After Michigan State was eliminated from the NCAA tournament on Sunday, head coach Tom Izzo offered words of optimism.
“We’ll grow from this, we’ll get better, and I hope people realize this program is here stay.”
The number one takeaway from the Spartans loss to Duke is that some things need to change before next season. This years group did not possess the talent MSU teams of the past have had, and struggled to keep pace with the top tier of the Big Ten. Leadership, lack of size, and turnovers were just a few things that contributed to the inconsistencies.
But Michigan State is no where near rock bottom. As long as Tom Izzo is at the helm the team figures to be tournament eligible at the very least. What needs to be altered in the summer to help next seasons team make a deeper run is easy to figure out. How MSU goes about executing it is the difficult part.
The Max Christie Project
An argument can be made that Max Christie was the most anticipated Michigan State freshman since Miles Bridges in 2016. Unfortunately, the 6’6″ guard out of Illinois did not perform well enough to live up to that sentiment.
In 2022, MSU fans saw Christie in many different forms. He was either an aggressive scoring threat or a quiet role player on defense. The highlights and lowlights of his season were spread out and in equal amounts. January featured the freshman dropping 21 and 16 points in home games against Nebraska and Michigan respectively. While the month of November taught Christie the grind of in season tournaments, scoring just 9 points across three games in the Battle 4 Atlantis.
Winning the Big Ten Freshman of the Week Award 6 times in 2021-22 is something to build on for Max Christie. His length can be useful for both facets of the game, but his small frame prevents him from being aggressive in driving the lane and rising above defenders.
The shooting averages for his first season in the Big Ten show his offensive struggles overall. 38% from the field and 31% from 3 point range are good for a role player, but not ideal for a 5 star recruit.
On the other hand, his defensive game was underrated. Half a block and half a steal a game don’t jump off the stat sheet, but it’s proof that Christie cares about his effort at that end of the floor. Averaging 30 minutes per game, stamina was what allowed him to be a defensive asset for Michigan State. Consequently, Christie was often matched up against the oppositions best player. Although it didn’t always end well, the fact that Tom Izzo trusted his freshman with that responsibility is encouraging.
This summer Christie must live in the weight room. Putting on weight and adding muscle will allow him to hunt down his shot. MSU has seen many players take leaps from their freshman to sophomore years. Max Christie must elevate his game for the sake of his NBA potential and the good of the 2022-23 Spartans.
Fix Malik Hall
In a season full of inconsistencies, Malik Hall was unfortunately the individual epitome of them for Michigan State. At the start it appeared as if he would be a reliable scoring threat for the Spartans in 2022. A 24 point outing against Loyola Chicago on November 24th and 11.5 points per game in December is evidence that supports that. However, the zero points he scored in marquee games against Illinois and Duke to close out the year, leave reason for worry.
It may not be because Hall was ready for the big moment. He showed the ability to perform down the stretch of games. The game winner against Maryland on February 1st helps his case in that regard, and after all he was voted to be a captain of the team by his peers.
As a result, assumptions can be made that something was going on with Malik behind the scenes. A distraction off the floor may have kept him from being his best self. During the latter parts of the season, close up shots of Hall were less than ideal. He often looked unengaged on the floor, and didn’t seem too enthusiastic when on the bench.
There is no doubting Malik Hall had a good campaign for Michigan State. Being an All Big Ten Team Honorable Mention is nothing to brush aside. However, when some players fell quiet for a few minutes of games, Hall disappeared for days at a time.
There is a spot on Michigan State for the for 6’7″ forward going into his senior season. His combination of size and shooting prowess make Hall a scoring threat from anywhere on the floor. The ball handling ability and decision making was noticeably better from years past. But the next step for him will be making his presence felt more often.
Hall figures to be a starter for the Spartans in 2022-23, and fans can only hope that provides a fresh start for him. It is well known that the Big Ten is run by the big man. Although he may not be big in stature, Malik’s impact on the game needs to be bigger. If he fails to consistently do so, the MSU faithful may be calling for the opposite of what they wanted this year; being benched rather than started.
So proud of this team. They played their best basketball of the season these last two games and went to war with a group of NBA prospects.
Gabe and Marcus left everything out on the floor and there is no reason why they shouldn’t have their heads high right now. Always #GoGreen
— Alex Mayer (@almay_99) March 21, 2022
Transfer Portal Usage
Tom Izzo has slowly but surely begun to warm up to using the transfer portal. Joey Hauser and Tyson Walker, his most recent subjects, turned out to be reliable role players. But in order for Michigan State Basketball to take the next step, Izzo needs to make a big splash.
Perhaps he could knock on Mel Tuckers door and ask for some advice. Just look at how impactful Kenneth Walker lll was for his team.
All jokes aside, with incoming freshman Tre Holloman and Jaxon Kohler not expected to move the needle for the Spartans, it will be crucial for them to address their biggest needs through the portal. First on the shopping list: a dominant center. Hunter Dickinson, Trevion Williams, and Zach Edey being the only Big Ten centers remaining in the NCAA tournament, shows just how important that position is for the Big Ten. Throw in the fact that Marcus Bingham Jr. and Joey Hauser will be off the roster and it becomes even more of a necessity.
Reports say that Michigan State has already contacted small forward out of West Virginia, Jalen Bridges. The junior transfer figures to assume the role of Gabe Brown if he were to choose to become a Spartan. Although he may not be a big man, the fact that Bridges name is already being tied to MSU shows they understand how they can improve their core.
Julius Marble will be a senior next year, but doesn’t figure to be starting caliber. To compete for the Big Ten Championship, Michigan State needs a center that can do it all. Rebound, rim defend, run the floor, pick and roll threat, post move aficionado, the more the better. If the Spartans find that guy, they should automatically project to finish top five in the conference.