Michigan State Basketball: Panic or patience through two games?

Michigan State's Tyson Walker, left, talks with Jeremy Fears Jr. during the second half in the game against Southern Indiana on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2023, at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.
Michigan State's Tyson Walker, left, talks with Jeremy Fears Jr. during the second half in the game against Southern Indiana on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2023, at the Breslin Center in East Lansing. /
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So, I refrained from reacting too soon after the James Madison loss. Sure, I had some internal thoughts that resembled what I thought about the football team. It’s game one of roughly 35, it’s a November loss to an unranked team which happens to the best of us, but it also happened to be at home (a first for Izzo) and the opening game of the Michigan State basketball season.

On Thursday, I was on one plane for 4.5 hours, another plane for two hours, and then in a car for three hours. I am writing this from beautiful Northern California to see my best friend get married so watching game two of the season wasn’t at the top of my list, although a 4 p.m. local tip would be a nice treat every once in a while.

I relied on the ESPN Gamecast for updates on the Spartans’ game against Southern Indiana and everything seemed like smooth sailing.

Leading the whole game, a fast start, evenly-distributed scoring; but Twitter (X for all you cool kids) was telling a different story. The word “frustrating” was used a lot, complaints of the same issues we were all worried about going into the season rearing their ugly head through two games against inferior opponents.

I knew I had to watch this replay to see for myself how a 23-point win could be so disappointing. Even during the first half, I was so confused about why everyone was complaining.

Then the second half happened.

Why we should panic right now

The two most glaring issues are the 3-point shooting and rebounding. Free throws aren’t something to worry about — yet — but against good teams, the veterans need to knock down the free ones at the end of games to get them where they want to go.

Also, the team is getting open looks for three and the ball goes halfway down and pops out. Eventually, they will drop, right? Rebounding is the issue that will linger through the season.

The fact that Jaden Akins is leading this team in rebounding should tell you all you need to know. I understand that Jaxon Kohler is still dealing with a foot injury, and sometimes rebounds are just a matter of luck. But a lot of it is position and the “want-to” factor. I think Mady Sissoko would help so much more coming off the bench. Through no fault of his own, he got such a late start when it comes to proper basketball training. He’s still not 100 percent comfortable with a ball in his hands and finding the right spot to box out.

There are just too many times this offense looks out of sync, especially in the first five minutes of the second half against Southern Indiana. It has to be tough for three, possibly four fringe NBA guys (Akins, AJ Hoggard, Tyson Walker, and Malik Hall) to not want to show their individual talents when given the opportunity. It’s not like they’re blue-chip freshmen just paying their due diligence by going to a college for a year. If these guys want to be on an NBA roster next year, they’ll have to earn every bit of it.

It’s a fine line trying to balance “being the guy” and “playing within Izzo’s system.”

When it’s put up or shut up time, one mistake can take over your mind and one mistake turns into two, which turns into five. It’s a lot of added pressure just on one’s self, on top of the pressure for this team as a whole to do well. Mistakes from freshmen are going to happen, but whether it’s mental mistakes by Hoggard, missed assignments by Akins, or Malik Hall thinking he can go coast-to-coast, veterans have to be the ones holding down the fort, and through two games, they have just been frustratingly off.