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Notebook: An inside look at MSU basketball's upcoming season following first practice

September 27, 2022
<p>Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo argues with a referee during the Spartans 80-69 loss to the Buckeyes on Mar. 3, 2022.</p>

Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo argues with a referee during the Spartans 80-69 loss to the Buckeyes on Mar. 3, 2022.

Back in March, Michigan State basketball faced an all too familiar opponent – the Duke Blue Devils – in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. With the opportunity to defeat its blue blood rival and start long-time Duke Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s retirement early, the Spartans fell short and left Greenville with a season-ending loss. 

But that was then, and this is now. 

Fast forward six months, MSU Head Coach Tom Izzo is standing behind the podium at the Breslin Center prior to the Spartans’ first practice of the 2022-23 season, addressing media members with a smile, eager to take on year 28 with the team.

Here are six things to note before the start of the MSU men’s basketball 2022-23 season:

An 'insane' schedule of big non-conference games

Izzo said the upcoming season schedule will be one of the toughest MSU has faced during his time as head coach. 

“It’s kind of got insane,” Izzo said. “I thought it was a tough schedule, and then late we added Gonzaga.”

Although it will be a challenge, Izzo said all the games will be “very good,” specifically the aircraft carrier game against Gonzaga, the Phil Knight invitational, the Champions Classic meeting with Kentucky, and matchups with Villanova and Notre Dame.

“As our players who were here for the reunion two weeks ago said, ‘that's why you come’ (to MSU),” Izzo said.

Izzo said although the aircraft carrier game in San Diego added to an already difficult schedule, he couldn’t pass it up.

“The aircraft carrier is Michigan State,” Izzo said. “I wasn’t gonna let somebody else steal it.”

MSU's roster is small, but versatile

With only 14 players on the roster, MSU has one of the smallest teams of Izzo’s career. Despite its size, Izzo said he likes the group he has, rather than tapping deep into the transfer portal. 

“We made a choice, and the choice was stick with the people we got and try to develop them,” Izzo said. “Try to keep the homegrown guys, understanding that some of these guys are ready for breakout years.”

Key returning squad members are graduate forward Joey Hauser, senior guard Tyson Walker, senior forward Malik Hall, junior center Mady Sissoko, junior guard A.J. Hoggard, junior guard Davis Smith, sophomore guard Jaden Akins and sophomore guard Pierre Brooks.

Izzo said Hoggard is one of the players ready for a “breakout year,” but Hauser, Hall, Walker and Akins all had “good summers.”

The Spartans picked up a few new faces in the off-season as well: Western Michigan transfer graduate guard Jason Whitens and four freshmen, including center Carson Cooper. 

After essentially “starting over” at the center position after last season, Izzo said Sissoko got “bigger” and “stronger” over the summer as well.

“Sissoko’s gotten much, much better with his post moves, free throw shooting,” Izzo said. “He's making great strides, … He's done a hell of a job this summer, and hopefully that turns into the things we need.”

Izzo said Cooper – who stands at 6’11" – is “better” than the coaches originally thought. 

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“We were gonna redshirt him to develop him and see what happens,” Izzo said. “He's not had a chip on his shoulder. He knew we were honest with him coming in, he was honest with us. This has been kind of a neat deal and he's progressed.”

Updates on injuries

Following Akins’ recent foot surgery, Izzo said he is still expected to make a full recovery and should return about a week or two before the first game. 

“Of all the people that will stay in shape, It'll be him, so I'm not worried about that,” Izzo said. “We’re not going to put him out there early and jeopardize his season … but I don’t see that as an issue right now.”

Izzo said Hall suffered a toe injury recently and will miss practice for a week to a week and a half.

“It's not a crack, it's like a chip,” Izzo said. “That's not anything of a crisis but he will not be practicing for a while and more like they said it's not as bad as turf toe, so I guess that's good news.”

Player mental health, social media and gambling

Izzo has been vocal in the past about his disdain for social media, specifically Twitter, and said mental illness continues to be a growing problem in the world of collegiate athletics due to the hate players receive online. He said he will defend his team from criticism it receives during the season. 

“There will be protection from me for my guys,” Izzo said. “We're gonna make our guys mentally tougher or we'll make them physically tougher, and we're going to stick together like nobody's tomorrow, through thick and thin.”

In addition to hate comments on social media, Izzo said the legalization and popularization of sports betting is a problem.

“This is about how people are treated and how they're handled,” Izzo said. “When we're to the point where even winning isn't good enough, but (rather) how much you win by, that's insanity.”

Adjustments to the coaching staff

With the retirement of Izzo’s long-time assistant, college teammate and friend Mike Garland, and assistant Dwayne Stephens becoming head coach at Western Michigan, there have been some coaching staff adjustments since last season.

“I'm gonna miss those guys, but they're not that far away,” Izzo said. “I'll still be calling and talking to them a lot.”

Former player Thomas Kelley was hired in June to fill Garland’s vacancy. Kelley was an assistant coach at Western Michigan for the past four seasons.

Izzo's overall thoughts on the upcoming season

Izzo said he’s ready to return to some normalcy after the last few years and said he feels good about recruiting and the season. 

“We’re moving forward now,” Izzo said. “I’m gonna coach, yell at officials again. It’s gonna be fun. I can’t wait to get started.”

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