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MSU Men’s Basketball: Roster Outlook and Implications in the Enoch Boakye Afterglow

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Enoch Boakye is a Spartan...

As Matt wrote in the commitment announcement, Enoch Boakye committed to play for Tom Izzo today, choosing Michigan State over Arizona, Texas Tech, UCLA, and others. The recruiting streak that Izzo, the staff, and the program have been on has been unlike anything else in Michigan State basketball history. Even the combined 2016 and 2017 classes cannot quite compare to what Izzo and the staff have done here in the compressed time-frame and bizarre social, global, and NCAA-sports context.

In the last few months, Izzo and the staff have built the makings of a true juggernaut on the court. Complementing the terrific roster already in green and white, Michigan State has landed Pierre Brooks II, Emoni Bates, Max Christie, and now Enoch Boakye. With Jaden Akins’ decision still in the offing, the streak may continue as the calendar turns to the fall.

The Boakye commitment also offers the prospect of Michigan State potentially fielding the best big-man tandem that Izzo and the university have ever seen. With Mady Sissoko, a more-raw, but incredibly talented, long, tall, strong, and hard-working big already in the fold, Enoch Boakye a true five-star talent, possessing a similar physical profile, but with even better footwork and a stunning skill-level for a young man of his size, Michigan State will have the option to play big and to play big effectively, something that few programs can lay claim to in recent years given the challenges of playing a “big” four-man. And this is before we even get to the other returning players, all of whom we know are and will be really good if not great players—Joey Hauser, Malik Hall, Marcus Bingham Jr., Julius Marble, and Thomas Kithier.

In his commitment announcement on CBS Sports, Boakye mentioned Izzo’s intense and unique recruitment of him, noting that, in recruiting him, Izzo had flown to Canada for the first time in 20 years to recruit a Canadian player, and had seen him multiple times in Canada, including in practice settings. Boakye’s mind was made up about Michigan State seemingly before either Max Christie’s or even Emoni Bates’ commitment, but he reiterated his appreciation for Bates’ game and his desire and intention to win a national title while in East Lansing. An impressive young man on and off the court, Enoch’s intentions and desires will have a very strong chance of coming to fruition in the coming years.

Boakye will arrive at East Lansing with the ability to play the four or five defensively in college — I truly believe that his feet, agility, length, and drive will allow him to play the four even against smaller players. The reason I chose the picture I did — featuring the two 2017 big men Izzo landed in Jaren Jackson Jr and Xavier Tillman - is that Boakye will prove eerily evocative of both players as a freshmen.

Boakye has the offensive talent of Jaren Jackson Jr. — with great low-post ability, an NBA-level handle, and a bit of range on his jump shot (though we will likely not see the Jaren Jackson Jr. level of three-point shooting from him — I will be amazed, at this point, if he takes many threes at all at MSU). Boakye also has Jaren Jackson Jr. and Xavier Tillman-level potential on defense and on the glass: he has Tillman and Jackson Jr.’s length and timing on shot-blocking, he has Tillman’s understanding of low-post positioning on defense, and, at this point, seems much more steady and assured with his body than Jackson, likely leading to far fewer frustrating fouls.

In short, Enoch Boakye will be an NBA player very soon, but for now... he is a Spartan!

Who is Enoch Boakye as a basketball prospect?

Simply put, Enoch Boakye is a terrific talent. As I mention above, he evokes a combination of Xavier Tillman and Jaren Jackson Jr. as they were as freshmen. I do not know what Boakye’s production will be as a freshman, but as a high school player the comparison is some combination of those two players.

On the court, his physical talents and skills are truly impressive and already fit the profile of an NBA player tailored to the modern NBA game. Fortunately, his fit in the college game will be terrific as well!

Boakye has true size at 6-foot-10-inches and about 240 pounds, and he is extremely long (having a reported 7-foot-6-inch wingspan — and from what I can tell his wingspan is at least +4, if not the almost-absurd +8 some claim). In contrast to Jaren Jackson Jr., Boakye has a terrific and very strong lower body, and really understands how to lower his hips to generate power and to maintain position on both ends.

More impressive to me, however, is his footwork and agility on both offense and defense. He runs really well — not awkwardly at all — and his deceleration appears to be terrific, which bodes well for his perimeter defending of smaller guys, and his ability to change directions—an essential feature of every coverage that effective pick-and-roll defense requires. He is fluid, agile, and, though not an outstanding leaper, has very good bounce.

