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The Only Colors July Q&A (Part II): What does the future MSU basketball rotation look like? Could a canceled football season actually be a positive for MSU? And more

NCAA Football: Indiana at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, we asked you to submit your Michigan State Spartans questions, and you came through with a bunch of great submissions that really got us thinking. Due to the high volume of questions, we decided to break this month’s community Q&A into two separate parts. You can read the first part here, but let’s jump right into the next batch of questions.

Note: Some of the submissions we received asked similar questions and would have a similar answer, so you’ll see below that a couple of questions have been doubled up.

Aaron Schlehuber from St. Ignace, Michigan asks

“With all the heady news on the bball recruiting trail, the 2021 class is looking like it may turn into lottery pick central from top to bottom. If we land everyone and certain folks reclassify to 2021 whose playing where and whats the rotation?”

and Josh Hulst from Hudsonville, Michigan

“With the possibility of five-man 2021 class and (Aaron) Henry probably leaving early after next season (if he comes back for next season), who do you think leaves early for the draft or transfers so we don’t go over our scholarship limit?”

Our answer:

Long response coming — bear with us. The potential five-man class in question here would be dependent upon if Emoni Bates and Enoch Boakye (who is expected to commit to Michigan State today) reclassify to the 2021 class, and would also depend upon four-star point guard Jaden Akins also committing to MSU. Boakye will already be 18 by the time he completes his junior year of high school, and scouts already say he has an “NBA-ready body,” so reclassifying is certainly on the table for him. As we already know, Bates could be a likely re-class candidate as well.

If all of that comes to fruition, the Spartans’ 2021 class would look like this and would undoubtedly be the No. 1 ranked class in the country:

  1. Emoni Bates, Ypsilanti Prep (Michigan), five-star, small forward
  2. Max Christie, Rolling Meadows (Illinois), five-star, shooting guard
  3. Enoch Boakye, George Harris Prep (Mississauga, Ontario, Canada), five-star, center
  4. Jaden Akins, Ypsilanti Prep (Michigan), four-star, point guard
  5. Pierre Brooks II, Detroit Douglass Academy (Michigan), four-star, shooting guard

Now, of course, as things currently stand, this would obviously cause issues in terms of the scholarship limit of 13. If nobody were to leave early and MSU brought in a five-man class for the 2021-2022 season, that would make 16 scholarship players on the roster.

These things have a way of working themselves out, though. Aaron Henry is already testing the NBA waters this season, and if he returns to school, he is a sure bet to leave after his junior year. If Joey Hauser and Rocket Watts have good campaigns in the 2019-2020 season, then there is a big possibility they will enter the NBA. Then there are also players like Foster Loyer, Thomas Kithier, Marcus Bingham Jr. and Julius Marble who may not be happy with being buried down the depth chart, and could decide to transfer.

I will throw it to our lead basketball writer, Sam Tyler, for further analysis:

If Bates and Boakye do, in fact, play for MSU and reclassify to ‘21, then the depth chart (pending NBA and transfer decisions) looks something like this:

  1. Rocket Watts, AJ Hoggard, Foster Loyer
  2. Max Christie, Gabe Brown
  3. Emoni Bates, Pierre Brooks II
  4. Malik Hall, Marcus Bingham Jr, Thomas Kithier
  5. Mady Sissoko, Enoch Boakye, Julius Marble

Now, obviously, this depth-chart assumes that both Henry and Hauser go pro after this coming season, and the question of Akins would remain an open one. But, assuming this is the roster, the real playing rotation would certainly include Watts, Hoggard, Christie, Brown, Bates, Brooks II, Hall, Sissoko, and Boakye. Whether Bingham Jr, Marble, Kithier, and Loyer could force their way into the rotation or force the staff to expand the rotation to 10 or even 11 players would be an open question.

If Bates does reclassify, and if Boakye does commit and reclassify, and if Akins does commit, then the class would have five players (as it stands now the ‘21 class only has Brooks II and Christie). If you wanted to handicap the probabilities of that five-man class coming together I would put it at something like: Bates re-class (60 percent), Boakye commit (75 percent), Boakye re-class (75 percent), Akins commit (60 percent). Bates seems likely to re-class, but nothing is set in stone, especially given the possibility of him still not being eligible for the NBA draft after the 2020-21 season (given current NBA rules). Given the number of possibilities still open to him (even with his current discounting of those possibilities — who knows), I think it is more likely than not, but not a heavy favorite. Boakye seems set to commit and to re-class (regardless of Bates’ decision), he also is clearly open to playing more than one season of college ball if that becomes the best course of action. He is also old for his class, and an NBA athlete in terms of his footwork and his NBA-projected skill-set (i.e. his skills now match-up very well with his immediate NBA role and he isn’t trying to instantly become something he isn’t right now). Both probabilities at 75 percent seems about right.

