Consensus top 3 in his class Josh Jackson is the really nice cherry on top of the already very good sundae that is MSU’s 2016 recruiting class. He’s not completely necessary and there’s no current spot for him but MSU would love to have him. There a few ways of getting him whether Deyonta Davis goes pro after one year, Eron Harris leaves with degree in hand to start a professional career (baseless speculation by me with maybe a 10% chance of happening), or someone transfers.
How MSU could get Jackson
Davis could go pro but he’s slowed down after once being ranked #12 by Chad Ford (current #17). There’s also some thought that he could do well if he returns to college next year and shows off a more polished offensive game. Ford has said Davis could be a lottery pick next year (despite it being a stronger draft) and DraftExpress has him projected as the #8 pick in the 2017 draft.
Again, the possibility of Harris leaving is just baseless speculation by me but he may do what former Nebraska star Terran Petteway did by going pro after being in college for four years. Petteway has/had a better chance of making an NBA roster with his greater height, length, and ability to get his shot off with those physical advantages. I’m not a draft expert but I know that Harris’ draft stock isn’t going to dramatically increase (barring a Hield-like senior year) due to the fact he’s going to be a 23 year old, undersized (6’3" 185 lbs) shooting guard who at the moment doesn’t overly stand out in any one area. If he’s back next year, I’ll be very happy as Forbes and Valentine and their 6.5 three pointers per game (66% of the MSU’s 3s) are leaving, and Harris is a much more proven shooter than any of the recruits coming in.
Now comes the part no one really likes to talk about in transfers. Ellis has been the man who gets mentioned first in these discussions but he’s been valuable off the bench as of late and he even said that "he never thought about (leaving)." He’s shooting 40% from 3 and has the reputation of at least a solid defender. No matter who you are, you’re happy with a player like that on your bench. With Kenny Goins going down against Indiana and an uncertain timetable, Marvin Clark appears to be the next man up and there was also something he said about going through a lot in his life and how lack of playing time is no big deal to him. This likely leaves Javon Bess as the odd man out. There was a lot of promise for Bess going into this year as he seemed to be next in line as the crafty undersized 4 MSU has gotten used to over the last few years. Unfortunately, there’s been a good amount of evidence he’s too small to guard most 4’s and his lack of outside shooting has hurt him from getting playing time on the wing over better shooters. He’s become a bad tweener: a player with the game of a 4 who has the size of a 3. While Bess obviously could get more playing time next year, it’s not likely to dramatically get better. MSU loses two perimeter players in Valentine and Forbes but gains at least three in Cassius Winston (1), Josh Langford (2-3), and Miles Bridges (3-4) who are all expected to contribute next year. Now he’s very close to Tum Tum Nairn and Clark (I believe they got matching tattoos) but it’s just not looking particularly good for his playing time next year or potentially even as a senior. He may or may not transfer next year, but I ultimately hope he willingly gets to make that decision and that’s he chooses what he feels is the best choice for him.
Back to Josh Jackson
Josh Jackson as a player would start anywhere in the country with his combination of athleticism, elite defense, basketball IQ, ball skills, and high motor. The only knocks on him are lack of a jump shot and not a complete offensive game but he makes it up for it in other areas. If Jackson ends up coming my guess on the starting lineup would be:
PG – Tum Tum Nairn
SG – Eron Harris
SF – Josh Jackson
PF – Miles Bridges
C – Deyonta Davis
Harris would probably get the edge at SG over Langford and McQuaid due to his experience and shooting. That lineup would be able to compete with anyone in the country with its absurd athleticism and MSU would also have a good amount of depth with Langford, McQuaid, Winston, Schilling, Ellis, Ward, Goins, Clark, and Ahrens able to come off the bench (it might not be a bad idea for Ahrens to take a mid-career redshirt due to the wing depth). MSU also has the edge of being the hometown school and the school that Jackson rooted for while growing up. They currently have a couple of his childhood friend in Bridges and Winston in the 2016 class and that should help MSU get him.
However, MSU is in the position where it may just have too much depth as it’s at the point where they have a good amount of high-level recruits who need playing time. With Harris, Jackson, Langford, McQuaid, and Bridges, that’s a lot of wings for not as much playing as they probably deserve. Jackson may be able to find more playing time somewhere else where he can showcase his talents more. There’s also the notion that Jackson doesn’t want to live somewhere with cold weather and that his mom doesn’t particularly want to move back to Michigan.
