With the college basketball season over and AAU season getting underway, it’s officially the offseason recruiting period when college coaches are constantly on the road looking for their future players. The MSU has been very active early with a number of visits already along with a scheduled visit from a grad transfer. Before taking a look at who might be wearing a Spartan uniform in the future, it’d probably be helpful to take a look at the current roster makeup.
MSU has a couple competent point guards and a couple other wings that should be able to handle the ball if necessary. MSU’s biggest strength next year should be on the wings where their depth will likely push Bridges to play some 4 and possibly encourage Ahrens to take a mid-career redshirt. Even with Bridges capable of playing at the 4, MSU appears to be a little thin in the frontcourt especially when you consider that Schilling is foul prone, Ward is just a freshman, and Goins at 6’6" is unlikely to play the 5. With Davis and Clark creating a couple open spots, the MSU has been actively recruiting a couple of big men who have very different styles as players.
One of the two guys that MSU is after in 2016 is 6’9" 225 UNLV grad transfer Ben Carter who averaged 8.6 points and 6 rebounds in 22 games before tearing his ACL at the end of January. The other schools he’s considering (and getting in-home visits from) are Arizona, Arizona State, Miami FL, and NC State whose frontcourts I took a look at here. Looking at his advanced stats some of his positives are that he’s very good offensive rebounder, he draws fouls, he has good steal/block rates, and he shot well from the field and from the FT line. Some negatives aspects about him are that he is a poor defensive rebounder, his good ORtg may be helped by a somewhat low usage, and he has some foul and turnover issues. With their current situation he seems to be a very good option with his versatile skill set and the fact he would not take up a scholarship for the 2017 class. Some issues is that he prefers to play the 4 and that he’d likely be splitting time there with Bridges and Goins which may not be enough minutes for his liking and it may ultimately hamper the development of the younger players. However, he may be able to play the 5 anyway which would make him more valuable to MSU as they only have Ward (6’8") and Schilling (6’9") truly capable of playing the 5 for extended minutes.
The other main player that MSU has targeted in 2016 is 6’11" 220 center Cheickna Dembele who is ranked #276 in 247Sports Composite rankings http://247sports.com/Player/Cheickna-Dembele-89054 but is at #153 in 247Sports rankings. While Carter would come in and make immediate impact, Dembele might be a bit of project but appears to have a lot of upside. He looks to be a finisher/shot-blocking type of big man rather than having a refined offensive game. He received a visit from someone on the MSU staff on Monday but it does not appear as though he has received a scholarship offer yet. He also has scholarship offers from Charlotte, Iowa State, Missouri, NC State, and Saint Joe’s with interest from other schools. If MSU does end up offering him and landing a commitment from him, the ideal situation might be to also get Ben Carter and then redshirting Dembele to save a year of his eligibility and instead spending his freshman year getting accustomed to college basketball. However, if MSU lands Dembele but not Carter, it’s more likely he would be thrown into the fire as a freshman due to his size and the frontcourt’s potential to get into foul trouble.
One last possible player that MSU may land in 2016 is 6’9" 230 Valparaiso player Alec Peters who is currently testing the NBA draft waters. While Peters has his name in the draft at the moment, he’s not on list of top 100 draftees at either ESPN’s draft board or at DraftExpress. By most accounts he can graduate early and transfer if he wants to. One possibility is that he may just graduate and then begin his professional basketball career (which is not likely to be in the NBA). Another option is to simply return to school like a lot of other players testing the draft waters will do. If he chooses to return to Valpo, they’ll be heavy favorites to win the Horizon as they’re already likely favorites with him in the mix. The third option is that he could become a grad transfer where he could play immediately at whichever school he chooses. Due to MSU’s good overall roster but lack of star power in the frontcourt, MSU could be very appealing to Peters if he wants to finish his career at a bigger school. Peters started at the 4 with a shot-blocking Vashil Fernandez alongside him but he still played a good amount of 5 when Fernandez sat. Peters has good rebounding rates and is just a great offensive player with a 127.1 ORtg on 22.1% usage including 44% on 3-pointers. Frankly this would be the ideal scenario as Peters is a great offensive player at the college level but there’s just a lot of uncertainty at this point especially with MSU currently looking at the Carter and Dembele first.
