If you followed Twitter, you watched recruiting fans, scouts, and media go crazy about the match-up between Tyus Jones' Howard Pulley AAU team and Tyler Ulis and Meanstreets. Before the game on Friday night, it was hyped for multiple reasons. Jones is the consensus top point guard in his class but Ulis has risen in the rankings all summer hitting a high spot of #38 nationally by ESPN. He's also a Top 50 player on Rivals. For MSU recruit watchers, it was an opportunity to see how Ulis compared to Jones as potential point guards for the Spartans. It's no secret the MSU has been perceived as behind in the Jones recruitment and more likely to secure Ulis instead. What is the difference between the two? How limited is Ulis by his 5'8/5'9 height? As much as one game could provide answers, the results were encouraging. There's no doubt how good Jones is and he was ultimately able to outlast Meanstreets and help get Howard Pulley an overtime victory. However, Ulis showed that he could hold his own without any challenge. Those in attendance had glowing things to say about the Chicago-area point guard and one of the best is from Jeff Borzello of CBS who called Ulis' second half " one of the best outings that we've seen all spring and summer." Ulis got 22 points and 17 assists showing that he find his own points as well as set up his teammates.
There was also news from Roy Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-eye that a source told him MSU will not take Ulis and Jones both in the 2014 class. There's a lot of ways to read that. If true, it's entirely possible that Coach Izzo and staff are just being realistic. If Tyus Jones, Tyler Ulis, and Jahlil Okafor all showed up at Coach Izzo's office begging to commit, it ‘s my hunch he'd accept all three. But that isn't the point. Coach Izzo probably recognizes that top point guards like to come in alone as part of a class. As a gesture to secure the commitment of either player, he have told them that there's only one spot and he'll cease recruiting another point guard if one commits. There's an element of gamesmanship to plant the seed in their heads that a spot may not be open indefinitely though it'd be particularly difficult to hold cards over Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor. It may make Tyler Ulis more compelled to commit knowing that he doesn't have to worry about Tyus Jones at MSU if he does.
The major takeaway from the Peach Jam on Friday is that MSU is good shape to land one of two excellent point guards, either of whom can play with the best. If you're concerned about Ulis' height still, let me put it this way: Tyler Ulis is 5'10 tops and I'm 6'1" on a good day. Joe Rexrode is well over six feet tall. You'd definitely want Tyler Ulis running the point at MSU over either of us. Inches aren't everything. MSU needs someone to come in and help at point guard in 2014 and Tyler Ulis is one of the best options in his class.
The game was also a draw because it contained multiple other players on the MSU radar. Reid Travis is another Minnesota player and AAU teammate of Jones' on Howard Pulley but it's worth pointing out that I've never heard him included in talks about playing with the Jones/Okafor package deal. Travis was a strong performer as well in the game and also scored 20+ points as part of the contest. A football-bodied, strong post forward, Travis recently told the TwinCities Pioneer Press that he might be on a slightly accelerated timetable. Instead of the normal October/November commitment, he's interested in making a decision by the end of September and has keyed in on Minnesota, Michigan State, UCLA, and Stanford as four schools likely to join the already visited Gonzaga as official destinations. He generally sounds like a player who is narrowing things down.
After Meanstreet's Paul White left early with a broken arm that will sideline him for a few months, the other player to watch was Charles Matthews, a combo guard on the Meanstreets team. Matthews is a big (6'5") guard with point guard capability who, as a Top 5 player in 2015, can virtually write his own ticket. He was recently offered by Michigan State after listing the Spartans as one of the most aggressive schools who hadn't yet officially given him an invitation. His recruitment is just getting going and he has not publicly narrowed down any suitors. Expect this one to be more of the same from 2014 - Michigan State going deep into the recruiting cycle to stay after the top talents in the rising junior class.
