Countdown to College Basketball: #36 Michigan State Spartans

Last season the Spartans just snuck into the NCAA Tournament but were nowhere near what the expectations were going into last season but that can be forgiven. That said, this season’s team might have some of the lowest expectations in the Tom Izzo era, as they still don’t have a roster that stands out on paper. There’s not a ton of great returning talent, while Tyson Walker and Max Christie should be good additions, neither seem like superstar players. Now the question is whether this team can exceed expectations and be a Top-25 team, or will they be back on the bubble, as they were last season. 

Tyson Walker may be the most important player for this team’s success, the team had no stability at the point a season ago but Walker will provide that. Walker is a decent scorer, a good passer, and is pretty good when it comes to avoiding turnovers, which is all that you could want out of a lead guard. It’s always an adjustment going from a true mid-major program to the Big Ten, however, Walker should be able to flourish as a point guard. Max Christie will probably need to be the best scorer for this team to unlock their full potential. The 6’6 guard has good size, length, and shooting ability, him being able to take on a role as a primary option may be a difficult adjustment, but it is one that will have to be made for this team to have success. The duo of Walker and Christie will be likely able to stabilize the guard spots, but the major concerns come from the forward spots. 

Gabe Brown is probably the most trustworthy player at the forward spot, Brown is a 6’7 forward that is a switchable defender, while he shot over 40% from three a season ago. He will provide a good three-and-D wing for this team, which is always important in today’s modern-day basketball. Malik Hall and Joey Hauser will compete for the starting spot at the 4. Hauser provides the team with a pure pick-and-pop four but to say his defense leaves a lot to be desired may be understating how putrid he is at defense. Frankly, Malik Hall is just a better option at the 4, he’s a similar level shooter, while he brings a toughness about him that you expect out of a Tom Izzo player. 

At the five, Tom Izzo has his work cut out for him choosing a starter. Julius Marble likely pegs in as the starting center, he’s a strong, physical player but is nowhere near a consistent player, while he provides very little offensively. Mady Sissoko has plenty of talent but oftentimes looked lost on the court, making him unplayable at times. Marcus Bingham provides shot-blocking ability, which is good but he really doesn’t provide much else. Marble started late in the season when the team made their late-season push, so I expect him to slide into that spot, but this is very much a center by committee until someone proves they deserve this spot. 

Off the bench, Jaden Akins provides the team with some scoring punch, Akins is probably not ready to start right away but give him time to develop behind Walker, and he should be really good going into next season. AJ Hoggard provides a solid point guard who is a good defender, and passer, while Hoggard can’t score, he should provide some role on this team, especially if Akins struggles. 

Looking ahead to this year, I do think Michigan State got better than they were a season ago. Walker and Christie provide this team with an upgrade at the guard positions. Christie won’t be perfect and neither will Walker, expect them to have games where they struggle, and in those games, the Spartans will likely lose those games. That said, with a more talented roster, a team that has a point guard, and one that might have their roles figured out going into this season, the Spartans will be dancing. Last season was a mess for Michigan State, and while they probably won’t be a Top-25 team preseason, this is a team that could make the Sweet 16, Elite Eight, or maybe even the Final Four. It’s January, February, Izzo, and April, while Tom Izzo has a solid, tough, and gritty roster. 

Projected Rotation

PG: Tyson Walker

SG: Max Christie

SF: Gabe Brown

PF: Malik Hall

C: Julius Marble

B1: Joey Hauser

B2:  Jaden Akins

B3: AJ Hoggard

B4: Marcus Bingham

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