The Spartans are about to start Big Ten Play as the calendar rolls over into December. A month of the season is in the books and it’s time to rate the players.
How the grades are laid out: Ranked currently by playing time, from lowest p. Game to highest
This grade report focuses on the active rotation. Deep bench players like Steven izzo, Nick Sanders and Davis Smith are not included in the grades below. They all play valuable roles within the program but their on court time is limited. This makes including them in the grading unrealistic and unfair.
Xavier Booker: D
Pre-Season Expectation: One of the highest ranked recruits in the Tom Izzo era, Xavier Booker was expected to be a major impact player this season. The hype had one-and-done vibes, and many expected Booker to be the best player on the team.
Minutes p. Game: 10.7
Points p. Game: 2.8
Shooting Percent (FG/3pt/FT): 30% / 23% / 40%
Rebounds P. Game: 1.8
Assists / Turnovers: 3/3
Booker has been (arguably) the biggest disappointment of the year so far. While fans have yelled for Izzo to play him more, the minutes the 6’11” freshman has played revealed a player completely unprepared for the college level.
Booker clearly has gifts. Physically he is tall, with an enormous wingspan, and he can move on the court. For a big man, his shot has the look of a sweet shooter.
If you listen to Coach Izzo, the problem is his “motor”. Watching him play, the problems seem to start with strength and end with willingness to play the role of a member of the front court. Defensively, Booker is still lost. Worse, he rarely seems capable of taking anyone one on one and shutting them down. He has been driven on and dunked on repeatedly by under sized opponents.
On offense, he hangs around the three point line and takes wide open three pointers. Despite the general belief that he is a fantastic three pointer, the stats say he is only hitting 23%.
Booker is young, and has a lot of time to improve his game. This grade is just for a tough first month. The concern for him will be playing time this year. Izzo has already said he is shrinking the rotation in December, and with the impending return of Jaxon Kohler by the end of the month there may be even less opportunity for the highly touted Freshman.
Jeremy Fears: A-
Pre-Season Expectation: Jeremy Fears came in pre-dubbed the next great point guard for Michigan State. He continually owned big roles on national teams, and led his teams to championships. Expected to learn behind Senior AJ Hoggard, Fears was expected to contribute this year and lead next year.
Minutes p. Game: 15.3
Points p. Game: 4.3
Shooting Percent (FG/3pt/FT): 58% / 17% / 70%
Rebounds P. Game: 2.1
Assists / Turnovers: 20/6
Most of the hype on Jeremy Fears has been justified. Only playing just over 15 minutes a game, he is one of the leaders in assists. Fears has an impressive assist to turnover ratio for any player, let alone a freshman.
Fears is still a little undersized for big game action, but he has shown in a couple of moments that he is starting to figure out how to drive the lane against the bigger bodies of the college game.
Defensively Fears is a menace to other teams. He is third on the team in steals and has been on the court for many of the shut down stretches MSU has been able to impose on other teams.
Fears is expected to continue to expand his impact on the team. If AJ Hoggard continues to struggle (more on him below) Fears may play an even larger role than expected.
Carson Cooper: B
Pre-Season Expectation: Towards the end of last year, Cooper joined the main rotation for MSU after entering the season with almost zero expectations of impact. This year was very different. Many expected a big jump out of Cooper and potentially even a starting role for the freshman big man.
Minutes p. Game: 17.9
Points p. Game: 3.4
Shooting Percent (FG/3pt/FT): 40% / 0% / 60%
Rebounds P. Game: 5.9
Assists / Turnovers: 1/3
Carson Cooper seemed to live up to the pre-season hype by taking the starting center role from Mady Sissoko. It’s clear the offense has looked more fluid with Cooper on the floor, and his natural instincts for the game far outpace his senior competitor for the starting role.
The problem has been Cooper seems to have hit a wall early in the year. While the team does operate better at times with him on the floor, After Cooper took on the starting role there was not much improvement.
Perhaps his ceiling this year will simply be strong rebounding and keeping the offense flowing. It would be nice if he was also able to contribute more offense. The hope is Cooper can find another gear and truly take the starting role. Otherwise, it may be up to how well Jaxon Kohler does upon his return to determine the minutes Cooper (and Sissoko) play moving forward.