There has been other news besides the AAU Game of the Week. Cliff Alexander continues to shake things up as he talks about his timetable and program for making a decision. Earlier, the word was the he would skip officials to Kentucky and Michigan State because he was already very familiar with those campuses and wished to get a larger variety. Then, with no room for misunderstanding or flawed quotation, Alexander stated on his own twitter account that he was considering Florida or Kentucky for this 5th official visit. It's hard to spin that as anything but worrisome for MSU fans hopeful to see Cliff in East Lansing and worried that they're slipping. Sure, it could be that MSU's proximity and frequency of visit makes an official unnecessary but it would be an epic curveball for a player to pick a school that he didn't include in his officials. Even if MSU is in a great shape with Alexander, a series of official visits to five other programs might be more than enough to disturb any Michigan State lead. I've said before that Alexander is the key to the class. There's much less pressure to score big again if Alexander is already in the fold. If MSU can't secure a commitment from Alexander, getting some other post talent into the program (Kevon Looney, Reid Travis, Jaylen Johnson) becomes more high-stakes.
Speaking of, Jaylen Johnson has been getting press as well. He was at the Adidas Invitational where he had a high-profile head-to-head of his own against 2015 five-star Stephen Zimmerman and held his own. His current offer list features "Louisville, Oregon, Michigan State, Miami (FL), Iowa State and USC." A Rivals interview is being passed around where Johnson relays the MSU staff's statement that they don't need Johnson but want him none the less. With the other forwards they're recruiting, that may be the case but if he continues to play with high major appeal and MSU misses on a target or two, Jaylen Johnson could quickly find himself deep in the mix for MSU.
Kevon Looney is a player who MSU is still watching. I was discussing this recruitment briefly with Mike Wilson on twitter and I think MSU should be regarded as a legitimate darkhorse for Looney. Though it's tempting to play the "Moloch everyone is going to Duke!" game, it sounds like MSU has a fighting chance in this one and the coaches are sticking around for his AAU events. Looney hasn't tipped his hand much so I think we should watch this one and see where it develops. He's been consistent that he wants to cut the list to five by the end of the month so we'll know more clearly where MSU stands soon. He recently told 24/7 Sports that "Florida, Michigan, Michigan State, Duke, Tennessee, Georgetown, Stanford" are in the forefront of vying for those spots.
I also talked with Mike about Devin Booker and I think MSU should be considered better than a darkhorse in that one. Michigan is deep into this recruitment too and Mike could be right that they're the team to beat. As he pointed out, Booker is good friends with Drake Harris, of MSU->UM flip-flop fame but that could cut in interesting ways. Booker was a candidate to join with Harris when he committed...to play basketball at MSU. (Clicking this link may cause blindness). Booker is said to have grown up rooting for Michigan State and his good friend Harris selected MSU and Coach Izzo for basketball over UM (granted, before last year's march to the Final). How strong and credible of a recruiter for Michigan and John Beilein will he be? Is there any conflict between Michigan's interest in Devin Booker and Indiana wing Trevon Bluiett?
There's more news in the 2015 class as the rising juniors become even more important to Michigan State's recruiting. Michigan State is maintaining their interest forward Carlton Bragg, a five-star player from Cleveland. It may be hard to keep him away from Ohio State. Evan Daniels reported last night that Luke Kennard received scholarship offers from both Duke and Michigan State. Kennard is a four-star shooting guard from Ohio as well. He also has Big Ten offers from Indiana and Michigan. Michigan State watched both Hyron Edwards and Jalen Coleman of Indiana Elite over the weekend is pursuing Hoosier State guards. The recruiting picture for 2015 will take shape soon but it's hindered some by the lack of resolution in the previous class.
Even though we've known this for a long time, even the national press is starting to catch on concerning what an important summer this is for Coach Izzo and his recruiting efforts. Jeff Borzello listed him in a primer for the weekend as a coach for whom the "Pressure's on." While an understandable storyline, I think this has gotten a little overblown. While it's likely that MSU does need a "home run" in order to secure their spot in the Big Ten pecking order in the short term, they probably don't need a grand slam of Jones, Okafor, Alexander, Looney, and Booker. A deep four man class along the lines of an Izzo special a la 2012 - one five star, two Top 100 four-stars, and a fourth less heralded player - would get the job done. That class hasn't even begun to take shape yet but if the Spartans can get their point guard in the fold soon, the whole process might accelerate and look brighter.