Akins really likes MSU, clearly and he is going to be playing with Emoni for his last year of high school ball. But MSU has two lead-guards on the team already in Watts and Hoggard (three when you include a senior-year version of Foster Loyer), though Akins is much more of a natural point guard than the other two, they will have veteran experience and already have played plenty of college minutes at the point for Tom Izzo — will Akins want to be the primary point guard option right away? Will he be good enough to take that role from those two? If not, will he be willing to spend a season as a rotation guy rather than a starter? Around 60 percent seems about right there too. All told the chances of all of those probabilities coming good for MSU would be 20.25 percent... so the odds do not favor this perfect five-man class happening (assuming my probabilities are roughly accurate), but it is not a total long-shot.

The heart of the question is about roster attrition. The question of whether Xavier Tillman returns will have huge implications for the 2020-21 roster (Aaron Henry’s decision less-so, it would seem). If Tillman returns, we will likely see one of the bigs transfer with the most likely candidates being Kithier and Marble (though, honestly, I think Kithier would be the most likely). If Tillman stays in the draft, then I doubt we see any transfers. After next season, we will likely see Joey Hauser also head to the pros, but what if he doesn’t?

If Akins does commit, does Foster Loyer transfer either as a grad transfer, or as a traditional transfer? If Loyer does go the traditional transfer route, he could, potentially, play a season with his younger brother Fletcher (a three to four-star recruit in his own right — he got the growth spurt that Foster didn’t, while still being a sniper from three-point range). Fletcher and the Loyers have recently moved to Indiana, so maybe the Loyer brothers end up at Xavier or Butler? What if Foster takes a red-shirt season at MSU and MSU lands Fletcher? There are many possibilities, but here are what I view as the three most likely rosters heading into the 2020-21 season:

Scenario 1: (Hauser/Henry go pro, no Akins, Loyer stays, possibly red-shirting, Tillman stayed in the ‘20 draft, Bates and Boakye commit and re-class):

  1. Watts, Hoggard, Loyer
  2. Christie, Brown
  3. Bates, Brooks II
  4. Hall, Bingham jr, Kithier
  5. Sissoko, Boakye, Marble

Scenario 2: (Hauser/Henry go pro, Akins commits, Loyer transfers, regardless of Tillman’s ‘20 draft choice, Kithier transfers for more playing time, Boakye commits and reclassifies, Bates ends up not playing for MSU in ‘20-’21):

  1. Watts, Akins
  2. Christie, Hoggard
  3. Brown, Brooks II
  4. Hall, Bingham jr
  5. Sissoko, Boakye, Marble

Scenario 3: (Hauser/Henry go pro, Akins commits, Loyer transfers, regardless of Tillman’s ‘20 draft choice, Kithier transfers for more playing time, Bates and Boakye commit and reclassify)

  1. Watts, Akins
  2. Christie, Hoggard
  3. Bates, Brown, Brooks II
  4. Hall, Bingham jr
  5. Sissoko, Boakye, Marble

Assuming Boakye commits today, look for a longer piece from Sam about future depth chart, rotations and roster attrition.

Douglas from Oscoda, Michigan asks:

“Do you think its a positive or a negative if MSU football doesn’t get a chance to play this year? I think it would be a negative they need to show progress.”

and Hachigi2 from Livonia, Michigan asks:

“While it would be obviously sad for everyone involved, could it possibly be beneficial for the team/program if college football didn’t happen this year? That would allow Mel Tucker to get a full year of recruiting in, allow the coaches to really get to know the players and see who fits their system, and allow the players to have even more time to learn said system.

I get that nothing beats in-game experience, but I’m just wondering if, looking across the B1G, we might actually stand to gain the most by not having a season this year...”

Our answer: I disagree that a canceled season would be more beneficial than not for the Michigan State roster. I can agree with the notion that out of all the Big Ten teams, the Spartans may need the most time to practice and prepare — a young team with a brand new coaching staff, who needs to implement a new starting quarterback and replace eight starters on defense? Yes, this team is absolutely going to struggle if competition is played in 2020.

