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Preview: MSU begins NCAA Tournament with battle against Davidson

March 18, 2022
<p>Then-sophomore guard Foster Loyer (3) celebrates a three-pointer during the game against Western Michigan Dec. 29, 2019 at the Breslin Center. The Spartans defeated the Broncos, 95-62.</p>

Then-sophomore guard Foster Loyer (3) celebrates a three-pointer during the game against Western Michigan Dec. 29, 2019 at the Breslin Center. The Spartans defeated the Broncos, 95-62.

Photo by Matt Schmucker | The State News

As the First Four battles begin to kick off the 2022 NCAA tournament, Michigan State basketball is heading down to Greenville, South Carolina for its first-round matchup with Davidson (27-6) Friday night.

The Spartans earned a seven-seed in the tournament after finishing the season with a 22-12 record. MSU had a rocky finish to the regular season, going 3-7 over the last 10 games, but looked like a reinvigorated squad in the Big Ten Tournament. 

Michigan State went 2-1 at the Big Ten Tournament with a win over three-seeded Wisconsin before falling to three-seeded Purdue in the semifinals. It looked like a different team playing with newfound energy on both ends of the floor and now the team feels confident that they are primed to make a run in the NCAA tournament.

“I still think we took some really large steps for our team and we already watched film again so we already know we had to improve upon going into the tournament,” junior forward Malik Hall said Sunday. “So I'm just really excited for us and happy that we took some big steps.”

The biggest question surrounding Michigan State entering the game against Davidson is how much junior point guard Tyson Walker will play. Walker sprained his ankle in the first three minutes of the Purdue game and missed the entirety of the game. Izzo said on Thursday that Walker would play but said he is not at 100% 

His defensive chops and big shot ability can provide a huge lift to the Spartans if he can play his normal amount of minutes. If Walker cannot play much on his injured ankle, most of the point guard duties will fall on sophomore point guard A.J. Hoggard’s shoulders, as well as freshmen guards Jaden Akins and Max Christie.

Scouting the Opponent

Michigan State will have a lot on their plate with or without Walker going up against Davidson. The Wildcats dominated in the regular season and won the Atlantic 10 before falling in the conference tournament finals to Richmond. The loss didn’t burst Davidson’s bubble, showing the veracity of their resume this season.

The Wildcats are led by former MSU junior point guard Foster Loyer who transferred out of East Lansing this summer. Loyer landed softly in Davidson and leads the team with 16.6 points per game.

Despite the obvious storylines, Izzo has repeated there is much more to Davidson besides Loyer and has to prepare far beyond just his shooting prowess. 

“I'm not going to make this Foster Loyer-Tom Izzo (thing), I'm not,” Izzo said. “We got so many good players that deserve some credit.”

The strong season comes from its unique motion offense that has allowed Davidson to have the 11th-most efficient offense in the country according to KenPom, averaging 75.58 points per game. The team boasts four double-digit scorers, led by Loyer, and absolutely lights it up from behind the arc. Davidson ranks sixth in the country in three-point efficiency and has four shooters with a 40% clip or better from three on the season.

Big man senior forward Luka Brajkovic is a complete offensive player, averaging 14.2 points and 7.2 rebounds per game on 57.6%/40.7%/64.8% shooting splits, earning him Atlantic Player of the year for his deadly efficient season.

“He hasn't shot as good the last couple games, but he's capable of doing it so making sure we have a high hand,” junior center Julius Marble II said. “It's a little bit different than the last couple of bigs we played with Edey and Williams, we didn't have to really get up as much at the three-point line as we do with this guy.”

Korean-born Junior guard/forward Hyunjung Lee can also shoot the absolute cover off the ball (37.9%), earning the distinction as one of the best players ever from South Korea, Izzo said. Redshirt junior guard Michael Jones is the other double-digit scorer averaging 11.9 points per game.

“They got a 6'7 kid named Lee, who is supposedly one of the most talented Korean players that ever played according to people I talked to — a top 10 pick in the Atlantic,” Izzo said. “And as I said, they shoot it well and they turn it over few times.”

The talented and deadly Wildcat offense has prompted MSU to compare it to Big Ten tournament champion Iowa, whose fourth-ranked offense in the country shellacked the Spartans by 27 points on Feb 22. 

MSU takes on Davidson at 9:40 p.m. on Friday, March 18. The game will be televised on CBS.

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