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MSU Men’s Basketball: Recruiting Possibilities in the Emoni Bates Afterglow

NCAA Basketball: Maryland at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Dance of Joy!!!

For the first time since Miles Bridges’ commitment to Michigan State over Kentucky, and in easily the biggest recruiting win of Tom Izzo’s career, Emoni Bates has committed to play at Michigan State. Where Chris Webber and Jabari Parker left Izzo and the staff wondering “what if?” Bates has opened up a whole new world of possibilities for the Michigan State men’s basketball program in the next two seasons.

I say the next two seasons because Bates’ announcement this afternoon will undoubtedly affect next year’s team and the decisions of players following next season, and the decisions of uncommitted recruits that Michigan State and Izzo and his staff are still pursuing. What exactly those impacts will be cannot be known for certain, but there are a number of certainties and possibilities that I would like to explore while we all drink our drinks and celebrate in whatever way we know how over the coming days and weeks.

What we know about Emoni Bates

As Matt has detailed already, Bates is a superlative talent. Seemingly one of the best talents, at this stage in his development, in the pantheon of great high school basketball players and prospective college and NBA players. We are talking LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, and Zion Williamson-level transcendent talent that immediately would put Michigan State into the pole-position for the 2021-22 season if, in fact, Bates does reclassify and join the team that year as I believe he will.

To be clear, at this point, he has stated that he plans on playing two more seasons in high school, but my guess is that after next year he will opt to reclassify so that he can pursue a higher level of competition sooner. Bates will transfer to a prep-school that his father is opening, but the diligence of his family’s planning and his careful attention to the details of his high school progress should allay any fears of eligibility issues that might have cropped up in a different scenario.

There is of course the possibility that Bates forgoes his college eligibility and heads to the G-League or overseas, or that the NBA changes the “One-and-done” rule allowing Bates to head straight to the NBA. For now though, Bates seems set on playing in college. As Bates told ESPN, when he committed, “[the G-League] is good for certain players. That’s a lot of money....I don’t really plan on, I don’t think I’ll do it. It’s good for some people, but I don’t think I’ll head that route.”

The NBA has also backed off of recent rumblings about doing away with the “One-and-done” rule that had been gathering steam for the last year. At this point, it seems doubtful to me that they will end that rule before Bates has the chance to play in college (or pursue the aforementioned professional options). But, as I note, it seems that Bates wants to play in college and, specifically, for the Green and White, for Tom Izzo. For now then, it is more than reasonable to operate under the assumption that Bates will play for one glorious season in East Lansing.

Who is Emoni Bates as a basketball prospect?

The rest of the staff and I will provide a ton of analysis of Bates’ game in the coming days, weeks, months, and years, but for now watch this:

and this:

Bates has a slight frame (hence the KD comparisons), but has a terrific handle, a beautiful stroke, a terrific competitive mentality. He can see and execute a variety of passes, and does not abide losing. Always in the gym, and constantly improving, assuming he can slowly and steadily add a few pounds of muscle to his frame each year over the next two years (you never want to add on too much too early), Bates will be a sure-fire top-five pick, and likely the No. 1 overall pick of whichever NBA team is lucky enough to win the draft lottery in his draft-year.

What we know about the current roster and possible roster projections

The roster, as of today, looks like this for next season (2020-21, which is the year I will project, for now):

1) Watts (so), Loyer (jr)
2) Langford (sr), Hoggard (fr)
3) Henry (jr), Brown (jr)
4) Hauser (jr), Hall (so), Bingham jr (so)
5) Tillman (sr), Sissoko (fr), Marble (so), Kithier (jr)

Now there is approximately a 50 percent chance that Xavier Tillman heads to the NBA this summer (for now I do not project or believe that Aaron Henry will do so). In that case, I believe we would see Bingham jr, Sissoko, and Marble taking most of the minutes at center, with Kithier possibly the odd man out of the rotation in the front-court this year.

Following next season, which will likely see Izzo’s Spartans ranked in the top-10 in the pre-season, and a very strong candidate for a B1G championship, or two, and a deep run in the NCAA tournament, we would likely see at least Langford, Aaron Henry, and Joey Hauser head to the NBA. Of the possible early entrants I would think Hauser is the more likely of the two to return for a senior season.

There also might be some sort of attrition in the team in the form of transfers. But Bates’ commitment might also encourage some of the kids to stay rather than bolt for more minutes simply because Michigan State would be the likely favorite to win the national title with Bates in the fold.

For now, then, assume that there is no unexpected attrition from the program. Given Bates and Pierre Brooks II’s commitments (and projecting Bates to reclassify), what would the roster and scholarship situation look like?

