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Michigan State Basketball: Recruiting Round-up (8/8/16)

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Taking a look at the future of the basketball program and who may end up as future Spartans.

Hey look a generic picture of Tom Izzo
Hey look a generic picture of Tom Izzo
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a while since I wrote one of these but things are quite a bit clearer with the recruits MSU is going after. Players MSU had been looking at have either chosen a school (Tilmon, Williams, Livers) or have cut them from their list (Washington, Goodwin, Wilkes, Green, Young). MSU recently picked up a commitment from 2018 Thomas Kithier (#123) and there were few mentions that he was Izzo’s top target in the 2018 class.

Note: I’m using the 247Sports Composite rankings when I’m listing their high school rank. For example: if I put a "(#12)" behind a player’s name, it indicates that he is the 12th ranked player in his class according to the 247Sports Composite. If I'm listing a player's stats or talking about them, I'm likely referring to the Nike EYBL.

2017

First it might help to take a look at what the roster currently looks like.

The biggest need in the 2017 class is big men as the only true bigs on the team in 2017-18 will be 6’8" Ward and 6’6" Goins. Ward has the lower body weight to hold position in the post against bigger players but we’re unsure at this point how foul-prone he is and you still ultimately want him to drop weight so he’s both more mobile/explosive and has better conditioning. Goins plays much bigger than his listed 6’6" (13 rebs in 18 mins against Louisville) but you’d rather not have to play him extended minutes at center due to need.

The biggest question MSU will have going into next offseason is whether or not anyone (e.g., Bridges and Langford) will declare early for the NBA. Right now I’d pretty strongly guess both stay for their sophomore seasons despite some of the hype being thrown around at Moneyball. Bridges doesn’t appear to have enough of a perimeter game for an NBA SF at the moment while Langford is a year older than the rest of his class and doesn’t appear to have anything that makes him stand-out as prospect. I would guess Bridges will be a below average 3-point shooter as a freshman (~30%?) while Langford might be around average (~35%?). Something interesting about Langford is that he only shot 7 3PA’s in Moneyball which is something you’d expect more from a big trying to show off something he’s been working on. He reportedly like to do a lot of work in the mid-range so maybe he doesn’t yet feel comfortable shooting from 3 which shows some maturity from him. Anyway, the assumption I going with throughout this article is that all of the underclassmen will return.

The Wings

There’s no true PG that MSU is after in this class, so I’ll just jump straight into the combo guards and wings. The top target MSU is going after is 6’7" Brian Bowen (#13) from Saginaw who is the first cousin of former Spartan Jason Richardson. Bowen is currently at La Lumiere in Indiana and played in the EYBL on Meanstreets. It may have just been the highlights or lack of team offense but from what I’ve seen Bowen has quite a bit of isolation-ball in his game. If he ends up choosing MSU, I’d expect most of that to go away as Izzo’s offense doesn’t have much isolation unless it’s an end-of-shot-clock situation (it’s one of the least efficient play-types in basketball). Ultimately, I expect Bowen to commit to MSU and I would be quite surprised if he didn’t. MSU has prioritized him in a way seemingly no one else has and they’ll have at least one opening on the wing with Harris graduating. However, I will say Texas feels like a bit of a dark horse as they’ll have an opening on the wing and have 2 former high school teammates on the roster with Eric Davis and James Banks. Bowen could be a more shooting-oriented Raymar Morgan type who can create offense and gives more size at the 3 than MSU has been used to the past few years. Bowen just released a top 12 of Arizona, Creighton, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Michigan State, NC State, Oregon, Texas, UCLA, and UNLV. At 247Sports and ESPN, he is not listed as having offers from Kansas or Kentucky at this time.

The next player is a Meanstreets teammate of Bowen in 6’6"-6’7" Nojel Eastern (#61) from Evanston, IL. Eastern didn’t have any stats that stood out in the EYBL but his value will be as versatile wing who has nice vision and passing ability for his size. His jumper appears to be a big question mark right now but so was Valentine’s at that point in his career and jumpers can be worked on more easily than most skills. Eastern appears to be friends with MSU football player Naquan Jones who went to the same high school. While that probably won’t be a huge factor in his commitment, it may play some type of role. Eastern’s player profile sounds a bit like what Valentine was coming in but it’s important to remember that Valentine made huge improvements during his last two summers at MSU. While I think MSU leads for him at the moment, I wonder if Eastern would be comfortable with a smaller role in his first 1-2 years as he’s said in an interview that playing time as a freshman would be important to him. Eastern holds offers from Michigan, Ohio State, Purdue, Seton Hall, and Xavier among others.

