Michigan State rolled into the Kohl Center in Madison Wisconsin and pulled out a slug fest 69-65 win over the (currently) 18th ranked Wisconsin.
Michigan State pulled out the win behind some stellar performances, and some odd coaching choices.
Here are my shoot from-the-hip takes on the game. Like an end of shot clock heave, ready them and let me know what your deep shot after the game is in the comments.
POINT 1: Love him or hate him, Hauser is the guy this team needs this year
Some day, there should be a book about Joey Hauser. His heralded transfer to MSU was muddied as the NCAA required him to sit out a year. A move that derailed his early career momentum, and looks ridiculous in hindsight, considering it came a year before the new transfer portal got going. Beyond that, it’s taken a few years for Hauser to go from, “the best player on the team - you just haven’t seen him yet;” to everyone’s favorite scapegoat; to the guy he is now.
The guy he is now is incredibly valuable. In fact, he may be the most valuable player on the Spartans roster.
20 points and 8 rebounds in 36 minutes is the official line. The 20 points led all scorers as did the minutes total. The 8 rebounds came in second, only behind Mady Sissoko’s 11 rebounds. Crucially, Hauser’s 8 rebounds included 2 offensive rebounds, a state he also led all players in.
Hauser is the glue, the hustle, and the sparkle for the Spartans. Even in a game where he looked exposed multiple times defensively, it’s clear MSU cannot win - or do much - without him. Even in the previous game against Michigan where his shot inexplicably left him, he still led all players in rebounds and was crucial in the defensive approach on Hunter Dickinson.
This year’s MSU team may feature more exciting players, and have individuals that will determine the teams ceiling more, but no one maintains this teams floor like Hauser.
Hauser was 6 for 8 shooting with 2 for 3 on three pointers. Those shots were all in the flow of the game. Each shot, well considered and valued.
He may not be your favorite player. He may not be the most fun to watch. He may make you pull your hair out with a few plays a game that make you wonder if he can coordinate walking and chewing gum. That is all true. So too, is his essential role on this Spartans squad.
POINT 2: Lineups…this is not December Coach
Lineup tinkering is a Coach Izzo mainstay. He rotates players - often too early in games - and tries out different combinations. The Hall of Famer has done this for years showing the positive impact it has late in the season. That said, it can sometimes come at a cost. And in this game, it almost cost MSU the win.
Early on, MSU looked in control. Even with a forced, sped up, pace (more on that in a moment), MSU looked ready to blow this game open, if they just settled into their roles.
Instead, Izzo pulled Mady Sissoko at the 17:30 mark, a solid 45 seconds earlier than his standard rotation has been over the previous 4-5 years. More confusingly, Sissoko gets pulled, talked to, and re-inserted at the 16:30 mark. All the while without any severely obvious deficiency of play.
At the 12 minute media time out, Izzo goes with essentially the full second line. Pierre Brooks, Tre Holloman, Hall (arguably effectively a starter), and Kohler. It’s important to get these players court time, and the game was 14-8, but instead of pushing the game forward, Izzo prioritized mixing and matching the lineups.
For the rest of the half, it felt like Izzo was coaching a pre-season game, focusing on getting his players court time, over coherent basketball. It’s not a surprise over the closing 12 minutes of the half, Wisconsin takes the lead and closes out only 2 points behind the Spartans.
In the second half, the lineup madness continued. A slow start to the half led Izzo to turn to his small ball lineup at the 15 minute mark. It felt like a move to control the game against a Wisconsin team without a truly dominant center.
Yet, the Hoggard, Walker, Akins, Hall, Hauzer lineup lasted less than 90 seconds of game time. Izzo went back to a more traditional lineup almost immediately, giving this group no chance to take control.
To make matters worse, Holloman and Cooper seemed to be prioritized for playing time. It wasn’t till the final 5 minutes of the half that MSU turned back to its “6 starters” and it looked serious about winning this game.
MSU pulled out the win, that is what mattered. And Cooper (see And-1 section) had a few moments. But this felt weird. Particularly the handling of AJ Hoggard.
Hoggard officially played 29 minutes, but it sure felt like less. In the Michigan game it felt like MSU protected Walker on the bench for the end of the game, and in this game it felt like they did that to Hoggard. Hoggard was a game changer tonight, and he almost didn’t get enough of a chance to change the game for the win.
We will undoubtedly be praising Izzo at the end of the year for foreseeing the need to get guys like Cooper crucial minutes on the court. For now though, it just feels weird and concerning. Teams can get too cute with their lineups. MSU is not deep enough to keep making that mistake.
POINT 3: MSU will and SHOULD play slow. We just need to live with it.
One of the crucial stats coming into this game was pace of play. Wisconsin came in one of the lower scoring teams in the Big Ten and one of the slowest paced offensive units in the country. Essentially, this is what Wisconsin has been for years.
By contrast, MSU is historically a fast paced team. Even if not every Izzo coached squad is run and gun, they move the ball in transition, set up fast, and look to keep the game moving offensively. In fact, many of Izzo’s squads have been at their worst when forced to consistently play deep into the shot clock.
The 2022-2023 squad is not a typical Izzo squad. This is a team that scores in the lower third of the Big Ten, and is on pace to be the slowest paced team Izzo has ever coached. From the eye test, instead of looking at their worst deep into shot clocks, this team sometimes looks their best.
Credit the guard play for this end of shot clock play, but also slam your head against a wall that these incredible ball handling guards aren’t speeding around opponents.
It’s shocking to see an MSU team play this slowly. And after tonight, I never want to see them try to play fast.
MSU looked like a newly born horse trying to ice skate, when it pushed the ball in the early going of this game. The game plan was obviously to race past Wisconsin and put this game away early. Unfortunately, MSU looked so unnatural doing this, they missed almost all of their early transition attempts.
Smartly, Izzo had the team stop pushing that hard later in the game, and the team settled down as they settled into their natural grinder pace.
Izzo (and all of us) may have to accept this team for what it is: slow paced.
And 1 (POINT 4 - Thanks refs, I have a bit more to say): WHAT DID COOPER DO IN PRACTICE THIS WEEK?
It’s great to see freshmen get extended minutes. Usually, that means the freshman player is rocking and rolling, or the team is so far ahead it doesn’t matter.
Tonight, in a tight game against a quality opponent, former random guy off the bench, Carson Cooper, was treated like a key part of the rotation.
What did Cooper do in practice to earn this? Fellow freshman, Jaxon Kohler is one game removed from his best offensive showing of the year. And in the last game against Michigan, he had a few moments of actual defensive quality (admittedly, interspersed with some terrible defense). Kohler has looked like the obvious backup to Mady Sissoko, and has shown some signs that investing in him can pay near term dividends.
Cooper looked like a big body guy, with a 2-3 year horizon for when he might consistently impact a game. Tonight, he was treated like a go to option.
Was it the matchup? Was Kohler secretly injured? Did Cooper turn into a completely different player in practice this week?
Inquiring minds need to know. Otherwise, this was just lineup tinkering that could have cost MSU a real game.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know your takeaways from the game in the comments.