The Competition for Jackson
Right now the main competition for Jackson appears to be coming from Arizona and Kansas.
One edge that Arizona has is that Sean Miller coached the USA U19 team that Jackson played on this past summer. I’m not sure where the article is but I do recall Jackson saying he appreciated that Miller did not try to recruit him and it was all about business for him. Arizona’s roster on the perimeter looks like this (year and 247Sports composite ranking in parentheses):
PG – 5’11" Parker Jackson-Cartwright (JR, 51), 6’3" Kadeem Allen (JR, JuCo combo guard)
SG – 6’6" Allonzo Trier (SO, 13), 6’5" Kobi Simmons (FR, 20 combo guard)
SF – 6’7" Ray Smith (RsFR, 20)
They’re also trying to add 6’5" wing Rawle Alkins (#21) to their 2016 class which would give them a very talented perimeter with a lot of options. They also add that to a couple solid upperclassmen in 7’0" junior Dusan Ristic and 6’11" sophomore Chance Comanche (who’s a bit raw right now). Adding to that frontcourt is a 2016 recruit in 6’11" international player Lauri Markkanen who is ranked in the top 20 by 247Sports and is receiving enough attention that he’s the projected #24 pick in the 2017 draft by DraftExpress.
While Arizona will have a very talented team, if Alkins ultimately decides on Arizona it might just be a bit too crowded on the wing for Jackson if he wants to play a lot. With how talented he is, he might have a good chance of playing the most minutes of any of the wings but he would still be limited in how many minutes he ultimately plays with that many high-level players on the team.
Kansas will have more proven players on its perimeter than Arizona and MSU in 2016-17 as none of their guards are seniors and Wayne Selden is the only one who may leave for the NBA after this year (#31 in DraftExpress’ 2016 Mock Draft and #68 on Chad Ford’s top 100). If Selden doesn’t leave, they likely have the same starting backcourt with dual point guards Frank Mason and Devonte Graham with Wayne Selden at SF. They’ll also still have 3 point sniper Brannen Greene and a young junior in Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk who has potential. Essentially whether or not Jackson goes to Kansas will likely depend on Selden’s NBA decision because if he stays then it’s an awkward situation with very established starters splitting too much time with a superstar recruit. However, if Selden ends up leaving, Kansas looks like a great landing spot for Jackson and he can come in and start right away at the 3 in place of Selden.
If Bill Self has said to Jackson "Selden’s leaving after this year, the SF spot is yours" then Kansas makes by far the most sense to me. However, if that’s not the case, MSU probably has the edge to his familiarity with the players/program and a more open path to playing time due to the relative inexperience of MSU’s backcourt. My gut is telling me that the former will happen and MSU will go into next season with its roster as currently constructed.
One last option
William McDowell-White is a 6’5" 2016 point guard from Australia that’s ranked as a five-star by Scout after competing at Basketball without Borders. He has scholarship offers from Texas A&M, Fresno State, Arizona State, and Michigan State along with drawing interest from Kansas. He has already taken official visits to those first three and he has rescheduled visits for MSU and Kansas (no clue when). It’s just very interesting to me how this guy seemingly came out of nowhere and MSU is almost definitely the best program among those that have offered. This may mean that they see the writing on the wall with Jackson but know someone leaving is still very possible. If MSU ends up getting him, you could see McDowell-White as the starter at point guard as a freshman especially if Nairn takes a while to completely recover from his plantar fasciitis. Scout has this to say about him:
McDowell-White is an Australian point guard with an extremely high basketball IQ. He has very good size for the position at 6-foot-5 and can really handle it, but what you like most about him is his ability to create for others with his instincts and vision. McDowell-White is capable of driving and finishing or getting to the line but he'll need to work on improving as a shooter. Still, he's a very good point guard prospect.
With a young but athletic offense at MSU in 2016-17, having a guy working in the structure of an Izzo offense who can create for others is something that they could really use. If he really is as good as some think he might be, he could be a one-and-done and be gone without getting in the way of Winston as he eventually takes the reins as the point guard of the team. I have no idea what happens with this but it’s something to keep an eye on.
