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Michigan State Men’s Basketball: No. 18 Alabama Preview

NCAA Basketball: Villanova at Michigan State Dale Young-USA TODAY Sports

Phil Knight Invitational Game Info/How to Watch:

Where: Moda Center, Portland, Oregon

When: Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022 at 10:30 p.m. ET

TV/Streaming (within the U.S.): ESPN

No. 12 Michigan State (3-1), No. 24 (Kenpom)

After a dominant 33 minutes against Villanova, the Spartans let the undermanned, but determined, Wildcats back into the game, and, ultimately, barely escaped with a home win. The core of that team-wide near letdown falls on A,J. Hoggard. As the point guard and chief tone-setter for the team, Hoggard’s dip in focus, effort and execution on offense and defense over a three-minute stretch did more to re-energize Villanova than anything. From 6:51 to 3:29 in the second half, Hoggard turned the ball over three times and committed two fouls. That stretch saw the lead cut to seven points and the Spartans knocked onto the back foot.

Hoggard is a big talent — he finished with 13 points, 10 assists, and eight rebounds — but his variable level of focus and at times brutal turnovers (most of his turnovers this season have been weak ones where defenders have picked his pocket or he has had it poked away in traffic) seriously undermine the effectiveness of his contributions on offense. Far more importantly, Hoggard’s downright poor defense both on and off ball this season have been a major step back from where he ended last season.

Last season, Hoggard at times looked like a future all-defense level of contributor with memorably dominating performances against lottery picks Jaden Ivey (Purdue) and Johnny Davis (Wisconsin). If Hoggard does not get back to that level, this team will simply never reach its potential. He can be that player on both ends, and he will have to be if this team is going to win games late in March, and certainly, if the Spartans have a hope of beating their next few opponents.

Michigan State Depth Chart:

1 - A.J. Hoggard (6’4” Jr.), Tre Holloman (6’2” Fr.)
2 - Tyson Walker (6’0” Sr.), Jaden Akins (6’4” So.)
3 - Malik Hall (6’8” Sr.), Pierre Brooks II (6’5” So.)
4 - Joey Hauser (6’9” Sr.)
5 - Mady Sissoko (6’9” Jr.), Jaxon Kohler (6’9” Fr.), Carson Cooper (6’11” Fr.)

The critique of Hoggard aside, this team is performing at a high level on both ends. I did not expect Sissoko to continue his run of form against Eric Dixon and the highly mobile and demanding Villanova offense. Even with the weaker outing from the center position, the majority of the game against Villanova showed, yet again, what this team is capable of: great defense, rebounding, running, great ball-movement and hitting shots.

A shooting night like the one Tom Izzo’s group had on Friday had been coming. This is going to be a very good shooting team and the relatively meager shooting thus far this season meant that the avalanche was coming sooner or later. I fully expect Walker, Hall, Hauser and Brooks to finish above 35 percent from three-point range, and for Akins and Hoggard to both finish north of 30 percent. If those predictions come to fruition, then this team will have tremendous spacing all season and will make teams pay when they give up offensive rebounds.

The team’s offensive balance and defensive pressure are Izzo’s great early-season achievements — against teams with better guards, the front-court steps to the fore; against teams with wings, the guards and bigs steps up; against powerful interior teams, it’s the guards and shooters against slower teams’ offensive execution.

Each game has offered a new challenge, and in each contest the Spartans have figured it out (against Gonzaga, they could not overcome a wet basketball court, so I give them a pass). Key to this balance: the offensive dynamism. Hoggard and Walker have formed a dynamic point-guard duo, while Akins, Brooks and Hall have provided shooting, slashing, defense and rebounding on the wing. Additionally, Hall, Hauser, and Sissoko have finished in the paint and grabbed offensive rebounds.

Walker and Hauser as superior jump-shooters off of movement has given Izzo two real weapons in the half-court to pair with Hoggard and Walker’s pick-and-roll mastery, and with Hall and Akins’ slashing and paint-attacking. All that remains is a more assertive Brooks and a clearer offensive role for freshmen Holloman and Kohler, but those last offensive wrinkles likely will not get ironed-out until later in the non-conference season.