1) Watts (jr), Hoggard (so), Loyer (sr)
2) Brown (sr), Brooks II (fr)
3) Bates (fr), Hall (jr)
4) Hauser (sr), Kithier (sr)
5) Sissoko (so), Bingham jr (sr), Marble (jr)

This team, if it in fact looks like this, would have 12 scholarship players, and, even without adding another player, would be a lock to enter the season as the No. 1 team in the nation. The team would have five seniors, three juniors, two rotation playing sophomores, and two incredibly talented freshmen. This would be, on paper, one of the all-time great college-basketball rosters in NCAA history.

Open offers: who might fill spots, and what if there is attrition?

Michigan State currently has, by my math, six open offers:

1) Jaden Akins (PG, four-star, supremely talented lefty, with shake and scoring acumen at all three levels)

2) Max Christie (SG, 5-star, smooth, refined, scoring dynamo with a terrific stroke and a future Academic All-American candidate)

3) Charles Bediako (C, four-star, big frame, imposing athlete, developing skill, and a strong defensive presence)

4) James Graham III (F, four-star, fast-rising Wisconsin kid, a combo-forward with athleticism and a high basketball IQ)

5) Jeremy Sochan (F, four-star, La Lumiere forward in the mold of Malik Hall, technically sound, solid basketball IQ)

6) Kobe Bufkin (SG, four-star, another talented in-state wing, lefty, smooth scorer from Grand Rapids Christian)

Now, in the above projection, Michigan State could only take one of these players, and would likely have to rescind offers to all but their top-two preferred kids. My guess is that Izzo would be most keen to target Akins and Christie. As is, the roster has seven players capable of playing in the front-court, nine if you include Gabe Brown and Pierre Brooks II as small-ball options at the four-spot. The old adage always applies as well: you can never have enough shooting. My gut would tell me that in such a situation one of those two would end up in Green and White, possibly starting on the wing.

Challenges for the team

The biggest challenge, like that faced by the 2018 team, and, to a lesser degree, by the 2014 team would be possession distribution. There is only one basketball, and Bates would surely command the lion’s share of possessions on offense simply because he is such a superlative talent. It would likely be Izzo’s most challenging on-court coaching job of his career. Would he modify the offense? Would Bates play a point-forward role? How would the returning players’ egos handle reduced roles, in some cases for their senior years?

I believe that the program’s culture and the coaching staff’s incredible talent and experience would overcome all of these potential obstacles. I also think, that, unlike the 2018 team, and even the 2014 team, a 2021-22 Michigan State team that looks like the above projection would not suffer the spacing challenges, shooting droughts, or have nearly the same depth concerns that ended up curtailing those fabulous teams’ NCAA tournaments.

This team would have four three-point shooters in the starting line-up, five if Bingham jr took that starting job as a senior and proved that his true three-point percentage is as strong as his stroke looks. Hauser, Brown, and Watts could comfortably space around the perimeter, and any pick-and-roll with Watts and Bates, or Bates and Hauser would be truly unstoppable.

The bench options too, would be, probably, the best of Izzo’s Michigan State tenure with Hoggard, Brooks II, Hall, Bingham jr/Sissoko, Marble, and Kithier all coming off the bench, and possibly Jaden Akins or Max Christie (or Gabe Brown if he didn’t start as a senior). It is almost overwhelming to even think about. Michigan State’s reserves would likely be favored to win the B1G on their own. In short, Michigan State would not have spacing, shooting, or depth challenges (heck a senior-year Foster Loyer as your 13th scholarship player would be an incredible boon in any season). Michigan State would be odds-on favorites to win the national title, likely at 2-1 or worse odds.

So what WILL happen? Will the roster look like this? What are the reasonable permutations?

Let’s say there is some attrition (I never want kids to transfer, but kids do it all the time, and it is often for the best for their own careers — kids want more playing time, need to develop their own games, etc.), let’s say there are even some more early departures in the wake of a highly successful season this coming year (with the assumption that there will be a mostly normal NCAA men’s basketball season this coming fall/winter/spring). Here are a few possibly permutations of what the roster might look like, all of them likely still seeing Michigan State ranked No. 1 in the pre-season, with similarly few potential pitfalls on-the-court.

Scenario 1: Hauser goes to the NBA as well as Henry next year; in this case I would assume that Izzo would take at least one multi-year forward in the ‘21 class and another guard as well:

1) Watts (jr), Hoggard (so), Loyer (sr)
2) Brown (sr), Brooks II (fr), Akins/Christie (fr)
3) Bates (fr), Hall (jr), Graham III/Sochan (fr)
4) Bingham jr (sr), Kithier (sr)
5) Sissoko (so), Marble (jr)

I would think that Izzo would take on one of Akins or Christie in this situation, and one of Graham III or Sochan. This team would likely start “big” (and I mean BIG — that would be four starters at 6’7” or taller, with Bates, Bingham jr, and Sissoko all around 6’9” or taller), but see Hall and Bates play at the four-spot a lot (still not conceding much height or length), with Brooks II and Brown playing more at the three-spot.