However, iron sharpens iron and the value of real-game experience cannot be replaced. If the regular season is canceled, we also don’t know what the NCAA (or the virus) is going to allow in terms of a padded practice schedule, workouts, scrimmages, etc. So we couldn’t say with 100 percent certainty that the players would be able to master the system because there is a good chance they would have a lot less practice time compared to an actual season. Also, when you’re practicing against the exact same guys all year long, which is generally scout team players, are you truly getting better? Obviously there is a lot of value in that still, and I’m not trying to discount the hard work the scout teams put in every single week, but after a while, you know exactly when you have to go hard and when you can coast through practice. I feel like there would be a lot of nuances to this kind of regimen. Would juniors and seniors even participate and risk injury with the NFL on their mind? The true freshman would be losing out on valuable in-game experience. The coaching staff would be even further behind without being able to test various schemes, play calls and personnel packages against their coaching counterparts to see what works in what situations.

Plus, what kind of mental effects would this have on the student-athletes? Most of these guys have trained for this their whole life and thrive on competition. I would imagine a canceled season would have some adverse effects on team psyche and morale. There could be benefits to extra practice time, as mentioned in the questions above, but in my opinion the cons far outweigh the pros.

Cara O. from Livonia, Michigan asks:

“If the football season isn’t played in the fall due to COVID-19, what are your thoughts on moving the season to spring 2021?”

Our answer: From a personal perspective, I would much rather do that if the fall football season is canceled than go all the way to the following fall without my favorite sport (a two-year gap from the the 2019 season). From a practical standpoint, though, it seems like it might be a logistical nightmare to pull off. I mean, there are a lot of variables to consider when you’re talk about moving athletic calendars around. My first thought is, how would a spring season affect the following fall football season? Will it delay the start, or shorten the season? Then, what happens to the other spring sports such as baseball, softball, golf, etc. What happens to the winter sports that will already be in season, such as men’s and women’s basketball? Are their seasons going to be delayed at all? What about injuries? If a football player tears his ACL in the spring, he likely wouldn’t be able to step on the field until fall 2021 at the earliest. That potential injury risk could also see seniors and other NFL Draft eligible players decide to sit out and avoid endangering their professional careers. How will scholarships and eligibility be handled (will the scholarship limit be increased or decreased)? What about early enrollees from the 2021 recruiting class that would generally begin school in January and participate in spring practices? They won’t be ready for college-level competition yet. So, if the spring is the only option for football to be played safely, then I would gladly accept that, but it just seems like it would be difficult to make happen.

Football is the biggest revenue generator for pretty much every major university with an FBS program, too. Without that money stream coming in during the fall, will we see schools such as Michigan State and other Big Ten programs having to cut smaller programs such as track and field? We’ve already seen MAC schools such as Central Michigan have to do this. I’m all about getting a football season at some point during the 2020-2021 academic year, as long as it can be done safely, but can we trust those in charge to get it done? We’ll see, I suppose.

Charlie H. from Martin, Tennessee asks:

“Do you think below B1G average football recruiting is something we should get used to for the next couple years? Or blame goes on the pandemic this year?”

Our answer: I don’t expect the current recruiting struggles to be a long-term issue. The results so far have been underwhelming to say the least, as MSU does not currently have a top-100 ranked 2021 commit in the Big Ten, and does not have a four-star or a five-star commit. To put it bluntly, the Spartans are currently getting blown out of the water by nearly every other Big Ten school in terms of recruiting, and that includes Rutgers and Northwestern.

However, I think we’re all being a bit impatient here (including me at times). Tucker is known as a terrific recruiter and proved that during his one-year tenure at Colorado. The deck has been stacked against Tucker during his first year in East Lansing, though. He already had a late start to the recruiting cycle, given the sudden decision from Mark Dantonio to retire in early February. Then the pandemic hit, campus is shut down and recruiting is in a “dead period” standstill. Also, let’s be honest with ourselves — the program was not left in the greatest position. The team limped to back-to-back 7-6 records, struggled to score points both of those seasons and couldn’t stay healthy. The 2020 recruiting class was also Dantonio’s lowest-rated class (ranked No. 53 nationally) since his first year as head coach in 2007 (although I think the 2020 class has more potential than people give it credit for).

