Why MSU basketball will be one of the best teams in the Big Ten this season

Sydney Kushak

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January 26, 2021
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Coming off of a 22-9 record from the 2019-2020 season that got cut short due to COVID-19, the Michigan State men’s basketball team was ready to come back and be better than ever for the 20-21 season. After losing two of their best players in Xavier Tillman and Cassius Winston to the NBA while graduating two other seniors, the Spartans had to rally and put together another great starting line up this season.

Head coach Tom Izzo did a great job of keeping the team deep this season with over ten players that see consistent playing time each game. Returning starters junior forward Aaron Henry and sophomore guard Rocket Watts have already shown the team that they are ready to come back and have another amazing season. Co-captain Aaron Henry has shown early on his importance to this year’s team. His decision to remove his name from the 2020 NBA draft shows his determination to better his game and lead the Spartans to another Final Four appearance. In the first five games of this season, Henry has shown his versatility in all aspects of the game. He has helped Watts with his transition to point guard, as well as showing his defensive capabilities. Look for Aaron Henry’s draft stock to increase during this season. As for Rocket Watts, he has taken the reigns from Cassius Winston as point guard this season. Filling the void of Winston is no easy task, but Watts has shown his drive and dedication to learning a new position and helping his team.

The Spartans also have senior shooting guard Joshua Langford back from a two-year foot injury. Having him back helps the Spartans because of his leadership skills and natural shooting ability. His journey back to the court is an inspiration to his teammates and fans alike. This year’s most anticipated player is junior forward Joey Hauser, who is a deep threat from the three point line and a very good passer. After sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer rules, Hauser has immediately shown his impact on the court. After only playing five games, he is averaging 14 points per game and already has three double-doubles.

Next up is the rowdiest player on and off the court; junior forward Gabe Brown is known as the team’s cheerleader, whether he is on the court or on the bench. Like Brown, sophomore forward Malik Hall provides solid defense and overall consistent play. One of the team’s biggest surprises this year has been junior guard Foster Loyer. Coming from little playing time last season to being named co-captain as a junior, Loyer has shown significant improvement and leadership on and off the court. Other noteworthy contributors are junior foward Thomas Kithier, Grand Rapids’ own junior forward Marcus Bingham Jr., and sophomore forward Julius Marble II. Another young player to watch is freshman center Maddy Sissoko. With some experience under his belt, Sissoko has a bright future ahead of him.

Starting off their season with a home game against Eastern Michigan, it was evident the Spartans took a little time to figure out their rhythm on the court. Led by Loyer, Hauser, and Langford, the team pulled out an 83-67 victory against a stingy zone defense. Their next opponent was Notre Dame, a more anticipated match up. Henry and Hauser were solid contributors in this game along with Watts providing solid play as a point guard as the Spartans pulled away after a slow start.

Michigan State’s next task was facing arguably one of the best teams in the country led by legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski. Ever since the loss to Duke at the Breslin Center early in the 19-20 season, this game has been in the back of the team’s head. However, MSU did not start off as well as they had hoped. With many turnovers and missed shots, the Spartans had to dig themselves out of a big hole. Although, they started to come together and were winning 37-33 at halftime. By now it was a battle with the Blue Devils. The surprise player of the game was Julius Marble, providing strong play at both ends of the court. Winning the game with a close score of 75-69, Tom Izzo took his first win ever at Cameron Indoor Arena. 

After the huge win over Duke, the Spartans experienced a bit of a let down with a fairly close home game against Detroit Mercy. The star players of the game were Brown and Watts, as Watts carried with 23 points. Although it wasn’t their best game, being the second half team they are, the Spartans found a way to win 83-76. A few days later, the team played again and won 79-61 against the Western Michigan Broncos. It was another sluggish performance that saw the Broncos stay in the game until late in the second half, but Joey Hauser led the way with 24 points, 10 rebounds, and six three-pointers. With this providing a 5-0 record, the Spartans moved from 8th to 4th in the AP Poll ranking. The team had anticipated playing the 18th-ranked Cavaliers of Virginia in Charlottesville today in a matchup between brothers Joey and Sam Hauser, but due to COVID-19 concerns within the Virginia program, the game has been postponed. The Spartans will move their focus to Oakland on Sunday, a team that always seems to stick around and be a thorn in the side all game against Michigan State. The Golden Grizzlies took a talented Michigan team to overtime and has played a difficult opening stretch, but the Spartans should easily be able to handle them.

The Spartans are off to a great start to the season, showing many reasons why they will be one of the best, if not the best team in the Big Ten this season. Right now, Iowa leads the Big Ten as they are ranked third overall, while Michigan State and Illinois fall close behind. Michigan State’s depth is the factor that will carry them the most this season, along with their energy and determination.

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Go read Mason’s story on Wisconsin basketball in the Big Ten!

Why Wisconsin will come out of the Big Ten season victorious