Michigan State lost to Tennessee by one point in the closing seconds of their exhibition game setup to benefit the rebuilding efforts of Maui. The game was heartbreaking on the court but a victory for all involved.
The game’s outcome technically does not matter but what the Spartans showed and learned on the court means a lot for this season.
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: This game was fun, it was for charity, and it helped both teams - that’s what’s important
This game was a blast to watch on TV. Both teams brought competitive intensity to the floor while the coaches and the coverage could focus more on the game as an event. Live interviews with the coaches while active play was going on started out annoying and ended up being a favorite part of the game.
The coaches eased their way into the idea that this game’s outcome did not matter as much as the event itself. Even Malik Hall got into the action giving live in-game commentary to the broadcasters. Steven Izzo making an appearance on the broadcast was also very fun.
It’s rare to see this type of competitive spirit with an outcome that really doesn’t matter. The final score would be different if this game mattered. The coaches might have used different rotations. They may have been more conservative in pulling guys that were struggling. Clearly, Tennessee’s big man Aidou would have fouled out for almost the entire second half. All of that means the outcome may have been very different.
But the value to the players will be enormous. Izzo was experimenting with lineups and giving some guys longer stretches on the floor to get crucial experience. The players wanted to win throughout the game - GOOD. The fact that they got this type of run against high level competition and won’t have to worry about this hanging over their record all year is rare and special for them.
In the end, the event benefited a great cause. Learning a lot about themselves and having some fun along the way were just added bonuses.
POINT 2: Three guys are going to push for more time than almost anyone realized
Tre Holloman, Coen Carr and Carson Cooper are going to be a much bigger factor in the lineup than anyone might have guessed.
Cooper was always going to be a big part of the team, particularly after Jaxon Kohler went down with injury. Still, his performance in both exhibition games is building a base for a question about who should start at the center position. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Sissoko hold onto the starting position but Cooper end up averaging more minutes per game.
Carr was the X factor of this recruiting class. His dunks are electric and fed fever dreams across the fan base. Still, it was not clear exactly what role he would play for a talented squad. If the Tennessee exhibition is any indication he is going to play a lot of crucial minutes. Carr closing out the game in a small lineup with Malik Hall and no true center was a fascinating sign of potential things to come. His athleticism changes the nature of the Spartans on the floor. His rebounding, defense and attitude are all as important as his clear ability to elevate and dunk.
Tre Holloman may be the true surprise of the (very young) season. Tom Izzo mentioned him specifically at half as the only player bringing any spark to the team. His effort and at times edge were crucial to the Spartans performance today. In a game where Jaden Akins and AJ Hoggard struggled, Holloman was a great option for Michigan State throughout the game.
These three are redefining minutes expectations for the Spartans this season.
POINT 3: Size could be a concern for Michigan State this seasons
Tennessee’s size at the guard spots gave the Spartans trouble. This may be an area of concern for MSU long term this season.
The Spartans have one of the deepest and most experienced back courts in the country but they are not huge. Even at the wing, Jaden Akins at 6’-4”. At many times during the game MSU went with three point guards on the floor - accentuating their size disadvantage against Tennessee.
In the early going of the second half Tennessee found ways to exploit this size differential and clearly gave MSU problems.
Interestingly, Tom Izzo leaned into the size problem by abandoning almost every player on his deep roster that has serious size. The closing minutes of this action packed finale against Tennessee saw MSU rotating offense and defensive lineups, but both lines opted to avoid Maddy Sissoko, Carson Cooper and Xavier Booker. On offense the lineup featured Malik Hall at the five and Coen Carr at the four. On defense he went with four guards and Hall.
It will be an area to watch how MSU navigates its best players being a bit undersized.
Long term AJ Hoggard has a build and physical style of play that can make up for size differences. Akins has great athleticism and hops. Tyson Walker has made a career out of being crafty with his size and defense.
These facts mean MSU has ways to overcome this deficiency but it could still rear its head down the road.
And 1 (POINT 4 - because the refs helped me out - though not the Spartans): There is some fight in this team
Michigan State may not be as lights out as some are hoping this year. The offseason hopes are so high it makes it feel like if MSU loses once it will be a disappointment. This team still has enough weaknesses that that expectation will be more harmful than helpful.
What is clear is this team is going to have some grit. Starting this game down 17-1 and clawing back in the first half - while playing less than stellar offense showed a lot of character.
The competitive fight displayed in the second half though is what excites me even more. Last year it felt like Hoggard was relied on to bring a sense of attitude. At times Hall would get chippy and pushy. And at the end of the year Tyson Walker created an intimidating style of play. Still, the squad was relatively nice seeming on the floor.
In this game - a CHARITY EXHIBITION game - Tre Holloman emerged from a first year of friendly smiles to be a spark plug of attitude in this game. Fears looks like he has the same potential. Coen Carr looks like he is ready to throw down and brawl with anyone in the country.
MSU will need to compete in every way this year to secure the national championship they so obviously want.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know what your takeaway from the game in the comments.