Phil Knight Invitational Game Info/How to Watch:
Where: Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Portland, Oregon
When: Friday, Nov. 25, 2022 at 11:59 p.m. ET
TV/Streaming (within the U.S.): ESPN2
No. 12 Michigan State (3-2), No. 26 (Kenpom)
As soon as I wrote the Alabama preview, naturally the news of Malik Hall’s stress reaction in his left foot broke (a stress reaction occurs when the bone is severely bruised or damaged, but no actual fracture has occurred). Hall’s absence doomed the Spartans in a game the team likely wins comfortably if playing at full-strength. But, as my grandmother used to say “if wishes were horses, then beggars would ride...” Given Hall’s and Akins’ prolonged absences, Michigan State will have no option but to play the games on the schedule severely undermanned.
Against Alabama, the team never played as a cohesive unit—while a few guys would play with stretches of intensity, emotion, competitiveness, focus, and execute, there were always one or two players on the court who were not locked-in. This happens when you play three true freshmen significant minutes against high-level opponents. Despite my claim that Michigan State is the better team, that Alabama team will be in the thick of the SEC race, and a real threat to play in the second weekend of the NCAA tournament; a fact that, yet again, underscores the high ceiling of this group of Spartans.
Health aside—add Joey Hauser to the list of walking wounded with a not-insignificant ankle sprain—the Spartans simply were not good enough last night. Walker could not quite hit enough shots, turnovers happened at inopportune moments, and the Spartans shot terribly from three-point range (on a number of good looks). One the other end of the court, the defense simply was not good enough—particularly on Brandon Miller, who was given too much space all night.
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.)
As the Spartans try to figure out how to deal with their injury issues, the lack of depth will actually simplify things: there are only four bodies in the front-court, and if Hauser aggravates his ankle injury, then Izzo will be forced to play with four smalls for most of the game.
Hoggard had a big scoring night, but again was poor defensively (probably his worst defensive performance of the season). He had a number of bad turnovers and generally did not fill the leadership role that the team needs from him. Hoggard, again, simply has to fight on every possession and compete without reservation—too often his body language saps the team’s energy or his refusal to defend with grit will undermine his teammates’ efforts. It is not clear to me why Hoggard’s approach has taken on an air of frustrated diffidence, but it will continue to prove deleterious until he changes. Hoggard has to expect a fight every night, and to bring the requisite level of fire.
Tyson Walker, on the other hand, played an outstanding game. Unburdened by concerns over his shooting percentage, Walker became the volume scorer that the team needed, keeping the Spartans in the game through the last minutes. In an often excellent performance, Tre Holloman flashed his play-making ability on both sides of the ball, while having his fair share of freshman moments.
The guy in need of a big night against Oregon, however, is Pierre Brooks. Brooks has not had a big performance yet this season. Last night when called on to defend the potential lottery pick in Miller, Brooks was constantly too far off Miller, and not pressuring him enough with his strength.
The front-court had a rough night against Alabama, with the lone bright spots being Hauser’s ability to finish the game after rolling his ankle and Jaxon Kohler having some very good first half minutes and generally getting to his spots quite effectively—of his five misses, four of them were shots he makes routinely.
The Spartans need outstanding nights from Mady Sissoko, Joey Hauser, and Jaxon Kohler to have a chance against Oregon’s mammoth front-court.
Oregon (2-3), No. 53 (Kenpom)
1 - Keeshawn Barthelemy (6’2” Jr.), Brennan Rigsby (6’3” So.)
2 - Will Richardson (6’5” Sr.), Jermaine Couisinard (6’4” Sr.), Tyrone Williams (6’5” Jr.)
3 - Quincy Guerrier (6’8” Sr.), Rivaldo Soares (6’6” Sr.)
4 - Kel’el Ware (7’0” Fr.)
5 - N’Faly Dante (6’11” Sr.), Nathan Bittle (7’0” Fr.)
Oregon has their own significant injury crisis as Barthelemy (ankle, five weeks), Rigsby (returning next week after being out months), and Couisinard (out until December), are all out, and will be significant players for the Ducks when they do return. With those guards out, head coach Dana Altman will rely on Will Richardson, Tyrone Williams, and Rivaldo Soares to do most of the ball-handling for the team.
Richardson, especially, will be the key creator with the ball, but the most important players for Oregon are Ware and Dante. Ware, a likely first round draft pick (possibly a lottery guy) is Oregon’s best shooter, a long, mobile athlete, and an excellent defender. Dante, the former Michigan State recruit, has followed a somewhat tortuous trajectory to ultimately become a hard-banging, long, and aggressive post-presence. Sissoko will have his work cut-out for him in a match-up that will evoke his earlier contest with Oscar Tshiebwe. Bittle, another future NBA player, can also really play, and the length of this team speaks for itself.
Oregon does not shoot the ball well from the three-point line or the free-throw line, but the Ducks, obviously, block a ton of shots and are terrific at defending two-point shots (and the paint specifically)—having the tallest team in the nation will do that for you.
Make three-point shots, and make a lot of them. This is a shooter’s dream—a team that invites a ton of three-point shots, and does not always do a great job of contesting them. Oregon basically bets that teams will not be able to hit enough threes to win. So Pierre Brooks, Joey Hauser, Tyson Walker, and AJ Hoggard should all look to take at least seven three-point attempts each (I am absolutely serious about those three-point attempt numbers). Sissoko and Kohler will have to really box-out, and Hoggard and Walker will have to force turnovers against the Ducks’ ball-handlers who will be thrust into creation roles they are not necessarily suited for. Turn over Oregon, run good offense, hit shots. That is the only game-plan available.
With Hauser limping into this one, I do not anticipate him having a great performance, nor do I see the three freshmen being quite ready to overcome the size and the veteran savvy of the Oregon wings. Expect another loss here, but there is a win condition, if and only if, the Spartans hit at least 15 three-point shots.