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Izzo talks Butler, veteran leadership ahead of Friday night showdown with Bulldogs

November 16, 2023
<p>Freshman guard Jaden Akins (3) dribbles the ball during the game against Butler on Nov. 17, 2021, at the Hinkler Fieldhouse. The Spartans defeated the Bulldogs 73-52. </p>

Freshman guard Jaden Akins (3) dribbles the ball during the game against Butler on Nov. 17, 2021, at the Hinkler Fieldhouse. The Spartans defeated the Bulldogs 73-52.

Sitting at 1-2, Michigan State’s men’s basketball team may not be where they wanted to begin the season, but it has the opportunity to get back on track Friday night against Butler.

Expectations for the preseason-ranked No. 4 Spartans have quickly diminished over the past week after losses to James Madison and Duke. Now at No. 18 in the AP Top 25 and likely to fall further after losing to the Blue Devils in Chicago, there’s no doubt that MSU needs more from its veteran core that took it to the Sweet 16 a year ago.

Spartan guards A.J. Hoggard and Jaden Akins, who both tested the waters of the NBA Draft this past offseason, have underwhelmed in the scoring column through three games, both averaging less than 10 points on under 40 percent shooting from the field. 

Facing a matchup with a Butler squad that’s averaged over 88 points a game thus far, head coach Tom Izzo emphasized the need for improvement from two of his lead guards. 

“I’m expecting to see our veterans play and lead us Friday, and it’ll be a good, tough game,” Izzo said. “Butler’s playing great.”

Butler head coach Thad Matta, who had his fair share of battles against Izzo at Ohio State, picked up six transfers from the portal this offseason and added four freshmen. 

Led by senior guard Posh Alexander, a transfer from St. Johns who averages 13.7 points per game, and former UC Irvine sharpshooter DJ Davis, Izzo said the Bulldogs are a versatile group that can cause defenses problems with their flexibility around the court.

“The biggest complications for us is they have a lot of guys that play a variety of different positions,” Izzo said. “But I’m more worried about us.”

Going 8-for-50 from behind the arc in three games was unforeseen, Izzo said, following an offseason in which he said his team shot the lights out in practice. He’s not pressing the panic button just yet. 

“I can’t panic over five months of really good work this summer,” Izzo said. 

The Spartans have also struggled in the frontcourt, particularly in their ability to score in the paint. Losing a 50 percent three-point shooter in Joey Hauser hasn’t helped, though MSU’s issues down low have gone beyond just floor spacing. 

Without sophomore forward Jaxon Kohler, who has a foot injury, for at least the next three weeks, MSU lacks a pure scorer from the post. However, Izzo said sophomore center Carson Cooper is “progressing as much as anybody.”

MSU graduate student guard Tyson Walker has been a constant, though Izzo lamented his first-half aggressiveness against Duke, scoring 23 points per game as the Spartans’ spark plug when it needs one. 

Izzo praised Walker for his consistency and said he deserves more credit than he’s gotten thus far in the season. 

“Don’t forget about our superstar,” Izzo said of Walker. 

MSU takes on Butler in the annual Gavitt Tipoff Games at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 16 at Breslin Center. 

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