The time has come for the No. 4-ranked Michigan State men’s basketball squad to officially begin its long-awaited 2023-2024 season, opening with a home contest against James Madison University.
Despite the sky-high expectation for this year's group, for MSU head men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo – entering his 28th year on the job – it’s a start to the season like any other.
“I’ve had 28 of these, every one I look forward to the season,” Izzo said. “Even years when we’re not picked quite as high I’m looking forward to the season because we’ve gone to a Final Four as a 7-seed and a 1-seed.”
The Spartans played a pair of exhibitions, handling Hillsdale before coming up short by a point against No. 9 Tennessee.
Down 17-1 to begin the game and coming out flat to begin the second half, MSU rallied back from being down as many as 18 against Tennessee but never possessed a lead.
“(The Volunteers) were a very disciplined team,” graduate student guard Tyson Walker said. “It helped us understand that we can’t start off slow like that, digging ourselves a hole two halves in a row.”
In his Thursday press conference, Izzo said freshman forward Xavier Booker was “late to some stuff” the week of the Tennessee game and saw fewer minutes as a result. Izzo added that he’s trying to play three freshmen in significant roles and nobody over 30 minutes.
It’s a different season than last for Izzo and the Spartans, who struggled with depth issues in 2022-2023.
“The playing rotation will be determined in the next couple days because if these freshmen pick things up, they’re gonna play more and we’re gonna keep guys fresher,” Izzo said. “If they don’t, we’re gonna have to play a little different for a while.”
With five players returning to major roles from their Sweet 16 squad and one of the nation’s top freshmen classes, Izzo now has to decide who to keep off the floor.
“The blend of having the veterans and rookies has been fun, but as we get into this right now, it gets a little more frustrating because they don’t pick up everything,” Izzo said. “It’s gonna be challenging for everybody, those first couple of weeks but I’m looking forward to it.”
Though it would be a challenge for any team to come into Breslin Center on opening night and take down a top-5 Michigan State team, the Dukes pose a number of threats.
JMU is predicted by many to win the Sun Belt Conference, returning a number of key players from its 22-win squad last season. 6-foot-6 redshirt junior wing Terrence Edwards Jr. leads the charge for the Dukes, having averaged 13 points and five rebounds on 53% shooting in 2022-2023.
JMU’s biggest question mark is at the guard position, with a number of incoming transfers from the low-major level. Redshirt senior Noah Freidel alongside graduate students Bryant Randleman and Michael Green III all possess the ability to elevate the Dukes’ play with immediate production.
“I watched [JMU] last year and they got six more transfers in,” Izzo said. “I’ll be honest with you, they’re a good basketball team. They’re better than a lot of teams we’ve played.”
With below-average size in the frontcourt, expect JMU to put stress on MSU’s guards and let it fly from behind the arc.
“Lot of ball screens, some pressure defense,” Izzo said. “They’ve shot the ball pretty well and they’ve got a couple new guys that really shoot the ball well, so they’re a good team.”
Tip-off between the Spartans and Dukes is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 6 at Breslin Center.
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