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Michigan State men’s basketball expert previews the Arizona game, makes a prediction

arizona-wildcats-mens-basketball-michigan-state-spartans-tom-izzo-interview-preview-analysis-2023 Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After a trio of blowout wins at home, Arizona will face much tougher competition when it spends Thanksgiving in Palm Springs, Calif. taking on Michigan State.

The Spartans (3-2) began the season No. 4 in the Associated Press Top 25 but have dropped both weeks, sitting at No. 21. They are picked to finish second in the Big Ten to Purdue, a team the UA will play next month in Indianapolis.

To better understand MSU, we reached out to Oren Basse of SB Nation sister site The Only Colors. Below are his determined answers to our uninspiring questions:

AZ Desert Swarm: Michigan State comes into this game with two losses already, and while losing to Duke—can’t imagine that—isn’t that shocking the home loss to James Madison to start the season was. What went wrong in that game, and have those problems existed since then?

Oren Basse: “Thank you for giving me an easy one to get warmed up with. What went wrong against JMU was that Michigan State shot 1-20 from 3 ... and it still got the game to overtime. If they had made just one more from deep, they would have won that game. That issue continued in their second game, when they went 1-11. But they have gone 23-64 (35.9 percent) in the last three games, which, while not setting the net on fire, is worlds better than what they did in the first two games.”

Tyson Walker is averaging more than 20 points per game and shooting better than 50 percent, a nice combo. What makes him such a reliable scorer?

“Tyson Walker simply moves around the court well. He can get himself open when he doesn’t have the ball and he can shake off a defender with his dribbling. And once he gets the shot off, he shoots at an amazing rate. He is a career 45 percent shooter and 39 percent from deep. So far this year, it’s 54 and 29, but I expect his 3-point shooting to come back up toward his career mark as the season goes on. He doesn’t take many bad shots because he rarely has to shoot it with a defender on him tight.”

Beyond Walker, who are the most dangerous players that Arizona has to worry about?

“The issue with MSU for a lot of the last few years since Cassius Winston and Xavier Tillman left is that there has been a lot of variance game to game in who is the best player on the court. That has steadied a bit over the last year with Walker, but even last year there were games where Joey Hauser (now in the pros), AJ Hoggard or Jaden Akins were the main guy. For three and a half games this year, Hoggard, the team’s starting PG, has been upsettingly quiet. But just before halftime of our last game, he started to play like his usual self. He is an amazing passer, can push the court and lead a break better than most college players, and when he is on, he can take it himself to the hole and score amongst the trees.

“MSU is very much a backcourt dominant team right now, and there is depth there too. The frontcourt is a work in progress but we just switched our starting center before the last game. Carson Cooper probably won’t score double figures anytime soon, but he is a very good defender and rebounder. That said, I think the big question I have going into the Arizona game is how will he match up against (Oumar) Ballo and (Motiejus) Krivas.”

What have been the biggest strengths of this team so far?

“Michigan State has a very deep roster this year. The ‘starting six’ all played significant minutes last year on the way to the second weekend of the tournament. In the backcourt they have Tre Holloman and freshman Jeremy Fears Jr. as the reserves. Neither of them are going to score in bunches at this point, but they both are strong perimeter defenders so they can keep MSU in it when Hoggard and Walker take a breather. Along with the other two freshmen, Coen Carr and Xavier Booker, MSU has been playing 10 deep.

“This is significant because it allows Izzo to rotate the five on the floor constantly to keep everyone fresh, and that allows them to do what they do best, which is play fast. Yes, this does lead to a higher rate of turnovers than most would like, but that is the tradeoff for getting points in transition. And with MSU, transition can even be right after the opponent scores.”

Tom Izzo is in his 29th season at MSU, the longest tenure of any power-conference coach, and he’ll join the 700-win club later this year. How much longer do you think he’ll go, and is he still as effective a coach as he was in his prime?

“I attended the (fourth) game and went to Izzo’s press conference afterwards where he said he had hardly slept for three days because he had been watching so much film. So I think that he still has the passion and the fire for coaching. One thing that does infuriate Spartan Nation is his stubbornness at times with keeping upperclassmen in games when they are obviously struggling, rather than putting someone else in. This year, we are seeing that with super senior Malik Hall. There is depth behind him, but they have not earned Izzo’s trust yet so he would rather ride Hall even when he can’t make a shot and refuses to pass.

“That said, I could not look you in the eye and tell you that Izzo is not in his prime anymore. And he will keep going forever. Or at least a while. Next year, he has Jase Richardson coming to town, who is the son of Jason Richardson, one of the stars of MSU’s 2000 championship team. Tom is enjoying this way too much and there are no signs that he is slowing down.”

Prediction time. Does Michigan State hand Arizona its first loss of the season or will the Wildcats ruin Thanksgiving for Spartans fans?

“You will never get me to predict a Spartan loss so yes, the Wildcats won’t be giving thanks this Thursday. You have the better interior, but Sparty has the better backcourt and more depth. It will be a fast-paced game with many lead changes but MSU pulls away in the final minutes. Let’s call it 78-71 Spartans!