Thursday, December 2, 2021

2021-22 Michigan State men's basketball season outlook

November 8, 2021
<p>Sophomore guard A.J. Hoggard (11) flies up to the net to score against Grand Valley in the second half. The Spartans beat the Lakers, 83-60, in a home exhibition game on Nov. 4, 2021.</p>

Sophomore guard A.J. Hoggard (11) flies up to the net to score against Grand Valley in the second half. The Spartans beat the Lakers, 83-60, in a home exhibition game on Nov. 4, 2021.

Photo by Lauren DeMay | The State News

Michigan State athletics are powering through their campaigns with one thing in mind: Victory. MSU's surging football program has been chopping away at its opponents, leading the pack and the Spartan name for the last two months.

But it's time for Michigan State Head Coach Mel Tucker to step aside and make room, because MSU Men's basketball Head Coach Tom Izzo and the always reliable men's basketball team is back and better than ever.

Last season, the Spartans finished 15-13 overall, 9-11 in the Big Ten. They fell 68-57 to Maryland in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament and 86-80 to UCLA in the First Four of the NCAA Tournament.

This season, they're ready to change that narrative and The State News is here to bring you along every step of that journey. Below is your guide to everything men's basketball, from a refresher on the schedule to getting to know the new faces on the roster.

The schedule

After easily sweeping Ferris 92-58 and Grand Valley 83-60 in their season opening exhibition matches, MSU is flying to New York City for the 11th annual State Farm Champions Classic, where they will face off with Kansas for the first time since 2018. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Madison Square Garden on ESPN.

MSU is rounding out its in-state rivalry play with matchups against Western Michigan and Eastern Michigan on Nov. 12 and Nov. 20.

Between and after that, however, are the Gavitt Games against Butler on Nov. 17, the Battle 4 Atlantis against Loyola Chicago on Nov. 24 and the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Dec. 1 against Louisville.

Depending on how they do the first day in Nassau, they could go on to play any of the following opponents Nov. 25 and 26: Auburn, UConn, Arizona State, Baylor, Syracuse and VCU.

They will open conference play earlier than the rest of the Big Ten schools, meeting Minnesota first on Dec. 8 and Penn State on Dec. 11. At the same time, they will be capping off non-conference play with matches against Toledo (Dec. 4), Oakland (Dec. 21) and High Point (Dec. 29).

Throughout January and February, the team will bounce between its 13 conference counterparts, collecting wins and losses in preparation for what Spartan fans everywhere have deemed Izzo's month: March Madness.

The roster

Over the summer, MSU lost four of its five top scorers — Aaron Henry to the NBA Draft, Rocket Watts to Mississippi State, Foster Loyer to Davidson and Thomas Kithier to Valparaiso.

This left senior forward Gabe Brown to ultimately figure it out on his own and corral the rookies in preparation to takeover once he says goodbye. Brown, along with junior forward Malik Hall, will serve as captains.

The team this year has a solid amount of both upper and lower classmen, with four freshman, three sophomores, four juniors, four seniors and one graduate student.

While Izzo is still working on the true starting lineup, he's already got a pretty clear idea of seven who will make up their ideal nine-to-10-man rotation.

“The X-factors are Joey [Hauser] and Malik [Hall], because I think I'm trying to play Malik at two positions. I could bring him off the bench, I could not,” he said after practice on Nov. 3.

Max Christie scored a total of 31 points between Ferris and Grand Valley and he's proving early that he could be the go-to scorer as the season wears on. One of the only problems noticed, however, is that the freshman guard gets too down on himself when he knows he's failed at something he can do.

Izzo said sophomore center Mady Sissoko is doing really good things for the team in terms of his progress made and, between him and junior center Julius Marble II, they are going to have two big guys to sub in for senior center Marcus Bingham Jr. when needed that bring different skill to the table — one's a shot-clocker and one's stronger.

Izzo said his trust in Bingham Jr. as a whole is growing and he's proud of the way the senior forward's mental approach has evolved. He's excelling in school and at basketball and, while he's not there weight wise, he did grow an inch over the summer to break 7-foot and his physical condition has improved — he doesn't look as drained as he used to.

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Junior guard Tyson Walker has a lot of intangibles and does a lot of things for the Spartans that don't show up in the scorebook. The junior guard had six assists, no turnovers and four steals against Grand Valley State. Even though he's not that big and doesn't have a wingspan like Bingham Jr., he gets his hands on the ball and can drive the opponent nuts.

Preseason prediction

Like I said earlier, the Spartans have a good mix of young and old talent. But, with the number of matchups that are “bigger-named” and with schools that have matching portfolios of historic talent, I would not be surprised to see a steady stream of wins to losses before 2022.

Especially because the Spartans have opened the season by displaying poor free throwing, racking up too many turnovers and the point guards aren't running the team or communicating as they should, Izzo said after the exhibition game with Grand Valley.

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