Scenario 2: Hauser and Watts both join Henry as early-departures for the NBA; in this case I would assume that Izzo would take at least one multi-year forward in the ‘21 class and two more guards as well:

1) Hoggard (so), Akins (fr), Loyer (sr)
2) Christie (fr), Brooks II (fr)
3) Brown (sr), Hall (jr), Graham III/Sochan (fr)
4) Bates (fr), Bingham jr (sr), Kithier (sr)
5) Sissoko (so), Marble (jr)

I would think that Izzo would hope to take on both Akins and Christie in this situation, but still only one of Graham III or Sochan. This team might start a bit “smaller” with Bates at the four-spot and Christie starting alongside Brown on the wing.

Scenario 3: Hauser joins Henry as an early-departure for the NBA; Loyer grad-transfers along with one of the reserve bigs, say Kithier. In this case I would assume that Izzo would take two multi-year forwards/front-court players, possibly both Sochan and Graham III, and two more guards as well (this would mean a six-man class, with only four likely returning for their sophomore seasons):

1) Hoggard (so), Akins (fr)
2) Christie (fr), Brooks II (fr)
3) Brown (sr), Hall (jr), Sochan (fr)
4) Bates (fr), Bingham jr (sr), Graham III (fr)
5) Sissoko (so), Marble (jr)

I would think that Izzo would hope to take on both Akins or Christie in this situation, and both of Graham III or Sochan (or another big still to be identified - Bediako seems a long-shot at this point). This team, too, would likely start a bit “small” with Bates at the four-spot and Christie starting alongside Brown on the wing. This would allow Bates to expose college-fours (either too big to hang with him, or too small to keep him from his spots in the mid-post and unable to bother his shot at all) and open up wing minutes for the two freshmen guards.

Bottom Line: this is going to be incredibly fun if it all works out...

We don’t know what the future holds. But for now, it looks like Michigan State and Tom Izzo are finally reaping the karmic rewards of untold years of frustration and near-misses on the big-time-recruiting front. Yes, Bridges, Jaren Jackson jr, Gary Harris, Branden Dawson, Shannon Brown, Paul Davis, Kelvin Torbert, Erazem Lorbek, Marcus Taylor, Zach Randolph, Jason Richardson, Charlie Bell, Mateen Cleaves, Morris Peterson, Shawn Respert, and Steve Smith all committed to play for Tom Izzo in the past 30 years (among others). But this is different. Emoni Bates will be the best player to put on the Green and White since Magic Johnson, and possibly even better than him.

If I had to guess, and I don’t, but I will, the roster will look like this for the 2021-22 season:

Best guess:

1) Watts (jr), Hoggard (so), Loyer (sr)
2) Christie (fr), Brooks II (fr)
3) Brown (sr), Hall (jr), Sochan (fr)
4) Bates (fr), Bingham jr (sr)
5) Sissoko (so), Marble (jr), Kithier (sr)

My brain tells me that there will be some attrition and early departures in the next year and a half (again, I am NOT wanting kids to leave and I hope they all stay), but right now I only see Henry and Hauser opting to go early to the NBA draft. After winning a national championship next year they will have nothing left to prove. But for the rest of the returners, they will have a chance to go back-to-back, and put Michigan State once and for all into the upper-most echelon of the greatest basketball programs in NCAA history.

The 2022-23 scenario:

In a world where Bates does, in fact, stay in his class, what might the Michigan State roster look like? Loyer, Brown, Henry, Hauser, Kithier, and Bingham jr would all have graduated the year prior. For now, assume that all three juniors (Watts, Hall, and Marble) and both sophomores (Sissoko and Hoggard) return for their senior and junior years. Assume, also, that Izzo landed Akins and one of the forwards from the ‘21 class, say Sochan, and that all three freshmen returned for their sophomore years. Here is what the team might resemble:

1) Akins (so), Hoggard (jr)
2) Watts (sr), Brooks II (so)
3) Hall (sr), Sochan (so)
4) Bates (fr)
5) Sissoko (so), Marble (jr)

Even before considering other players who might join Bates on the team as freshmen, this team would be incredible. Again, who knows what will happen, or if we will ever even see Bates in the Breslin Center. For now, however, we dream.

This is not a drill...

Go Green!!!