Like most veteran coaches, Tom Izzo is concerned about the future of the college game with the onset of the new name, image and likeness policies and the continuation of the transfer culture. But that hasn't stopped the Hall of Fame coach from changing with the times.
Izzo adapted to the new landscape this year by acquiring instant help at point guard in Northeastern transfer Tyson Walker, a move that should make the Spartan offense operate more smoothly.
The Spartans expect to be better offensively, defensively and on the boards despite needing to replace 56 percent of their scoring from a team that ranked No. 12 in the Big Ten in points per game.
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Tom Izzo
2020-21 RECORD (BIG TEN): 15-13 (9-11)
2020-21 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to UCLA 86-80 in the First Four
F Aaron Henry (15.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg)
G Joshua Langford (9.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg)
G Foster Loyer (4.2 ppg, 2.3 apg)
G Rocket Watts (7.7 ppg, 2.7 apg)
Michigan State will benefit from a rising tide of maturity in the frontcourt with five big men returning, each having established a level of functionality in the past. Now, further development is at hand.
Marcus Bingham Jr. is finally ready to close in on his high ceiling of potential. He has gained weight and strength while polishing his scoring touch.
Julius Marble II and Mady Sissoko are strong-bodied bangers. Sissoko runs the floor well and is a good shot-blocker. Marble is emerging as a physical traffic cop in the paint.
Joey Hauser and Malik Hall have flashed high-end capabilities at the stretch-4. Both are quality shooters who will benefit from improved point guard play. Hauser needs to show better toughness, but his 3-point stroke should be a team asset.
Walker is replacing the failed two-headed project of Foster Loyer and Rocket Watts at the point. Loyer (Davidson) and Watts (Mississippi State) left via the portal. Neither was a capable passer last year, and the offense suffered.
Walker averaged 18.8 points at Northeastern, to go with 4.8 assists and 2.4 steals. He was the Colonial Athletic Association Defensive Player of the Year and shot 35 percent from 3-point range.
Walker plays with quickness and dazzling vision. This should help Izzo's offense get back into a winning rhythm.
Gabe Brown is an explosive finisher and streak shooter with good size at the wing. He has waited for a chance to be a primary option and is ready to fill that role, thanks in part to improved ability to put it on the floor.
Sophomore combo guard A.J. Hoggard struggled in an array of roles last year but is the most improved player on the roster. He has a chance to surprise.
Three freshmen will play key roles on the perimeter. Max Christie, a McDonald's All-American, will make an immediate impact as a shooter, slasher and willing defender. Jaden Akins is a combative athlete — a combo guard with good shooting ability and energy in transition. He is among the best leaping guards Izzo has ever signed.
Pierre Brooks is a strong-bodied wing with good shooting touch from range. As he learns to play harder, especially on defense, he will be a long-term plus.
Michigan State had to make a late-season rally to earn an NCAA Tournament bid last year, but the Spartans should operate in a safer space this year despite losing their top two scorers. How? Defense and rebounding will return as winning staples for the Spartans, with good rim protection inside and better defensive balance around the perimeter. Transition offense will also likely get back to the Izzo standard.
Don't overlook the fact that Izzo will have more of a day-to-day impact on this season than last year. In 2020-21, the Spartans were without Izzo for nearly five weeks, counting his COVID absence in November and a team shutdown in January.
Izzo is also known for generating massive in-season improvement from November to March, and this year he will be back to his usual routine.
Michigan State isn't likely to contend for the Big Ten crown, but the Spartans will win often enough to avoid the negative side of the NCAA Tournament bubble.
Postseason Prediction: NCAA Tournament Round of 32
Big Ten Prediction: 6