At this point there are just a ton of players that MSU is looking at with not as clear of a direction as last year. For the 2016 class they had a commitment from Nick Ward early, a surprise commitment from Josh Langford during the summer, and then had three clear targets with Miles Bridges, Cassius Winston, and (optimistically) Josh Jackson from basically June on. Right now I’m looking at roughly 13-14 guys for 4-6 spots depending on Dembele’s commitment and Bridges’ potential to be a one-and-done. With the team definitely losing Harris, Ellis, and Schilling; the team needs would most likely be more wing depth and another big man or two.
The Point Guards
While I don’t think it’s a particular strong need for MSU if they stay with their conventional lineup, two point guard lineups are rising in popularity with the last 4 National Champions essentially starting two point guards (Villanova, Duke, UConn, Louisville who had Russ Smith as their 2). Again because MSU already has Tum Tum Nairn and Cassius Winston for the next couple years, it really isn’t too much of a need but they may still want to want to grab a guy so they’ll have someone with experience rather than having a 2018 recruit play behind Winston as a junior. The one true point guard recruit they’re going after is 5’11" Quade Green at 155 lbs who led EYBL in assists this past weekend at over 10 per game while scoring 13.7 ppg at decent efficiency in 3 wins. While he appears to be a very good point guard ranking #39 on 247Sports Composite Ranking, it’s just somewhat of an awkward fit with him as he’s also undersized along with Nairn and Winston which would make it difficult to envision them playing together for long stretches. There are a couple other players like Markell Johnson and Justin Roberts that have some interest from MSU but appear to be more on the backburner for now.
With the wings expected to be just McQuaid, Ahrens, Langford, and possibly Bridges (who again can play some 4), adding more wing depth will be a priority in the 2017 class. With all of them being +6’5" in height, it might not hurt to add someone in the 6’3"-6’4" range to guard more opposing SGs who are smaller but it really might not be an issue. One potential guy is 6’4" Paul Scruggs (#27) who’s listed as a point guard at 247Sports but as a shooting guard everywhere else. He’s from Indianapolis which in southern Indiana so it might be a little hard to steal him from Indiana/Kentucky but MSU has visited him recently so they haven’t given up on him. Right now it looks like he’s more of an attacking guard and needs to improve on his shooting.
Next potential wing is another highly-ranked player in 6’5" Gary Trent Jr. (#12) who is also involved with Duke, Kansas, and Ohio State with Duke and OSU seemingly the favorites at this time. Ohio State is in there because his father was a legendary player at Ohio University, and Duke is in there both because it’s Duke and because he has previously mentioned a package deal there with big man Wendall Carter who’s a top 5 player in the 2017 class. Again, although MSU would likely come from behind, they’re still after Trent which means they don’t think they’re out of it.
The third shooting guard they’re going after is 6’6" Nojel Eastern (#67) who, like Scruggs, is listed as a point guard at 247Sports but a shooting guard everywhere else. Because he’s not overly highly ranked it’s harder to find scouting reports on him but he might still be growing as he’s listed at 6’7" at d1circuit (which follows this spring/summer’s Nike EYBL) and he appears to have a somewhat big wingspan based on measurements at USA basketball camps. He scored efficiently at the first weekend of the EYBL averaging 10.7 ppg shooting 10-15 inside the arc while shooting just 2-8 from 3. Right now MSU looks to be in good position with him and it probably doesn’t hurt that he’s on the same AAU team as MSU target Brian Bowen (Meanstreets).
Speaking of small forward Brian Bowen (#20), he stands at 6’7" but thin at just 200 lbs. He’s the first cousin of former Spartan Jason Richardson but he has said recently that he’s not a "lock" to MSU. With that being said, MSU is still likely the team to beat in his recruitment. He’s had some interest from blue bloods in Duke and Kentucky but it does not appear as though he has an offer from them yet. Although it would make things much more difficult for MSU if he were to receive offers from them, it wouldn’t surprise me if they didn’t as they’re in strong position to get a higher ranked player at his position. Bowen’s game is mostly as a scorer as he’s taken on a large offensive role so far in the EYBL where he’s averaged 19 points and 10 rebounds in 3 games. He’s a good vertical athlete but doesn’t have blow-by quickness and could obviously do better to fill out his thin frame. He could quite possibly start as a freshman as long as he’d be able to beat out a third year McQuaid for a starting spot at the 2-3 spots. Regardless he should be able to carve out a nice role with Harris and Ellis leaving with Bridges possibly leaving to free up even more minutes on the wing.