Here’s how I would currently project the roster in a couple years from now
(My assumption is that Davis will leave within the next two years and Bridges will leave after one year)
As the roster currently projects, MSU has a big need for a true big (or two) in the 2017 class as 6’6"-6’7" Kenny Goins is much more suited to play the 4 and Nick Ward might end up capable of playing either 4 or 5 but stands at just 6’8" (with a nice wingspan) so MSU would like a player more in the 6’10" range. At this point Goins could very well have earned his way into a full scholarship. That means there at a minimum could be two (if no one goes pro), most likely four (if Davis and Bridges leave), or even five scholarships available (if Langford turns out to be a one-and-done as well).
MSU’s top target for some time has been 2017 6'7" Brian Bowen (#20) who is originally from Saginaw and is the cousin of Jason Richardson. Before this basketball season started Bowen transferred from Saginaw Arthur Hill to La Lumiere in Indiana which scared some MSU fans. However, it appears MSU is still the solid leader despite some interest from Kentucky and Duke. He's somewhat of a point forward from what I understand and while he can shoot, he's not a true shooter like McQuaid. He's a good vertical athlete but doesn't not possess blow-by speed.
One very interesting aspect of Bowen's new school is a 2017 teammate by the name of 6'10" Jeremiah Tilmon (#18) originally from Illinois who just recently received an offer from MSU as the La Lumiere roster visited MSU during the MSU-IU game. His two biggest offers right now are from UNC and Kansas but there are questions that he could have about both of those. UNC has its academic scandal looming as they probably (?) going to receive their punishment in the next couple (few? several?) years. Kansas on the the hand doesn't have those issues but they are likely the favorite for top ranked big man DeAndre Ayton which would mean Tilmon might have to be second fiddle. Despite Tilmon just getting an offer for MSU, Tilmon's best option might end up as MSU due its available playing time for big men and he'll likely be able to play with a former high school teammate in Bowen.
Another big man on MSU' radar is 6'10" Brandon McCoy (#11) from San Diego, California who visited MSU for the Oregon football game (he's also looking at Oregon). There really doesn't seem to be much about him for such a highly ranked guy but the 247Sports crystal ball has it between San Diego State and Oregon. What helps MSU is that it might be able to bully its way into this recruitment due to its status as a top 10 college program. However, Oregon has had a resurgent year with a number of underclassmen and they play an up-and-down style which is often appealing to 17 year olds.
The next big man that MSU is looking at that MSU is 6'11" Malik Williams (#38) from Snider, Indiana who might be MSU's best shot at a big man as he's local and MSU has been on him for a while. From what I can tell he sees himself as more of finesse player as he likes to corral a rebound and take it coast-to-coast along with shooting outside jumpers.
As for guards, MSU is probably looking most closely at 6'5" Nojel Eastern (#64) out of Evanston, Illinois who is listed as a point guard at 247Sports but his size would allow him to play off the ball and be more of a combo guard. If they wanted to, they could go after smaller point guards in 5'11" Quade Green or 6'0" Markell Johnson but with 5'10" Nairn and 6'1" Winston already on the roster, it makes more sense to go with a guard who can play on the wing and give them more versatility.
Local player 6'8" Xavier Tillman is still a top 100 guy that MSU could go after but one issue is that he's a University of Michigan legacy as his mom played for their women's team. While MSU might play more his style as they're more likely to play two traditional bigs, it still might be hard to pry him away especially if they're splitting up their attention among multiple big men.
There are a few other highly ranked guys MSU is going after in Gary Trent Jr., Kris Wilkes, PJ Washington, and Paul Scruggs but I'm just not sure if there's just mutual interest there. Also there are a few other local players that MSU might look at in order to keep a fence around the state or if their plan A doesn't totally pan out. 6'4" Matt Beachler from Lowell is an AAU teammate of Tillman's, 6'9" Ike Eke from UofD Jesuit is a current high school teammate of Winston, and 6'10" Jaron Faulds from Holt has been to a lot of basketball games this year.
If I were to make a prediction on MSU's 2017 class I would go with Bowen, Eastern, Williams, and one of McCoy/Tilmon for a four man class. MSU could have more scholarships available or fewer but it's a little early to make a firm prediction on that.
There's no clear picture of what's going to happen but right now the two players that I would guess end up as Spartans are Clarkston PG Foster Loyer (#89) and East Lansing PF Brandon Johns (#53). Loyer fits as a point guard as Nairn graduates and I have a tough time imagining Izzo lets an East Lansing product leave his town.