1. MSU life will be a chore until Hall and Akins return
Portland, OR. – I don’t know what the Spartans did to the basketball gods late in last Friday’s win over Villanova. But they must apologize. Because someone, somewhere seems to be pulling it off for them.
By the end of Thursday night, after Michigan State’s 81-70 loss to Alabama in the PK85 Invitational played without injured mainstays Malik Hall and Jaden Akins, Joey Hauser was also nursing a sprained ankle, Pierre Brooks was in the kennel and Bill Walton was the best thing to do. Tom Izzo.
“You’re our hero, Coach,” said eccentric Walton, who called the game to ESPN, as he passed under the bleachers at Portland’s Moda Center.
Izzo replied, “I’ve had a bad life.”
“where have you been?” Izzo said, trying to refocus.
Talking about a team that will have to go through a difficult period in the future.
The Michigan State lineup told the court in The Times Thursday night all about the Spartans situation.
At one point, MSU had Jason Wittens, Carson Cooper, Trey Holloman, Maddy Sissoko, and Tyson Walker together. At least Walker was in there. Each possession has a chance when it is in the game.
Related: Couch: MSU’s Tyson Walker knows his game translates to the highest level in college basketball. “It’s me.”
As long as MSU is without Hall (at least three weeks) and Jaden Akins (probably the rest of the weekend), life will be a chore.
Tom Izzo took a risk with a smaller roster this season as he and the Spartans bit him in late November. We’ll see if it turns into an issue in January and beyond, when it really matters.
Hall comes out with a pressure reaction in his foot, he found out this week. Akins, who just returned from a more serious version of a similar injury, was sidelined after adjusting his foot last Friday. Izzo said after Thursday’s game that Akins won’t play until he can practice on two consecutive days, meaning he will miss Friday’s 9pm local time (midnight in East Lansing) against Oregon. “Doubtful” for Sunday’s PK85 final against Portland, Izzo said. Or Villanova again. Rematch with Villanova – MSU could really unleash some cosmic power.
Perhaps the Spartans would be strong enough without Hall and Akins. They’re not athletic enough, defensively savvy enough and don’t have the offensive range to create problems for teams like Alabama – a team with plenty of athleticism and height and with one of the best freshmen you’ll ever see in 6-foot-9 wing Brandon Miller, who scored 24 points and nine rebounds Thursday.
The Spartans are running out of gas and running out of veteran players to give them the kind of minutes you need to win a game like this. Alabama made a bigger impact, guys. MSU got Tyson Walker (21 points) and after the first 30 minutes, AJ Hoggard (who scored 18). These two will keep every game at least somewhat competitive.
Injuries are MSU’s story now. On Thursday, Hauser got knocked twice as he rolled his ankle. We’ll see if he impressed in Friday night’s game.
“We don’t have time to get injured,” Ezzo said.
Perhaps you should not tempt fate.
“It changed the way we have to play,” said Walker, who hits 9 of 22 shots and may need to hit many more shots per game for a short while, at least until Akins returns. “Some of the shots he (Hall and Akins) could have had, others had to take. So we lost them a lot on the field… Both are really important to us.”
The Spartans must find a way to grow through this. It’s an opportunity for their freshman and Brooks, in particular, to take a step in their development. This is the only possible silver lining.
2. Freshman Thoughts – PK85 Alabama Edition (Jackson Koehler’s Big Night)
You don’t want injuries. Foot injuries especially. But if anything good will come from Malik Hall’s injury, it’s this: MSU forcing three freshmen into crucial minutes will accelerate their development.
You can already see it Thursday night. There was no choice but to lean on big men Jackson Koehler, Carson Cooper, and point guard Trey Holloman. And there’s just something about knowing that you’re needed, that you’re going to be a part of things, that sometimes helps a young gamer or role player play more freely.
Let’s start with Kohler, whose in-season development is critical to the Spartans’ long-term hopes. This was the best Kohler by a mile. We saw his knack for scoring around the rim, with returns and plays in traffic and a few nifty moves on the low block. Basically, we’ve finally seen some of the advantages it can bring. Until now, it was mostly just hanging there.
“I thought he was competitive,” Izzo said of Koehler. “He missed some of those easy shots, but I thought he competed. He blocked a shot, got a few great rebounds. He did a better job on the ball screens than Maddy (Sissoko), to be honest with you.”
This isn’t great news for the MSU starting center. But hey, we’re talking about supporting him here. I think it helped Koehler that MSU finally faced a team without a tough, crafty low-functional player. Alabama was very long, but as Koehler said afterward, he had been dealing with athletes with longer statures for a while. Koehler finished with six points, seven rebounds and an assist in 19 minutes, all season-highs against major competition.
