Team: Michigan State Spartans
Coach: Tom Izzo (28th season)
2021-22 record: 23-13 (11-9)
Season finish: NCAA Tournament round of 32
Players returning: A.J. Hoggard, Tyson Walker, Jaden Akins, Malik Hall, Joey Hauser, Mady Sissoko, Pierre Brooks
Players departed: Julius Marble II (Texas A&M), Max Christie, Marcus Bingham Jr., Gabe Brown
Key additions: Jaxon Kohler, Tre Holloman, Carson Cooper
This Spartan team returns a lot of talent, but they will need someone to step up into a more prominent role. Most people are looking towards A.J. Hoggard and Malik Hall to fill that void. Hoggard averaged 7.0 points and 4.8 assists per game last season, and Hall averaged 8.9 points and 4.8 rebounds.
The Spartans lost Max Christie to the NBA, Julius Marble to Texas A&M and Gabe Brown and Marcus Bingham to graduation. Brown, Bingham, and Christie were the top three scorers on the team last season, and Brown was the only Spartan to average double figures, so the production heading out of East Lansing is not small. Malik Hall and the three guards of A.J. Hoggard, Tyson Walker and Jaden Akins have to all take jumps, as their minute sin the rotation are going to increase.
Pierre Brooks was the 2021 Mr. Basketball in the state of Michigan, and he will have a larger role in his sophomore season. The Spartans’ freshman class of Jaxon Kohler, Tre Holloman and Carson Cooper will all likely play a role for the Spartans as well. Mady Sissoko will likely step into the starting center role, and will have to help replace some of the lost rebounding with the departures of Bingham and Brown.
A.J. Hoggard. Hoggard is a talented guard that should be expected to take a large jump. Spartan coach Tom Izzo knows exactly how important his main ball handler will be in his offense next season.
“At that position, if the guards are playing well, your team has a better chance of playing well,” Izzo said at Spartan media day. “The center’s important, but probably not going to determine your team as much. [...] A.J. Hoggard is a very important part for this team right now, but there has to be some changes. He knows it, I know it. I’ve got to give a little, he’s got to give a lot, because I have history on my side.”
“Things started to go a little more smoothly for me,” Hoggard said of the end of last season. “And just me carrying it this year and continuing to grow on it.”
Hoggard also knows that putting on the Spartan uniform means something and he wants to live up to the tradition.
“Just being a part of his lineage is something special. Not everyone gets to do it, so just being a part of his lineage and just learning from him every day and just learning how to be a better leader from him every day is just going to take me a long way.”
All of his shooting splits will need to improve, in particular his three-point percentage (21 percent) and his free throw percentage (63 percent), but he has all the intangibles to be an all-conference player.
I am certainly not going to sit here and predict that Tom Izzo will miss the NCAA Tournament. He has had worse teams than this current one that went to the big dance, and this one will get to the latter weeks in March.
However, after that, it does become a question mark. They have a solid trio of guards in the backcourt in Hoggard, Tyson Walker and Jaden Akins, and Malik Hall and Joey Hauser make up an interesting frontcourt. They will need their freshmen and guys who played less than 10 minutes per game last season to step into productive roles and become reliable rotational players. If they get that, they are a top five team in the conference. And you can never count out Izzo in March.