Monday, December 5, 2022

Preview: MSU men's hoops to take on Villanova, new Head Coach Kyle Neptune

November 17, 2022
Junior guard AJ Hoggard shoots during a game against University of Kentucky at the Champions Classic in Indianapolis at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on Nov. 15, 2022. Spartans came away with the win with a score of 86-77.
Junior guard AJ Hoggard shoots during a game against University of Kentucky at the Champions Classic in Indianapolis at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on Nov. 15, 2022. Spartans came away with the win with a score of 86-77. —
Photo by Audrey Richardson | The State News

Michigan State showed up and shut down the No.4 Kentucky Wildcats in double overtime on Tuesday in the Champions Classic. Now, it's got another challenge versus another strong opponent: Villanova.

“My experience has told me you worry about the next game,” Head Coach Tom Izzo said. “Yet, if they can’t get excited about playing another ranked team, another program that's been in the Final Four in front of our home crowd which we’re only gonna be here once this month, the place should be rocking.”

Excessive turnovers and foul trouble remained an underlying issue for the Spartans on Tuesday night. While the lack of depth at the five was the main concern in the preseason, junior center Mady Sissoko's showed he can bring it in the middle revealing new and more visible obstacles.

"A.J. (Hoggard)'s gotta do a better job not turning the ball over foolishly," Izzo said. "Our concern is getting Jaden (Akins) back offensively. He did an unbelievable rebounding the ball and his defense. Getting Pierre (Brooks) going a bit, those are our number one concern."

Despite these challenges, MSU showed immense improvements in terms of rebounding, something Izzo's been drilling into practices. The Spartans improved from behind the free-throw line, going from 18-28 against Gonzaga to 23-27 with Kentucky.

Scouting Villanova

Villanova sits at 2-1, winning its first and most recent 2022-23 season games against La Salle and Delaware State but losing in between to Temple on Nov. 11. 

The Wildcats’ starting five consists of senior guard Chris Arcidiacono, graduate student forward Brandon Slater, redshirt junior forward Eric Dixon, graduate student guard Caleb Daniels and sophomore guard Jordan Logino. 

In Nova’s most recent win over Delaware State, Dixon had his best game of the season so far, leading with 17 points alongside seven total rebounds. Slater was a close second with 15 points and five rebounds.

Friday’s game will be the fourth time both schools have met in program history, the last time being Nov. 29. 2002 in Anchorage for the Great Alaska Shootout. MSU fell to the Wildcats 81-73, handing the majority of wins to the Wildcats (3-1). 

After watching tape of Villanova on the way home from Indianapolis Tuesday night and most of the day before practice on Wednesday, Izzo described them as a “typical Villanova team,” despite longtime Head Coach Jay Wright retiring in the offseason. 

“They do a hell of a job of backing you down in with the dribble,” Izzo said. “He’s got some men on that team, and I think it will be the strongest, toughest team we will play, maybe all season long.”

First year Head Coach Kyle Neptune’s roster is made up of several veteran players and a few newbies. It’s a versatile group that Izzo knows will be difficult to cross.

Izzo built a relationship with Wright throughout Wright’s 21 season career at Villanova. The two were in the 2009 Final Four together and Izzo recalls talking with Wright after and recapping both game results.

“I love Jay Wright,” Izzo said. “I love exactly what he stands for and what he believes in. Jay’s one of the best there ever was, that’s why he’s in the Hall of Fame.”

While Villanova is under new leadership, Izzo’s certain they will remain the resilient program he’s grown to know.

Izzo also added there's zero margin for error in the coming weeks. While Tuesday’s win brought momentum to the team, he needs to check back into reality and note what kind of team he’s working with.

“I don't think we should make Mady out to be Hakeem Olajuwon and I don’t think we should make our team out to be national champs,” Izzo said. “The unique thing about the schedule, this will be the third completely different team.”

Tipoff will be at 8 p.m. at The Breslin Center. The matchup will be televised on Fox Sports 1.

“We’re about as good as how hard we play and how hard we prepare,” Izzo said. “We’re not one of the more talented teams I've had, but it is fun and they’re getting together, they’re working and I think they pull for one another.”

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