While I recently examined the current state of the Spartans’ men’s basketball depth-chart, and while I gave an update on recruiting a little over a month ago, a number of developments on the recruiting front and across the college basketball landscape, more generally, lead me to write another recruiting update that also provides some insight into the future team-building strategy that Tom Izzo and his staff appear to have settled on for at least the next couple of years.
Note: “OV” stands for “official visit” and “UV” stands for “unofficial visit.”
So what’s new on the recruiting front?
- Tre Holloman (6’3” guard from Minnesota) (OV) (also a football recruit) and Tarris Reed (6’10” center from Missouri) (OV) visited East Lansing the weekend of June 4-June 6. While these visits are undoubtedly individually tailored, it is easy to envision bringing the two players together for a bit of film work over the weekend and showing how they would be implemented together, and how their games fit with the likely returning players. Holloman is not a player I have viewed as a serious contender for Izzo and the staff simply because the team will already have three lead-guards on the roster in Tyson Walker, AJ Hoggard, and Jaden Akins (and no, I do not envision any of them leaving after this season), but the fact that Holloman does have a big wingspan for his position, is a natural and instinctive scorer, and doubles as a football recruit shows how dynamic the synergy is between the two programs and how seriously Izzo views Holloman as a player and person — this is a kid that Izzo would happily take and figure out how to play. Reed is the number one priority in the front-court in this cycle, it appears, and getting him on campus for his first official visit sends a major message to him. His size, length, defensive acumen, and expansive offensive repertoire make him a terrific prospect.
- Jaden Schutt (6’5” shooting guard from Illinois) (OV) and Isaac Traudt (6’9” forward from Nebraska) (OV) will visit East Lansing on the weekend of June 18-June 20. These two, even more than the Holloman and Reed pairing, have purposefully been pitched on having overlapping official visits. And it makes a ton of sense. Schutt, my absolute favorite player that the staff is recruiting in this class (I have been tracking Schutt for two years now and project him as a future NBA rotation player), and Traudt (a strong bet to get drafted after a year or two in college) have delightfully complimentary games. Schutt is a terrific shooter (off-the-catch and off-the-dribble) and an underrated athlete with positional size; Traudt is a long and lean forward with a terrific shot, length, major defensive potential, and just a terrific athlete. These are guys who would space the floor superbly, become a dynamic duo in transition, and would be perfect additions to the roster.
- Ty Rodgers (6’6” forward from Michigan) (UV) will visit East Lansing yet again on June 22. Rodgers remains a key target for Izzo and his fit on the roster and in the program is seamless — he’d be perfect, but the fit does not seem to have materialized in any early commitment. It is unclear whether Rodgers just wants to leave the state, or simply does not want to follow in his the footsteps of Jason Richardson, Spartan legend and Rodgers’ uncle. My sincere hope is that Rodgers’ visit ends with him and Izzo on the same page and him bringing his athleticism, IQ, competitiveness, defense, and rebounding to East Lansing. While Schutt is my favorite player in this class, Rodgers is the guy I would most-regret missing on (I fear that this recruitment has Monte Morris 2.0 written all over it).
- Another comment on the paired official visits — this is a really interesting strategy that I LOVE (and wish the staff had tried to do more of over the last few recruiting cycles). Each player, and the staff themselves, can still focus on each individual visit, but can also pitch them together on a vision for how they work together on the floor. This allows the players on the team and the recruits themselves to build chemistry together and clarifies the depth of the plan, and attention to detail, the staff has invested into their recruitments.
- Another comment on Holloman’s recruitment: Another point guard? YES! Izzo has clearly decided to heavily over-index on point guards...but why? I can think of a number of reasons:
- Izzo’s best teams have always had two point guards (apart from the Cassius Winston years — but trying to replicate a single, generational floor general is a foolish way to build teams),
- Having multiple ball-handlers and point-of-attack defenders maximizes the current rules configuration, which benefits perimeter players and teams with shooting. This also gives Michigan State more perimeter defenders to deal with drivers and “space-players” (guys the team has to defend in space). In college basketball, to win championships you need to generate consistently high-quality shots in late-tournament games (college players, as less talented and generally worse shooters, benefit from high shot-quality to a degree that uber-talented NBA stars simply do not need). And, conversely, having disruptive defenders on the perimeter is an essential way to delay offensive possessions from getting into sets, which, in turn, forces more and more late-clock (worse) shots.
