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Notes & Quotes: Michigan State’s Tom Izzo ready for one of his “toughest seasons” yet

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament- Purdue vs Michigan State Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State men’s basketball is just over one month away from tipping off.

Head coach Tom Izzo took to the podium on Monday afternoon to speak to the media before his team’s first practice of the 2022-2023 season.

“I’m excited to get going,” Izzo said. He also stated that this might be the toughest season in his 28 years as the head coach.

Izzo looks forward to the gauntlet

One of the main reasons why this season will be one of Izzo’s toughest as a head coach is because of the brutal schedule. Michigan State already faces a difficult Big Ten schedule in conference play. Then, add on games against Gonzaga, Kentucky, Villanova, Alabama and Notre Dame, among others, in non-conference slate and the path to the Final Four becomes increasingly more difficult.

“It’s kind of gotten insane,” Izzo said. “I thought it was a tough schedule, and then late I added Gonzaga because I wasn’t gonna pass up the aircraft carrier.

“Did we bite off more than we can chew? Yes we did,” Izzo continued. “Am I upset about it? No, I’m not.”

As mentioned by Izzo, Michigan State added the game against Gonzaga aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln in San Diego Bay later in the process. The last college basketball game to be played on an aircraft carrier took place in 2012 between Syracuse and San Diego State. Michigan State has also played on an aircraft carrier previously, falling to North Carolina 67-55 in 2011 aboard the USS Carl Vinson.

“The aircraft carrier game will be a special event,” Izzo said. “The aircraft carrier is Michigan State. I wasn’t going to let somebody else steal it.”

Injuries and depth among concerns

The offseason has been filled with concerns for Michigan State, particularly at the center position. Izzo made it known he needs guys to step up and be leaders.

“I like the group I got,” Izzo said. “It’s smaller. I don’t like that, but we made a choice. The choice was to stick with the people we got, try to develop them, try to keep the homegrown guys — understanding that some of these guys are ready for breakout years.”

Izzo highlighted some potential breakout candidates. Names mentioned included guard A.J. Hoggard, forward Joey Hauser, forward Malik Hall, guard Tyson Walker and guard Jaden Akins. Izzo also said he expects “big things” out of guard/forward Pierre Brooks.

“We do have a good mix of veterans, and we are inexperienced at center,” Izzo said. “There is no question that our wings are going to be very experienced. Our guards are going to be much better in general.”

Injuries are a big concern heading into the season. Sophomore guard Jaden Akins underwent surgery on Sept. 10 for a stress reaction in his left foot.

“I don’t see that thing going into the season at all,” Izzo said. “But does it hurt us that he is out? Of course it hurts us that he’s out. We’re expecting a full recovery. We’re just expecting it to take another three more weeks.”

Izzo also noted that Malik Hall has been in a boot because of a “bad stubbed toe.” Hall will be out for a little over a week, according to Izzo.

Izzo commented on the lack of depth at the center position. He stated that Michigan State might need to use all of its “bigs.”

That includes 6-foot-11 freshman center Carson Cooper, who might not be redshirted this season due to the minimal depth down low.

The original plan for Cooper was to redshirt this season. However, Izzo says that Cooper is a “way better athlete than I thought.” He also said that he “is very talented offensively.”

Izzo also commented that center Mady Sissoko looks “bigger and stronger,” while true freshman forward/center Jaxon Kohler has been impressive on the offensive end, but needs to improve defensively.

Michigan State opens its basketball season with an exhibition against Grand Valley State on Nov. 1. The Spartans host Northern Arizona to open the regular season on Nov. 7 from the Breslin Center.