Tre Holloman: A
Pre-Season Expectation: Tre Holloman was largely the forgotten man in a crowded backcourt. He was not as highly touted as Jeremy Fears, nor as established as AJ Hoggard and Tyson Walker. Expectations were he would struggle to crack the rotation and fill in only when needed.
Minutes p. Game: 18
Points p. Game: 5.6
Shooting Percent (FG/3pt/FT): 47% / 50% / 100%
Rebounds P. Game: 0.6
Assists / Turnovers: 24/7
Tre Holloman has been the surprise of the season. Coach Izzo and others commended his hard work and improvement during the offseason. Mostly that seemed like good coach speak. Apparently, the hall of fame coach knew what he was talking about.
Holloman started the year looking like a solid member of the rotation. He had good floor chemistry with Jeremy Fears and was playing strong defense. It was an illness for Tyson Walker that changed the trajectory of the season for the sophomore guard.
Stepping into the starting lineup for Tyson Walker, Holloman embraced the role of shooting guard and promptly went 5 for 5 from three. Two games later, he stepped into the starting lineup for a struggling AJ Hoggard and embraced the role of point guard tallying 10 assists in just over 20 minutes. Yes, these performances were against two of the weaker teams the Spartans have played. They were still impressive.
Holloman has exceeded expectations. If he can extend his best performances into Big Ten play, this could be a breakout year for the Sophomore.
Coen Carr: B+
Pre-Season Expectation: Big dunks and lots of questions. That was the story on Coen Carr. The rest was really unclear. Even during Moneyball, Carr provided plenty of highlight reel moments, but questions remained about his role.
Minutes p. Game: 18.3
Points p. Game: 5.3
Shooting Percent (FG/3pt/FT): 64% / 0% / 92%
Rebounds P. Game: 3.1
Assists / Turnovers: 2/7
Coen Carr has proven there is a lot more to his game than dunks.
Yes, the dunks have been there. They’ve helped lift the team in key moments and provided the wow moments Spartan fans - and fans of basketball generally - love.
More important has been the aggressive style of play Carr has brought to the floor. On defense and offense the Spartans have looked tougher with the freshman on the floor.
While still getting lost on defense more than Coach Izzo would like, Carr is starting to put it together. Offensively the jump shot is still very suspect. Carr has not taken a three this season. He is finding offense in the paint and with power drives to the rim.
Carr’s development is key to the Spartans this year. He’s already been relied on in big moments. The hope is he can start shaping those moments into wins.
Mady Sissoko: B
Pre-Season Expectation: Realistic expectations were that Sissoko would be able to find some consistent play at, or near his best from last year. The optimistic hope was that he would finally find the instinct for the game that has eluded him throughout his career and turn into a top center in the Big Ten.
Minutes p. Game: 18.6
Points p. Game: 5.4
Shooting Percent (FG/3pt/FT): 65% / 0% / 92%
Rebounds P. Game: 6.3
Assists / Turnovers: 1/11
Sissoko has not lived up to the expectations. He came into the year looking stronger than ever but oddly timid. His mindset seemed to be to stay on the court and avoid fouls. This led to the best parts of Sissoko’s raw game - energy, enthusiasm - were strangely muted early on. It left behind the worst parts of his game, particularly turnovers.
After being removed from the starting lineup for Carson Cooper, Sissoko has gotten better. Even with his inability to always hold onto the ball still present, Sissoko looked more like his old self - in a good way.
When Tyson Walker spent significant time as the point guard against Arizona, he was helped significantly by Sissoko’s talent for setting screens. The pick and roll combination the two players displayed was reminiscent of the Cassius Winston - Xavier Tillment days.
Sissoko is clearly (and unfortunately) not Xavier Tillman. He can still be a valuable player, and if he can maintain the energy, he could be one of the better 15 minutes a game centers in the country.
Malik Hall: B+
Pre-Season Expectation: The hope was all the promise that Malik Hall has shown during his four years at MSU would gel into a fantastic fifth year for the forward.
Minutes p. Game: 24.1
Points p. Game: 9.9
Shooting Percent (FG/3pt/FT): 48% / 18% / 64%
Rebounds P. Game: 5.6
Assists / Turnovers: 15/8
Malik Hall has been the target of fan unhappiness since before the season started. For fans that expected Xavier Booker to be a high impact player, they saw Hall as an impediment to playing time. Instead, Booker’s playing time has mostly been taken by Coen Carr.
Regardless of the Booker situation, Hall did start slow. He was clearly not as recovered from his offseason foot surgery as many had hoped. Hall looked a step slow on defense, lacking in vertical height on his jumps and off target on his three pointers.
While the fifth year senior is still struggling from three, the rest of his game is coming back into form. If his trajectory (current illness aside) continues, he could be the double-double machine this team needs.
Malik Hall may never been the high profile player many long hoped he would become, his improving game could still be a big reason the Spartans have a strong Big Ten season.
AJ Hoggard: C-
Pre-Season Expectation: AJ Hoggard was set to make a claim to one of the best point guards in the country and solidify his spot in the NBA draft.
Minutes p. Game: 25.4
Points p. Game: 9.6
Shooting Percent (FG/3pt/FT): 34% / 14% / 78%
Rebounds P. Game: 3.1
Assists / Turnovers: 29/14
Xavier Booker has competition for the most disappointing player so far this year from AJ Hoggard. The senior has struggled at almost every level this year.
Last year, he became a physical presence that could dominate games by driving the lane creating shots for everyone. This year, none of that seems to be happening. It’s not helping Hoggard that his teammates are struggling to shoot (3 point field goals and free throws are more than 10% down compared to last year).
Hoggard is also not creating the way he was last year. Most concerning is his lack of drive and physical locked in play on offense.
Coach Izzo is doing everything it seems possible to unlock the mystery that is Hoggard this year. That included mixing up the rotations around Hoggard and playing him extensively off the ball in some games. In the most recent game, Izzo even removed Hoggard from the starting lineup, holding him on the bench so that he was the third point guard to touch the floor.
This team still has a number of things to fix. One of the most important is getting AJ Hoggard back on track.
Jaden Akins: B
Pre-Season Expectation: Become the leading scorer for the team and use his athleticism to set the pace against any opponent.
Minutes p. Game: 26.6
Points p. Game: 10.7
Shooting Percent (FG/3pt/FT): 41% / 29% / 75%
Rebounds P. Game: 5.9
Assists / Turnovers: 8/9
Jaden Akins seemed on the fast track to the NBA after this season. That expectation has mostly crashed back down to earth. After a very slow start to the season, Akins is finding ways to influence games. Most of the improvement has coincided with Akins returning to his role from last year, focusing on rebounding, put backs, spot up threes and running the court in transition.
The concern for Michigan State is they need him to be more. They need his shooting to get back on track so it spreads the floor. They may not need Akins to be the offensive creator he sow clearly wants to be, but it would help. If the team could have another go-to scorer outside of Tyson Walker, it could mean a lot to the win total for the year.
Tyson Walker: A-
Pre-Season Expectation: Tyson Walker was the go-to scorer and leader of the team last year. This year, the role was expected to change as others took on more of the scoring load, the question was how.
Minutes p. Game: 31.5
Points p. Game: 20.5
Shooting Percent (FG/3pt/FT): 50% / 30% / 61%
Rebounds P. Game: 2.8
Assists / Turnovers: 14/9
Tyson Walker has been solid this year. He has carried MSU in big games and contributed the bulk of the scoring. Still, his game has not been perfect, particularly the shooting.
His 30% three point shooting is well below his career average, and his free throw shooting is simply atrocious. The latter is particularly surprising considering Walker has publicly stated getting to the free throw line and scoring more there was his offseason priority.
Walker is being asked to take on a lot for this team. It could get even worse, as the team has looked at its best in some stretches with the fifth year senior at the point rather than shooting guard. Michigan State needs to give Walker some support and space on the floor to get his shot going.