When combined with his long arms and height, these physical skills combine to indicate that, at the college level, he can protect the rim and challenge shots both on the interior, at close range, and on the perimeter—whether closing out to shooters, or in a switch scenario where he gives the quicker player a bit of space while retaining the ability to contest shots effectively, at a distance. Furthermore, his timing is already solid on shot-block attempts, and he appears to do a very good job attacking rebounds and the rim — dunking and finishing through contact, on offense, whenever possible.

Where Jaren Jackson Jr., as a freshman, struggled somewhat with his own length, getting off-balance defensively occasionally, and getting forced off the block by some defenders, Boakye does not appear likely to have these issues. His low-post ability seems solid offensively, he has a scoring-game over both shoulders, can bully bigs from the baseline with a jump-stop body-bump, has a solid up-and-under counter, and looks really comfortable facing up and attacking either side of his defender.

Take a look at these highlights:

You can watch the full-replay here. Wearing #14 in this video, Boakye demonstrates all of the qualities I mention, as well as toughness, and willingness to scrap and compete against a stacked team-USA—the game becomes a track-meet at times and Boakye does an impressive job getting up and down the court, even when he gets tired at points. Something that clearly attracted Izzo to Boakye as a player is also evident here: despite his lofty reputation, Boakye maintains a workman like attitude that serves him well, and will continue to do so in college and in the NBA.

One of the aspects of Boakye’s game that I obliquely addressed above that really pops in this FIBA U16 championship game (from last year), is Boakye’s handling ability. He is comfortable in the half-court and, surprisingly, in the open-court often ripping and running; scoring when he can and dropping the ball off like a guard at points. This shows a really high level of skill, frankly, and is really impressive for a kid still in high school.

We do not see a ton of Boakye’s shooting form here, but his free-throw stroke looks fine-enough at this point (follow-through a bit stiff, rhythm a bit off). Boakye claims to be working on his jump shot, but at this point he is mostly an eight-feet-and-in player. In addition to his terrific handle, his ability and willingness to pass the ball in the open court and from the block is impressive and helps to offset his relatively circumscribed scoring range.

The major areas for improvement for Boakye will be his shooting, free-throw ability, continuing to improve his off-ball defense, and keeping blocked-shots in play. Frankly, he is a very polished college-level big-man prospect with skills that are already transferable directly to the NBA. If Boakye can demonstrate the ability to play a variety of kinds of pick-and-roll defense effectively, if he can demonstrate a solid foundation for his shooting form (particularly from the line), and if he can really dominate in the areas of his game that are strengths, then he will likely end up being a one-and-done player.

What we know about the current roster and possible roster projections...

Covering some similar ground from the Max Christie piece, I will lay out some possible scenarios for next season in what follows (obviously now including this exciting new addition to the program). For now, I will assume that Tillman is going to stay in the NBA draft (though I have included a brief look at what might happen if he does return). I will then take a look at possible outcomes of the roster situation as we move towards the 2021-22 and 2022-23 seasons.

If Tillman does return I think it is safe to say that we will see one of the bigs transfer, which could also happen even if he does not (though it would be more likely next summer, as I detail below). At this point, the likeliest big to transfer, from my vantage point, would be Kithier. I think he has a really bright future either at MSU or elsewhere, but he does appear to be the furthest from the court at this point, a challenge that could be exacerbated by the additions we will discuss below. This could also be true for Julius Marble and Marcus Bingham Jr., but those two seem very plugged into the program (Izzo highlighted Julius Marble in recent interviews) and seem closer to playing time than Kithier.

I hope none of these kids transfer, but we will have to see what the future holds. Sometimes a transfer really is the best outcome for both the player and the program (let’s hope these guys all stay in green and white).

Scenario 1.a (Tillman returns; Kithier stays):

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

Scenario 1.b (Tillman returns; Kithier transfers):

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

I believe there is approximately a 70 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). If Tillman comes back for his senior year, I would be surprised if one of the other bigs did not transfer, or, possibly, redshirt (an interesting wrinkle on Scenario 1.a, above). There are just too many bodies for every one of these guys to get minutes even in the non-conference part of the schedule, which increasingly looks like it may be curtailed or abandoned completely.