Note: a recent Nojel Eastern twitter account has popped up but it appears to be a fake according to someone who has spoken with his mother. I follow it but only to track its activity.

Although MSU has their point guard spot set with Tum Tum Nairn and Cassius Winston over the next couple years, they could still add a combo guard 6’3" Paul Scruggs (#31) from Indianapolis. To start off, I highly doubt he comes to MSU barring significant changes. If MSU ends up with Bowen, I’d be surprised if he starts given that Nairn/Winston, Langford, and Bowen would likely ahead of him at 1-3. I’m not sure if he’s officially cut his list but he has five official visits set with Indiana, Xavier, MSU, UConn, and Illinois. If I had to make a prediction, I would think he picks Xavier due to their need of playmaking in a year (Sumner likely off to NBA) with Indiana being my second pick as they reportedly told him he’d start as a freshman. His game reminds me a bit of Isaiah Briscoe coming in (if Briscoe wasn’t such an awful shooter).

6’5" SG Gary Trent Jr. (#11) from Minnesota has MSU in his top 5 but I would be shocked if he doesn’t pick Duke. Not much more there is to say about it.

Combo forwards

I was very surprised to hear about Isaiah Livers’ commitment to Michigan on Sunday as he has said he grew up a Michigan State fan. That appears to be the first time that Beilein has won an outright recruiting battle over Izzo (I think MSU tried to get in really late with Walton).

The main 4 MSU appears to be after is 6’10" Jaren Jackson Jr. (#24) from Indianapolis who just transferred to La Lumiere with Brian Bowen. Jackson is pretty unique with his ability to both make outside shots (40% on almost 4 3PA/game) and block shots (1.9 bpg, helps to have a 7’4" wingspan). He’s not very physical at just 220 lbs but his skillset of shooting and shot-blocking is really valuable. Right now it appears Maryland is in the lead for him but he’s mentioned MSU pretty consistently as a team involved during his interviews and I think they’d be in his top 3. It appears he likes how Maryland used guys like Jake Layman and Robert Carter and he sees himself as that kind of stretch forward. If Bridges leaves for the NBA after one season, then there’s an opening at MSU for Jackson to potentially take. However, if Bridges is still there, it’ll be a tough sell to have a 5-star player to possibly come off the bench when he could easily be a starter elsewhere. Right now it appears Jackson won’t be deciding until sometime in 2017 which allows for more time to assess who might end up as a one-and-done. Some of the other schools he’s looking at are Alabama, Indiana, Georgetown, and Texas. Update: Jaren Jackson is on an unofficial visit today (8/8)

An under-the-radar name that MSU could go after is 6’7" Donnie Tillman (#276) originally from Detroit and playing at Findlay Prep who doesn’t have an offer but is receiving interest. He had an injury his junior year that only allowed him to play 7 games but he was productive in that time and has been productive this summer. At 225 lbs he reminds me of a poor man’s Jaylen Brown type as an attacking small-ball power forward who has to work more on his jumper. I’m a little surprised he’s ranked as low as he is but I’m guessing there’s some concern that his game won’t translate. However, I’d take a flier on a guy who’s essentially an in-state kid with his level of production. I’m not sure when he plans to make his decision but it’s looking a bit like it might go late possibly (speculation) to see if he could get an offer from either Michigan or Michigan State. Right now his biggest offers are Creighton, Iowa State, Marquette, UNLV, and USC among others.

