Michigan State basketball vs. Grand Valley State: 5 things to watch in exhibition game

[Detroit Free Press] Michigan State basketball vs. Grand Valley State: 5 things to watch in exhibition game

Michigan State basketball vs. Grand Valley State: 5 things to watch in exhibition game

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Tom Izzo recaps Michigan State basketball's scrimmage at Tennessee

Michigan State's Tom Izzo recaps the Spartans' scrimmage at Tennessee and looks ahead to exhibition game vs. Grand Valley State. Filmed Oct. 28, 2022.

Chris Solari, Detroit Free Press

EAST LANSING – Tom Izzo has two chances to give Michigan State basketball a final tune-up before an arduous seven-game gauntlet closes out November.

Before the regular season begins Monday against Northern Arizona, the Spartans host Grand Valley State in an exhibition game Tuesday night.

“We'll approach this game as there's a couple of things you want to try to do defensively and offensively," Izzo said Thursday. “There's not gonna be secrets.

“We're gonna try to do some things. It's not like we're gonna try to play a lot of different people, because we don't have as many.”

Here are five storylines to watch when the Spartans tip off against the Division II Lakers at 7 p.m. at Breslin Center (BTN+).

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1. Big concern

It is literally Izzo’s biggest question going into his 28th season: How will his big men perform? Mady Sissoko, a 6-foot-9, 240-pound junior, has played sparingly in his first two seasons. MSU also will rely on two freshmen, offensively skilled 6-9 Jaxon Kohler, whom Izzo likened to Zach Randolph and 6-11 “diamond in the rough” Carson Cooper, who has impressed and likely won’t redshirt now. The best takeaway from Tuesday’s exhibition game will be how Izzo uses that trio and who looks best defensively.

MORE MSU HOOPS:Why Tom Izzo was encouraged after Tennessee scrimmage

2. Limited numbers

With sophomore guard Jaden Akins likely out while continuing to rehab from a September foot surgery, Izzo only has nine scholarship players. The expected starting lineup should be Sissoko at center, with seniors Malik Hall and Joey Hauser at forward, and A.J. Hoggard and Tyson Walker in the backcourt. Sophomore swingman Pierre Brooks and Kohler should be the first two off the bench in what could be a seven-man rotation. With the exhibition, there potentially could be a few extra minutes for freshman guard Tre Holloman and Cooper to get their feet wet against college competition.

More:Inside the Tom Izzo-A.J. Hoggard dynamic and Michigan State basketball's need for more

3. Small ball

Izzo could experiment by using the 6-9 Hauser at center, with the 6-8 Hall at power forward and the 6-6 Brooks on the wing. That would give the Spartans a look in which all five players could handle the ball in transition to spark the fastbreak and hit shots from 3-point range, though how it might work against bigger and better competition might limit Izzo’s usage of it should MSU’s rebounding struggle.

4. Turning the corner

Hoggard, Walker and Brooks all have a chance to take a leap this season after showing flashes a year ago, as the Spartans went 23-13 and made the second round in Izzo’s 24th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. Particularly in the first few games with Akins out, all three should see extended minutes and be able to play through mistakes to develop a rhythm individually and chemistry with one another.

5. In a zone?

Izzo annually teases he might consider playing some zone defense, but unfailingly remains with his bread-and-butter man-to-man. But if ever there is a season to experiment as a potential stop-gap in case of foul trouble, this is it due to the limited roster. Or maybe not. “You might see some of that in the exhibition game, so we can see how it looks. ... We'll see,” Izzo said. “I always say I'm gonna play some. I really do have good intentions to.”

Contact Chris Solari: csolari@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari. Read more on the Michigan State Spartans and sign up for our Spartans newsletter.