MSU Basketball Recruiting – 2014 Fall Endgame

Andy Lyons

Michigan State is likely to get decisions from four of its five remaining recruiting targets for next season's class in the next few days. With some players' choices uncertain even in recruiting gossip circles, this week will be exciting and might include some surprises.

The news has been coming pretty fast and changing with equal quickness concerning MSU's remaining targets for next year's class.  There are four players who appear firmly in play: Central Indiana "power wing" Trevon Bluiett, ace shooter Devin Booker, Chicago forward Cliff Alexander, and Kevon Looney, five-star combo forward from Wisconsin.  Though there's reason to be more optimistic about some than others, anyone ready to risk a finger betting against any of the four to MSU is over confident.  I'm omitting James Blackmon.  Maybe this is a reverse jinx because this recruiting season has been totally unpredictable but it sounds like Kentucky, Indiana, and Michigan are all more likely destinations than MSU.  For Blackmon to select MSU on Thursday would be a sizable upset.

Let's start with Trevon Bluiett who has been moving quickly to re-wrap his recruitment after he decided that UCLA was too far to travel to play his college basketball.  The early word was that Butler and Xa vier were his two likely landing spots.  In the following weeks, the focus turned to Xavier as the overwhelming favorite and it was expected that a commitment would have already happened by now. Like I said on twitter, my hunch was that time was Michigan State's friend. With comfort and familiarity likely playing a large role in passing up the larger Big Ten stage to play for a quality program at Xavier, each day that passed worked in the Spartan's favor to dislodge that lead and sell the Bluietts on exposure and PT at one of college basketball's elite programs.  Now, the WOTS has flipped and many of the same people who thought "Xavier" one week (or day) ago are starting to waver.  Though I don't buy the utility of a tool like the 24/7 Crystal Ball, a few people worth listening to are saying that Trevon Bluiett to Michigan State is becoming a greater likelihood.  That would give MSU another wing in the class who compliments Javon Bess well by having different strengths (shooting) and weaknesses (limited quickness/athleticism).  It's possible that an announcement from him could come any minute and be the first of this list.  Bluiett does not have a formal announcement time/day yet scheduled.

A decision from Trevon Bluiett could impact the fate of Mississippi guard Devin Booker, who makes it official at 3pm on Thursday. Though it's possible that MSU is willing to take three wings in this class, it is more likely that balance and a crowded roster would prevent this from being advantageous to any of the parties involved.  Like other players we're talking about, there are a few schools with more WOTS and logic as choices than others but you probably don't want to rule anyone out.  Coach Izzo has done a great job of recruiting Booker's Michigan family but many observers think Booker will take an offer to play alongside friend Tyler Ulis at Kentucky.  Even then, it'd be unwise to dismiss Missouri.  Booker is a legacy there and recently went down once again to observe a tribute to his father's playing days.  Still, who is to say that Booker won't view the recent success of John Beilein and Michigan as his best choice?  I don't think any of his four finalists would be a surprise, including MSU.

The last member of the any-day-now brigade is elite forward Kevon Looney.  Remember what I said about the Crystal Ball?  It is almost 100% for Duke.  It's true that Looney may choose the Blue Devils for any of the well-tread reasons - Coach K, academics, national titles, Olympic connections, etc. It's also true that the Looney crew has played this closer to the vest than most. In terms of actual data, rumor, and leaks, no one has anything.  Check this out:

Snow is sharing the common perception about Looney's recruitment: everyone is guessing.  For the record, his finalists are Michigan State, Duke, Tennessee, UCLA, Florida, and Wisconsin.  I list them in that order because Duke and Tennessee are popular bets and I don't rule out Izzo to pull something off.  We'll know when Looney announces at noon on Thursday.

The last recruit is Cliff Alexander, the Top 5 power forward who has done nothing but get better in the year and a half since his public declarations of MSU as his favorite school.  A lot has happened since then and I won't even try to recap it all.  A few of the most interesting events are, first, the dropping of Kentucky from his list. This was once viewed as a locked-down, two team race between the Spartans and Wildcats. Now, MSU is considered an underdog and Kentucky is no longer in the picture.  Instead, the talk has focused on the school of Alexander's basketball playing girlfriend Kansas and a resurgent Illinois.  John Groce is a strong recruiter and worked his way onto the main stage of Alexander's recruitment and gained his last official visit for the weekend of the MSU @ Illinois football game.

There's been lots of speculation about whether MSU would get one more visit from Cliff before his decision in the middle of November.  In true Alexander recruitment fashion, conflicting stories came out today about whether that would happen.  SBNation's Champaign Room has an article that sums things up well.   Depending on who you ask, Alexander is either coming this weekend or not yet sure.  According to the count of Paul K over at SpartanMag, Alexander has already visited East Lansing at least five times already so this might not be a make or breaker whether it happens or not.  My intuitive guess is that he does show up this weekend and Brian Snow from Scout believes his parents have set up the visit and are planning on it.

That said, there are two interpretations of this, one negative, one positive.  Let me spin the negative one first:
This is a classic courtesy visit. Alexander is not likely to attend MSU and has virtually ruled us out.  Players and families have a tendency to feel a sense of obligation to stick with a program that's recruited them for a long time and maybe even once been the leader (see: Tyler Ulis and Iowa).  Alexander has a long, warm relationship with Coach Izzo and maybe he thinks he owes it to him to show up one more time after not spending an official on MSU.  This is all a gesture and will mean little.  That's why he's not even sure he's going to bother.

Enough of that; here is why this is the best news we've heard about Cliff and MSU in months: Cliff Alexander was once in love with MSU as his clear favorite.  He had nothing but effusive positive things to say about Izzo and sounded ready to commit early.  Some of that magic might remain.  Alexander is visiting on possibly the most intense, passionate weekend in Michigan State athletics.  Though it's dubious to believe that a football game has a big impact on a basketball recruit, Cliff will see the juxtaposition of the state of Illinois football and a fired-up MSU campus ready for a big statement victory over a rival. The basketball team has started playing, looks great, and Alexander will see another aspect of the actual program in operation as Izzo preps his players for two games next week. This might be the last visit Alexander takes before his announcement and this will be his last on-campus pitch.  If MSU needs a last minute Hail Mary to land him, things couldn't align much better with this visit.

That's where we stand with our fall targets.  I say "fall targets" because I won't dismiss the notion that MSU will seriously recruit someone between November and April for the late signing period.  Especially if both Looney and Alexander go elsewhere, Coach Izzo and staff might be on the lookout for a late rising player to provide security in the post.  Recently, the staff has been aggressive about filling scholarships so they might use the high school season to scout one more player.  MSU intends to return Matt Costello, Alex Gauna, Kenny Kaminski, and Gavin Schilling.  That could be deemed enough for one season if Colby Wollenman is a candidate for emergency duty if injuries or foul trouble strike.  I would bet that MSU gets one more wing (Booker or Bluiett) and is done at the position.

The next month is an important stretch before fans and the MSU staff start to target in on the 2015 class.  In the next few days alone, we're likely to have decisions from four of MSU's five remaining targets.  Here's to some "Welcome to MSU" posts for Halloween.

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