In the heat of the Big Ten season, Michigan State finds itself in the “Trenches”


MSU point guard A.J. Hoggard and Tyson Walker high-five their teammates during the Spartans’ 68-65 win over No. 4 Purdue on Feb. 26, 2022/ Photo Credit: Sarah Smith/WDBM

Brendan Schabath, Men's Basketball Beat Reporter

EAST LANSING – Tyson Walker was the inbounder. And then he wasn’t. After a horizontal pass along the baseline to A.J. Hoggard, Walker caught the ball streaking in the open floor. With the clock dwindling down, Walker found Malik Hall on the left wing. Pass fake, drive, dunk. Hall scored with 1.4 seconds left to tie Michigan State and Kentucky at 71. 

Hall’s tomahawk stuff would give MSU the momentum boost it needed to edge out the Wildcats in overtime of the Champions Classic, 86-77.

As the Spartans celebrated in the locker room postgame, media members and players spilled in and out of the Gainbridge Fieldhouse doors. Written on the whiteboard in the locker room was one word: “TRENCH.”

Hall said it served as a reminder that MSU is, “in the thick of it.” 

The whiteboard message reads “TRENCH” in the conclusion of Michigan State’s 86-77 win over Kentucky in the State Farm Champions Classic. // Photo Credit: Luca Melloni

That was Nov. 15. Now it’s almost February and MSU is quite literally in the thick of it. 

The Spartans sit at 14-7 on the season and 6-4 in the Big Ten. 10 league games played, 10 left. Smack dab in the middle. 

After a 63-61 scare against Iowa on Jan. 26, MSU head coach Tom Izzo said the most important thing for his team to focus on moving forward is the offense. 

“Our offense. I’m not very pleased with our offense right now. There’s a lot of standing around,” said Izzo. 

Michigan State currently holds the No. 59 offensive efficiency rating in the country, according to KenPom. In conference play, the Spartans are ninth in the Big Ten in that category.

Perhaps no one embodies the mentality of being in the trenches more than Hoggard. 

“We’re in the trenches of the Big Ten right now. You gotta bring your hard hat to the trenches,” said Hoggard. 

Hoggard is midway through his best season in East Lansing in three years. Averaging 12.4 points, 5.9 assists and 3.8 rebounds, he’s been the leader that Izzo has been begging for since the summer. Leading on the court with his play style and mentality. 

“The trenches is just a mindset of just fighting through adversity,” said Hoggard. “Just something we go by as a team, we just said it one day and just kind of carried on with it and that’s where we are with it right now.” 

Despite a winning record and a fourth-place standing in the Big Ten, MSU still has a lot of work to do. 

The goal is another NCAA Tournament berth coupled with a top-4 seed and win in the Big Ten Tournament. The Spartans are so close yet so far from those goals it seems. Teetering on the brink of a multi-game run and a disastrous midseason skid. 

Whether MSU likes it or not, they have no choice but to focus on the future. 

“We’re in the trenches, this is kind of the dog days of January, early February,” said Joey Hauser. “That’s not the most fun time of the year but you just got to kind of grind it out. I mean, I guess it’s all kind of coming full circle.” 

It’s already been a season of much turmoil and difficulty for MSU. The injuries have been particularly gut-wrenching. Hall has missed a total of 11 games for Michigan State and at this point in the season is in a different spot than the rest of his teammates. 

The Spartans are 8-2 this season when Hall plays and 6-5 when he doesn’t. 

Malik Hall stares at Michigan defenders after a basket during Michigan State’s 59-53 victory over Michigan on January 7, 2023. Photo Credit: Sarah Smith/WDBM (Sarah Smith)

“It definitely feels different, for sure. I’m just trying to do the best I can since I have more energy,” said Hall. “I’m just trying to bring more and help everybody through it because I know what it’s like to play all those games and then you reach February and you’re getting tired.” 

With a road trip to West Lafayette on the docket, MSU will have to face an AP No. 1 team for the first time since 2019 when the Spartans took down Duke in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. 

Mackey Arena is billed as one of the most difficult places to play in the entire country. It’s loud and hostile. You can find yourself scrambling in circles trying to find an answer. 

Kind of like in the trenches.