Thursday, February 2, 2023

Four things we learned from Michigan State’s 2-1 weekend at PKI

November 28, 2022
<p>Junior center Mady Sissoko (22) dunks the ball during a game against Villanova at the Breslin Center on Nov. 18, 2022. The Spartans defeated the Wildcats 73-71. </p>

Junior center Mady Sissoko (22) dunks the ball during a game against Villanova at the Breslin Center on Nov. 18, 2022. The Spartans defeated the Wildcats 73-71.

Photo by Sonya Barlow | The State News

After a hot winning streak over stellar squads like Kentucky and Villanova, Michigan State traveled to Portland, Oregon where it finished the weekend 2-1, losing to Alabama in the first round and defeating Oregona and Portland in the subsequent rounds.

As MSU nears week four of the college basketball season, the Phil Knight Invitational has offered us a better idea of what to expect of Izzo’s 2022-23 team moving forward.

1. Injuries are a silent killer

It was evident once news spread Thursday afternoon of senior forward Malik Hall’s three week absence that injuries would serve as limitation over the weekend. With an already smaller than normal rotation, there’s little room for injury, especially from the team's starting forward and the sixth man.

Sophomore guard Pierre Brooks started at the three, but fans saw a chunk of players off the bench at one point or another. 

At one moment in Thursday’s game, the only starter on the court was senior guard Tyson Walker, serving as Izzo’s saving grace offensively. 

While injuries are harmful to rotation options, they’ve allowed new faces to pick up solid minutes. On Sunday, Jason Whitens played a career-high 17 minutes, proving himself with every play. 

Brooks is another player who’s been able to gain experience as a starter, becoming the strong shooter the Spartans need, especially from the deep.

MSU managed to navigate the loss of Hall and sophomore guard Jaden Akins Friday and Sunday, skidding past its opponents in tight victories.

However, how much can Izzo depend on the emergence of new faces and versatility of players like Walker in the coming weeks before he's able to add Hall and Akins back into the lineup?

2. Freshmen are good, but not good enough just yet

Izzo’s 2022 recruiting class has potential, but it’s still early on. Freshman guard Tre Holloman, and centers Carson Cooper and Jaxon Kohler have had extensive minutes already due to injuries and foul trouble for Sissoko. 

Kohler, appearing in all six games, has had experience switching in and out for Sissoko in the middle. Kohler has notched 18 points this season and 26 total rebounds, compared to Sissoko’s 39.

If Kohler can become more aggressive at the five, and improve his rebounding on both ends of the court, he can be a real asset to MSU this season.

Cooper, while playing less minutes than Kohler, has gotten necessary exposure in the middle as well.

With the gap of Akins in the lineup, Holloman is next up after Brooks to take the floor. While Holloman’s shown growth from his first appearance in MSU’s season opener against Northern Arizona, he still has a long way to go. 

Holloman, another freshman who’s played minutes in all six games, needs to become more comfortable taking shots. He’s put up 12 total points, and played a high of 18 minutes in the most recent game against Oregon alone. 

Holloman went 0-3 in field goals. If Holloman can tune up his shot, the score could look a lot different in the next few games. 

3. MSU needs to play a strong full forty minutes

MSU ended the weekend on an all too familiar note. After leading by eight points at the half, all it took was two turnovers to come close to throwing the game in the final minute.

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We saw the same thing in MSU’s game against Villanova and then with Oregon on Friday. Michigan State had the upperhand and cut it close in the last few minutes to play. 

With this comes inconsistency, something we’re seeing from key players including A.J. Hoggard and Walker.

Hoggard struggled to find his rhythm on Thursday and Friday. He lacked, specifically defensively, in the first half on Sunday, earning three of his five game turnovers. While Hoggard came back ready to play in the second, steady minutes from him are crucial.

Walker played tremendously on Thursday and Friday throughout both halves, leading the team in points both nights.

Walker’s first half performance on Sunday looked different as he was 3-8 in field goals. Walker came back in the second half, ultimately ending with a team high of 16 points. However, he, similar to the rest of Izzo’s big three, need to be consistent throughout the entirety of the game, not solely during one half.

4. Time off might be just what MSU needs

Following MSU’s home game against Brown on Dec. 10, the Spartans will have a 10-day break before their next matchup with Oakland. 

The past three weeks have been constant chaos, living from one game to the next. Maybe an extensive break is what the Spartans need to recharge and return ready for the conference season. 

In the past, Izzo’s said this chunk of time is some of the most visible growth periods for his teams. 

After last season’s break during finals, the 2021-22 team returned to a five-game win streak, three of which being conference opponents. 

The green and white will hit the ground running come Dec. 21, picking up quickly with conference matchups scheduled to begin Jan 3 with Nebraska. 

MSU will travel to South Bend, Indiana on Wednesday to face Notre Dame prior to its first Big Ten matchup on Dec. 1 versus Northwestern.

For now, the PKI is telling of what Izzo's players can and can't do, just four weeks into the season.

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