We are quickly approaching a special time of year. That is the start of college basketball season.
The No. 4-ranked Michigan State Spartans have high hopes this fall. There is a buzz surrounding them
once again. After a few down years, they are back in the preseason Top 5 rankings.
Coach Tom Izzo believes consistency is the key. Michigan State returns four of five starters from last
year, a team that advanced to an NCAA Tournament regional semifinal.
Fifth-year senior Tyson Walker led the Spartans in scoring last season with 14.8 points per game
The 6-foot guard is Michigan State’s floor general.
Also returning will be senior guard A.J. Hoggard, last year’s team leader in assists. 6-foot-4 junior Jaden
Akins will return to the MSU backcourt as well. And 6-foot- 8 forward Malik Hall is back as a fifth-year
MSU adds the Big Ten's top recruiting class, which includes three freshmen rated in the top 30.
The crown jewel is five-star prospect Xavier Booker, a 6-foot-11 forward from Indianapolis.
Booker could be an X factor. If he can protect the rim and become a defensive presence down low,
there is no limit to where they could go.
Coach Izzo has made it clear that Booker needs time. “This is a process, and that’s what we’re trying to
tell Xavier.” Izzo stated, “In fact, all the freshmen. But Xavier has the longest process from a standpoint
of strength and that ability, but he’s got one of the highest prospects as far as skill level.”
A pair of four-star prospects join Booker on the Spartans this year. 6-foot-7 small forward Coen Carr from
East Point, Georgia along with 6-foot-2 point guard Jeremy Fears Jr. of Joliet, Illinois.
To add, 6-foot-5 guard Gehrig Normand from North Richlands, Texas rounds out Michigan State’s
Izzo prefers to develop his players from within, rather than try for quick fixes through the transfer portal.
That is rare in college basketball these days, it speaks to the strength of his program.
His patience appears to be paying off. "I'm going to do what I do," Izzo said earlier this month. "I'm
gonna enjoy the fight of a relationship program over a transaction program. Last year, people were mad I
didn't go in the portal a lot. This year, I don't hear anybody mad.”
Some other Spartans who should see action in Izzo’s rotation are senior center Mady Sissoko as well as
sophomores Tre Holloman and Jaxon Kohler.
Can they topple Big Ten favorite Purdue? That is the biggest question ahead of postseason play. The
Spartans tip off their regular season schedule Monday, November 6 at home vs. James Madison.
The Michigan Wolverines are a different story. The outlook for them isn’t so bright.
U of M finished 18-16 last season, but this year will be more of an uphill battle.
They lost their top three players from that team. Star center Hunter Dickinson departed for the Kansas
Jayhawks. Guards Kobe Bufkin and Jett Howard went on to become NBA first-round draft picks
Michigan only returns two starters from last season. Lead guard Dug McDaniel is Michigan’s point man.
Forward Terrance Williams is the other. U of M has taken the opposite approach as far as the transfer
portal. The Wolverines went straight to the well, looking to restock their roster.
All-Ivy League guard Jaelin Llewellyn joins the program after three years at Princeton. He’s projected to
start at off-guard. 6-foot-4 transfer Nimari Burnett is a new addition from Alabama. Burnett brings
versatility to the Maize and Blue.
6-foot-8 forward Olivier Nkamhoua joined Michigan after leaving Tennessee. Nkamhoua was a major
score for the school. His play just may be the difference.
6-foot-10 sophomore Tarris Reed Jr. looks to take on a larger role with the Wolverines. Here is where
head coach Juwan Howard will earn his keep, by teaching these young players how to win together.
Still a number of questions surround this squad. Howard is away indefinitely after heart surgery. How
will that affect his team? It should inspire them to win some games.
Expectations have been high in Ann Arbor. The pressure is on Michigan. They don’t want to miss the
NCAA tournament two years in a row. Yet the odds are stacked against them.
A little luck wouldn’t hurt.