Another highly-ranked small forward is 6’7" Kris Wilkes (#15) who plays on the same AAU team as Scruggs on the Under Armour circuit. However, also like Scruggs he’s from Indianapolis which means he’s more in Indiana/Kentucky territory and it might be difficult to pry him away from those two. He’s received a visit the MSU staff so there appears to some mutual interest but it seems clear that Brian Bowen is the main small forward target. Wilkes is more athletic than Bowen but doesn’t appear to have as refined of a perimeter game as him. Although he’s thin, he’s long and could potentially play some 4 in MSU’s system and could be a really good Bridges replacement if Bridges decides to leave early.
One guy who seemingly just showed up on MSU radar is 6’7" Kyle Young (#147) out of Massillon, Ohio who had a great first weekend at the Nike EYBL on the King James Shooting Stars. He averaged 18 points on 61% shooting and received an offer from MSU soon after. Another good indicator is that he has already been offered by Michigan back in December and it’s positive because John Beilein’s history shows that he really does appear to have a knack at finding underrated talent early on in high school players. Watching some highlights of him, he has some outside range and looks to have a nice frame that he can add some muscle to. He’s listed at 6’8" at d1circuit (where they may just be inflating heights but who knows) and if that’s more accurate then he could spend time as a small-ball stretch 4 like Marvin Clark or Kenny Kaminski.
The Stretch 4’s
While I think the other players mentioned could be small forwards that could play some power forward, I think these next couple guys are more likely to be PF’s with some perimeters skills but aren’t true big men. The first of the two is 6’9" Jaren Jackson from Indianapolis (#72) who plays on Spiece Indy Heat along with Xavier Tillman and Brandon Johns. Jackson received a visit from the MSU staff following a great first weekend at the Nike EYBL where he averaged 17.7 points on 59% shooting (6-11 from 3) along with 6.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks. While this may be an outlier performance and he really might not be this good, I have a hard time believing that there are 71 better recruits in his class due to his combination of size, athleticism, and shooting. It’s early but it wouldn’t surprise me if he rises during the AAU season. Right now Maryland appears to have the edge with Indiana involved but MSU may try to make a push.
The next player is 6’8" Isaiah Livers (#77) from Kalamazoo who received an in-home visit from Tom Izzo this past week which was discovered from snapchat somehow because Twitter is weird. While it does not appear as though he’s received a scholarship offer he (along with seemingly everyone else on this list) had a very good first weekend at the EYBL averaging 14.7 points on extremely efficient 74% shooting (3-4 from 3) and 7 rebounds. He’s reportedly worked on his 3-point shooting within the last year and could increase his stock this summer with more efficient outings.
All of these next players are true big men either at the 4 or 5 spots that play much more on the inside than on the perimeter. First is in-state player 6’8" Xavier Tillman (#82) from Grand Rapids who’s playing on the Spiece Indy Heat along with Jaren Jackson and 2018 Brandon Johns. Tillman’s mother played at Michigan in her day so that may have some significance in his decision. However, he’s also more of a power forward where Michigan usually plays with a small-ball 4 that can shoot 3’ so you never know. I’m not sure where MSU stands with him as there hasn’t been much reported interaction with the MSU staff and he’s been in contact with Notre Dame where the religious aspect appears to help them with his recruitment.
