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MSU’s basketball team makes an impression at Moneyball: 3 quick insights
MSU’s basketball team makes an impression at Moneyball: 3 quick insights

1. Frankie Fidler looks like this

HOLT – I’m old enough to remember AJ Hoggard and Tum Tum Nairn shooting more like Steph Curry than themselves at the Moneyball Pro-Am. I saw Pierre Brooks average 40 points per game and Nick Ward score over 50 points several times.

So when freshman Michigan State forward Frankie Fidler scored 45 points in his team’s win Tuesday night, including six three-pointers — a couple of them from closer to the midfield than a college three-point line — the numbers and scoring alone didn’t mean all that much to MSU’s success this season, even if the performance was great summer entertainment.

Looking at the game, though, it’s clear that Fidler will be a key player for MSU this season. At the very least, he’s more exciting to watch after Tuesday night than before. He’s big, he’s experienced, he’s a smooth offensive player, a strong secondary ball handler, a proven shooter — beyond the pro-am level — and he seems to see the game instinctively, whether it’s a no-look pass after the catch or finding a teammate breaking out of a trap.

“He’s a traditional small forward,” senior Jaden Akins said of Fidler. “It’s good to have someone with that skill set at that position.”

Akins is more than happy to move to shooting guard, a position that better suits his size (more on Akins in this Wednesday column).

Fidler had a nasty bruise on his upper cheek, just below his eye, on Tuesday. It was a battle scar from Akins’ head, which he got during a one-on-one game earlier that day at MSU.

Everyone knew Fidler was a big player at a smaller school — he averaged 20 points per game last season at Omaha, a lowly Division I team. The question is how his game will translate to the Big Ten level. Nothing on Tuesday night suggests it won’t. He may not be a star at MSU, but he has a chance to be a piece that makes life easier for everyone else.

“Being a floor-spacer, a guy that can score,” Fidler said, “and having length on defense, versatility on offense, just being the big guy at the 3 position.”

I think it will fit well.

2. First impressions of the other newcomers to MSU

From a Moneyball Pro-Am perspective, this is a compelling MSU basketball roster. Five newcomers are playing this summer and a number of returnees are taking on new roles next season. Akins, Coen Carr and Jaxon Kohler all have something to prove, they’ll tell you that. Xavier Booker is undoubtedly stronger and wiser and looks more prepared. He’s always been a good conversationalist. Now he’s even more thoughtful.

A year ago, Booker didn’t know what he didn’t know. And neither did three new MSU freshmen this year – guards Jase Richardson and Kur Teng and big man Jesse McCulloch, all of whom played Tuesday night. One of the best parts of the Moneyball Pro-Am is getting a first look at the new MSU players.

Richardson has a fun energy and a spring in his step. He and Gehrig Normand battled each other on big shots on Tuesday. I don’t know how ready Richardson is for the Big Ten or how many minutes he’ll get behind Jeremy Fears Jr. and Tre Holloman at the point or Akins and Holloman off the ball, but I’m excited to see him in action. It looks like he could become a pretty complete guard in time.

Teng isn’t flashy. But he knows his game and his spots. That’s obvious. He’s not built to shine at Moneyball, but he seems versatile and has an old man’s game (I mean that as a compliment). It’s impossible to say how willing he is to push for minutes considering how many players are fighting for those minutes.

McCulloch will need some time. But he has some ability. You can see how attractive he is on offense. On one play he turned up from the wing, dribbled into his defender and sent the ball over him. You don’t see that kind of face-up dribble very often. I would be surprised if McCulloch played much or not at all this season. But he wasn’t recruited for this season.

That’s one reason MSU’s coaches brought in transfer center Szymon Zapala. The pronunciation of his first name still confuses some of his teammates, but his size (7 feet, with some strength) and experience add to his value. He seems to have good hands — he once threw down a one-handed alley-top dunk over a defender — and moves fairly well. And, like Richardson, he has a nice energy. That said, it’s hard to properly gauge centers in the pro-am.

RELATED: 2024 Moneyball Pro-Am Summer Basketball League Guide: What You Need to Know

3. A healthy change of guard

It’s probably for the best that the extra year of eligibility — the COVID year — is coming to an end. College basketball teams are made to change. New identities, new leaders, fresh roster dynamics — all of that has been hampered by having 23-year-old fifth-year players in programs across the sport, including MSU’s program. And while the Spartans were almost certainly better last year for still having Tyson Walker and Malik Hall, it’s fair to say this group is ready for something new this year.

Akins has been waiting for this chance to be a guy you can count on. Holloman has been waiting his turn to lead. Kohler, healthy again and enjoying the big group of men around him, sounds like a man reborn. Booker and Carr sound eager. Normand is excited to be a part of things. This is their time. Their chance. I don’t know if they’ll be better. But they’ve been in a good place since July.

MORE: Couch: Saddi Washington didn’t plan on ending up at MSU, but lifelong connections make him feel at home.

Contact Graham Couch at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @Graham_Couch.

By Isla