Tom Izzo ‘surprised,’ not disappointed at MSU’s NCAA First Four draw
Coach Tom Izzo said March 14, 2021 he was “surprised” but “not disappointed” at Michigan State basketball’s NCAA tournament First Four draw vs. UCLA.
Michigan State athletics
When the final horn hit on another loss, Tom Izzo’s Michigan State basketball program arrived at a crossroads.
Joshua Langford announced he would not take a sixth year moments later. Jack Hoiberg entered the NCAA transfer portal less than a week later. And more decisions remain for many on a roster that underachieved throughout a tumultuous COVID-19-disrupted season.
The Spartans got outscored by opponents in only one previous season, Izzo’s first in 1995-96. By 2.1 points a game in going 16-16 and missing the NCAA tournament.
MSU managed to barely squeak into the Field of 68 in 2020-21, then got beat in the First Four by UCLA to finish 15-13. Opponents outscored the Spartans for just the second time (by 1.7 points per game) under the Hall of Fame coach and suffered a pair of 30-points defeats that are the worst of Izzo’s tenure.
They also knocked off three top-five teams in the final two weeks of the regular season and extended Izzo’s streak to 23 consecutive NCAA tournament berths.
MSU currently has two scholarships open for three guard recruits signed for 2021-22 – five-star Max Christie and four-stars Jaden Akins and Pierre Brooks II. Aaron Henry likely will declare for the NBA draft for the second straight spring, and if he remains in this time it would get the Spartans to the maximum 13 scholarship players.
But Izzo and his staff have been actively searching the NCAA transfer portal, a sign there could be more players leaving. At least one of those Izzo’s staff has shown interest in, Northeastern sophomore point guard Tyson Walker, announced Saturday he is transferring to MSU.
Here is one last exit review of the 2020-21 Spartans on scholarship as they prepare for a potentially change-filled offseason:
Offensive stats: 69.4 points, 37.4 rebounds, 4.5 steals, 4.7 blocks, 15.9 assists, 13.0 turnovers.
Shooting: 42.6% overall, 32.1% 3-pointers, 72.7% FT.
Defensive stats: 71.1 points, 34.3 rebounds, 6.5 steals, 3.1 blocks, 13.3 assists, 10.5 turnovers.
Shooting defense: 42.6% overall, 32.1% 3-pointers, 71.6% FT.
Position: shooting guard.
Height/weight: 6-5, 200.
Year: graduate student.
Stats: 9.7 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.6 blocks, 0.3 steals, 1.9 turnovers, 28.1 minutes.
Shooting: 37.7% overall, %: 34.3% 3-pointers.
Overview: Langford left things nebulous if he planned to use his extra year of eligibility or turn pro, calling the UCLA game his “last college basketball game for Michigan State” without further explanation. He also could change his mind and come back, and he would not count against the scholarship limit. The 24-year-old returned from two left foot surgeries and emerged as a workhorse, showing flashes of his old athleticism at times but more signs of wear and tear from the injuries and a year and a half away from basketball. He struggled with getting consistent lift for his outside shot and lateral quickness on defense.
Position: point guard.
Height/weight: 5-11, 175.
Year: redshirt junior.
Stats: 0.5 points, 0.2 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 0.1 turnovers, 3.1 minutes.
Shooting: 15.4% overall, 0% 3-pointers
Overview: There were points late in the year when Izzo called upon Hoiberg to come in and provide a calmness to the offense at point guard, much like he did in the 2019-20 opener at Madison Square Garden against Kentucky. But that late-season run more was a product of the Spartans’ dire need for stabilization at the position. He leaves MSU with two years of eligibility remaining.
Position: shooting guard/wing.
Height/weight: 6-6, 210.
Stats: 15.4 points, 5.6 rebounds 3.6 assists, 1.3 blocks, 1.3 steals, 2.9 turnovers, 32.5 minutes.
Shooting: 44.9% overall, 29.6% 3-pointers.
Overview: Henry withdrew from the draft late last summer and returned to MSU with the mission to work on becoming a leading man. It took some time, but he emerged as the Spartans’ Alpha dog down the stretch to get into the NCAAs, though that type of selfishness isn’t necessarily his strong suit with his versatile skill-set. Henry is best when setting up others for success by doing the little things — at times he managed to be the primary scorer while still maintaining those all-around traits, and at times he seemed overwhelmed trying to make too much happen. He did improve his ball-handling and decision-making, remaining a strong on-ball defender and improving his outside shot (despite the percentages that are a little deceiving with having to be the top scoring option rather than facilitating first and scoring second). There probably is not much more he can do to prove himself to pro scouts with another year in college, other than continued work on his shot.
