As the final buzzer sounded on the 2022-23 Michigan State basketball season, something immediately dominated my mind: this team was always “so close” to being great.
It’s hard to say that a team that finished the season 21-13 was close to being great, but that’s the reality of the situation.
Michigan State went through an absolute gauntlet of an early-season schedule to take Gonzaga down to the wire, beat Kentucky, hold its own against Alabama without two starters, and beat Villanova. The Spartans went 2-2 in its toughest early-season games and it looked like one of the best teams the Big Ten would have to offer.
Then Malik Hall suffered some injuries in important situations. He returned in late-December but reaggravated his foot against Illinois in the second half of a game that looked to be in hand for the Spartans to win.
He returned, but it just looked like his confidence didn’t.
Malik Hall was one of first Michigan State basketball “what ifs”
That brought up the first major “what if” of the year. What if Malik never got hurt? And then that makes you think about the other injury that hurt the Spartans in the PK85: Jaden Akins. What if Akins never got hurt? He probably doesn’t look cautious against Notre Dame and Northwestern.
There are so many more “what ifs” on my mind after the conclusion of the season.
What if Tyson Walker was taking 15 shots a game from the start? What if AJ Hoggard was aggressive all year? What if Michigan State played complete games all season? What if the Spartans were more consistent? What if MSU shot more threes? What if the Spartans had a low-post presence on offense?
Then the “what ifs” got more specific to the Kansas State game.
What if Walker makes the open shots he usually does? What if Joey Hauser takes that last shot instead of passing it up? What if Hoggard never tips that 3-point attempt by Markquis Nowell? What if Michigan State just went up two possessions one time in the second half? What if Kansas State just shot its normal percentage from deep? What if MSU could stop a couple of backdoor passes? What if MSU made free throws down the stretch?
It hurts to think about.
This team was one win away from facing FAU with a trip to the Final Four on the line. I think that’s what hurts the most. “What if” Michigan State beat Kansas State to advance to an Elite Eight matchup with FAU?
And then a Final Four matchup against an Alabama team that the Spartans hung with without Akins and Hall. And potentially a title game against a Gonzaga team that it nearly beat in the opener.
So many what ifs. This could have been the year Tom Izzo won his second title.
But for now, we’re dwelling on those what ifs.