Michigan State using final exhibition to set playing group
East Lansing — Michigan State is only days away from opening the season against No. 3 Kansas, but that doesn’t mean the Spartans are busy at this point dialing in on the Jayhawks.
Instead, Michigan State is working on finalizing a starting lineup while trying to narrow in on a rotation. The last chance to square those things away comes at 7 p.m. Thursday night as Michigan State plays host to Grand Valley State in the second of two exhibition games at the Breslin Center.
“There are eight or nine guys that are gonna play probably in regular games,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “So, finding which one is seven, eight, nine and 10 is going to be a big key. So these games are important. We're trying to make them important. Normally I love playing Gonzaga, but I really like the fact that we're playing in front of people. I think that's important for our guys right now. And so these exhibition games we're trying to make them maybe a little more important.
“I’ve got to come up with a true starting lineup, which I think I've got most of. The X factors are Joey (Hauser) and Malik (Hall) because we’re trying to play Malik at two positions. We could bring him off the bench, or we could not. That will be determined probably next week. Other than that Grand Valley, I think is going to be one of the better Division II teams we played. They have five Division I transfers last year that all played together and lost one guy. So I don't know what that means, but I think you'll get a very good test.”
When it comes to a starting lineup, all signs point to the Spartans sticking with what they used in last week’s exhibition victory over Ferris State. That included Hauser at the four spot with Marcus Bingham playing the five. Gabe Brown and Max Christie were on the wings with Tyson Walker at point guard.
Add in Hall, guards A.J. Hoggard and Jaden Akins, as well as big man Julius Marble, and there’s your nine. Sophomore big man Mady Sissoko would qualify as the 10th at this point, though the center spot could continue to evolve.
“Marcus has had a good week and Julius is still starting to come after he was maybe our best at the end of last year,” Izzo said. “And Mady has made progress. I'd like to get the ball into him some and I’d like him to rebound a little bit better than he did last game. And I thought they all did a pretty good job defensively. We’re stepping up on ball screens, doing some good things there. That's a little harder for big guys, but I'm just looking for constant improvement out of those guys.”
Whitens out for season
While Michigan State has been relatively healthy as it prepares to begin the season at the Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden, it has suffered at least one significant injury.
Izzo confirmed on Wednesday that walk-on Jason Whitens, a fifth-year senior transfer from Western Michigan, tore his ACL in last week’s game against Ferris State and will be out for the season.
Grand Valley State at Michigan State
►Tip-off: 7 p.m. Thursday, Breslin Center, East Lansing
►TV/radio: BTN+/Spartan Sports Network
►Outlook: Grand Valley State has a history of pulling the upset, beating then No. 8 Michigan State, 85-82, in double overtime in November of 2007.
— Matt Charboneau