Michigan State University Student Radio

Impact 89FM | WDBM-FM

Michigan State University Student Radio

Impact 89FM | WDBM-FM

Michigan State University Student Radio

Impact 89FM | WDBM-FM


PREVIEW: Where things stand for MSU basketball in return to B1G play

Jack Moreland
MSU senior guard A.J. Hoggard (11) is introduced along with graduate guard Tyson Walker (2) and junior guard Jaden Akins in the MSU starting lineup ahead of the matchup against Baylor on Friday, December 16, 2023 at Little Caesars Arena.

EAST LANSING – With less than a minute left in the first half of Michigan State’s game against Indiana State on Saturday, graduate senior Tyson Walker crashed into the scorer’s table in an attempt to save a possession, before picking himself up and limping away, while head coach Tom Izzo yelled in protest at a referee nearby. Less than 30 seconds later, senior center Mady Sissoko crashed onto the floor near half court in pursuit of another loose ball, before flinging it to senior guard AJ Hoggard, who almost simultaneously fell after colliding with an Indiana State guard. 

In the moment, three of MSU’s starters hitting the deck within a span of 30 seconds was unordinary. The effort exerted within that mere possession only matched the intensity levels of the game against an underrated Indiana State team. However, the sequence of events between Hoggard, Walker, and Sissoko represented another stepping stone for a team that likely wouldn’t have found its way out of a game against an opponent like Indiana State a few weeks ago, and that’s playing a different brand of basketball from the start of the season. 

MSU heads back into conference play 0-2 in the Big Ten and 8-5 on the season. A season-opening upset loss to James Madison was a rough introduction into the year, where slow starts and a team-wide shooting slump from behind the arc severely limited MSU’s offense past Thanksgiving.

MSU’s calling card this season has been its defense. Per KenPom, the Spartans are 14th in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency, and have been ranked inside the top 10. The trio of Tyson Walker, AJ Hoggard, and Jaden Akins have continued to carry their weight defensively, often sharing the burden of guarding opposing teams’ guards, and wreaking havoc on the perimeter. Their experience, particularly in pick and rolls, has alleviated the struggles of big men Mady Sissoko and Carson Cooper on screens, which has been a recurring challenge.

MSU freshman forward Coen Carr throws down a dunk against Tennessee on Sunday, October 29, 2023 at the Breslin Center.
(Photo by Jack Moreland/WDBM Sports/Michigan State University) (Jack Moreland)

One of the more underrated components of Michigan State’s defense is the emergence of freshman Coen Carr. After struggling mightily with rotations through MSU’s first few games, Carr has become one of the team’s best off ball defenders, flying in from the weak side for blocks, getting a hand in passing lanes, and even snagging lobs out of the air on their way to the rim out of ball screens. The 6 ‘7 forward has utilized his otherworldly athleticism to rectify a glaring weakness that teams quickly exposed, within a matter of weeks in high-major college basketball. 

On offense, the Spartans have taken marginal leaps through the first part of the season. After struggling to find consistent output on a nightly basis outside of Tyson Walker, the rest of MSU’s starting lineup has begun to return to form. 

Walker is 25th in the country in offensive rating, according to KenPom, and is averaging 20.0 points, 2.8 assists, and 2.8 rebounds per game, while shooting 47.4 percent from the floor and 37.5% from three. The 6-foot guard has emerged as one of the best guards in college basketball, serving as MSU’s de facto scorer every night, while also taking on the challenge of guarding the opposing team’s primary or secondary scorer.

MSU senior guard A.J. Hoggard celebrates after a basket against Stony Brook on Thursday, December 21, 2023 at the Breslin Center. (Jack Moreland)

MSU’s loss to Duke in Chicago was the turning point for AJ Hoggard. Since the Spartans’ loss to the Blue Devils on Nov. 14, Hoggard has scored in double figures in every game since, while shooting better than 45% from the floor in all but two games. Hoggard is averaging 11.0 points and 5.0 assists per game, while ranking 26th in assist rate percentage, per KenPom. 

Hoggard’s playmaking has played a substantial role in MSU’s increased ball movement. The Spartans currently hold a 64.5% assist rate, good for ninth in the country per KenPom. MSU is also ranked 14th in the country in total assists per game, with 18.3.  

MSU graduate forward Malik Hall finishes at the rim against Indiana State on Saturday, December 30, 2023 at the Breslin Center. (Jack Moreland)

Graduate senior Malik Hall has continued to be a steady presence in the post, where his turnaround jumper has continued to be one of MSU’s most reliable shots on offense. Hall has continued to serve as a steady presence on both ends of the floor, utilizing his savviness to anchor MSU’s stout defense while providing consistent offense from the low post. 

Through 13 games, one of MSU’s most glaring weaknesses has been giving up offensive rebounds. In eight games this season, the Spartans have given up more than 10 offensive rebounds. In turn, the Spartans are ranked outside of the top 100 in offensive rebounding, where they’re averaging just over 10 offensive boards per game. 

Michigan State re-opens conference play against a Penn State team that has also had its share of early season adversities. The Nittany Lions are led by sophomore Kanye Clary and senior Ace Baldwin Jr., who will provide another test on both ends of the floor for MSU’s trio of guards. Clary and Baldwin lead the Nittany Lions in scoring, averaging 18.2 and 13.6 points per game, respectively. Qudus Wahab has been Penn State’s interior anchor, averaging 9.9 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, and is 26th in defensive rebounding percentage, only two spots ahead of Sissoko. 

The Spartans will host Penn State on Jan. 4 at 7:00 p.m. at the Breslin Center.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
About the Contributors
A.J. Evans, Sports Editor
A.J. Evans (He/Him/His) is the Sports Editor at Impact 89FM. He is from Southfield, Michigan and is majoring in journalism. He has covered football, women's and men's basketball for the Impact. “Stay far from timid, only make moves when your heart’s in it, and live the phrase sky’s the limit….see you chumps on top.” - Biggie  
Jack Moreland, Sports Photo Editor
Jack (he/him) is a Journalism major focusing in sports reporting and media photography. Growing up in nearby Okemos, Michigan, he has been a lifelong Spartan and is proud to sport the green and white. Jack is a big Baby Keem fan and is known to post on your block with your wishlist on you.

Comments (0)

All Impact 89FM | WDBM-FM Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest