Team: Michigan State Spartans
Location: East Lansing, Mich.
Conference: Big Ten
Head coach: Tom Izzo (27 seasons, 643-254)
2020-2021 record: 15-13 overall, 9-11 B1G
Top returning players: 6-foot-9, F, Joey Hauser (9.7 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.4 APG); 6-foot-8, F, Gabe Brown (7.2 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 42 3PT%); 6-foot-7, F, Malik Hall (5.0 ppg, 4.2 RPG, 48.9 FG%)
Top newcomers: 6-foot-6, G, 5-star Max Christie (Rolling Meadows HS, Ill.) No. 19 player in 2021 class; 6-foot-4, PG, 4-star Jaden Akins (Sunrise Christian Academy, Kan.) No. 52 player in 2021 class; 6-foot-0, PG, Tyson Walker (18.8 ppg, 2.9 RPG, 4.8 APG) transfer from Northeastern; 6-foot-6, G, Pierre Brooks (Frederick Douglass Academy, Mich.) No. 60 player in 2021 class
2020-2021 review: Michigan State had one of their worst years under Tom Izzo since all the way back to the mid-’90s when he took over. They were not projected to be as good with multiple top-tier players such as Cassius Winston and Xavier Tillman gone, but few expected to see the Spartans struggle as much as they did.
Leading scorer Aaron Henry was forced to carry the team as key players such as Joey Hauser, Rocket Watts, and Joshua Langford all struggled with their shots. After starting the season with six straight wins, Michigan State rose to as high as No. 4 in the AP Poll, but a pair of multi-game losing streaks in late December and early January shifted the entire season.
The Spartans barely made it into the NCAA Tournament and made an early exit in the play-in game versus UCLA. Following the season, Henry said enough and left for the NBA as a second-round pick, and surprisingly Michigan State lost multiple key contributors to the transfer portal. Starting shooting guard Rocket Watts opted to move on to Mississippi State, Foster Loyer went to Davidson, and Thomas Kithier went to Valparaiso (holy B1G transfers Valpo).
2021-2022 preview: Like many teams around the country, it is hard to truly predict what this Michigan State team will be this season given all of the roster turnover they endured. The incoming 2021 class is absolutely loaded with three top-100 kids, all of which could be instant impact players.
Ranked as the No. 12 class in the country and No. 2 in the Big Ten, the class is highlighted by Max Christie. How quickly he adapts to the college game, and the level of impact he has will go a long way in determining how much better the Spartans are this season.
One thing that Michigan State has going for them is that they have a lot of length. Senior Marcus Bingham Jr. is a legit 7-footer that should give them a rim protector inside, while nearly everywhere else on the floor besides point guard will probably be comprised of lanky 6-foot-6 to 6-foot-10 athletes.
One of the main struggles for the Spartans last season was their shooting, and I still have some concerns about that this season, but I think Joey Hauser should have a better season than a year ago, and incoming transfer Tyson Walker can fill up a stats sheet.
Overall I do not see this Michigan State team winning the Big Ten right now, but I do think they will likely continue their longstanding NCAA Tournament streak and look better in the process.
Games versus Wisconsin:
Game No. 1: Friday, Jan. 21, Madison, Wis., Kohl Center, FS1, 8 p.m. CT
Game No. 2: Tuesday, Feb. 8, East Lansing, Mich., Breslin Center, BTN, 6 p.m. CT