Position: point guard.
Height/weight: 6-0, 175.
Stats: 4.2 points, 1.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.6 turnovers, 16.6 minutes.
Shooting: 29.4% overall, 32.7% 3-pointers.
Overview: Before left shoulder surgery took him out for the final third of the season, Loyer proved to be the Spartans’ best option to run the offense and keep the ball flow they built with Cassius Winston. However, he struggled to shoot and proved a defensive liability against bigger guards and getting posted up with opponents actively looking to get him into switch situations with big men. Loyer is a smart, heady point guard who is best fit for the limited reserve role he served behind Winston, but only if he can make shots and avoid turnovers that go the other way for easy baskets.
Height/weight: 6-7, 210.
Stats: 7.2 points, 2.7 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.5 blocks, 0.4 steals, 0.6 turnovers, 20.7 minutes.
Shooting: 47.1% overall, 42.0% 3-pointers.
Overview: Brown was MSU’s best shooting option from outside, though his quick trigger at times limited MSU’s offensive flow. That improved over the course of the season, and his minutes increased. The blowup on a missed switch during the UCLA game shows room for defensive growth, but Brown also used his long wingspan to help seal driving lanes. Brown needs to get better at attacking the boards on both ends and becoming a more assertive driver on offense to maximize his athletic ability rather than passively settling for jump shots. .
Marcus Bingham Jr.
Height/weight: 6-11, 225.
Stats: 3.5 points, 3.2 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, 0.6 steals, 0.4 turnovers, 11.4 minutes.
Shooting: 50% overall, 0% 3-pointers.
Overview: Bingham turned a switch around midseason. More often than not, the kid who joked and laughed his way through his first two seasons became a more serious presence on the court and began attacking the boards and the rim. He showed a deft touch at the free-throw line as he started getting more offensively aggressive, though he still needs more mass and strength to finish through contact more frequently. Bingham also began bypassing the 3-pointers that often would get him a quick hook when he would miss. He was MSU’s best shot-blocking option and improved his ball-screen defense and footwork. That lack of girth on the block sometimes betrays him against bigger post players, so finally adding weight and muscle as well as improving his stamina are critical to potentially becoming a regular 20-plus-minute contributor.
Height/weight: 6-8, 230.
Stats: 2.4 points, 2.5 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.2 steals, 0.2 blocks, 0.5 turnovers, 10.8 minutes.
Shooting: 65% overall.
Overview: Kithier’s minutes dwindled down the stretch as his strong positional defense became less effective against the star power of the Big Ten’s post players. His strong plus-minus shows he can be an asset on the floor positionally, but Kithier often found himself in foul trouble (2.4 per game) while struggling to rebound and score consistently. Outside of his 11 minutes against Maryland in the Big Ten tournament, he played 6 minutes or less in each of the final eight games, including DNPs in the win over Michigan and the NCAA loss to UCLA. He remains a viable Big Ten bench option in a limited capacity.
Height/weight: 6-9, 220.
Year: redshirt junior.
Stats: 9.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.4 steals, 1.9 turnovers, 21.5 minutes.
Shooting: 47.5% overall, 34% 3-pointers.
Overview: Hauser arrived with significant expectations as a scorer and distributor. He showed his abilities as a stretch-4 shooter and strong rebounder in late November and early December before everything evaporated after a career-best 27 points against Wisconsin on Christmas Day. Hauser routinely got beat one-on-one and struggled with help defense and positioning guarding the post, which combined with worst foul problems on the team at 2.6 per game and left him on the bench for long, critical stretches. It also affected Hauser offensively, averaging just 7.5 points over his final 20 games and reaching double figures seven times in that span after scoring 10-or-more in seven of his first eight games as a Spartan. He trailed only Henry in turnovers per game, routinely losing the ball on the block or getting stripped from behind. It seems unlikely he will join his brother, Sam, in turning pro. He also could petition for another year of eligibility after a half-year redshirt at Marquette and denial of his appeal for immediate eligibility after transferring to MSU before the 2019-20 season.
Position: point/shooting guard.