“The difference between the (toy) aircraft carrier and today … it’s a lot different,” Koehler said. “Playing against all these great teams, I can get a little nervous at times, but I feel at this point, it’s the norm, it’s the expectation – you’re going to be on a big stage. And I feel like I’m used to it and I’m comfortable with it and I’m comfortable with the players and I’m comfortable with my role.” “.
Cooper had his moments, too, including a blocked and saved shot just before halftime in a one-point game. He also seemed like a guy you wouldn’t want to throw a detour pass at yet on the baseline – here he’s looking at you, AJ Hoggard. Cooper played for 12 minutes, made a free throw, going along with two blocks and two rebounds. He didn’t always look like a fish out of water. MSU will need him in a back-to-back game at some point this season. It won’t hurt to experiment.
Holloman’s plight is primarily that he’s behind a seasoned backcourt. With Akins out, his role has expanded. He delivered a lot of good stuff in 14 minutes on Thursday, including a 3-pointer catch-and-shoot from the left side when MSU was fighting to stay in the game. He also continues to make smart decisions. When he got the ball from Jason Wittens after Wittens’ steal in the first half, instead of attacking two Alabama players in transition, Holloman dropped back and set up the offense, a possession that led to a score. He finished with six points on 2-of-3 shooting, two rebounds and a steal. His mistake in the second half on a 3-point effort by Alabama’s Mark Sears as MSU was creeping back into the game, down 11, looked like a bad call. “Even their fans booed,” Izzo said. Holloman does not make up for Akins’ absence. But he is ready to contribute some good minutes and he showed it on Thursday.
These three guys play similar roles on Friday and Sunday nights.
“It will probably help them a little bit,” Izzo said. “And maybe sooner or later they will help us, because they will get better.”
3. A Hard Night for Pierre Brooks
There was one theme Thursday night that Iso overlapped with every other story – “Pierre (Brooks) ‘should get better faster’. “
Almost everything came back to that.
Izzo said “I’m just upset because I don’t like when … you know people want to play, they can come in and talk to you about playing. They better be ready to play”. “Watch what you wish. And he’s got a ways to go. And he’s got to compete. I mean, other guys have competed. I don’t think he’s competed like he needs to compete.”
I don’t know if Brooks will stay in the starting lineup once Akins returns. It doesn’t really matter. As long as Hall is out, the Spartans need Brooks to play the key minutes. They need him to play well this whole season.
Izzo was particularly unhappy with Brooks in one awkward sequence at the end of the first half when he missed a guarded 3-pointer that would have given MSU the lead and then didn’t shut out Brandon Miller’s 3 just before the buzzer.
As Miller said: “I feel like this was a game changer.”
Brooks spent parts of the game guarding Miller, though MSU increasingly gave that job to AJ Hoggard as the game progressed.
Brooks’ tough outing dragged on for a long time. But, with 6 minutes left, he came up to a 3-pointer that cut MSU’s deficit to 11, giving the Spartans life.
The bottom line, though: MSU needs more Brooks. And that starts Friday against an Oregon team that plays enough zone defense that Brooks’ outside shot is important.
4. The wounded duck is next
If you thought the Spartans (3-2) were suddenly mired in injury misery, meet the Ducks, MSU’s next opponent. Oregon (2-3), which has only eight scholarship players available, was attacked by UConn on Thursday afternoon, 83-59, with the Huskies hitting 17 three-pointers. The Ducks aren’t without three injured guards — two starters who’ve been out all season and now Keeshawn Barthelemy, who suffered a foot injury in Oregon’s 66-56 loss to second-ranked Houston last Sunday.
Although ducks have a good size and size at that. Their leading scorer is 6-11, and 255-pound Nafali-Dante and 7-foot freshman Kill Ware scored 18 points and nine rebounds Thursday.
Not surprisingly, Oregon leads the nation in blocked shooting rate, per Kinbaum. The Ducks’ weaknesses lie in how they defend the perimeter and their outside shooting – they’re only 27% from outside the arc over five games.
Friday night’s game, which will technically kick off at midnight Saturday ET (it’s on ESPN2), will be played next to the Moda Center in Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Win or lose, it’ll be MSU’s game on Sunday at the Chili’s Center on the University of Portland campus, where MSU women played Thursday, relegated to fifth-ranked Iowa.
Either way, I think MSU will likely leave this tournament 1-2 on the weekend and 4-3 overall. Because if the Spartans beat Oregon, they’ll likely get a rematch with Villanova, which took the fine Iowa men’s team into overtime on Thursday. It’s tough when you beat a team twice in nine days and the second time around you lose two key players. If the Spartans fall to Oregon on Friday night, they’ll take on Portland on Sunday in a must-win game. Still, it’s better to get the win over the Ducks and deal with Villanova for the second time.
Contact Graham Couch at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Graham_Couch.