An attempt at a (somewhat) unbiased case for Michigan State and Kentucky
If you’ve followed the recruitment of 5-star forward Miles Bridges, you’ll know that while he still has list of a top 5 college programs that he’s considering, almost everyone thinks it’ll come down to Michigan State and Kentucky.
The Case for Kentucky
Kentucky flat-out puts people in the league. From UK athletics:
"In six seasons with Calipari at the helm, Kentucky has churned out three No. 1 selections, 19 first-rounders, 13 lottery picks and 25 total players in the NBA Draft. The 25 draft picks is more than twice as many as the next school (Kansas) since 2010."
That’s insane. With all their talent, they can put players in roles where they’re most likely to succeed with the easiest example being Devin Booker. Booker, while a 5-star recruit coming out of college, wasn’t thought to be a one-and-done going into his freshman year. He had a great shooting stroke coming out of high school and he was able to showcase that in Kentucky’s system while keeping a high 3P% from getting more open looks than he would at most schools.
They reportedly have told him he would start right away which is appealing to anyone but it’s especially appealing at a school like Kentucky. From SB Nation:
"I'm the person they want from my class. They want me to come in immediately and play."
With no true small forward currently on their roster and Jamal Murray (favorite to start at the 3 next year) likely headed to the NBA, that spot is currently wide open. The only other player that’s almost definitely going to be on their roster that would compete for that spot is 6’ 5" Charles Matthews who is more of 2-guard and was ranked much lower coming out of high school
The third biggest reason Kentucky could land him over Michigan State is due to their respective rosters, Kentucky is more likely to play him at the small forward position than at power forward. From SB Nation:
"I know for sure that I'm a wing player," Bridges told SB Nation on (July 15th). "If a coach wants me to play stretch four sometimes, then I'll be OK with it. I know I put in the work on my ball-handling, my shot is getting way better. So I feel I'm a two or a three in college."
"One of the factors in narrowing his list was his desire to play on the wing.
‘They talked to me about playing the three and some schools said I could even end up being a two if I continue to develop my ball-handling,’ Bridges said."
My assumption (based on mock drafts and others’ assumptions) is that they will lose Skal Labissiere, Jamal Murray, and Isaiah Briscoe (less certain than the other two) to the NBA draft. My other assumption is that they will get Markelle Fultz who is the only player I feel comfortable enough predicting that he will go to Kentucky. Other players they are very interested in and have a good chance to get a commitment from are Kobi Simmons, De’Aaron Fox, Rawle Alkins, and Sacha Killeya-Jones. Of those, only Rawle Alkins looks to be a player who might play the 3 spot for extended minutes. With 4-star PF Tai Wynyard already in the fold and potentially Marcus Lee returning, they may have enough at the PF position to ensure that Bridges wouldn’t play there especially if they land 6’ 10" Killeya-Jones as well. However, at Michigan State he’s much more likely to play a decent number of minutes at the 4 with talented wings Eron Harris and Josh Langford likely to be on the roster who will require minutes at the 2 and 3 spots.
The Case for Michigan State
Close to Home
When Bridges returned home this summer, he said he was happy to be back playing in the state of Michigan. From an MLive article in April:
"It’s great to be back," Bridges said. "I miss home so much. My mom, my family, my friends. It’s great to be back playing in front of them."
Bridges seems to be very close to his family and while Lexington is around a six hour drive to his hometown of Flint, Michigan State is only 45 minutes away, allowing Miles to go home on the weekends and allowing his family (also MSU basketball fans) to easily see his home games. There’s also the Flint-MSU connection to consider as MSU’s 1999-00 national championship included many Flint players famously known as the "Flintstones." While his priorities may have changed, this seems to be something that may ultimately be a strong factor in his decision.
Versatility at MSU
While Bridges has stated multiple times in the past that his preferred position is the 3, a more recent article from Sporting News may imply that he’s changed his tune a little.
"I’m just an all-around player. I work on that every day, every time I go to the gym: ballhandling, shooting, everything," Bridges said. "If a coach has a good impression of me playing a position, that’s where I’m going to play. I’m not going to argue about it."
This may just be the politically correct answer, saying he’s fine wherever the coach puts him, but it may also be a real change in thinking. With the NBA going smaller and smaller, a wing player who can guard both 3’s and 4’s is becoming more valuable with the poster child of this paradigm shift being former MSU star Draymond Green. At 6’7" Draymond has the height of a small forward, but his strength and rebounding allows him to guard 4’s on defense while being able to make plays coming off of screens on offense. While Bridges’ pro position will be the 3, with his rebounding prowess and size he may at times be called on to be a small-ball 4. Even on his DraftExpress profile, his college and NBA position is listed as "SF/PF."
The guess is that if one of Izzo and Calipari talked to him about the value of versatility in being more of a combo forward, it would more likely be Izzo as he appears the one more likely to use him as a combo forward based on roster composition. At the college level, Bridges would be a nightly mismatch at the 4 position with his athletic ability and floor spacing of a 3, but the physicality of a 4 similar to how Justise Winslow was used to help lead Duke to a national championship.
Possibility of Playing with Cassius Winston
@SpencerrMyers @MilesBridges01 that would be sweet huh— Cassius Winston (@cassiuswinston) April 30, 2015
(This tweet by Cassius Winston was retweeted by Miles Bridges albeit it was back in April)
One factor that may help MSU get a commitment from Bridges is if they can first land his AAU teammate Cassius Winston who is rumored to be strongly considering Michigan and Michigan State. While Bridges’ last scheduled official visit is for Kentucky’s Big Blue Madness on October 16 (he can still schedule two more), Winston’s last visit is scheduled to Michigan on September 20th meaning that it’s likely that Winston will decide first. Right now the only two schools on both players’ lists are Michigan and Michigan State. However, at the moment Michigan has no scholarships available and while it’s not at all hard to imagine a scenario where one becomes available, it’s not nearly as likely that two spots open up. Both are scheduled to visit Michigan State together on September 12th, and although they’ve said that the other’s decision won’t ultimately affect them, it’s not hard to imagine that it might be at least slightly more appealing knowing that you’ll be playing with a former teammate. While Kentucky will almost definitely finish with a top 5 class as they do every year, if MSU is able to land both Winston and Bridges, they themselves will have a top 5 class with Nick Ward and Josh Langford already in the fold.
Another factor that may come into play is projecting where he falls on the totem pole in terms of offensive option. On Kentucky he would play with a pass-first point guard in Tyler Ulis, but he also may play with guards who will require touches on offense in Markelle Fultz, Rawle Alkins (if they get him), or Isaiah Briscoe (if he returns for his sophomore year). At MSU, the only player that would certainly be ahead of him as an offensive option would be Eron Harris as Lourawls Nairn is a pass-first point guard and Josh Langford has been described as versatile Denzel Valentine-type rather than a pure scorer.
Headed to the NBA Regardless?
Frankly, with Bridges’ athleticism, prototypical size, and decent shooting stroke; Bridges is probably going to the NBA regardless of where he attends college. It’s true that Kentucky has sent a ton of guys to the NBA, but a very large number of those guys were headed there from the day they graduated high school. Also if Bridges wanted to stay in college for a second year, there would likely be less outside pressure and more roster stability if he chose MSU.
Although I wrote more arguments for MSU (I’m an MSU fan so my bias showed up), the arguments in favor Kentucky may easily have a higher priority in his decision. By many recruiting experts’ opinion on the subject, Kentucky is in the lead. My guess (and that's all it is): MSU will land him due to the strength of his connections with MSU.