There will be plenty of time to further discuss what Tillman’s return would mean for MSU’s chances in a likely-to-be-shortened college basketball season in ‘20-’21, but for now let it suffice for me to say that if Tillman does return I would move Michigan State up to the top-three in my pre-season rankings.

If Tillman stays in the draft, the roster should look like this, and I would not necessarily expect any transfers in the front-court this summer, but it is still possible that someone would transfer given what we know about how the roster may look like in the ‘21-’22 season:

Scenario 2.a (Tillman goes pro; Kithier stays):

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

Scenario 2.b (Tillman goes pro; Kithier transfers):

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

Regardless of Tillman’s decision, Michigan State should be looking like a top-10 team next season. Sissoko, Bingham Jr, Marble, and Kithier should be more than capable of filling in admirably for Tillman in the front-court. Now even in this scenario, where Tillman stays in the draft, the rotation will likely coalesce around four to five bigs, which will mean one of the bigs will likely get shut out of significant minutes, assuming health. For this very reason, we still may end up seeing a transfer either this summer or mid-season when the rotation settles down (you can see this potentiality in Scenario 2.b).

Still, all three of the returning guys looking to fill in for Tillman will be a year older, wiser, stronger, and more confident in their individual abilities and on-court responsibilities. I have mentioned this many times before, but while many laud the freshman-to-sophomore “jump” that athletes often experience in both high school and college/university, I really believe the sophomore-junior “jump” to be much more significant. Take a look at recent Michigan State stalwarts (literally any and you will see what I mean). For this reason, I would not be surprised to see one of Bingham Jr. or Kithier (or even both guys) lock down a spot in the rotation — this is the year they will really begin to pull themselves together as players.

Looking ahead to 2021-22:

Following next season, we will see Xavier Tillman (if he returns) and Josh Langford run out of eligibility, and, very likely, Aaron Henry and Joey Hauser head to the NBA before their senior years. Rocket Watts will likely test the waters, but I do believe, at this point, that he will be back for a third season in green and white. Even with a great sophomore year, which he appears fully prepared to have, he does not have NBA bounce, perfect size (or, more importantly, length), let alone the truly superlative shooting that would guarantee a contract in next year’s draft, which will be one of the best NBA drafts in terms of talent (particularly in terms of guards and wings) in the last 15 years. Now, if Rocket shoots north of 40 percent from three and really runs the team well, while maintaining his terrific defense, then things get really interesting from an NBA perspective.

Of the possible early entrants, I would think Joey Hauser is the more likely of the two would-be rising seniors to return for a senior season. So for each of the two roster scenarios outlined above (that build on Tillman leaving this summer), there are at least two possibilities for what the roster might look like after next season ends, before factoring in the two potential new-comers that might reclassify into the ‘20-’21 team (Bates and Boakye). For now, however, given my belief that Tillman is more likely than not to stay in the draft, I will focus on those scenarios where Tillman leaves for the NBA this summer.

Scenario 2.a.i (no Tillman in ‘20-’21; Kithier stays; Hauser goes pro):

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

Scenario 2.a.ii (no Tillman in ‘20-’21; Kithier stays; Hauser returns):

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

Scenario 2.b.i (no Tillman in ‘20-’21; Kithier transferred already; Hauser goes pro):

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

Scenario 2.b.ii (no Tillman in ‘20-’21; Kithier transferred already; Hauser returns):

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

I have to say, any of these four scenarios would be exciting in their own rights. Even without additions (of any sort), these potential depth charts would have a TON of talent, experience, defensive acumen, length, strength, and scoring ability. Even the most lean of the scenarios, scenario 2.b.i, would see the rotation being made up of three seniors, three juniors, two outstanding sophomores, and two stud freshmen. This would, in all likelihood, be a top-10 team preseason.

Now in the “best-case” scenario, scenario 2.a.ii, despite the fact that Kithier, or whichever other big who got shut out of the rotation in ‘20-’21, stuck around for one season the idea that Hauser’s return would not prompt their transfer seems unlikely. A second consecutive year where an upperclassman would get shut out of the rotation, of the quality that he would be, would be nearly inconceivable for me. I would not fault that guy at all for wanting to get a real shot at significant minutes, and there would be a strong chance that he would be able to transfer having graduated and be immediately eligible.