Height/weight: 6-2, 185.
Stats: 7.7 points, 1.7 rebounds. 2.7 assists, 1.6 turnovers, 22.6 minutes.
Shooting: 33.6% overall, 25.3% 3-pointers.
Overview: Like Hauser, Watts entered the season being counted on to become a key contributor. And like Hauser, Watts’ hot start vanished once Big Ten play began. And like Hauser, problems on defense compounded issues on offense and forced him in and out of the starting lineup all season. Not having a traditional summer greatly affected his ability to transition into a lead guard who can effectively score and distribute, and he spent much of his time off the ball calling for it rather than moving to create open spaces. Some of that improved in spurts, as did his rebounding down the stretch, but the Watts who dropped 21 points against Michigan while confidently hitting open looks was infrequent – he scored in double digits just in the Spartans’ final 23 games. Instead of a rising star potentially NBA draft-bound, Watts exits the season looking like a point guard with limited court awareness and capacity to direct an offense and a shooting guard unable to hit from outside with consistency. Learning to be a point guard is critical to Watts’ potential professional future, as is improving his lateral ability to defensively stay in front of his man.
Height/weight: 6-7, 215.
Stats: 5.0 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.9 turnovers, 17.5 minutes.
Shooting: 48.9% overall, 36.4% 3-pointers.
Overview: Hall’s versatility at both ends of the court proved to be his hallmark, with the ability to defend three positions and attack offensively off the dribble against bigger opponents, posting up smaller wings and hitting from outside to stretch defenses. Still, like most of his teammates, it all came in waves, and Hall’s up-and-down minutes and starting assignments throughout the season reflected that. He flashed consistency as a rebounder, though Hall continues to just scratch the surface of his talent in that area as well. Izzo wants to see more of the player who produced a dominant second half against Maryland in the Big Ten tournament after battling foul trouble in the first. He could take an Xavier Tillman-type jump in pro scouts’ eyes by building upon his 2020-21 performance.
Julius Marble II
Height/weight: 6-8, 225
Stats: 4.0 points, 2.1 rebounds, 0.7 turnovers, 9.3 minutes.
Shooting: 57.7% overall, 100% 3-pointers.
Overview: It is hard to gauge Marble’s second season without understanding how much an impact his father’s death back home in Texas over the summer affected both his development and performance. His breakout performance at Duke showed his offensive potential, while his post defense proved vital in MSU’s stretch run. That physical nature on the block, however, also earned him a reputation with officials — Marble’s 2.2 fouls per game ranked third on the team and he picked up four fouls six times and fouled out once in the Spartans’ final 15 games. The offseason will be vital for Mable to iron out how he uses his hands and arms defensively, as well as to set better screens to avoid offensive fouls, and hone his low-post moves to consistently get his offense.
Position: point guard.
Height/weight: 6-3, 220.
Stats: 2.5 points, 1.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.3 steals, 1.1 turnovers, 13.2 minutes.
Shooting: 30.7% overall, 16.7% 3-pointers.
Overview: With Watts’ problems moving from the wing and Loyer’s size limitations, Hoggard found himself in an integral role in his first season. That included eight starts in which he showed natural point guard passing vision with ability to push the pace in transition and attack off the dribble. However, he struggled to finish around the basket when he did drive and proved a liability shooting outside, while also getting himself in trouble with the ball attempting to create in traffic. A preseason knee injury hampered his early development, and that showed defensively in his abysmal plus-minus that was second-worst only to Hauser. But physically, Hoggard showed the type of scrappiness and tenacity that Izzo wants from his guards. And with so much thrust onto him at such a young age, Hoggard proved capable of handling extended minutes in a reserve role with four seasons of eligibility ahead.
Height/weight: 6-9, 235.
Stats: 1.1 points, 1.8 rebounds, 0.4 blocks, 0.2 turnovers, 5.4 minutes.
Shooting: 58.8% overall.
Overview: His wingspan and rugged build helped in his limited minutes against some of the Big Ten’s best big men, and he proved himself as a fearless rebounder in the post who could in time emerge as a shot-blocking force as he learns the roles and responsibilities of Izzo’s defense. Offensively, Sissoko looked like a work in progress but displayed a deft touch around the basket for a player who broke his hand and missed half his senior year at prep school. This will be his first full summer to work on his skills since 2018, and the Mali native’s ceiling remains high with four years of eligibility remaining.