Michigan State’s huge win over Alcorn State featured a lot of highlights. The Spartans played about as well as you can in a tune-up game against an overmatched opponent. Nine Spartans scored in the game and the defense held Alcorn State to just 26% shooting (less than 15% in the first half).
Here are my three points on the game.
POINT 1: Tre Holloman could be the shooter this team is missing
Tre Holloman had an incredible game. Stepping into the starting lineup for a sick Tyson Walker gave Holloman the green light to shoot that he’s never had as a Spartan.
Last year, Holloman was so hesitant to shoot that he barely took any shots in the second half of the year - even as he was playing valuable minutes as a backup point guard. This game showed the improvement coach Tom Izzo had been touting all summer for the Sophomore.
Most likely, Holloman won’t go 4/4 from three point range in a half again this year. He doesn’t have to to make a huge impact on this roster. All he has to do is be a reliable spot up three point shooter. This team is lacking that.
It’s more than the much discussed poor shooting to start the year. The Spartans roster lacks pure shooters (beyond Tyson Walker of course).
AJ Hoggard at his best is a decent three point shooter with the ability to bend defenses to his will through his drives and passes. Malik Hall has been better than average from three at times in his career, but he’s at his best when he is being crafty in the mid range game. Jaden Akins showed the ability to be a spot up shooter last year, but clearly wants to be more of a creator. And this year his shot looks much shakier.
If Holloman can be a reliable shooter it will stretch the floor in a way the Spartans desperately need. Early this year defenses have been able to sag off the three point line and close out only when the ball is swung all the way around for a clear three point shot. It clogs driving lanes and makes rebounding harder. If Holloman can be a shooting threat either in relief of Walker or even alongside him for stretches, it adds a dimension that will win the Spartans some key games this year.
POINT 2: This is the team basketball Michigan State wants to play
Michigan State had 24 assists on 30 made baskets. The most impressive part of that stat is how it was not super noticeable. Michigan State likes to share the basketball. Izzo’s best teams have had ridiculously high assist rates. Usually that is driven by a point guard with a ton of assists. This game did not have that.
Both AJ Hoggard and Jeremy Fears had moments during the game. Hoggard still looks like he is struggling but he did not play badly (essentially no one did in this game - that is largely due to the skill gap with Alcorn State). Fears looked like he could run this team.
Despite those good moments, they did not own all of the assists. Fears had five and Hoggard four. Holloman also had five, and in a limited 17-minutes Malik Hall had four. Everyone on the team found ways to feed others. While it helps everyone was hitting shots, the players have to be looking for those opportunities to setup each other.
On the defensive end, the players looked connected. Alcorn State lacked the athletes to truly penetrate MSU’s defense, but it still took discipline and communication to be in the right spots play in and play out.
MSU will have to prove they can do this against a more talented opponent. For now, they have shown they can do it. And that is an important statement for a team still building its identity.
POINT 3: Xavier Booker got 19-minutes and still looks like a work in progress
There is a vocal segment of the Michigan State fan base that is convinced Tom Izzo does not know what he is doing - at least with star freshmen. The focus of their complaints this year has been the limited time Xavier Booker has been on the court. The oddest part about the criticism is that it often ignores the player that is really taking the minutes projected for Booker, Coen Carr, is a freshman as well.
This game should provide some evidence that the limited time for Booker has been warranted.
This game was built for Booker to dominate. Alcorn State had no one with the height or length to challenge Booker physically. They lacked an interior post presence with the strength to push Booker around. Yet, Booker scored just 5 points and only took two 2-pointers. The one he made was a wide open dunk.
Yes, Booker has a sweet looking shot from deep. He has shown he can hit those shots, and should have a green light to take them. What’s missing is interior presence offensively.
Coen Carr has found ways to use his athleticism to drive and finish. Jeremy Fears, who is much smaller than Booker, is finding ways to score at all three levels. Both are still works in progress. At the moment though, their progress is well ahead of Booker’s
Booker will most likely (hopefully?) be a major asset for the Spartans by the end of the season. Games like this one will be very important to his overall development. The fan base will simply have to be patient as each player is different, and their development path and timeline is inherently different.