Fresh off a loss against No. 3 Arizona on Thanksgiving Day, the Michigan State’s men’s basketball team returns home for a matchup with Georgia Southern on Tuesday night.
At 3-3, MSU has had an underwhelming start to the 2023-2024 season. The Spartans, ranked No. 4 in the Preseason AP Top 25, are unranked as of Monday.
On the surface, MSU’s challenges have come shooting the ball. The Spartans turned in a 1-for-20 three-point performance to open the season in their historic loss to James Madison and struggled in stretches against Duke and Arizona.
Despite gradual improvement over the last three games, head coach Tom Izzo said shooting is still an issue at his press conference Monday. MSU has not shot under 35% from three since the 2019-2020 season. Through six games this year, the Spartans are shooting just 26%.
“I don’t think we’re that far off from being a very good team,” Izzo said. “But if you don’t shoot it better, that covers up a lot of evils.”
The silver lining for Izzo and his squad is that in the minutes the Spartans have played solid basketball, they’ve gone toe-to-toe with some of the nation’s best teams. A one-point exhibition loss to No. 10 Tennessee, a nine-point loss to No. 7 Duke and a six-point loss to No. 3 Arizona reflects that.
The challenge for MSU is now putting those stretches together for extended minutes and avoiding the negative ones. The team went down 17-1 against Tennessee, 31-20 versus Duke and 23-10 against Arizona. Izzo said the slow starts have been a point of emphasis.
“Those are the stretches a veteran crew shouldn’t do but it’s partially because we’re missing shots and partially because our best players gotta play well,” Izzo said. “That’s the way it is.”
Izzo said he needs more out of guards Jaden Akins and A.J. Hoggard, both of whom are upperclassmen with starting experience.
“We need Jaden and AJ to play better,” Izzo said. “Your best players gotta play well, we need our best players to play well.”
Izzo said graduate student guard Tyson Walker, MSU’s leading scorer and spark plug, who was sick all week and didn’t score in the final seven minutes against Arizona after falling on his hip, didn’t practice Saturday or Sunday as a result. He called his management of Walker in that stretch a “very poor job” on his part.
“He was dead, dead, dead,” Izzo said. “I didn’t realize it.”
Facing an 0-6 Georgia Southern team on Tuesday night, Izzo and the Spartans will get the opportunity to dig deeper into their identity. Expect a short leash for MSU’s veterans if they continue to struggle as a unit.
Georgia Southern has left a lot to be desired defensively, giving up an average of 85 points per game to its opponent. MSU will get its chances to score and then some. But the Eagles are aggressive offensively, frequently letting it fly from behind the arc with nearly 30 three-point attempts per game.
It’s a Georgia Southern roster that’s experienced a good amount of turnover from last season. Growing pains have been evident. But that doesn’t mean they can’t come into the Breslin Center and give the Spartans a scare. It’s impossible to tell whether Izzo and MSU face the team that shot 31 percent against Eastern Michigan or the team that scored 92 points against Kennesaw State.
“I don’t know what we’re gonna get or who we’re gonna get if I was to be very honest with you,” Izzo said.
Guards Deuce Dean and Jamar Franklin lead the charge for the Eagles, both averaging around 12 points per game. Both are transfers – Dean from Hampton University in Virginia and Franklin from South Alabama.
Unlike many of the low-major schools MSU has faced in the non-conference, Georgia Southern’s roster features decent size and length. The Spartans will not be able to dominate by way of pure physical makeup – they’ll have to earn their success on the glass and in the paint.
MSU versus Georgia Southern tips off at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 28, at the Breslin Center.
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