Joey Hauser could have left Michigan State after the 2021-22 season. The senior had graduated, had played three years of college basketball — one at Marquette, two at MSU — and had largely been criticized for not living up to outside expectations after his arrival in East Lansing.
Hauser took some time away, returned to his home in Wisconsin, spoke to his brother, Sam, who plays for the Boston Celtics and ultimately decided that another year at Michigan State was best for him.
It’s hard to imagine where the Spartans might be if Hauser had made a different decision.
Midway through the 2022-23 regular season, the graduate senior has become the player that head coach Tom Izzo always knew he was capable of being — an All-Big Ten-caliber talent.
Hauser is averaging 13.8 points per game for the Spartans, second only to MSU shooting guard Tyson Walker (13.9). More impressively, the power forward is shooting 47.9 percent from the floor and 41.3 percent from beyond the three-point line.
While Hauser has had some clunkers this season — he scored just two points against Gonzaga, went 1-for-6 against Alabama, shot 3-for-12 against Northwestern and 3-for-13 against Michigan — the senior has been consistently good for Michigan State overall. Hauser has scored in double figures in 13 out of 16 games, and has recorded six double-doubles on the season, after six total in his career coming into this season.
While Hauser is limited as an on-ball defender, he’s the best rebounder that Michigan State has, averaging 7.8 rebounds per game. This is despite the fact that the 6-foot-9, 220-pounder is a little undersized for a collegiate power forward.
Izzo has often lauded Hauser’s passing abilities, even during the previous two seasons in which Hauser faced heavy criticism — some warranted, some not. So far this year, Hauser is third on the team in assists per game (2.4), trailing only MSU’s two starting guards — A.J. Hoggard (6.5) and Walker (3.1).
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Hauser’s ability to stretch the floor as a big has been crucial to Michigan State’s offensive success in 2022-23. It opens up driving lanes for Hoggard, who is at his best when he’s attacking the basket and either finishing over smaller defenders or kicking out to shooters.
The Spartans don’t have a wide margin for error on offense. They’re 10th in the Big Ten in points per game (70.3), T-eighth in shooting percentage (44.6) but fourth in three-point percentage (37.8). Junior center Mady Sissoko has made great strides this season, but he’s never going to be a guy that Michigan State throws the ball to on the block and says, “Go to work, big fella.”
That’s why its important for Hauser, Walker, sophomore guard Jaden Akins and small forward Malik Hall to stretch the floor with their outside shooting.
In the waning minutes of Michigan State’s 69-65 win over Wisconsin on Wednesday night, the Spartans got in-close looks from both Hauser and Hoggard that allowed MSU to take the lead and hold the lead for a big road victory. That was made possible because the Badgers had to respect the Spartans’ outside shooting prowess — Michigan State shot 54 percent from three-point range for the game.
After struggling going just 1-for-7 on three-point attempts against Michigan last Saturday, Hauser made a nice adjustment on Tuesday against Wisconsin. The senior didn’t settle for the jumper, opting to attack the basket and get himself the the free throw line. He finished the game shooting 6-of-8 from the floor, 2-for-3 on three-point attempts and 6-for-6 from the free throw line on his way to a 20-point night.
That’s the confidence we’ve seen out of Hauser this season. We mentioned those “clunker games” earlier, but the senior hasn’t allowed one bad night to turn into two or three bad nights.
In the games immediately following a “clunker”, here is what Hauser has done — 23 points, eight rebounds, 50 percent from the floor vs. Kentucky; 18 points, 10 rebounds, 63.6 percent vs. Oregon; 12 points, 15 rebounds, 50 percent vs. Penn State; 20 points, eight rebounds, 75 percent vs. Wisconsin.
Michigan State won all four of those games.
This is the Joey Hauser that Michigan State has wanted to see since he transferred in from Marquette following the 2018-19 season. His turnaround has been remarkable, and its one of the biggest reasons why the Spartans find themselves at 12-4 overall, 4-1 in Big Ten play and a much better basketball team than anyone expected them to be.