Big 10 Off-Season Snapshot: Michigan State

A deep dive into the key departures, prospects, and returns for the 2020-21 Michigan State Spartans

At Michigan State, their 2019-20 season didn’t end as planned, due to the pandemic taking away March Madness. As well as the social unrest that is taking place in our nation due to racism and bigotry, college basketball could be a bit different the next time we see it. Yet, hoping that college basketball returns in the fall; Let us take a moment to examine Michigan State’s projected roster, as it stands this point in the summer.

Key Losses

Cassius Winston is part of the graduating class of 2020. In four seasons under Coach Izzo, he averaged 14.2 points per game and six assists. He’s a mainstay at Michigan State, and his scoring punch was essential for the Spartans in his latter two years. His received honors include being a 2x Second-team All American, Big Ten Player of the Year, 2x First-team All-Big Ten, and Preseason AP All American. His junior season featured a trip to the Final Four. Along the way, he outdueled Zion and Duke in the Elite Eight, in a game that became an instant classic.

Xavier Tillman declared for the draft while also maintaining his eligibility, which could mean a return to East Lancing. However, he has already graduated and has a family to take care of, so his return is a bit unlikely. If he leaves, his three years at Michigan State will be characterized by his potential. He is never going to wow you with his athleticism, but he’s dependable and predictable. The team knew what they were getting out of him nightly.

In three seasons, Tillman’s career averages are 8.7 points per game and 6.7 rebounds. To the blind eye, these are numbers you can easily gloss over. For a more accurate depiction of what Tillman is capable of look to his junior year numbers: 13.7 points per game, ten rebounds, and three assists. He served as a Swiss Army knife for the Spartans, giving them a little of everything on the floor. He accumulated accolades that include Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, Big Ten All-Defense, and Big Ten All Second Team. Without his presence of the floor, Michigan State will go through a bit of rebranding early on in the 2020-21 season.

Committed Recruits

Mady Sissoko is a 6-9 Center out of Wasatch Academy in Mount Plesant, Utah. He’s ranked the 41st best player in the country and is the eighth-ranked center overall according to 247Sports.

In his senior season at Wasatch Academy,  he averaged 12.2 points-per-game, seven rebounds, one assist, and one steal. He also played on the Nike EYBL circuit with Vegas Elite.

He is uber-athletic. His offensive game is raw and unpolished, but his motor is what drew Tom Izzo to him.

Sissoko dawns a 7-4 wingspan and can jump out of the gym. With Izzo’s history of helping guys like him develop, he can be a real problem for teams in the near future. He has all the intangibles that any coach could want in a player, whether that’s his motor or desire to win. The Spartans have a hole in their frontcourt, in which the likes of Sissoko can fill. Michigan State fans should be excited about his arrival to East Lancing come fall.

AJ Hoggard is a 6-3 combo guard who showcases a quick first step and the ability to create around the basket. He poses passing potential and an ability to create for those around him, but he often looks to score first. At the time of his commitment to Michigan State, 247Sports had him ranked as the 72nd ranked prospect in the nation, 10th in the state, and second at his position.

His game is similar to a young Jameer Nelson, predicated on footwork and the ability to outsmart defenders. He won’t wow you with insane athleticism the way Rocket Watts will. Instead, he finds niche angles and subtle steps to catch a defender off guard. He often uses his body well to protect the ball and keep his defender at bay. And he uses a bevy of head fakes, spins, hesitations, and other moves to sneak by his defender. Izzo is getting an insanely smart basketball player in Hoggard. The thought of him two to three years from now should strike fear in the heart of other Big Ten teams.

And if you want more, here is a link of Tom Izzo describing their game.

The Key Returners

Rocket Watts’s freshman campaign was a mixed bag of both the good and the bad. He ended the year averaging 9.3 points per game on 38 percent field goal shooting. And if his year could be summarized in one word, it would be inconsistent. Some nights he looked incredible.

For example, when he scored a season-high 21 against Illinois on 9-14 from the field and 2-4 from three. But then, he often had low nights where he struggled to score at all. So efficiency is the calling card for Watts. In his sophomore season, he will have more pressure on him to create offense due to the departure of Winston. The cards are set for what could either be a disappointing year or a break out year for the athletic, score-first guard.

Aaron Henry, the 6-6 combo forward, is coming back for another season in East Lancing. In his second season under Izzo, Henry averaged 10 points per game and five rebounds on 44 percent field goal shooting. He also offered a bit of creation at the wing spot with three assists a game. The departure of Winston and the possible departure of Tillman open up the floor for Henry to showcase more of his game. He is a streaky outside shooter, but when he gets going, he can’t miss. And he has burst of athleticism to the point that he can throw down some vicious dunks. The pairing of Henry and Watts for extended minutes could make for some breathtaking basketball.

Malik Hall is a player who has all the tools and has shown glimpses of what he can do on the court. At 6-7 and 215 pounds,  he just has to put it all together. His best game of the season came late against number nine-ranked Maryland. He posted stats of 16 points and six rebounds while shooting 100 percent from the floor on five attempts. Hall has a slower but smooth jumper and has showcased a knack for being in the right spots on the floor. If he can continue to develop as a combo-forward, the sky is the limit for him.

Next season is hopeful

No team fairs very well when it loses their main go-to guy. Yet, Izzo has a knack for always replenishing the roster when it does happen. From Denzel Valentine to Miles Bridges to Cassius Winston, and then, whoever is next. All that is known is this next iteration of Michigan State basketball will be one of the most athletic teams Izzo has ever put on the court. Hopefully, November comes soon enough.


  • Ian Kayanja

    I am a college basketball writer primarily based in Nashville, covering all mid-major activity along with Big Ten hoops.

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