In summation, if no one transfers this season, and Hauser returns next year, I would fully expect to see a transfer (possibly two). If Hauser goes pro next year, as I expect, it is possible that we would not see a transfer, but, given the potential addition of Boakye, not inconceivable.

The 2021-22 season with potential reclassifications:

So what about the additions of the two potential reclassification candidates in Emoni Bates and Enoch Boakye? For now, I will assume that they would reclassify together, and if only one of the two reclassify, I would assume that it would be Boakye. At this point, let’s assume that both either reclassify together or do not reclassify.

As head-spinning as this may be, there would now be another four possible roster outcomes for the ‘21-’22 season, in addition to the four outlined above—this new set includes the reclassifications of Bates and Boakye. In each of these cases, the biggest unknown is where Izzo would start and/or play Bates and Boakye. Would Bates, who will start, play at the three (as a jumbo-wing)? Or at the four, as a skilled, play-making four? Would Boakye exclusively play at the five? Or would Izzo agree with my assessment that he can play at the four? While it is likely that Izzo would move both guys around, I think we will predominantly see Boakye at the five in the ‘21-’22 season for multiple reasons:

  1. The college game is cramped as it is with the smaller three-point arc, lack of a defensive-three-second rule, and the generally less-effective three-point shooting of college players.
  2. Given Bates’ ability to play at the four, and given that college teams within games and over the course of season “get smaller,” I think Izzo would prefer to get Boakye settled at the five rather than experiment with him at the four.
  3. I would image, too, that Izzo would prefer to have Gabe Brown as a member of the starting group given his status as a senior in all roster scenarios where Hauser has already gone pro. In these cases, I slot Bates into the four spot. Where Hauser returns, I slot Bates in at the three.
  4. Given Boakye’s agility, smarts, and length, an ad hoc adventure with him at the four against some teams or in some scenarios should not be too challenging a task to prepare, especially given the veteran team that would surround him.

Scenario 2.a.i.2 (no Tillman in ‘20-’21; Kithier stays; Hauser goes pro; Bates & Boakye reclassify):

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

Scenario 2.a.ii.2 (no Tillman in ‘20-’21; Kithier stays; Hauser returns; Bates & Boakye reclassify):

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

Scenario 2.b.i.2 (no Tillman in ‘20-’21; Kithier transferred already; Hauser goes pro; Bates & Boakye reclassify):

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

Scenario 2.b.ii.2 (no Tillman in ‘20-’21; Kithier transferred already; Hauser returns; Bates & Boakye reclassify):

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

Phew... staying with me?

If Bates reclassifies, and particularly if Boakye reclassifies, I will be very surprised if we do not see any transfers; in fact, in scenario 2.a.ii.2, Michigan State would be sitting at 14 guys fighting for 13 scholarships. Furthermore, in half of these scenarios there are seven front-court bodies! That would be far too many to be sustainable, and simply unfair to the seniors and juniors who might be shut out of playing time. It would be really unfortunate, but I think one or two guys would transfer in most, if not all, of these scenarios.

This is why Boakye’s and Bates’ reclassification decisions prove so essential, and, hopefully, why we will learn of their decisions as soon as possible. If guys can see where they stand in the playing-rotation this summer, and get confirmation of the roster additions heading into the ‘21-’22 season, including the intentions of Bates and Boakye, it will help them make informed decisions.

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

Michigan State currently has, by my math, two open offers for the ‘21 class:

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

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

Now, in most of the above projections, Michigan State would be unable to take either of these two players. But if guys decide this summer, or fall, that they would like more opportunities at other schools, then, obviously, roster spots open up. The likeliest domino will be Foster Loyer, who simply does not appear to have the physical abilities to compete consistently at the high major division one level (although, again, I would not be surprised to see him make a significant jump this season as he gets the sophomore-junior “jump” I mention above). An Akins commitment might lead Foster to transfer (possibly to play with his brother Fletcher; they would be able to play together if Foster takes a traditional transfer).

In the end I think it is more likely than not that Loyer will end up transferring and that Akins will commit, but until we see any firm evidence along either of those lines it will be tough to really project the implications.

So what are the most reasonable permutations for the 2021-22 season and beyond?

