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Contemplating MSU vs. MSU

No, I'm not talking about the football game against Montana State (just 33 days away!).  I'm talking about replicating the exhibition game North Carolina is staging between two teams of former Tar Heels currently playing professional basketball.  Beyond the Arc hypothesized about the rosters fellow college basketball heavyweights Duke, UConn, Arizona, UCLA, and Kansas could put together for such an exhibition game.  Given MSU's standing as a national powerhouse over the last decade, I thought I'd conjure up an imaginary Spartan alumni game.

The list of potential participants is after the jump:

  • Players who saw action in the NBA last season (7): Maurice Ager, Charlie Bell, Shannon Brown, Paul Davis, Morris Peterson, Zach Randolph, and Jason Richardson.
  • Player drafted by an NBA team in June (1): Goran Suton.
  • Player who played in the NBDL last season (1): Mateen Cleaves.
  • Players I can find evidence of having played professional basketball in Europe in the last year (5): Alan Anderson, Erazem Lorbek, Drew Naymick, Drew Neitzel, Kelvin Torbert.
  • Player I couldn't find evidence of having played professional basketball in Europe in the last year but who I assume is still pursuing a professional basketball career somewhere (1): Marcus Taylor.

(I'm going to leave Marquise Gray and Travis Walton, who are reportedly planning to pursue professional basketball careers, off the list for now.).

Add it all up and you have 15 potential participants.  You could split them up into two teams by era--players from the 1999-2001 Final Four teams plus Lorbek vs. players from the two more recent Final Four teams.  (Let's stop here to remind ourselves that the Every-Four-Year-Izzo-Player-Has-Appeared-in-a-Final Four statement still holds true.  WOOOOOO!!!!)

Team A Team B
PG Cleaves Neitzel
SG Bell Ager
SF Richardson Brown
PF Peterson Suton
C Randolph Davis
Bench Taylor Torbert
Lorbek Anderson

(Note that Eric Snow, who retired at the end of the 2007-08 season was the last Heathcote-era Spartan to be an active NBA player. Kevin Willis actually nearly outlasted Snow--playing a few games in the 2006-07 season at the age of 44.)

Team A would be a pretty heavy favorite, with four guys who are currently or have recently been NBA starters.  Team B's only advantage would be size.  The guys from the more recent Final Four teams might have a better shot in a year or two when Kalin Lucas and Raymar Morgan would be eligible to play (assuming Team A would still have enough players to field a team).

Anyway, this exercise in fantasy does highlight a larger point: MSU has managed to be as successful as any college basketball program in the country (outside of maybe UNC) over the last decade, but has produced relatively few professional stars.  Only five Izzo-era Spartans have become productive NBA players to date (including Shannon Brown, who became a key role player for the Lakers this past postseason.)

The positive spin on this is that Tom Izzo is one of the few college basketball coaches left who can build a national title contender with a roster of relatively untouted recruits by developing players over four or five years.  The negative spin is that Izzo has yet to utilize the national success he's achieved to turn MSU into a national recruiting powerhouse.  As I've argued in the past, I lean toward the positive angle: Good Tom Izzo basketball requires depth, experience, and cohesiveness--thing that are hard to build with NBA-early-entry-type players.