Izzo’s frank assessments of his teams over the last few decades usually are critical.
Not this year.
“I’m going to go a little unconventional and tell you I love my team,” Izzo said before starting his 29th season. “I’ve seen some veterans change. I’ve seen the middle group grow. And, I’ve seen the young guys with a lot of talent.”
The fourth-ranked Spartans will be led by a trio of experienced guards — Tyson Walker, A.J. Hoggard and Jaden Akins — who chose to return after entering their names in the NBA draft. Walker received votes as a preseason AP All-America candidate and is a preseason All-Big Ten player along with Hoggard. Akins, though, may have the most talent on the team.
Malik Hall, Maddy Sissoko and Carson Cooper will provide a post presence for a team that has five of its top six scorers back and nine players from last season’s team that reached the Sweet 16 for the 15th time under Izzo.
Highly touted freshmen Xavier Booker, a 6-foot-11 forward, and point guard Jeremy Fears along with gravity-defying Coen Carr and shooting guard Gehrig Normand were rated as one of the best recruiting classes in the country.
“We’ve got a good crop of freshman,” Hall said. “A lot of players, when they’re highly touted, have a one-and-done attitude. Our freshmen don’t have that mindset.”
With more than 10 players vying for playing time, practices are intense.
“Our scrimmages are really good,” Walker said. “The young guys compete, and make the vets pick up the intensity.”
Michigan State, which won the 2000 national championship in one of eight Final Fours under Izzo, has its highest preseason ranking since being No. 1 four years ago. The past two years, the Spartans were unranked in consecutive preseason polls for the first time since Izzo’s first two years as a head coach.
“Back in the saddle,” Izzo said. “Now, we’ve got to stay in the saddle.”
HOLES TO FILL
Michigan State will miss its best outside shooter and a reserve guard who played 14-plus minutes a game. Joey Hauser went pro instead of returning for a sixth season in college after making a team-high 46% of 3-pointers last season and Pierre Brooks transferred to Butler.
Michigan State has played in a Big Ten-record 25 straight NCAA tournaments, giving Izzo the longest streak by a coach. The Spartans’ run that trails only Kansas’ active streak (33) and North Carolina (27) from 1975 to 2001.
ON THE MEND
Jaxon Kohler, a 6-9 sophomore forward, had surgery on his left foot Oct. 17 and is expected to be out of the lineup for two months.
As usual, Izzo is testing his team with quality, nonconference competition. The Spartans will tune up for the season in a scrimmage against No. 9 Tennessee in an exhibition that will raise money and awareness for Maui relief efforts in the aftermath of the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a century.
Michigan State will face No. 2 Duke on Nov. 14 in Chicago, No. 12 Arizona on Nov. 23 in California and No. 20 Baylor on Dec. 16 in Detroit.
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