Let’s assume that Henry and Hauser go pro after this coming season. Let’s also assume that no one else leaves early for the NBA. Finally, let’s assume that directly or indirectly, Loyer and Kithier either both transfer or both remain. In that case, there are two additional variables: Akins’ and Graham III’s commitments, and Bates and Boakye’s reclassification decisions (I put Akins and Graham III in italics to indicate where I imagine they would slot into the depth-chart if they commit; note they are not included in the provisional scholarship counts I provide in my comments):

Scenario 1 (Loyer and Kithier stay; Bates and Boakye do not reclassify):

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

With 11 confirmed scholarship players, Izzo would still be open to taking both Akins and Graham III. Given the impending graduations of Bingham Jr. and Kithier in the front-court, getting another developmental forward would be essential especially given the possibility that Sissoko or Hall test the NBA waters after the ‘21-’22 season. As is, this team would have the shooting, guard play, experience, and size to be a formidable squad and comfortably rank in the top-10 preseason, if not the top-five.

Scenario 2 (Loyer and Kithier transfer; Bates and Boakye do not reclassify):

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

With only nine scholarship players, Izzo would be desperate to get Akins and Graham III, to commit because of the impending front-court graduation of Bingham Jr., the possible NBA attrition of other front-court guys, and the graduations and potential early-entries of back-court players. If Akins and Graham III have already committed elsewhere, Izzo will need to find new kids to recruit and/or find some grad-transfers, or immediate-eligibility transfers. This core playing rotation would still comfortably rank in the top-10 preseason, if not the top-five.

Scenario 3 (Loyer and Kithier stay; Bates and Boakye reclassify):

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

With 13 scholarship players, Izzo would would be unable to take Akins or Graham III, unless one of the bigs subsequently decides to transfer. And, with the graduations or likely NBA departures of, at least, Brown, Bingham Jr., Kithier, Loyer, Bates, Boakye, Christie, and, possibly, Sissoko. Izzo would need at least a six or seven-man class in ‘22, a nigh-on disaster scenario, which could see Michigan State struggle to make the NCAA tournament.

This team would, however, easily enter the season as the No. 1 team in the country, and would be a comfortable favorite every game of the season, and the odds-on favorite to win the B1G, B1G tournament, and NCAA tournament; so despite the future looking a bit bleak, Izzo’s second championship, if not already secured, would look to be incoming.

Scenario 4 (Loyer and Kithier transfer; Bates and Boakye reclassify):

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

With 11 scholarship players, Izzo would have the need and desire to add Akins, who would have a clear role as the future point guard for the program in his sophomore year, Graham III would also be welcome and have a clear role to play on the team as a sophomore. This team would still easily enter the season as the No. 1 team in the country and, with Akins’ commitment would easily be the best team on paper in the history of the Michigan State program, and very likely one of the greatest college basketball teams in history. Given the logjam in the front-court, there is still a possibility, if not likelihood, that one of the bigs would end up transferring.

The 2022-23 scenarios:

Looking even deeper into the crystal ball, there are two dominant paths for the ‘22-’23 roster: one where Bates and Boakye do reclassify in ‘21-’22, and one where they do not. In the scenario where they do not, Izzo may have added another big or hybrid-forward to develop for a year before playing a huge role in the ‘22-’23 class (maybe James Graham III likes the sound of that possibility? Maybe it is another player yet to be determined). Izzo will likely have also added Akins (or another guard to be determined).

In a world where Bates and Boakye do reclassify, Izzo will have to add even more players to the ‘22 class, which would mean an even younger team in ‘22-’23. Regardless of Akins and Graham III’s statuses, and regardless of the Bates and Boakye reclassification decisions, we do know that the 2018 class will no longer be on the team—Henry, Brown, Loyer, Kithier, and Bingham Jr. will all have used up their eligibility and will be beginning their post-graduate or professional careers.

For the purposes of these projections, I am imagining Watts leaving after his junior year but Hall and Marble returning for their senior campaigns, both Hoggard and Sissoko returning for their junior campaigns, and Pierre Brooks II also returning for his sophomore campaign. All of these assumptions could be overturned: Hall and Sissoko, in particular, will very likely test the NBA waters after next season, and certainly would after the ‘21-’22 season, with a strong possibility that both get the feedback they need to stay in the draft. With all of that being said, I will proceed as if these assumptions are reasonable, and I will look at two scenarios where Max Christie does, and does not return for his sophomore season as well.