6’11" Malik Williams (#40) from Fort Wayne seems to have been a priority for MSU early on and he received an in-home visit from the staff this past week. He’s rail thin at just 200 lbs but he’s athletic and appears to have a ton of upside with his length and coordination. There’s not a ton on him in terms of scouting with just a couple clips of him shooting 3’s or taking it coast-to-coast but on all the recruiting sites he’s a consensus top 50 player. He scored 45 points to set a school record at Snider this year but I just can’t find video of it. So he’s somewhat of a mystery but if the MSU staff likes him then it’s good enough for me. MSU appears to be the leader at the moment with Indiana, Iowa, Illinois, and Xavier in there as well.
The next guy is 6’10" Jeremiah Tilmon (#14) originally from Illinois but currently playing at La Lumiere in Indiana with Brian Bowen. He’s a bit traditional big man than Williams and is a good shot-blocker and finisher right now. His back-to-the-basket game is coming along and he has a short jumper but his defense is reportedly ahead of his offense right now. He’s a bit thin right now at 220 lbs but has a good frame that could potentially add more weight. The two other schools that are possibly ahead of MSU right now are North Carolina and Illinois but each has their own issues. Illinois is just doing poorly as a program right now and John Groce might be getting on the hot seat soon (to be fair they’ve had a ton of injuries) while North Carolina is likely to have NCAA sanctions in the near future (or at least they should). If MSU is able to secure Bowen sooner rather than later, he could become a recruiter for MSU and try to get his high school teammate to come to college with him.
The last big man that MSU is going after is 6’11" Brandon McCoy (#10) who plays high school basketball in California but is originally from Chicago which appears to be why there is an MSU connection. His game is mostly as a very athletic defensive big man and as a finisher on offense but he showed off a mid-range game in the first weekend of the EYBL. Back in September 2015 he reportedly called MSU a "dream school" and thankfully for MSU fans, he’s not involved with the blue bloods of Kentucky, Duke, or Kansas. He is, however, also involved with Arizona, UCLA, Cal, and USC. He is "looking for a family oriented winning team and if they offer [marine biology major]." Bad news for MSU fans is that the school doesn’t appear to have marine biology but they do have zoology for "students who seek professional employment in animal biology" with a concentration option in marine biology. Do I know if he’s really going to stick to that? No because there’s a good chance he’ll be able to go to the NBA in a year or two of college, but he also might really be that interested in marine biology which is fine. MSU might be able to use Deyonta Davis’ success in one year at MSU as an example of how they could use McCoy or Tilmon.
If I had to have a hopeful guess on MSU's 2017 class I would guess Eastern, Bowen, Williams, and one of Tilmon/McCoy with 4 top 60 recruits joining MSU's loaded recruiting class from 2016 who all returned for their sophomore seasons (I did say hopeful). I do honestly think that the first 3 are all MSU leans with one of the last two MSU having to come from behind for. One thing to remember about recruiting is that players don't always want to go to good rosters if it means fewer minutes like in the NBA where winning/money is all that matters. Some kids just want to play as much as they can and that's fine because it's ultimately their life and their decision. Also unless you're Kentucky, not every recruiting class can be filled with all 4 star or 5 star players because it's just not realistic. Even Duke and Kentucky have lowered ranked guys who don't play much to fill out their roster because it's just genuinely hard to convince (basically lie to) 13 really good players that they'll get enough playing time.
It's a bit early looking at these guys but there are a few guys to keep on the radar for the future.
-Brandon Johns (#74) is a 6'7" forward from East Lansing who appears to be more of a stretch forward but he did struggle in his first EYBL outing going just 1-11 from 3. He shot somewhere in the 40% range in high school so I'd expect it to improve and it may just be that he has to get used to the pace of play.
-Davion Williams (#56) is a 6'1" shooting guard from Belleville who is a little undersized but he may remind MSU fans of Keith Appling in terms of play-style as an attacking guard who gets after it defensively.
-Foster Loyer (#104) is a 6'0" point guard from Clarkston who is the son of former Pistons coach John Loyer. Loyer's best attribute appears to be his outside shooting at the moment and his high school head coach is Dan Fife, the father of MSU assistant coach Dane Fife.
It's way too early for this but MSU has offered 2019 6'0" PG Tyger Campbell who plays at La Lumiere with Bowen and Tilmon. If Bowen and/or Tilmon end up going to MSU, it may end up helping them with Campbell who appears to be a top-10 player in his class right now.