Where: Moda Center, Portland, Oregon
When: Thursday, November 24, 2022 at 10:30 p.m. ET
TV/Streaming (within US): ESPN
After a dominant 33 minutes against Villanova, the Spartans let the undermanned but determined Wildcats back into the game and ended up narrowly avoiding a home win. The heart of this team-wide near disappointment falls on A, J. Hoggard. As the team’s point guard and main tone generator, Hoggard’s lack of focus, dedication and execution on offense and defense over a three-minute period did more to re-energize Villanova than anything else. From 6:51 to 3:29 of the second half, Hoggard turned the ball three times and committed two fouls. In that stretch, the lead was cut to seven points and the Spartans tapped on the back foot.
Hoggard is a big talent – he finished the game with 13 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds – but his varied focus and sometimes brutal turnovers (most of his turnovers this season have been weak ones, with defenders nicking his bag or he had kicked it off in traffic) seriously undermining the effectiveness of his offensive contributions. More importantly, Hoggard is absolute poor Defending both on and off the ball this season has been a huge step down from its end last season.
At times this past season, Hoggard looked like a future all-defense player, coming up with memorable dominating performances against lottery picks Jaden Ivey (Purdue) and Johnny Davis (Wisconsin). Unless Hoggard returns to that level, this team will simply never reach their potential. He can be that player on either side and he needs to be if this team is looking to win games at the end of March and certainly if the Spartans have any hope of beating their next opponents.
Michigan State depth map:
1 – AJ Hoggard (6’4″ Jr.), Tre Holloman (6’2″ Fr.)
2 – Tyson Walker (6’0″ Sr.), Jaden Akins (6’4″ So.)
3 – Malik Hall (6’8″ Sr.), Pierre Brooks II (6’5″ So.)
4 – Joey Hauser (6’9″ Sr.)
5 – Mady Sissoko (6’9″ Jr.), Jaxon Kohler (6’9″ Fr.), Carson Cooper (6’11” Fr.)
Hoggard criticism aside, this team is playing at a high level on both sides. I didn’t expect Sissoko to continue his form against Eric Dixon and the highly mobile and demanding Villanova offense. Despite the weaker performance from the middle position, most of the game against Villanova once again showed what this team is capable of: great defence, rebounds, running, great ball movement and good shots.
A shooting evening like that of Tom Izzo’s group on Friday was imminent. They’re going to be a very good shooting team and the relatively meager shooting so far this season meant the avalanche was bound to come sooner or later. I fully expect Walker, Hall, Hauser and Brooks to finish above 35 percent from the three-point range, and that Akins and Hoggard will both finish north of 30 percent. If these predictions come true, this team will have tremendous leeway all season long and make teams pay for giving up offensive rebounds.
The team’s offensive balance and defensive pressure are Izzo’s big accomplishments early in the season – front places come to the fore against teams with better guards; against teams with wings, the guards and bigs perform; against strong inner teams, it’s the guards and shooters against the offensive execution of slower teams.
Every game offered a new challenge, and in every competition the Spartans figured it out (they couldn’t get past a wet basketball court against Gonzaga, so I’ll give them a pass). Key to this balance: the offensive dynamic. Hoggard and Walker formed a dynamic point guard duo, while Akins, Brooks and Hall provided shooting, slashing, defense and rebounds down the wing. Additionally, Hall, Hauser and Sissoko finished in the paint and grabbed offensive rebounds.
Superior on the move jump shooters, Walker and Hauser have given Izzo two real weapons on the halfcourt to combine with Hoggard’s and Walker’s pick and roll mastery and Hall’s and Akins’ slash and paint attacks. All that remains is a more assertive Brooks and a clearer offensive role for newcomers Holloman and Kohler, but those final offensive creases likely won’t be ironed out until later in the nonconference season.
The offensive balance and returning continuity made for a quick start to the season at half-field, and that really set the Spartan defense up for success – without having to deal with switches or the cross plays that result in half-court even after good ones Transitional defense is a major key to improving Michigan State’s defenses, even in the absence of elite shot blocking. This team is fun. This team is good. And this team will get much better.
1 – Mark Sears (6’1″ Jr.), Jaden Bradley (6’3″ Fr.)
2 – Nimari Burnett (6’4″ Sr.), Jahvon Quinerly (6’1″ Sr.)
3 – Rylan Griffen (6’5″ Fr.)
4 – Brandon Miller (6’9″ Fr.), Noah Gurley (6’8″ Sr.)
5 – Charles Bediako (7’0″ So.), Noah Clowney (6’10” Fri.), Nick Pringle (6’9″ Jr.)
Alabama presents a tough challenge for opponents: The Crimson Tide have a bunch of talented, aggressive guards, a few accomplished veterans up front of legitimate size, and a bona fide NBA draft pick in Brandon Miller. Alabama plays quickly (No. 15 in pace in the nation at the start of the season), the Crimson Tide really compete Two-point shots (the nation’s #1 allowable two-point percentage at 32.7 percent), which contributes to their #3 effective field goal percentage in the nation (35.5 percent). While Alabama doesn’t force many turnovers, the team blocks shots and clears the defensive glass.
This team plays offensively quickly (I want to emphasize this) — Alabama flips the ball often (No. 320 in the nation), but it counters that with the No. 1 offensive rebound rate in the nation, reaching the free-throw line at a high clip (Top -50 in the nation).
While the Crimson Tide doesn’t shoot the ball particularly well (Sears and Miller are the real danger men from three-point range, with Burnett as a third three-point weapon, Alabama shoots a TON of three-point shots (#8 in the nation in three-point attempt rate), which guaranteeing the distance the Crimson Tide need to allow their drivers to pressure the color and get to the line — in short, Alabama plays modern offense with a loose, open style and puts a lot of pressure on defense.
Sears and Miller are the real danger men, but Bradley is also a future NBA player. This trio with a really solid set of long and athletic supporting players can really play. The Spartans will easily present their biggest challenge of the season so far, but this team has talent and confidence.
Miller isn’t a top athlete, more of a long, lanky shooter, and to be clear, he’s an NBA-level shooter who will pull the trigger from anywhere, anywhere. Hauser and Hall need to be in his airspace when catching while protecting themselves from his longer reach and stride when he attacks their closeouts.
Force guys outside of Sears and Miller to hit you (specifically, force guys like Bradley, Quinerly, Burnett, Griffen and Gurley to hit you with contested three-point shots), embrace the up-and-down game (especially when Akins is able to do so). play after recently aggravating his surgically repaired foot) and take full advantage of the Alabama sales to get easy transition buckets.
Be patient midway: Don’t settle for early shots, instead force Alabama to defend for full possession — the Crimson Tide will lose patience and discipline. Feed their transition game early with Poorly Shots or stupid shots in the paint against their shot blockers will break up the Spartans’ strong defenses early in the season.
Hauser needs to have the best defensive play of his Spartan career, and Hall needs to punish the weaker Alabama wings on offense. If Hoggard plays a full game on both ends, the win condition becomes a lot clearer (even the lack of Akins, which seems likely), but I don’t think he’s quite ready for that yet.
If Akins is able to play near his maximum level in this game then I expect the Spartans to win, but if Akins isn’t ready to roll then Izzo will need tremendous performances from Pierre Brooks (especially as a shotmaker and rebounder ) and by Tre Holloman (as a revenue generator and defensive specialist). I doubt Akins can leave, and I think that makes all the difference in this game against the deep and talented Alabama backfield that will wear Walker and Hoggard down in an up-and-down affair.