August 2, 2023
State of the Program: With a new coach and some returning talent, Michigan State could fly under the radar
Robyn Fralick looks to parlay success at Bowling Green into a winning culture in East Lansing
When Michigan State’s new head coach Robyn Fralick took over at Bowling Green before the 2018-19 season, things were in dire straits. Since finishing 30-5 in 2013-14, the Falcons had a combined record of 38-81 over the next four seasons. Fralick had to start from scratch before ultimately building up a program that finished last season 31-7.
In her new role in East Lansing, she won’t quite have to start from the very bottom. Despite losing nine players from last year’s team, including their top two scorers, the Spartans bring back eight returners while welcoming five new players.
This isn’t a program that’s bottomed out; Michigan State finished last season above .500. And while it might be tough to compete for a spot at the top of the conference with a new coach and a new system coming in, the Spartans look to field a competitive group again in 2023-24.
At Bowling Green, Fralick’s calling card was her program’s offense. In four of her five seasons, the Falcons ranked in the top 15th percentile in points per game in the nation. This past year, they were in the 90th percentile in offensive rating, according to Her Hoop Stats.
That penchant for strong offense should create intriguing matchups with other high-profile offenses in the conference, like Iowa, Indiana, Maryland, Ohio State, etc.
Fralick described her offense as a two-way system, the old cliche of using defense to create offense. But she’s also emphasized having five players on the floor who can score at any time. Last year, the Falcons had five players average double figures.
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“We really, really work on fighting for the best shot and getting five people that play together,” Fralick told The Next. “I think it’s a fun way to play because it’s unselfish, and everybody touches the ball.”
2022-23 record: 16-14 (7-10 Big Ten)
Big Ten finish: 9th
Notable wins: vs. Indiana (83-78)
Departures: Kamaria McDaniel (graduation), Matilda Ekh (transferring to Virginia Tech), Lauren Walker (medically retired), Stephanie Visscher (graduation), Taiyier Parks (transferring to Ohio State), Maddy Skorupski (transferring to Oakland), Jayla James (transferring to Manhattan), Brooklyn Rewers (transferring to Hawaii), Olivia Porter (transferring to UNC Charlotte).
This opportunity at Michigan State means something extra to Fralick, a native of Okemos, MI. She grew up watching the Spartans all the time and now has the chance to make her mark leading the women’s basketball program.
No stranger to the Big Ten, she said she’s also recently kept close tabs on the different programs in the conference. With Bowling Green typically having Sundays off during the season, Fralick often turned on Big Ten games.
“It’s the best of the best,” she said. “These are games I’ve been watching on TV since I was a kid and as a coach. … The best players, the best coaches and it makes you have to get better. That piece is scary, that piece is exciting and mostly, that piece is motivating.”
With several new players coming together all trying to learn a new system, Jocelyn Tate stands out as a player to keep an eye on. Having played for Fralick at BGSU for the previous two seasons, she should bring some stability to the Spartans right away. In her sophomore year for the Falcons, Tate averaged 10.2 points and led the team with 6.1 rebounds per game.
“We’re grateful she came,” Fralick said. “I think she’s been a really good bridge between the staff and the team, just somebody who’s played for us and understands what we do and how we do it. And then I think for her, it’s a new challenge, it’s a higher level, it’s better. That pushes you to have to get to that next threshold and that next level.”
With DeeDee Hagemann, Moira Joiner and Gabby Elliott returning, having each played at least 19.9 minutes per game last season, Tate should provide another reliable presence both scoring and on the glass.
The fact that Fralick has this many experienced players who stuck around through the coaching change speaks volumes about who they are, she said.
“I just have a lot of respect for them,” Fralick said. “There are a lot of things they went through last season, with the (shooting) on campus and the head coach (Suzy Merchant) being gone for the last part of the season. They’re a resilient group.
“I also think it says something about the University, like these kids, are really passionate about Michigan State. They love being here.”
‘You can feel it’
As Fralick embarks on establishing the all-important culture she wants her program to embrace; she’s turned to advice she received from friend and longtime Belmont men’s basketball coach Rick Byrd.
“I’ll never forget one thing he shared with me, he said, ‘Culture is built every day in everything. It’s in every interaction. It’s every day,’” Fralick said. “Sometimes, we think, ‘Well, if we do this one event one time, boom, we’re going to have this really connected team.’ But the reality is, it’s every day in everything, so there’s just this intentionality behind what each day looks like, and so that’s what our staff has poured into.”
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Along those lines, Fralick stayed away from specific expectations for her first season, but there’s one thing that will assuredly stay at the top of her mind: Having a team that plays together.
“The hope and the plan is that when you watch us play, you can really feel the spirit of our team,” she said. “Even the team I coached last year at Bowling Green, it was like, ‘What were we good at?’ There was just this spirit to our team that you can’t really pinpoint, and it’s hard to maybe scout, but you can feel it when we play or when you compete against us. I think that would be something that we feel really good about if you that team-ness of our group was really evident.”
There’s still lots more work to do before the Spartans open their season in November, but Fralick’s just enjoying the opportunity she could’ve only dreamt about as a kid growing up just outside of East Lansing.
“We’re just really excited,” she said. “This place is sweet. I walk around every day, and I kind of marvel at the opportunities that the kids we have here get. We’re just excited for this new journey.”
For further offseason reading on Big Ten women’s basketball, check out Eric Rynston-Lobel’s full State of the Program series.
Written by Eric Rynston-Lobel
Eric Rynston-Lobel has been a contributor to The Next since August 2022. He covered Northwestern women's basketball extensively in his four years as a student there for WNUR and now works as a sports reporter for the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire.