in herself at times when she wasn’t as consistent for us.”
Even though the team brings back a lot of familiar faces, there are five new one, six including transfers, looking to make an impact right away.
Freshman guard DeeDee Hagemann is the highest profile one coming into East Lansing. A top-20 recruit out of high school, Hagemann will be yet another MSU guard that will cause teams headaches this season. Hagemann is an extremely talented offensive guard that can beat you in many ways whether it’s off the dribble, from the three point line or dishing it to an open shooter.
While she will be behind Clouden and Winston in the rotation, we saw how much playing time Janai Crooms had a year ago. Expect Hagemann to play a lot of minutes this season.
“She’s a pass-first, tremendous facilitator, great energy, she knows how to play the game and is a winner," Merchant said. "She’s won multiple state championships and probably would have walked away with four of them had COVID not hit us. She brings an air of confidence, sees the game, plays the game and has a high IQ. Adding her into the mix with what we already have with some of the other kids and I think our depth is definitely going to be a strength.”
The biggest factor for the Spartans will be who will emerge at the power forward position with the losses of junior forward Julia Ayrault (torn ligament in foot) and senior forward Tory Ozment (ACL) out for the season.
Junior Moira Joiner will likely fill the gap at times, but Joiner is much more of a guard than a forward. This will open room for freshman Isaline Alexander, Lauren Walker and Brooklyn Rewers to fill minutes throughout the season and it will be crucial one of them steps up to the plate to fill the rotation.
Freshman guard Matilda Ekh has also finally arrived from Sweden and is as advertised from Merchant as she has already inserted herself into the starting lineup as a three and D wing.
These freshmen weren’t expected to play right away, but they’re now going to be a crucial part of the equation for this team.
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An interesting position for the Spartans will be the center spot that will see junior Taiyier Parks and graduate student Alisia Smith likely split time, with each of them bringing their own unique playstyle to the floor.
Parks is a physically dominant basketball player that requires double teams every time she touches the ball. For Parks to make the next step, she will need to improve on passing out of double teams to the open player and stay out of foul trouble. In addition, Parks is an intimidating shot blocker when in position, but Parks can oftentimes be in the wrong place at the wrong time, allowing an easy bucket.
Smith is the finesse big for the Spartans who is crafty around the basket and can also stretch the floor with a reliable midrange jumper. Smith is also phenomenal running in transition to get the easy bucket.
Smith’s issue is staying out of foul trouble as well and with limited depth, it will be crucial for both to make strides in their game as well as stay healthy and out on the floor instead of on the bench with fouls.
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