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Izzo pleased with progress following closed Tennessee scrimmage

October 28, 2022
<p>MSU Men&#x27;s Basketball team poses for a group photo with coach Tom Izzo at Midnight Madness, held at the Breslin Center on October 8, 2022.</p>

MSU Men's Basketball team poses for a group photo with coach Tom Izzo at Midnight Madness, held at the Breslin Center on October 8, 2022.

In less than a week, Spartan basketball will be in full swing. With Michigan State’s exhibition game against Grand Valley creeping up, it’s crunch time for the guys. 

After traveling to Tennessee for a closed exhibition game, the green and white returned to practice this week eager to sharpen their execution. 

“I'm nervous to say that the last couple weeks I think my team has really made some progress,” Head Coach Tom Izzo said Thursday. “Tennessee, I thought we played very well. They’re a very good, very well coached, very big, very good shooting team and yet we held their own and did the things that we had to do."

Despite improvements, Izzo said that turnovers remain a limitation for the team’s performance alongside missed cutouts on free throws moving forward.

Izzo noted that between practices before the scrimmage at Tennessee and the few after, the team’s made headway in these aspects of their game.

Izzo said that sophomore guard Jaden Akins is gradually getting back into practice. However, Izzo won’t play him until he’s able to participate for four or five consecutive days. He’s eager to get Akins back on the court and said one player makes a huge difference, especially with the shortened rotation that is expected with MSU’s 2022-23 season roster. 

So, the question is, when will Akins be cleared to play? As he’s finishing up week seven of the recovery period, will he be ready within the first few games of the non-conference run? 

“Like (Mateen) Cleaves, I lost to Wright State because I didn’t play him,” Izzo said. “That will haunt me the rest of my life I think but at the same time I’m glad I didn’t cause we went on to win it.”

Izzo plans to discuss this further with trainers, doctors, Akins and his father prior to making any final decisions. 

“We’re not gonna take any chances with Jaden,” Izzo said. “Do I think he has a chance to play? Yeah, but the problem is those games come so fast and furious, we’ll have to figure out how he is.”

Junior center Mady Sissoko has stepped into a bigger role with lack of centers on the court. Izzo has high expectations of Sissoko heading into the season.

“He’s starting to play off two feet, he’s not off balance, he’s not rebounding the ball with one leg up in the air, his hands have been better and he’s starting to roll better,” Izzo said. “He’s the best that’s stepping up on ball screens. He’s improved in every category and hopefully now he’ll continue."

Izzo said MSU failed to get Sissoko the ball as much as he would have liked last season. 

“Mady’s impressed me a lot,” junior guard A.J.Hoggard said. “He’s been in here working a lot, on all aspects of his game. Everything we need him to do for us this year, changing shots, just being that guy that we need him at the five and he’s done a good job with that. I’m looking forward to seeing Mady’s progress when the lights come on and can’t wait to see how my guy does when the time comes.” 

Izzo said that he’s also recognized tremendous improvements in graduate student forward Joey Hauser compared to his confidence the previous two years. He's noticed strides in not only his offensive game but defensively as well. 

The team’s been practicing with a small-ball format and has been testing playing sophomore guard Pierre Brooks at the four. 

“Coach has talked about playing smaller this year and putting more shooters on the floor so we can stretch a lot more people out,” Brooks said. “I feel like that’s been going great for us and we have a great shooting team with me, Joey, Tyson and a lot of other guys. When we stretch team’s out, I feel like we’re more effective and we can get a lot more shots up and play a lot faster.”

As the Spartans are closing in on the season, Tuesday’s exhibition will be telling for how the team will be distributed as non-conference play progresses.

“This non-conference schedule will definitely get us ready for the upcoming Big Ten season and see where our heads are at a team standpoint,” Brooks said. “I’m confident in our team, I think the coach is confident in our team and I think we can win every single game that we play.”

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