The Bigs

Again, MSU’s biggest need in this class is a true big that’ll be able to match up with the 7-footers of the world on a pretty regular basis. Enter 6’11" Brandon McCoy (#7) originally from Chicago but living in San Diego. McCoy has a lot of potential with more ability on the defensive end at this point but he has been developing his shooting touch. From one of his highlight videos, he had a number of blocks just by extending his arms and using his length/verticality to affect shots with a long standing reach. He’s reminds me quite a bit of Deyonta Davis but McCoy is more of a C than a PF with more weight/size and seemingly less mobility than Davis. Other teams involved per Paul Biancardi are Arizona, Louisville, San Diego State, UCLA, and UNC. In a scout article from a couple months ago they were listed as Arizona, Louisville, Michigan State, UNC, Oregon, and UCLA.Within the last week he took visits to USC and UCLA, he took a visit to Arizona about 2 months ago, and he was at the MSU-Oregon game when the four MSU commits of the 2016 class were on official visits. If I had to guess, I’d say his top 4 is MSU, Arizona, UCLA, and UNC. MSU probably offers the most playing time as a freshman with no one taller than 6’8", Arizona has been the premier West coast school recently, and the prestige/history of programs like UCLA and UNC might appeal to him. A Maryland writer Jeff Ermann recently predicted that he would go to MSU on 247Sports’ Crystal Ball but also said it was a "gut feeling… nothing concrete." I actually like MSU’s odds in this one as they should be a top 10 team again and seemingly provide the most playing time as the other three have will have more established bigs on their roster.

The last player that appears to have quite a bit of mutual interest with MSU is 6’8"-6’9" Xavier Tillman (#92) from Grand Rapids who has a final four of Florida, Marquette, MSU, and Purdue. Based on some of his comments and how the future rosters are looking, I’d guess that it’s going to be either Marquette or Purdue with Marquette having a lead at the moment. Early playing time and a bigger role seems to be important to him and Marquette may be able to provide both with an unproven Matt Heldt and incoming 2017 Ike Eke as the only true bigs on the roster. Purdue seems to be selling Tillman on the idea that Swanigan and/or Haas could be gone next year but neither are projected to be more than late second-rounders by anyone reputable. As for his fit with MSU, Tillman has a wide body and strong frame, he would be somewhat redundant to Nick Ward as a post player as a traditional PF or as an undersized C. However, I would guess Ward would be ahead of him on the depth chart as he was ranked about 50 spots higher coming out of high school and would have a year of experience under his belt. Tillman would definitely have a role on the 2017-18 squad but it mostly likely wouldn’t be as prominent as it would on Marquette or potentially Purdue.

Overall

If I had to make a prediction on MSU’s 2017 class, I would go with the somewhat optimistic group of Bowen, Eastern, and McCoy with hopefully either someone like Donnie Tillman or a transfer to add more depth to the class. That would almost definitely be a top 10 class, would fill their team needs (big and wings), and possibly help get somewhat of a connection to La Lumiere who consistently has high school talent on their squad (see "Campbell, Tyger" below). McCoy feels like the most optimistic pick but his recruitment feels pretty wide open and MSU appears to have the biggest need for him. Another reason I feel somewhat good about it is that MSU doesn't appear to have a clear back-up plan at a huge position of need if they don't end up getting McCoy. As someone noted to me on twitter, MSU is in a somewhat tough position recruiting in 2017 as the new recruits would have to compete for playing time against players likely back from a strong 2016 class. While that might for some schools like Duke or Kentucky, MSU isn’t at that level and not all players are fine with taking a backseat as a freshman when they could be getting more playing time elsewhere.

2018

First off I’m going to say it gets much more difficult to project who is going to be on the roster and who exactly MSU is going after. The only graduating MSU player in the 2018 class is Nairn which would leave MSU with only one true point guard with Winston. However, they might have 1-2 capable ball-handlers with possibly having a senior Matt McQuaid and a junior Josh Langford. It’s hard to tell what Thomas Kithier (#108) is at this point but he seems to be mostly traditional power forward who may be able to extend his range with time. The three other players with MSU offers so far are 6’8" PF Joey Hauser (#31), 6’7" SF/PF Brandon Johns (#32), and 6’0" PG Foster Loyer (#170). It’s a bit early to determine where they stand but there’s a rumor that Johns’ family are Michigan fan and from what I understand Loyer’s high school coach is Dane Fife’s father. Another in-state name to watch is 6’1" SG Davion Williams (#121) at Belleville who recently said on twitter that he’s going to be recruited as an athlete for football as well as basketball. A couple other names are 6’9" Shareef O’Neal (#20) whose famous father publicly voiced his support for MSU (as well as Duke and Kentucky) and 6’5" SF Justin Ahrens (#184) who is the younger brother of Kyle Ahrens.

2019

It’s way too early to be looking at 2019 but it may have some star power in it for MSU. They have one offer out to 6’0" PG Tyger Campbell playing at La Lumiere with Bowen and Jackson but there are also two high level in-state wings in Romeo Weems and Terry Armstrong all of whom are in the ESPN top 25.