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Is Michigan State's Max Christie the early frontrunner for B1G Freshman of the Year?

Christie's defense has been solid all year, and the freshman is starting to find his shooting stroke as well

Michigan State freshman shooting guard Max Christie is starting to look like the five-star prospect the Spartans signed back in November of 2020.

After scoring a career-high 21 points on 7-of-9 shooting in MSU’s 79-67 win over Nebraska, Christie was named the Co-Freshman of the Week by the Big Ten on Monday. He shares the honor with Ohio State’s Malaki Branham.

“I thought Max Christie was awfully good,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said following the Spartans win over the Cornhuskers. “I thought Max Christie really stepped up.”

While this is the second time Christie has shared Freshman of the Week, it’s his fourth time earning the honor overall, which is the most in the Big Ten. It’s fair to suggest that Christie is the current frontrunner for the conference’s Freshman of the Year award.

Against Nebraska, Christie was matched up against another leading candidate for Big Ten Freshman of the Year – Cornhusker shooting guard Bryce McGowens, who’s been named Freshman of the Week three times by the Big Ten.

While Christie scored a career-high against the Cornhuskers, he was also McGowens’ primary defender, and limited the Nebraska freshman to 13 points on 5-of-16 shooting. McGowen’s was just 1-of-7 from three-point range.

“He had to guard McGowens, and McGowens was 5-for-16 and I thought Christie did a hell of a job on him,” Izzo said. “He was our leading scorer and he had to be one of our best defenders.”

In the Spartans’ first 12 games, Christie was struggling with his shooting stroke. His overall shooting percentage was 33.3 percent, and he had hit on just 26 percent of his three-point attempts.

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But in the last three games, the freshman from Rolling Meadows, Ill. has started to look like the five-star prospect that Michigan State signed back in November of 2020. Against Nebraska, Northwestern and High Point, Christie averaged 16.3 points per game while shooting 64 percent from the floor, and 64 percent from beyond the three-point line. He’s also averaging five rebounds per game over that stretch.

“I said for about eight, nine games – this kid is a lot better shooter than we saw,” Izzo said.

“I never really saw him lose confidence, other than maybe one week. He was a little down and you could tell. And that’s when I tell him, Michael Jordan misses shots and other people miss shots. He’s very hard on himself, which is a great quality until it works in reverse, and it was for about a week. But he just got in there, he kept shooting, a few little adjustments on his shot, he was swinging the ball a little bit – but his shot has looked good ever since I’ve seen him shoot. I love the way he approached it and he’s in here every day, taking care of his body, he just does everything the right way. Max deserves what he’s got.”

While Christie struggled with his shooting stroke, Izzo said the one thing that has not wavered at any point this season is the freshman’s willingness and ability to defend at a high level.

“I am shocked how good he’s been defensively,” Izzo said. “He’s rebounding the ball. He had the tip-dunk. When you’re rebounding the ball, when you’re defending the best player, when you’re scoring 21 points, when I want the ball in your hands at the end of the game for the free throw line, that’s a pretty complete player.”

Christie’s recent rise is offensive productivity is obviously great news for the Spartans, but it also goes beyond what the freshman is doing to contribute to Michigan State in the here and now. Izzo has lauded the Christie’s maturity, and made note of his how his star freshman handled that early adversity.

“I’m really proud of him. If you know him at all…unbelievable kid. He works his tail off, and he picked up things like that,” Izzo said, with the snap of his fingers. “He learns to listen, he listens to learn and when you talk to him it’s like engraved in his head.

“This is almost a miracle today. He struggled the first half of the season to shoot the ball – he didn’t quit, he didn’t transfer. It’s amazing. He just went back to work. And I think doing that, failing a little bit, was good. And he just worked his way through it. He’s still got some work to go, but man, that’s a joy to see that for me. I appreciate that in this day and age.”