1. Life will be a chore for MSU until Hall and Akins return
PORTLAND, Ore. — The lineups Michigan State put on the court Thursday night spoke volumes about the team missing a few guys.
At one point, the Spartans had Jason Whitens, Carson Cooper, Tre Holloman, Mady Sissoko and Tyson Walker on the court together. As long as Walker is out, every possession has a chance.
As long as MSU is without Malik Hall (at least three weeks) and Jaden Akins (who could return at any time), life will be a chore.
Tom Izzo took the risk of going with a smaller roster and it’s already gnawing at him with the Spartans in late November. We’ll see if that matters in January and beyond.
Hall is out with a stress reaction in his leg. Akins, who is just coming back from a more severe version of the smiley face injury, is out after tweaking his foot last Friday.
Spartans are tough enough without them. They’re just not athletic enough — not against an uber-athletic Alabama team with one of the best freshmen you’ll ever see in 6-foot-9 wing Brandon Miller, who had 24 points and nine rebounds Thursday.
MSU ran out of gas Thursday and ran out a veteran player to give them the minutes you need to win a game like this. Alabama had more influence. MSU had Tyson Walker (21 points) and AJ Hoggard (18) to keep every game at least a little bit competitive.
Injuries are the story for MSU right now. Joey Hauser got hit on Thursday. We’ll see if he’s affected in Friday night’s game when MSU plays Oregon at midnight ET.
The Spartans have to find a way to grow in the process — for their rookie and Pierre Brooks to take a step in their development. That’s the only potential silver lining.
2. Freshman Reflections – Alabama Edition PK85
You never want an injury. Especially leg injuries. But if there’s one good thing to come out of Malik Hall’s injury, it’s this: if MSU’s three freshmen forced into significant minutes accelerate their development.
You could already see it on Thursday night. All they had to do was lean on big men Jaxon Kohler and Carson Cooper and quarterback Tre Holloman. And knowing that you’re needed, that you’re going to be a part of things, is something that sometimes helps a young gamer or roleplayer play more freely.
This was Kohler’s best game by a mile. We saw his knack for scoring around the rim, with backs and leans in traffic and some nifty footwork on the low block. Basically, we finally got to see some of the benefits it can bring. So far he’s mostly just hung there. I think it helped that MSU finally faced a team without a power or crafty player in the low post. Kohler finished with six points, six rebounds and a block in 19 minutes, season highs by far against high competition.
Cooper also had his moments, including a blocked shot and a save just before halftime in a one-point game. He also looked like the kind of guy you don’t want to throw a wrap pass to on the baseline yet — Here’s looking at you, AJ Hoggard — or you don’t want to throw any passes yet. Cooper played 10 minutes, made a free throw, had two blocks and two rebounds. He didn’t always look like a fish out of water. MSU will need him in the postseason at some point this season. This experience will not hurt.
Holloman’s woes primarily lie behind a seasoned backcourt. With Akins, his role is expanding. He did a lot of good in nine minutes Thursday, including a 3-point catch and a shot from the left side as MSU struggled to stay in the game. He also continues to make smart decisions. When he got the ball from Jason Whitens after Whitens’ steal in the first half, instead of attacking two Alabama players in transition, he dropped back and set up the offense that led to the score. He finished with six points on 2-of-3 shooting, two rebounds and a steal in 14 minutes. Holloman will not make up for Akins’ absence. But he is ready to contribute good minutes.
3. Difficult first start for Pierre Brooks
I don’t know if Pierre Brooks will stay in the starting lineup once Jaden Akins returns. It doesn’t really matter. As long as Malik Hall is out, Brooks will play major minutes. He made his first start Thursday — and he did so against perhaps the most talented player he’ll face in his entire college career in Alabama’s Brandon Miller. Very few people will look good guarding Miller.
Brooks had a tough game for long stretches, especially a sequence late in the first half when he missed a 3 that would have given MSU the lead, then missed Miller’s long 3 just before the buzzer.
MSU stuck with him — the Spartans have no choice now anyway — and I thought Brooks played better in the second half. With 6 minutes left, he went in for a 3-pointer that cut MSU’s deficit to 11, giving the Spartans life and helping to set up an interesting finish.
MSU needs more from Brooks than it got Thursday. But she also won’t see Miller again.
Contact Graham Couch at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Graham_Couch.