Alabama basketball is preparing to run an absolute gauntlet in its non-conference schedule. During that three-week period, the Crimson Tide could face up to five opponents currently ranked in the AP’s top-25, including three who are ranked in the top-6.
Alabama kicks off this marathon with the Phil Knight Invitational in Portland, Oregon. The Tide will take on Tom Izzo’s 12th Michigan State Spartans in the opening round of the event.
Alabama Basketball Opponents Preview: Michigan State
The veteran-laden Michigan State team plays well as a unit and has looked like an impressive team, although they don’t have the overwhelming talent of old Izzo teams. The Spartans are 3-1 and have already played a brutal schedule and gained plenty of valuable close-quarters experience.
MSU beat Northern Arizona 73-55 to open their season before going up against the top five teams back-to-back.
At first they accepted the no at the time. 2 ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs in the Armed Forces Classic and lost by a single point, dropping a 64-63 decision on the boat. Just four days later, Michigan State faced off against an elite opponent in another high-profile game. The Spartans kicked off the Champions Classic with double the overtime excitement of then-no. 4 Kentucky. MSU bested the SEC’s Wildcats with a score of 86-77.
In a prime spot of disappointment, Izzo’s side turned around and treated another high-profile team in Villanova. In a dismal, hard-fought game between two of the nation’s brand programs, Michigan State edged Nova 73-71. Both teams have working class personalities and consistently rank among the most disciplined teams in college basketball, so it’s been a struggle throughout. Villanova were missing two key players in the competition but that didn’t detract from the quality of the clash.
Made up entirely of upper-class members, Michigan State’s starting five has been one of the best lineups in the country to date. Lead guards AJ Hoggard and Tyson Walker lead the attack as both are elite passers and more than capable goalscorers. A former transfer from Northeastern University, Walker has become a key figure in his second season at East Lansing. He’s averaging 13.5 points and 4.8 assists per game, coming off a 22-point away game against Villanova. In his career, Walker has shot 80 starts, over 1,000 points and over 38 percent from the three-point line.
AJ Hoggard is the taller of the two guards at 6ft 3in and 220lbs. The junior has proven himself a triple-double threat and is currently averaging 9.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and a absurd 8.3 assists per game. Hoggard isn’t a great marksman, but his physicality and vision on the pitch make him a difference maker. He had 13 points, 8 rebounds and 10 assists against Villanova.
Seniors Joey Hauser and Malik Hall give Michigan State an impressive duo on the wing. Hauser, a former Marquette transfer, is a great marksman and is a good height at 6ft 9″ and 220 pounds. Hauser currently leads the Spartans with 14.0 points per game, shooting 50 percent from the three-point line. He’s always been a consistent marksman, shooting a 40 percent clip from the afterlife in his career.
Malik Hall seems to have been around forever but only became a regular this season. He averages 12.0 points and 5.3 rebounds per game for the Spartans. Hall scored 20 points and made some clutch baskets in Michigan State’s overtime win over Kentucky.
Junior center Mady Sissoko has been a tremendous energy guy for Michigan State this season, and his presence on the post makes this a complete team. He averages 8.8 points and a team-high 6.5 rebounds while adding a physical advantage to the lineup. He has been a major threat so far, but is being challenged by the sheer size and athleticism of Alabama basketball.
Sophomore Jaden Akins was notable as the sixth man and third guard in MSU’s backcourt. He hasn’t shot the ball well this season but is still a talented player.
Win or lose, this should be an excellent test for an Alabama basketball team that has yet to play a high-major opponent. The Crimson Tide showed what a high ceiling could be, with elite rebound ability and lightning-fast shooting potential.
The Phil Knight Invitational could be the first glimpse of what this team is really made of, and it all starts against the Michigan State Spartans.