Scenario 1 (Bates and Boakye do not reclassify; Akins and Graham III commit; Christie returns):

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

Two-deep at every position. Truly stacked. Likely the No. 1 team in the country preseason.

Scenario 2 (Bates and Boakye do not reclassify; Akins and Graham III commit; Christie goes pro):

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

Two-deep at nearly every position. Truly stacked. Again, No. 1 team in the country preseason. Perfect opportunity for a high-level wing to come in and get significant minutes (possibly Ty Rodgers).

Now, if Bates and Boakye do reclassify, what happens in ‘22-’23? Under current rules, Bates would not be eligible for the ‘22 draft—would Emoni really play a second season at MSU, or would he play in the G-League, in Europe, or simply sit out the year and prep for the draft on his own? While any of these are possibilities, there is also a distinct possibility that he would, in fact, return for a sophomore season: he would still be young, he could, potentially, make a TON of money through new NIL legislation and rules, and he could, potentially, be pursuing a second consecutive NCAA title. Boakye would certainly be eligible for the draft given his age status, but would he go or return for a second year to show off an expanded game in an expanded role? My guess is that Boakye will leave after a single season, but there is a non-zero, albeit slim, chance that he would come back as a sophomore.

In a world where these two do reclassify, it is unlikely that Graham III, or any other forward or big, would be joining the ‘21 class, so I will only project Akins joining that ‘21 class here. Now, in addition to Christie’s decision, we also have Bates and Boakye’s decisions to consider.

Scenario 3.a (Bates and Boakye do reclassify and go pro after one season; Akins commits; Christie returns):

1) Akins (so), Hoggard (jr)
2) Christie (so), Brooks II (so)
3) Hall (sr)
4) Marble (sr)
5) Sissoko (jr)

Even in this scenario, MSU would still have a top-seven players that could rival most groups in the B1G and compete with anyone nationally. Filling in a huge class in ‘22 would be essential, obviously, particularly in the front court.

Scenario 3.b (Bates and Boakye do reclassify and go pro after one season; Akins commits; Christie goes pro):

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

Even in this “disaster” scenario (one that would get worse if Hall, Hoggard, or Sissoko left early for the NBA draft—highly likely for Sissoko and, possibly, Hall), MSU would still have a top-six players that could rival most groups in the B1G and compete with anyone nationally.

Scenario 4.a (Bates and Boakye do reclassify; Bates returns, Boakye does not; Akins commits; Christie returns):

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

Preseason No. 1, favored in every game.

Scenario 4.b (Bates and Boakye do reclassify; Bates returns, Boakye does not; Akins commits; Christie goes pro):

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

Again, MSU would still have a top-seven players that would strike fear into anyone nationally. Bates’ return would seal Michigan State as the preseason No. 1 team, and make for an extremely exciting year.

Scenario 5.a (Bates and Boakye do reclassify but return as sophomores; Akins commits; Christie returns):

1) Akins (so), Hoggard (jr)
2) Christie (so), Brooks II (so)
3) Hall (sr)
4) Bates (so), Marble (sr)
5) Sissoko (jr), Boakye (so)

Scenario 5.b (Bates and Boakye do reclassify but return as sophomores; Akins commits; Christie goes pro):

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

These true dream scenarios for the ‘22-’23 season would be almost unimaginable.

Regardless of what would happen in the ‘21-’22 season, this squad would be the clear favorites to win a national championship. In fact, put your house on the 2-1 odds of an MSU national title—it would be easy money [note: please gamble responsibly].

With a clear nine-man or even, insanely, a ten-man rotation, and with a ton of versatility, these squads would have everything Izzo could dream of, and would keep Spartan fans in the delirious state, which the next two years will already induce, for at least one more magical season.

Given the changing nature of things, none of these scenarios are likely to play out exactly as I have projected them, but I hope this careful roster-mapping at least provides some clarity as to the implications of the various decisions that kids on the team and possible recruits have made and will make in the future. Whichever permutation comes to fruition this coming season, and next season, Izzo’s program appears to be on a level never before seen by Michigan State basketball or its fans.

This is not a drill... what a time to be a Spartan!!!

Go Green!!!