Six days away. That means that Count Rugen from The Princess Bride can count down the days on his right hand. We all know MSU is going into this season with lofty expectations. A national championship feels very much on the table. But let’s take a look at some specifics of what we expect to see this season before we (hopefully) cut down the nets.
Andy: Tyson Walker
BBD: Tyson Walker
O: Jaden Akins. I wanted to agree with the guys here, but for the sake of having varying opinions I went with Akins. Maybe Walker looks to be more of a facilitator in his last year to show NBA teams some other sides to his game, only turning into the alpha in crunch time, and maybe Akins looks to be more aggressive in getting his shots as he knows this is his final season playing collegiately. Akins will average 16 a game, and Walker will come in as our next highest scorer at 14. Two other players will average double digits, I am guessing Hoggard and Cooper, and then we will have a handful of players in that 5-9 PPG range.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER:
Andy: I’m going to say that Jaden Akins takes the leap over the course of the year from good to great. He’s infinitely talented, and he’ll get the minutes he needs to make an impression. He’s going to be in the NBA next year, and he’ll leave East Lansing with an exclamation point on his way out.
BBD: Tre Holloman. This may be recency bias coming off of the two exhibition games but as of right now Holloman is clearly the most improved from last year. The hope for the team is Jaden Akins wins this as he becomes the transcendent talent on the team. The reality though may be Holloman going from basic point guard backup who would barely shoot the ball to aggressive defender and shooter is the change no one saw coming.
O: I am going with my boy Carson Cooper. I have been predicting him to take over the starting center position and I think that is still going to happen, if not in the opener then at some point in November. I just think he has a more all-around game than Mady Sissoko does, and he will benefit more than Mady will from playing with the top line.
Andy: Coen Carr. He’s already a fan favorite - the cheer for his first one handed dunk against Hillsdale was as loud as any I’ve heard in a game with low stakes in a long time - but the fans are going to see that in addition to his YouTube stardom, he’s an excellent overall basketball player who’s going to improve over the course of the year.
BBD: Due to impact, Coen Carr will stand out. Jeremy Fears has the ability to be the best (and may be best long term) but if the team needs him (or plays him enough) to be the best that will mean something is wrong with Hoggard or Walker.
O: Jeremy Fears. I went with Fears because I think he has the easiest path to significant minutes. Let’s go ahead and just remove Gehrig Normand from the conversation as I am guessing he will only get into games during garbage time. I think Coen Carr will be limited either playing behind Akins on the wing or behind Hall and Booker as a smaller sized power forward, so he just won’t have the opportunities to be that impactful. Don’t worry. Izzo will get him in there when the team needs a jolt of energy. He’ll probably play more during home games to help amp up the Izzone. And Xavier Booker, while I think he will eventually be our starting PF this season, I do think he is going to remain on a short leash and will regularly be the first substitution that Izzo makes. Fears, too, will be limited in available minutes just because he is behind the terrifying twosome of Hoggard and Walker, but I think Izzo is going to seek out minutes for him to help get him experience so he can lead this team next year. I see him being one of the guys scoring in the 5-9 range and will probably chip in a few assists per game as well.
Andy: I want to believe, I really do, but I’m going to land on 0. Seeing Tom Izzo’s reaction to Steven’s made free throws against Hillsdale was cool, and hearing the crowd really get excited when those shots fell was great. I think the feel-good story ends with the exhibition season though. He’ll have opportunities, but I don’t think he’ll be able to cash in.
BBD: He’ll score three, one actual basket and one free throw.
O: Lil’ Izzo is going to go off this year in garbage time and will retire with a career total of eight points.
Okay, now let’s look at the team’s performance as a whole.
Andy: 26-5 (17-3 Big Ten)
Those road games in the dog days are tough, and Illinois, Maryland, and Purdue feel like potential stumbling blocks. I’d love to see a rare Champions Classic win, but Duke is a tough draw. The Thanksgiving game in California against Arizona also feels like a letdown. On the positive side, I think there will be a lot to cheer about in Big Ten play.
BBD: 26-5 (16-4)
I think the floor for this team in terms of wins in the regular season is 23. Anything less than that and injuries will have to have had a serious impact on the team.
O: 27-4 (16-4)
I always like to be more of a homer than my cowriters, so I just improved their predicted records by one game. But yes, I can see MSU going undefeated in nonconference play. We will beat Duke in Chicago. We will beat Arizona in Palm Springs. We will beat Baylor in Detroit. And we will obviously beat the Oaklands and Georgia Southerns on our schedule.
Come Big Ten play, let’s put an L on @ Nebraska (yep, Coach Hoiberg is going to get one against Izzo), @ Illinois, @ Penn State, and @ Purdue.
BIG TEN STANDINGS:
O: 1st. The conventional wisdom is that this is a two-team race between MSU and Purdue for Big Ten supremacy this year. I agree, but I am also Fairleigh certain (remind me which of you used that joke in a recent comment section) the tape is out there now on how to beat Purdue so I think they will get toppled by at least one more conference opponent than us and we will get the banner and be the #1 seed in the tournament. Of course, since we only play them on the road this year, we will not be one of those teams.
BIG TEN TOURNAMENT:
Andy: I’m predicting they’ll be the 2 seed, getting that precious double-bye. I think the Spartans coast to the final game, and I think they get it done. If the Spartans have to see Purdue again, it won’t be in West Lafayette, and if it’s anyone else, I don’t see how they would be on the weaker side of the matchup on a neutral floor. Give me the Spartans to raise at least one banner this season.
O: MSU will get bounced in the semifinal round, missing an opportunity to get revenge on Purdue in a potential finals matchup. I think Tom won’t want to run the team that hard for a second consecutive day and has the team looking forward to the Big Dance after they win a quarterfinal game.
NCAA TOURNAMENT SEED:
Andy: 2 seed
BBD: 2 or 3 seed
O: 1 seed and we are getting placed in the Midwest so we can play our Sweet 16 and Elite 8 games in Detroit.
WIN IT ALL?
Andy: MSU can absolutely win the national championship. This feels like Izzo’s last best chance to get his second, with the prime mix of experience and young talent. It’s hard to make the call in October, but if I had to bet the house on someone, there’s no reason it wouldn’t be MSU.
BBD: The ingredients are all there. The team has weaknesses but a lot of flexibility to cover them. This is a team built to succeed. This is a year they could do it.
O: Yeah, yeah we will!
That’s it. Let’s hear all your predictions for the coming season.