It's been a rough season for Matt Costello. He was a well regarded prospect, and expectations were high going into his sophomore season, with a starting spot up for grabs in the absence of Derrick Nix. But he didn't carve out a niche early on, and before long he was diagnosed with mono and had to miss several games. His offensive game is still in its early stages. His rebounding numbers probably ought to be higher, and hopefully they will be when he's 100%, but it does seem like he's often in the wrong place for offensive boards.
And yet, I'm still pretty optimistic about Costello's prospects for contributing to a deep tourney run this year. We should see more aggressiveness from him as he recovers, and that should boost the scoring and rebounding numbers. His defense has looked reasonably good to my eyes, and it's worth mentioning that he's already exceptionally good at one thing: blocking shots.
In his last game against Illinois, Costello rang up a six pack of blocks. 6 blocks in 1 game just doesn't normally happen. In fact, that's more blocks than many of his teammates have all year (that applies to Gauna, Schilling, Harris, Trice, Kaminsky, Byrd, Ellis, and the walkons). Now, Brandon Dawson is a good shot blocker: he's got 16 blocks in 482 minutes. Likewise, Adreian Payne has 15 blocks in 432 minutes. Both of them are roughly a block per 30 minutes - not bad at all. But Matt Costello, mononucleosis and all, has 24 blocks in 221 minutes. In other words, he blocks 3x as many shots per minute as his spring-loaded frontcourt-mates.
How does Costello manage to block shots at such a ridiculous rate? My impression is that he's always looking for blocks, and he seems to have good defensive court awareness (being aware of both his man and the ball handler, and anticipating where the shot will happen on drives). His quickness also seems good for a big guy.
And just how good is Costello's block rate in the bigger picture? It's a little hard to say, since I can't find college basketball stats that go back past 1997-1998. The most prolific MSU shot-blocker in that time frame appears to be Drew Naymick, who in his senior year blocked 60 shots in 742 minutes - a much higher per-minute rate than Payne and Dawson this year, but still not on par with Costello. At the dawn of the Izzo era, Dejaun Wiley did put up per-minute block rates more similar to Costello's, although he had a lesser role on the team. Comparing with the rest of the Big Ten (since 97-98), there are only a few shot-blockers that seem obviously better than Costello's minutes-adjusted numbers, like OSU's Ken Johnson and Greg Oden, and PSU's Calvin Booth.
Especially considering his struggles to play through mono and carve out a consistent role on the team, Costello's shot-blocking rate is really eye-opening and ought to start receiving more widespread media attention. It will be fun to see just how high his shot-blocking numbers can go as his health and experience improve, but already he may very well be the best shot-blocker that Tom Izzo has coached.