The offensive balance and returning continuity have ensured a fast start to the season in the half-court offense, and that has really set up the Spartan defense for success — not having to deal with transition or with the cross-matches that result in the half-court even after good transition defense is a major key to the improvement of the Michigan State defense even in the absence of elite shot-blocking. This team is fun. This team is good. And this team is going to get considerably better.

No. 18 Alabama (4-0), No. 13 (Kenpom)

Depth Chart:

1 - Mark Sears (6’1” Jr.), Jaden Bradley (6’3” Fr.)
2 - Nimari Burnett (6’4” Sr.), Jahvon Quinerly (6’1” Sr.)
3 - Rylan Griffen (6’5” Fr.)
4 - Brandon Miller (6’9” Fr.), Noah Gurley (6’8” Sr.)
5 - Charles Bediako (7’0” So.), Noah Clowney (6’10” Fr.), Nick Pringle (6’9” Jr.)


Alabama presents a tough challenge for opponents: the Crimson Tide have a bunch of talented, aggressive guards, a few savvy veterans in the front-court with legitimate size, and a bona fide NBA draft pick in Brandon Miller. Alabama plays fast (No. 15 in pace in the nation to start the season), the Crimson Tide really contest two-point shots (No. 1 defensive two-point percentage allowed in the nation at 32.7 percent), which contributes to their No. 3 defensive effective field-goal percentage in the nation (35.5 percent). While Alabama does not force a lot of turnovers, the team blocks shots and clean the defensive glass.

Offensively, this team plays fast (I want to emphasize that) — Alabama turns the ball over a lot (No. 320 in the nation), but it counteracts that with the No. 1 offensive rebounding rate in the nation and by getting to the free-throw line at a high clip (top-50 in the nation).

While the Crimson Tide do not shoot the ball tremendously well (Sears and Miller are the real danger men from three-point range, with Burnett as the third three-point weapon of note), Alabama shoots a TON of three-point shots (No. 8 in the nation in three-point attempt rate), which guarantees the spacing the Crimson Tide need that, in turn, allows their drivers to pressure the paint and get to the line — in short Alabama plays modern offense, with a loose, open style, and puts a lot of pressure on defenses.

Sears and Miller are the real danger men, but Bradley is a future NBA player as well. This trio with a really solid set of long and athletic supporting players can really play. The Spartans will easily represent their biggest challenge of the season to date, but this team has talent and confidence.

Miller is not an absolute elite athlete, rather a longer, lanky shooter, and to be clear: he is an NBA-level shooter who will pull the trigger from anywhere and everywhere. Hauser and Hall will need to be in his air-space on the catch, while guarding against his longer reach and stride if he attacks their closeouts.

Game plan:

Force guys outside of Sears and Miller to beat you (especially forcing guys like Bradley, Quinerly, Burnett, Griffen and Gurley to beat you with contested three-point shots), embrace the up-and-down game (especially if Akins is fit to play after recently aggravating his surgically repaired foot), and take full-advantage of the Alabama turnovers to get easy transition buckets.

In the half-court be patient: do not settle for early shots, instead force Alabama to defend for a full possession — the Crimson Tide will lose patience and discipline. Feeding their transition game with early bad shots or foolish shots in the paint against their shot-blockers will unravel the strong early-season defense the Spartans have played.

Hauser will need to have the best perimeter-defense game of his Spartan career, and Hall will have to punish the weaker Alabama wings on offense. If Hoggard plays a complete game, on both ends, then the win-condition becomes far more clear (even missing Akins, which seems likely), but I do not think he is quite ready for that just yet.


If Akins is fit to play in this game at close to his maximum level, then I expect the Spartans to win, but if Akins is not ready to roll, then Izzo will need huge performances from Pierre Brooks (especially as a shot-maker and rebounder) and from Tre Holloman (as a turnover-maker and defensive specialist). I doubt Akins can go, and I think that plays the difference in this one against the deep and talented Alabama back-court that will wear down Walker and Hoggard in an up-and-down affair.

Alabama 82, Michigan State 78

Go Green