With MSU picked sixth in Big Ten, Izzo knows revamped roster has much to prove
Indianapolis — It’s not often Tom Izzo looks at preseason predictions and doesn’t see his Michigan State team among the top few in the Big Ten.
This season, though, Izzo understands why the Spartans, in a recent media poll, were picked to finish sixth in the conference, not long after an impressive run of three straight Big Ten titles from 2018-20.
“We’re a little bit more unproven,” Izzo said Friday during Big Ten basketball media days at Gainbridge Fieldhouse, “and there are some teams in the league that are very proven.”
Included in the proven teams are the likes of Michigan, Illinois, Purdue and Ohio State.
Izzo believes his team will eventually get in the mix and fight for another championship, and plenty of that will rely on guard play where sophomore A.J. Hoggard and junior transfer Tyson Walker have been impressive in early practices, which began last week.
“I think we're better because I think we have a couple guys that will play the point guard position,” Izzo said. “We were trying to put round pegs in square holes last year. That lands on the head coach, nobody else. But I'm excited. A.J. Hoggard has really improved, lost some weight. I think he is going to be a definite positive for us. Tyson Walker, a transfer from Northeastern, who was defensive player of the year, still found a way to score 17, 18 points a game, is going to be a great help there.”
It’s a big shift from last season when Foster Loyer was unable to take over the starting role and Rocket Watts struggled in the transition from shooting guard to point guard. Both players hit the transfer portal after the season, Michigan State brought in Walker, and now plenty of the Spartans’ perimeter players will likely benefit.
“I think some of the main benefactors could be (Marcus) Bingham, could be (Joey) Hauser and Malik Hall, maybe Max Christie,” Izzo said. “I think we're going to be a better passing team, a better running team. We've always been a good running team. Maybe without the same quarterbacking last year, we didn't do as good a job as that.
“But I think because we're going to have guys that can penetrate and kick more, pass more, I think Hauser, Hall, Christie, Gabe Brown are going to benefit a lot. If we get a running game going, we'll be able to utilize their depth a little bit more.”
Michigan State will get the first chance to deploy its new-look roster with exhibition games against Ferris State (Oct. 27) and Grand Valley State (Nov. 4) and then the season-opener against Kansas in the Champions Classic Nov. 9 at Madison Square Garden.
Non-conference games with Butler and Louisville as well as a loaded field in the Battle 4 Atlantis are included before the Spartans hit the Big Ten.
“I'm looking forward to it,” Izzo said. “We open the schedule the same as we always do. We play Kansas, third-ranked team in the country, then it just gets tougher. Of course, once we get to the Big Ten, I think schedules in the Big Ten are second to none.”