Tom Izzo’s team is currently in the midst of a nine day break, just in time for finals week. After playing eleven games in just over a month, Michigan State will gear up for two more non-conference opponents before getting into the grind of Big Ten play. Already having nine wins under their belt a third of the way through the season is just what this team needed after crawling their way into the tournament last March. But even the casual fan can see the weaknesses that hinder the Spartans from being an elite team.
The Good: Point Guard Play
Of course it isn’t all bad for MSU. They only have losses to top ranked Kansas and defending national champion Baylor for a reason, and part of that is the steadiness and consistency from the point guard position. The 1-spot was a nightmare for the 2020 edition of Michigan State, as they dearly missed the star power of Cassius Winston. A since transferred Rocket Watts, freshman AJ Hoggard, an under-performing Foster Loyer, and even Joshua Langford tried to fill the gigantic shoes to no avail.
As a result, Tom Izzo followed suit of football coach Mel Tucker and brought in a player by the name of Walker. Not Kenneth Walker lll, but Tyson Walker. The junior averaged nearly 19 points in 19 games played last year with Northeastern and is finding the same level of production with Michigan State as of late. Point guards can come in many varieties, and the New York native chooses to be a playmaker. When struggling to hit shots, Walker can be a facilitator, as seen in a two point, ten assist performance against Louisville. He is also perfect for the fast paced play that MSU is known for, pushing the ball up the floor and finding seams to the rim.
Coming off the bench is sophomore AJ Hoggard. It is apparent that the coaching staff made sure he would be ready for a larger role this season, by the fact he lost 20 pounds over the summer and the way he is more aggressive with the basketball. Standing at 6’3″ makes Hoggard bigger than most guards that matchup against him. As a result, he takes every opportunity possible to drive to the basket and either out muscle a defender or draw a foul.
The playing styles of Walker and Hoggard compliment each other perfectly, so much so, they have even been on the court together at times. They have yet to experience the grueling test that is a Big Ten schedule, but in the early going, the coaching staff and fans alike, have to be pleased with the performances of their floor generals.
The Bad: Joey Hauser
Almost every broadcaster that has called a Michigan State game this season has made mention of the play of Joey Hauser. The story goes along the lines of how COVID-19 really affected his psyche last year, and that he has great scoring prowess that has yet to come into fruition. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been any reason to believe that Hauser can change this narrative. The red shirt junior is shooting a team worst 32% from the field and has turned the ball over sixteen times in ten games.
Tom Izzo has yet to give up hope on his power forward, as he still puts him in the starting lineup for the majority of the Spartan’s contests. However, Hauser just doesn’t seem to have his game all together. He rarely finds his way to the paint for a post-up, and when he puts the ball on the floor to dribble, he almost always has to pass it away or gives it to the defense. The only real bright spot has been his consistency rebounding the basketball, averaging nearly six per game. But, that isn’t what MSU brought him in to do.
In order to get Joey Hauser going, his team needs to create shots for him, since he has struggled to find them himself. Whether it be trailing a fast break, a pick and pop, or down screen’s, Michigan State has to find ways to get him open looks. Seeing the ball go through the hoop is the best and only thing to help his confidence right now.
The Ugly: Turnovers
No surprise here. Giving the basketball to the other team has been the demise of Izzo led teams for years now. Currently averaging 15 turnovers per game, Michigan State can’t seem to find a way to stop its self inflicted wounds. Whether it be via bad passes, offensive fouls, or giving up what Izzo likes to call ‘turnovers for touchdowns,’ opposing teams can easily comeback or linger around in games with the Spartans.
One can assume the reason for this is due to the fast pace of play MSU prides itself on. Sometimes players are running the ball up the floor so fast, once it’s time to make a decision, it is too late and possession goes to the other team.
Adding more fuel to the flame, this team can’t force turnovers either. In the first two conference games of 2021, Michigan State has just nine takeaways total. Even when it comes to the best remedy for their biggest weakness, the Spartans stumble. If not corrected soon, these mistakes will catch up to them, and their #12 AP ranking will suffer.