As I’ve said all along, I expect MSU’s 2022 class to be much stronger and that’s where we’ll see more four-stars and potentially even a five-star or two. With that said, Tucker has already missed out on several highly-touted in-state recruits this cycle, such as Jamari Buddin (Penn State). If East Lansing’s own Andrel Anthony Jr. (the top rated wide receiver in Michigan in 2021) chooses to go elsewhere, that should be looked at as a huge whiff for Tucker and company.

Sparty1847 from Michigan asks:

“What has Mark Dantonio been doing in retirement?”

Our answer: Dantonio still makes appearances at certain MSU-related events. He was seen at some of MSU first winter workouts conducted by Tucker. In late February, he attended the West Michigan Spartans Winter Tailgate event in Grand Rapids with some of his former players and coaches. In May, former staffer Curtis Blackwell’s lawsuit against Dantonio and other university officials was dismissed by a U.S. District judge, which must have been a big sigh of relief for him. Earlier this month, Dantonio (virtually) attended the fourth annual Mike Sadler Legacy Celebration event along with Tucker, Izzo and several others. The event was held via Zoom. For the most, though, his whereabouts are unknown.

Dantonio retired on his own terms in a surprising and unceremoniously fashion in February. It seems as though a coach who took Michigan State to such incredible heights during his tenure should have had a better sendoff, but that was exactly the way Dantono wanted to go out — under the radar. I’m sure he’s been laying low and enjoying the down time. He hasn’t been very active on social media, and his name really hasn’t been in the media much in general. Maybe Dantonio knew something we didn’t and got out in time before the craziness of the pandemic hit. He is expected to remain with the Michigan State athletics department in some capacity, although that role has not been specified yet.

TVE from Chicago, Illinois asks:

“Does Tom Izzo securing Emoni Bates and Max Christie show a major shift in recruiting strategy? Does Izzo now believe that he can’t win with only in-state talent?”

Our answer: It’s an interesting thing to think about, and obviously Izzo and staff are doing something right to land the likes of Bates, Christie and (hopefully) Boakye later today. However, honestly, I don’t think Izzo has really changed what he’s been doing throughout his entire career all that much— obviously I’m not part of these meetings, so I don’t know what exactly is being said. But I just think more highly-rated athletes have finally taken notice of what he has accomplished and built in East Lansing. They see the loyalty and determination of Izzo, and that really hit home for players like Bates and Christie, as both mentioned Izzo and his loyalty to them as key selling points in their recruitment. But Izzo is still recruiting in-state and Midwest kids, still targeting “OKGs (our kind of guys) and still recruiting the right way (the clean way). I always found it funny that people have criticized Izzo in the past for not cheating in order to land top recruits.

To answer the second part of your question, Izzo still values local recruits and it is a bit of a mixed bag throughout the country. Pierre Brooks II is a Detroit kid. Jaden Akins is another in-state product who the experts predict will wear green and white. Boakye is from Mississauga, Ontario, which is just a little over a four-hour drive to East Lansing. Christie has said that playing close to his hometown of Rolling Meadows, Illinois was important to him. Obviously, East Lansing is just over an hour-drive from Bates’ home in Ypsilanti. It certainly doesn’t hurt that these prospects play high school ball in close proximity to Michigan State University. It also just so happened that Izzo and the staff were able to connect with the top talent in the 2021 and 2022 classes, and those players share the same values that the MSU program preaches. I don’t think Izzo would necessarily not make a recruit he wants at his program a priority simply because they live further away. Look at the 2019 class — Julius Marble was from Texas and Malik Hall played in Kansas (although he’s originally from the Chicago area). Then coming in this season is Mady Sissoko, who originally hails from Mali and played high school ball in Utah. AJ Hoggard, also a 2020 prospect, is originally from Pennsylvania and plays for Huntington Prep in West Virginia (same high school as Miles Bridges). With that said, I do think it has been easier for Izzo and company to build relationships with prospects who are closer in proximity and more easily accessible.

Perhaps, another reason for the recent recruiting success, too, is that Izzo is seemingly more willing to work with these kinds of otherworldly talented players and give them more leeway. For example, look at how he handled Rocket Watts last season. Watts really struggled to start the season (which we later found out was at least partially due to injury). Usually Izzo would be quick to pull a player who is struggling physically and making mental mistakes, but he gave Watts a long leash. Even this late in his career, Izzo is still showing growth and adaptability. Perhaps others took notice of that. And, of course, players like Bates and Christie committing to the Spartans is going to put MSU even further into the spotlight in terms of the future recruiting of top-rated athletes.