Throughout the offseason, The Only Colors has examined the individual 2021-2022 performances of the Michigan State men’s basketball players who are expected to return in 2022-2023. For each of those players, we have reviewed what they accomplished last season, looked at where those athletes currently stand at this point in their MSU careers and pondered what we might be able to expect during the 2022-2023 season.
In our last edition of this year’s series, we examine the group that mostly spent the past season at the end of the bench — Mady Sissoko, Pierre Brooks II, Davis Smith, Keon Coleman and the rest of the “practice squad” if you will. At least two of these guys will be counted on to take a major step forward next year and earn a spot among the regular contributors on the roster.
(4.5 minutes, 1.1 points, 1.0 rebound, 0.4 blocks, 63.2% fields goals)
The numbers for Sissoko — which are eerily similar to his freshman stats — basically tell a big part of the story for the big man during his sophomore campaign. In his second year, he really didn’t show much improvement from his freshman campaign, as he didn’t earn more minutes and statistically, roughly, repeated everything he showed the year before. Now these stats don’t say that much considering most of them came in garbage time, but it is still noteworthy that Sissoko failed to earn more minutes on a team that, outside of Marcus Bingham Jr., was challenged in all the areas that the former four-star recruit should excel in on the court.
At this point in his career, Sissoko is a defensive center who thrives doing the dirty work inside and challenging opponents with his fantastic motor and strong athleticism. He has very long arms and is fairly strong, even if he lacks the presence at 6-foot-9 and 235 pounds that some other centers in the conference provide. That makes Sissoko quicker, though, and he clearly is a twitchy jump and run athlete that can use his physical attributes to his advantage. He blocked quite a few shots away from the rim last year, rebounds out of his area and is a very quick second jumper. His long arms clearly help him on the boards and make him a potentially menacing rim protector.
Sissoko had some nice moments during this past season, like when he was thrown into the fire against Purdue in the first half and provided some strong minutes against the massive Zach Edey. He also helped with four points against Penn State at home and did well in garbage time against Michigan on the road, tallying nine points, three rebounds and two blocks in a season high 12 minutes. Unfortunately, Sissoko didn’t see a single minute in the NCAA Tournament.
The problem for the center from Mali is that his game is still very raw, especially offensively, and In terms of understanding team concepts. He gets hectic quite a bit when he receives a pass, rushes his movements and doesn’t always make use of his physical presence. He has a decent, if not good, touch around the rim and even from a few feet out, yet his moves are often too uncoordinated to really be something to fall back on every game. He fouls way too much (almost 10 fouls per 40 minutes), which made it extremely tough for the coaching staff to assign Sissoko a bigger role.
As of now, many people expect Sissoko to actually start or at least play major minutes at the beginning of the 2022-2023 season, and naturally, folks are extremely worried about that disposition. Sissoko just hasn’t proven nearly enough to warrant that many minutes, and even if he develops quite a bit over the summer, it is hard to imagine him being a solid rotation player out of the gate, let alone a difference-maker. With Jaxon Kohler being the only true center behind him — a talented freshman who will have to get used to playing defense the Tom Izzo way — there will be a gigantic need for Sissoko to provide at least double if not three times the minutes he has given the Spartans so far.
Defensively, Sissoko shouldn’t be that far off, though. He could basically be a positive once he gets his foul trouble under control and gets a grip on the screen game. This isn’t only easier said than done, but it also still leaves the offense where Michigan State at least needs to have some kind of plan to involve the young big man. From all accounts, Sissoko’s work ethic won’t be a problem as he is said to be a great, bright kid, a hard worker and someone who will hustle and do anything that is asked of him. Hopefully it won’t be too much next season — for his and for MSU’s sake.
PIERRE BROOKS II
(3.7 minutes, 0.9 points, 0.5 rebounds, 0.2 assists, 30% field goals, 69.2% free throws)
Brooks came in as a highly-decorated freshman last year and was considered to be a typical Michigan State four-year player — tough, versatile, well-coached, smart and gritty. All these things are probably still true, but his first year in East Lansing clearly was an adjustment period for Brooks, as he rarely saw the floor outside of garbage time and struggled to carve out a role in a fairly deep wing rotation.
Offensively, there were clear flashes of what the Spartans saw in Brooks when they recruited him out of high school. He has good size, decent length and is very strong for his position. That physical base gives him versatility on the perimeter and he wasn’t overwhelmed by the physicality of the college game. His shooting form looks picture perfect with a strong base, and there were quite a few times when Brooks showed a nice floater game, finishing extremely tough in between shots over longer defenders. In instances like this, you can sense the ability and advanced offensive technique that Brooks possesses.
His best game clearly came against UConn in the Bahamas where he was forced into early action due to foul trouble and responded by scoring five points in just three minutes. Other than that, the freshman mostly just got garbage time, even though he actually saw some short stints in both NCAA Tournament games, which showed quite a bit of trust on the side of the coaching staff. Whenever he entered a game, Brooks looked confident and rarely seemed like a “deer in the headlights,” which is a positive.
There were of course also some negatives clearly visible. Coming out of high school, Brooks, who always was a stocky wing player, gained quite a bit of weight and not all of those pounds were of the good kind. He actually looked quite heavy and overweight, his foot speed was lacking and for someone who has as versatile a perimeter game as he has, Brooks just needs to get in better shape to make the most of his opportunities. On top that, he isn’t the greatest athlete, his defensive awareness was poor and he looks to be a bit too dependent on his right hand.
Brooks is a player who should be very important for next year’s Michigan State squad since he is basically the Spartans’ only natural, traditional small forward. Malik Hall is a tweener and will most likely be challenged by guarding smaller, quicker wings, Jaden Akins can slide over in a three -guard lineup, yet would also have problems with longer perimeter forwards. Brooks, at 6-foot-6 and with a strong base, should in theory be able to give any lineup much needed balance and be able to defend a variety of opposing wings.
As noted above, he has to get in much better shape first, but if he has a strong summer, there should be plenty of playing time to be had for him as a sophomore. His long-term potential is still very solid and while he hasn’t shown much yet, he is the type of player that can do a lot of things well and develop into a leader at some point down the road because of it. It likely won’t be during the 2022-2023 season, but hopefully he takes a much-needed step in the right direction.
The rest of the Spartans
The other players on the roster who are expected to return next season— Davis Smith, Steven Izzo, Maliq Carr, Keon Coleman and Jason Whitens — didn’t see much action in 2021-2022.
Coleman still scored two buckets in garbage time, and due to his 6-foot-4 frame, looked like someone who might contribute in a small variety down the road, even if he is a football player first. It will be interesting to see if Coleman and Carr return to the basketball team in January, or choose to solely focus on football (especially in Carr’s case). Steven Izzo, Tom’s son, remains a fan-favorite walk-on who won’t see much playing time next season.
Smith was actually about to leave the program this summer and entered the transfer portal. The former walk-on and son of MSU legend Steve Smith decided to come back the East Lansing, though, and might actually get to play on scholarship just like he did last season. Whitens missed the 2021-2022 season after suffering a significant ACL injury in an exhibition game, but is expected to return in 2022-2023 to make up for his lost final year of eligibility.