EAST LANSING — It has been a long seven months for Tom Izzo and his Michigan State basketball players.
One that finally ends Wednesday night when his unranked Spartans host Division II Ferris State in their exhibition opener.
“Practice was really good today,” Izzo said Tuesday. “We’ve had some good practices, we’ve had a couple of bad practices, which is about normal. We’re sick of playing against each other.”
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo talks with freshman guard Jaden Akins during open practice on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.
Tipoff is 7 p.m. at Breslin Center. The game will be streamed on BTN-Plus.
It will be the first time MSU stepping onto the court since its 86-80 overtime loss to UCLA in the First Four. The Spartans went 15-13 in a pandemic-disrupted season to make Izzo’s 23rd straight NCAA tournament, then exited immediately and went into an offseason with a significant roster turnover.
Aaron Henry left for the NBA and Joshua Langford opted to not return for a sixth season. Rocket Watts, Foster Loyer, Thomas Kithier and Jack Hoiberg all departed via the transfer portal.
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Izzo brought in Northeastern transfer Tyson Walker to address the issues at point guard that plagued the turbulent 2020-21 season. He also added highly touted five-star sharpshooter Max Christie and four-star guards Jaden Akins and Pierre Brooks II, with players spending the entire summer together after not being permitted to work out as a full team the previous year due to health and safety restrictions.
Which means the exhibition opener against Ferris State will be the first opportunity for both the newcomers and sophomores A.J. Hoggard and Mady Sissoko to play in front of the Izzone and Breslin crowd before opening the regular season Nov. 9 against No. 3 Kansas in the Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Something Izzo is not taking for granted.
“Even for older kids, it’s gonna be just fun to have people back in the building,” he said. “And I can’t wait, I really can’t.”
Izzo expects Christie and senior swingman Gabe Brown to start. He will be examining six others for the remaining three starting spots: Walker and Hoggard are battling for the starting point guard spot, junior Malik Hall and senior Joey Hauser are competing at one forward spot and senior Marcus Bingham Jr. and Julius Marble at the other. Akins also is expected to be part of the playing group, which Izzo thinks he might keep at nine for now and possibly expand when MSU hosts Division II Grand Valley State in its final preseason tuneup Nov. 4.
“The first game, we’re gonna play it full-go,” Izzo said. “I don’t think I’m gonna sub five. We have a meeting about it (Tuesday). I’ve done that many of times. But we feel like, let’s face it, last year, there was a lot of reasons. I’m not blaming anybody, and I’ll take most of the blame, but one of the things that I blame is I didn’t have a very solid lineup, and I didn’t have a very good substitution pattern. And then I’ll be honest, some of it was their fault. I’m not gonna play guys that aren’t playing to the level that I think that they need to play, but some of it was my fault, and I’m gonna learn from it.”
Ferris State, which went 38-1 and won the Division II national championship in 2018, also played a shortened season last winter that didn’t begin until mid-December. The Bulldogs went 9-11 overall and 8-8 in the GLIAC, which they won in 2019-20 for the third time in four seasons before the postseason was canceled.
Izzo, a former Division II star at Northern Michigan, said he respects the culture Ferris State coach Andy Bronkema has built in Big Rapids. The Spartans also in the offseason added a secret weapon for this game in Michael Peterson, a 6-foot-7 walk-on graduate student who averaged 9.4 points and a team-high 6.6 rebounds while starting all 18 games for the Bulldogs last season.
“Maybe what we look for the most is a very well-coached team that has done very well in Division II,” Izzo said. “And being a Division II guy myself, I have an appreciation for it. I know they’re gonna play hard.”
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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan State ready for exhibition opener vs. Ferris State