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Big ten basketball preview: Michigan State Spartans

How do the Spartans match up after losing three starters from last season?

UCLA v Michigan State Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Michigan State Spartans

Head coach: Tom Izzo (27th season)
2020-21 record: 15-13 (9-11)
Season finish: NCAA Tournament First Four (Lost to UCLA)

What comes back

Michigan State has a solid returning core, and with the transfers they brought in, the Spartans will be back in the top half of the conference this upcoming season. Joey Hauser, Gabe Brown, A.J. Hoggard, Malik Hall, Marcus Bingham Jr., Julius Marble and Mady Sissoko all return for Tom Izzo and company.

The Spartans also bring in Tyson Walker from Northeastern — one of the top players in the Colonial Athletic Association last season. Walker averaged 18.8 points, 4.8 assists and 2.4 steals per game, marking himself as one of the top defenders in the country. He is looking at taking over the starting point guard role with the transfer of Rocket Watts.

As usual, the Spartans are also bringing in a top tier recruiting class, with five-star Max Christie coming in and looking to make an immediate impact on the team. Jaden Akins and Pierre Brooks are also coming in as top 100 recruits nationally.

What was lost

Even with the Spartans returning what they are, they are losing a lot of production. Their top player last season, Aaron Henry, is gone to the NBA. Leader and captain Joshua Langford is gone to graduation, and their starting point guard Rocket Watts transferred to Mississippi State. There was a lot of expectations surrounding Watts when he arrived in East Lansing, and while his time was not a disappointment, he did not quite reach those lofty expectations at Michigan State.

The other players the Spartans and Izzo lost to the transfer portal are Foster Loyer to Davidson, Thomas Kithier to Valparaiso and Jack Hoiberg to UT-Arlington. All of these guys were expected to play a role in the rotation this season and will be missed.

Against Ohio State in the Chris Holtmann era

Since Chris Holtmann took over the Buckeyes, there have been some great matchups between the two programs. Namely, on Jan. 7, 2018, the Buckeyes defeated the No. 1-ranked Spartans 80-64 in one of the more exciting Ohio State games of the past decade. That was also Chris Holtmann’s first game against the Spartans, marking a memorable debut performance.

In general, the Spartans have had the upper hand against the Buckeyes over the past four seasons, going 5-2 against Ohio State over the last seven matchups. The Buckeyes face the Spartans only once this season and they do not have to go to East Lansing, as the Spartans visit Columbus for their only matchup in the second-to-last game of the regular season.

Season prediction

No matter who the Spartans have on the court, they will always have somewhat of an advantage over other teams with Izzo on the sideline. Izzo is 643-254 (.717) overall at Michigan State, and 311-143 (.685) in the Big Ten conference.

Last season was tough one for Michigan State, going just 15-13 and barely making the NCAA Tournament. The disappointment did not end there, as in their First Four matchup against UCLA, they were leading 44-33 at the half and watched their lead dissipate in the second half as the Bruins forced overtime. The Spartans only scored three points in the extra period, and eventually lost 86-80.

Like many teams, Michigan State lost a lot of talent but rebuilt through the transfer portal well and will be a tough team to beat. Match that with the legend that is Tom Izzo and a raucous crowd at the Breslin Center and any trip against the Spartans will take a teams best to come out on top. They will likely finish in the No. 4-No. 7 range in the conference and return to the NCAA Tournament, where they are almost always a tough out.