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Michigan State, with unconventional roster, opens vs. Northern Arizona

Sportsnaut
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo watches his go through drills during practice on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022 at the Breslin Center.

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Credit: Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK

If Michigan State hopes to have the success it is accustomed to having this year, the Spartans likely will need to rack up the wins in untraditional ways.

Defense, rebounding and depth have been the staples for head coach Tom Izzo during his previous 27 years as head coach of the Spartans, which has led to 24 NCAA Tournament appearances.

But going into its season and home opener on Monday against Northern Arizona, Michigan State might be as thin in front-court size and depth as it’s ever been.

However, the Spartans have a plethora of playmaking guards who can handle the ball and create shots, so smaller lineups and 3-point shooting will be what Michigan State and Izzo rely on this season.

“It’s a different team,” Izzo said. “Maybe not with a superstar. But I think it’s a collection of guys who have bought into a lot of stuff and (who we) had a great summer with. Should have very good chemistry amongst them. I think it’s been an unselfish team and a good passing team. I do think we are a better shooting team. Our guard play is a lot better because of experience.”

Michigan State returns forwards Malik Hall and Joey Hauser, who aren’t traditional post-up players but are 3-point threats on the perimeter.

Two point guards who shared much of the ballhandling and facilitating duties last year, A.J. Hoggard and Tyson Walker, also are back, while guard Jaden Akins should be a much improved contributor.

The Spartans aren’t ranked to start the season. They finished last season with a 23-13 (11-9 Big Ten) record and lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to Duke.

The first test for Michigan State is Northern Arizona, which is coached by Shane Burcar, a native of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula just like Izzo.

Coming off a 9-23 (5-15 Big Sky Conference) season, the Lumberjacks have five starters back, led by guard Jalen Cone, who averaged 18.8 points last season.

“We have seven guys who are returning and 10 guys who have come in and have been great,” Burcar said. “We have a nice breakup as far as classes are concerned to keep everybody understanding kind of where they are.”

–Field Level Media