- This strategy also gives Izzo options for when certain recruits don’t work-out. Izzo has clearly decided that he must have two or even three point guards “in development, for each season. Point guard is the most essential piece of any puzzle in the college game (even more than bigs or wings). Heck, look at Baylor, who just won a championship playing with, essentially, two point guards in Davion Mitchell and Jared Butler — both of whom are shot creators, finishers, passers, and terrific point-of-attack defenders. This recruiting strategy gives Izzo permanent position-group security, the likes of which he relied on in most of his best seasons: Mateen Cleaves-Charlie Bell (Bell, the first “second-point guard” gets the honor of our cover picture), Bell-Marcus Taylor, Chris Hill-Drew Neitzel, Neitzel-Travis-Walton-Kalin Lucas, Lucas-Korie Lucious, Travis Trice-Denzel Valentine, Valentine-Tum Tum Nairn. This security, then, allows the staff to focus on bringing in developmental bigs (Izzo seems set on keeping two “true” bigs on his roster at any point, and otherwise playing consistently smaller, more-mobile, and stronger or quicker at the forward).
- Re-configuring recruiting in this way will allow Izzo to focus his “one-and-done” energies on wings and forwards, who are WAY easier to plug-and-play simply because that position-group’s top-tier and mid-tier level of athlete and skill-development tend to translate more seamlessly than bigs...
- Finally, and this has become increasingly clear, more generally, I believe that bigs and wings have by far the highest return-on-investment as immediately-eligible transfers. Or, to put it another way, in the marketplace of college basketball recruiting, the arbitrage value-proposition is at the wing and forward; these players are easier to plug-and-play, and getting transfer-bigs (if necessary) means you do not need to worry about doing all of the physical and skill development of those players. If Izzo needs a big or a wing, and plan-A recruits do not work out, then I expect him to dip into the transfer portal more in those spaces as opposed to picking up “plan-B or plan-C” recruits; conversely, I think Izzo will be open to taking lower-rated longer-developing lead guards given that he seems set on keeping three on the roster each season.
Crazy like a fox...
So, reading the tea-leaves, and looking at these four official visits, plus, at least, the likely two additional official visits from Kijani Wright and Jalen Washington (both likely to be later in the year, assuming they happen), what does Izzo plan on having his depth chart look like for the 2022-2023 season, and why does he think this strategy is going to net him his elusive second national title?
In a world where Max Christie plays himself into the NBA lottery (I think there is about a 30-40 percent chance of this happening right now), even with no additions, where will the roster be?
1 - Tyson Walker (sr.), AJ Hoggard (jr.)
2 - Jaden Akins (so.), Keon Coleman (WO so.)
3 - Pierre Brooks II (so.), Maliq Carr (WO jr/)
4 - Malik Hall (sr.), Peter Nwoke (WO RS fr. or so.)
5 - Mady Sissoko (jr.), Julius Marble (sr.)
This group, discounting the walk-ons (for now), has a seven-man rotation including five upperclassmen (an awesome place to start). The needs, clearly are on the wing, at the forward, and to find one or two bigs (given the chance that Sissoko may leave after his junior year if everything goes well this season and next).
1 - Tyson Walker (sr.), AJ Hoggard (jr.)
2 - Jaden Akins (so.), Jaden Schutt (fr), Keon Coleman (WO so.)
3 - Isaac Traudt (fr.), Pierre Brooks II (so.), Maliq Carr (WO jr.)
4 - Malik Hall (sr.), Julius Marble (sr.), Peter Nwoke (WO RS fr. or so.)
5 - Mady Sissoko (jr.), Tarris Reed (fr.)
The three “plan-A” recruits appear to be Jaden Schutt, Isaac Traudt and Tarris Reed. These three would instantly fill all three positions of need and fill-out the rotation to a full 10-man unit that has size, experience, shooting, terrific athleticism, and defensive acumen.
In the dream scenario where Max Christie comes back for his sophomore year, that plan should remain the same, especially because Hall and Traudt will both be more than capable of playing on the wing and at the forward position. Given the likelihood that Sissoko and Marble will remain somewhat limited as players, all three bigs would have a line to significant minutes:
1 - Tyson Walker (sr.), AJ Hoggard (jr.)
2 - Max Christie (so.), Jaden Akins (so.), Keon Coleman (WO so.)
3 - Pierre Brooks II (so.), Jaden Schutt (fr.), Maliq Carr (WO jr.)
4 - Malik Hall (sr.), Isaac Traudt (fr.), Peter Nwoke (WO RS fr. or so.)
5 - Mady Sissoko (jr.), Julius Marble (sr.), Tarris Reed (fr.)
Downstream recruiting developments:
Now that AAU ball, camps, and junior recruiting visits are fully underway, the class of 2023 and the coaching staff’s recruiting targets are beginning to come into clearer focus. Excitingly, there are TONS of talented players in Michigan in this class, a family connection, and some tough choices ahead for the staff.
