Michigan State basketball: Out with the old and in with the new

Michigan State v North Carolina
Michigan State v North Carolina / Jared C. Tilton/GettyImages

The original title of this article was going to be "Eulogy for the 2023-24 Michigan State basketball team" but by definition, I would have to write praises for the newly passed and I don't think my editor would want to publish a 14-word article.

This season was an abject failure from day one starting with the home-opening loss to James Madison. Some fans will say that we should just be grateful for making the tournament and keeping the streak alive and our season would be a success for 90 percent of other schools. The problem is that Michigan State isn't and shouldn't settle for another school's success. If you're one of those fans who thought this season was a success, then stop reading now (respectfully).

If you want this program treated like a blue blood, then there has to be a standard, one set by Tom Izzo himself. Yes, programs like Duke, North Carolina, and UConn have missed the tournament, but they also have multiple championships in the last 25 years. Izzo himself isn't happy with just making the tournament and they day he is, he'll walk away.

Take away the automatic Ws (Southern Indiana, Butler, Alcorn State, Georgia Southern, Oakland, and Stony Brook, and this team went 12-13. There were some games they won where they should have lost and lost about six games they should have won.

Although Tyson Walker and Malik Hall get better from last year, no one else stepped up. Jaden Akins shot the team out of games (his words) and AJ Hoggard's layup game and mid-range jumpers were as good as turnovers once the calendar hit 2024. Once Walker went cold for a long stretch towards the end of the season, their offensive efficiency went straight down the toilet, failing to score 75 points in seven of their last eight games resulting in a 3-5 record.

The bigs led the team in rebounding in only 16 out of the 35 games this season, but everyone, including Izzo, knew that the center position would be substandard. For reference, Armando Bacot alone was the high rebounder in 19 of UNCs 36 games. The trio of Mady Sissoko, Carson Cooper, and Jaxon Kohler don't even come close to having the stats of one (1) high-end center. On paper, this "Moneyball" approach to the five spot looked average at best, and downright disadvantageous throughout the whole season. How many times did the Spartans have to double the center because ours couldn't handle him alone, only to have him pass it out to the uncovered wing to drain a backbreaking three?

Tom Izzo is a Hall of Fame coach, a legend, and will get a statue on the campus of Michigan State University. But that doesn't mean he's infallible. There is a huge difference between criticism and insult and it's possible to criticize Izzo without making it personal. His relationship with the portal has to change before next season or we are looking at the same double-digit loss season again. He admitted that the center spot was substandard but because of his top three guards.

The problem? One of those guards held up his end of the bargain.

Walker took that Kansas State loss personal and lead the team in scoring and if it wasn't for a nagging groin injury, could have played himself into a first-team All-Big Ten selection. Akins and Hoggard had worse shooting percentages this year. Hoggard's points per game went down, Akins "improved" his scoring by 0.6 points a game, but 3-point shooting dropped almost six percent.

Outside shooting can go cold at any time with this team, and the fix is to drive to the basket. With our centers unable to hit a shot outside two feet (and even inside two feet can be dicey), opponent's big men had free reign to clog the layup lanes. It's so frustrating because everybody but Izzo saw that the center position had a high percentage of being the downfall of this team and it played out exactly like everyone but Izzo thought.

The good news is that we don't have to watch the 2023-24 season ever again. The next time we watch the Spartans take the hardwood, this team will look completely different, and maybe that's for the better.

Xavier Booker will look to take a huge leap, like we saw during the season. Someone needs to get him in touch with Bai Jobe's dietician because if he add just 15 pounds, he'll be able to keep up with the bigger bodies in the Big Ten. Akins should be back and doesn't even have to take a huge leap in the gym. The ability is there, it just seemed like mentally, something was stopping him from being great. We've seen his ability to hit open shots, and towards the end of the season, the real Akins was showing up. Instead of playing like that for 40 percent, he could be a lottery pick if he plays like that in 80 percent of games.

The point guard position will take a big step forward with both Tre Holloman showing flashes of the greatness that is to come, and Jeremy Fears Jr. will be this program's next great one. The intangibles are there. Coen Carr has all the makings of being the next Braden Dawson. Crazy athletic, explosive dunker, and a real energy guy. Dawson was only 6-foot-6 but grabbed rebounds with the tallest of 'em. Dawson didn't have some crazy outside shot but didn't need it because he was surrounded by shooters, like Carr will be next year with Booker, Holloman and Akins as well as incoming freshman Kur Teng.

A functioning center makes this team a Big Ten contender, especially with Purdue losing six seniors including human wrecking ball Zach Edey. I don't think were asking too much by wanting Izzo to use the portal; we're not asking to import an entirely new team. It's used to supplement the holes in the team.

Izzo doesn't need to die trying (a phrase invented by 50 Cent, not Jim Harbaugh) to get this program back to relevancy, he just needs to make the tough choices.

Michigan State is out of the NCAA Tournament, but you can get back in the game with a chance to win big at FanDuel! Simply sign up, deposit $10 or more and then bet $5 or more on any team to win this week. If your team wins, you'll get $200 in bonus bets! Sign up with FanDuel with this link today.