Monday, September 25, 2023

Preview: Michigan State men's hoops to host Northern Arizona in 2022-23 season opener

November 7, 2022
<p>Junior guard AJ Hoggard takes the ball up court during the Spartans' 73-56 win over the Lakers on Nov. 1, 2022.</p>

Junior guard AJ Hoggard takes the ball up court during the Spartans' 73-56 win over the Lakers on Nov. 1, 2022.

Photo by Devin Anderson-Torrez | The State News

Michigan State played a surprising exhibition game against Grand Valley State on Tuesday night. Trailing by six at halftime, the Spartans pulled away in the second half, finishing up 73-56 and dodging an upset to the Division II Lakers.

But that was then and this is when it really counts. 

MSU returned to the drawing board Wednesday, ready to make necessary adjustments heading into the season opener against Northern Arizona on Monday. 

Head Coach Tom Izzo said while he's witnessed unbelievable strides from his team over the past six weeks, MSU is not quite where he wants them heading into the season's first official game.

Turnovers remain a work in progress along with improvement on guarding at the post, something the team nailed at Tennessee but couldn’t seem to capitalize on against Grand Valley. 

"We learn from our mistakes,” junior guard A.J. Hoggard said. “We’ve watched a lot of film to learn from things we did well and things we did wrong. We go out there and correct those things, that’s what practice is for. We play for a Hall of Fame coach that knows what he’s talking about. We corrected a lot of things today and we’re going into it with a better mindset, better foot forward and ready to go out there and compete.”

Sophomore guard Jaden Akins participated in practice on Thursday. Akins said he doesn’t feel any pain but needs to play it smart with what Izzo referred to as a bunch of Super Bowls ahead of them in non-conference play.

“I just know that I'm progressing,” Akins said. "Monday is up in the air. I’m gonna practice this weekend and that will be the coach's decision on Monday.”

Izzo described Akins as one of his best two-way players since Gary Harris during the postgame press conference on Tuesday.

“We need him back,” Izzo said. “Especially with the lack of depth. One more body in there, it changes everything.”

Izzo said he’s not going to push it with Akins. He plans to have him practice Friday, Saturday and Sunday. If he’s able to participate for three consecutive days, Izzo said it's a possibility he will play in the season opener. 

Looking to Northern Arizona

Northern Arizona is coming off a 115-63 exhibition victory over the SAGU American Indian College Warriors. 14 of NAU’s 17 players contributed to the exceptionally high scoring game.

NAU’s starting five was redshirt senior forward Nick Mains, graduate student guard Xavier Fuller, sophomore guard Liam Lloyd, redshirt sophomore forward Carson Towt and junior guard Jalen Cone.

Redshirt junior forward Keith Haymon led the Lumberjacks in points (20) with freshman forward Jack Wistricill following with 13. Mains earned a team high of 9 rebounds along with his ten points. 

The Lumberjacks, who went an absymal 9-23 last year, are coached by Head Coach Shane Burcar. 

With the Armed Forces Classic creeping up, MSU plans to take it one game at a time, focusing on its season opener first and then moving on to No. 2 Gonzaga.

Tipoff on Monday will be at 7 p.m. at The Breslin Center.

“We get to do things a lot of guys didn’t get to do,” Hoggard said. “This is the second time the team gets to play on an aircraft carrier, we’ve got a lot of traveling to do, a lot of games against top teams in the country. We just gotta go with our best foot forward and start with Northern Arizona, we can’t take them for granted. Come out with a good start and continue to play Michigan State basketball.”

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