What might the roster look like heading into the 2023-2024 season, building off of the “plan-A” scenario for 2022-2023? Tyson Walker, Max Christie, Malik Hall, and Julius Marble will all depart the team (Max Christie playing three seasons at Michigan State, even with the possibility of playing with his brother, see below, would be more unlikely that Miles Bridges’ return for his sophomore year), but the returners should form one of the more dynamic core-groups in the nation (especially as the high school-to-pro avenues become more popular, siphoning off more and more top-30 players from each high school class; my guess is that about 12-15 players, per class, from the top-30 will not play college ball).
1 - AJ Hoggard (sr.)
2 - Jaden Akins (jr.), Jaden Schutt (so.), Keon Coleman (WO jr.)
3 - Pierre Brooks II (jr.), Maliq Carr (WO sr.)
4 - Isaac Traudt (so.), Peter Nwoke (WO RS so. or jr.)
5 - Mady Sissoko (sr.), Tarris Reed (so.)
Setting aside the walk-ons, this seven-man returning core, featuring four upperclassmen, and three immensely talented sophomores, will certainly need to add two or even three perimeter players (guards or wings), and another three bodies in the front-court (Sissoko will be graduating, and both Traudt and Reed will be early-entry candidates). In short this will need to be a massive class of probably at least five players.
So who are the 2023 candidates, at this point, to play in the only colors?
(Note that most recruiting services have not released their first full rankings yet for the 2023 class, which will be out later this summer.)
Cam Christie (6’3” shooting guard from Illinois) unranked (likely three-star or four-star pending):
Cam Christie, the younger brother of Max Christie, and Michigan State’s first offer in the 2023 class, plays on the same AAU team that new assistant coach Doug Wojcik’s sons played on (this was a factor in Max Christie’s recruitment as well). He is a burgeoning high-major talent in his own right. Though he does not have the height that his brother does, at this point, Christie has the same terrific shooting stroke, high basketball IQ, and discipline on the court to be a great prospect. Christie has unofficially visited Michigan State a number of times, and may be on campus this week, either in concert with Braelon Green’s visit, or this weekend.
Braelon Green (6’3” combo guard from Michigan) unranked (likely five-star in the near future):
From Michigan (Lincoln high school in Ypsilanti, Michigan), Green is the most tantalizing player that I have seen on the Michigan State radar, to this point; currently unranked, I believe that he has five-star talent, and a non-zero potential to bypass college for a professional option out of high school (but this is an early projection). He looks like he will grow another two or three inches based on his frame, has electric quickness and shiftiness with the ball in his hands, has an excellent handle, can score from all three levels, and plays with controlled aggression at all times. Green unofficially visited East Lansing this week (June 9). (Note: Alabama has offered and will be in the thick of his recruitment — Nate Oats and Charlie Henry the former head coach and assistant coach at Romulus high school have kept their Michigan ties strong at Alabama).
Curtis Williams Jr. (6’5” small forward from Michigan) unranked (likely four-star):
Williams Jr. (Brother Rice; Bloomfield Hills, Michigan) plays on the famed Michigan AAU team “The Family.” At this stage in his development he is, first and foremost, a very good shooter with an excellent form and consistent production from three-point range to go along with his positional size and athleticism; encouragingly, he is already a committed and confident defender. Izzo and the staff have already been in contact and appear to be treating him as a major target in the class that will, as I mentioned, need at least two wings. Williams will visit Michigan State on June 24. (Note: as with Green, Alabama has also offered Williams).
Malik Olafioye (6’2” point guard from Michigan) three-star (likely four-star pending):
Olafioye (from Escorse, Michigan — southern-Detroit) has already scored over 1,000 points for his career, and he just finished a curtailed sophomore year! This is a high scoring, talented floor general, and the only “true” point guard prospect that Izzo has targeted thus far in the 2023 class. This fit seems natural, and, while Izzo has yet to offer Olafioye, you can bet that he will, and that Izzo and the staff will be making a lot of trips the Detroit metro area in the coming year-and-a-half.
Owen Freeman (6’10” center from Illinois) unranked (likely four-star pending):
Freeman (from Bradley, Illinois) is a tall, solid center prospect. He is a natural passer, has great feel for how to navigate traffic in the paint, and has a terrific base on which to build his frame — his quads and hips are right where they need to be, his footwork is excellent, and he is a capable scorer in the post. Freeman will visit East Lansing on June 29.
6’10” PF/C Owen Freeman (‘23) is coming to MSU for an unofficial on June 29th per @CoachBStreit. His recruitment has heated up w/ recent offers from OSU/IL/Iowa. Solid athleticism/length, can play in the PNR, attacks the glass, calm passer, smooth face up game, advanced footwork. pic.twitter.com/Wb56ymPEdj— DK (@SpartanHoops_DK) June 10, 2021
Expect more bigs and forwards to be added to this group, and probably another guard or wing player, or two. As always...