Michigan as high as No. 2, Michigan State No. 9 in way-too-early college hoops rankings
The curtains closed on the 2020-21 men’s college basketball season on Monday night. Naturally, that means it's already time to start looking ahead.
Numerous publications rolled out their way-too-early rankings for the 2021-22 season on Tuesday and Michigan and Michigan State are well represented.
The Wolverines, the reigning Big Ten regular-season champs who reached the Elite Eight, are listed as high as No. 2 in the nation by several outlets. The Spartans, who are coming off one of their least successful seasons under coach Tom Izzo, range anywhere from Nos. 9-22.
Both teams should return several key pieces to go along with an influx of talent, with Michigan and Michigan State bringing in top-10 recruiting classes. But both also will face plenty of offseason questions as rosters will be in a state of flux in the coming days, weeks and months.
Will any of Michigan’s five scholarship seniors take advantage of the extra year of eligibility? Will Michigan’s Franz Wagner and Hunter Dickinson and Michigan State’s Aaron Henry leave early for the NBA? Will any other players join Rocket Watts in the transfer portal? Will Spartan commit Emoni Bates reclassify?
All those answers will come in time. But until then, here’s an early look at where major publications have the Wolverines and Spartans ranked for 2021-22 and what they had to say about each team.
►Michigan at No. 8: "This ranking is tied to the idea that Franz Wagner will enter the NBA Draft while Hunter Dickinson returns for his sophomore season at Michigan, where he'll likely be the preseason Big Ten Player of the Year. The 7-foot-1 center would be the perfect experienced piece to pair with the nation's top-ranked recruiting class."
►Michigan State at No. 18: "Aaron Henry is expected to follow Joshua Langford and Rocket Watts out the door. But the arrival of five-star guard Max Christie and Northeastern transfer Tyson Walker should have Tom Izzo in his 24th straight NCAA Tournament."
►Michigan at No. 17: "This is another tough read. The Wolverines had five seniors in their top seven, while Franz Wagner is a potential lottery pick and is also expected to leave. Could any of those seniors return to Ann Arbor for another year? Isaiah Livers was injured toward the end of the campaign and missed the NCAA Tournament, so he's in a similar position as Collin Gillespie — but Livers has higher NBA draft stock and already tested the waters once last season. Juwan Howard will have to build around Hunter Dickinson next season, which isn't a bad place to start, but there's precious little returning besides the big man. Brandon Johns was great in the NCAA Tournament, while Terrance Williams and Zeb Jackson were highly touted recruits who played sparingly this past season. Michigan does bring in the nation's No. 1-ranked recruiting class, led by top-10 prospects Caleb Houstan and Moussa Diabate, along with top-50 guards Frankie Collins and Kobe Bufkin. Collins could be the key. There's not much back on the perimeter."
►Michigan State at No. 22: "Despite beating Illinois, Ohio State and Michigan in the final two weeks of the season to sneak into the NCAA Tournament, it was a relatively disappointing season in East Lansing after the early season expectations. Tom Izzo will have some roster attrition, too. Rocket Watts has already transferred, while Josh Langford has used up his eligibility and Aaron Henry is a projected NBA Draft pick. But the Spartans went out and landed Northeastern transfer Tyson Walker to run the show, and Walker should combine with five-star prospect Max Christie to provide a much-needed backcourt infusion. One huge key is the status of Emoni Bates. A generational talent, Bates has long been considered a candidate to reclassify into the 2021 class. He could still decide to do that and enroll in college in the fall — although the buzz around him has always been that he's also considering skipping college altogether. If Bates does wind up in East Lansing next fall, he will take this team to another level."
►Michigan at No. 2: "Hunter Dickinson should be back as the best center in the Big Ten. Juwan Howard will have a loaded roster."
►Michigan State at No. 16: "The Spartans have a stellar recruiting class coming in and likely will retain a number of key pieces."
►Michigan State at No. 9: "The Spartans’ ability to become a fluid, functioning unit was impacted by the struggle of Rocket Watts to embrace and flourish in the role of point guard. They still had a truckload of talent, and that made the season frustrating for everyone involved. Northeastern transfer Tyson Walker could solve that problem in the way Mike Smith managed the point at Michigan."
►Michigan at No. 11
►Michigan at No. 2: "This will be a very young Michigan team if Juwan Howard can’t convince some of his seniors to come back for one last go-round, but the Wolverines should be elite regardless. Big man Hunter Dickinson will be a top-five player in college basketball after a terrific freshman campaign, and Howard has signed a No. 1 recruiting class headlined by top-10 recruit Caleb Houstan. There could be some early growing pains with this young group, but Dickinson is quite the stabilizer and Howard has proven himself as one of the elite coaches in the country."
►Michigan State at No. 18: "MSU’s lack of a true point guard plagued the Spartans in 2020-21, and Tom Izzo wasted no time remedying that with the early signing of Northeastern transfer Tyson Walker. Add in elite recruit Max Christie, and a backcourt that struggled last year gets a major facelift. Christie and Walker are both high-level shooters, and Walker is also an elite defender who should set the tone on that end of the floor. A key will be whether leading scorer Aaron Henry elects to return for one more year: He’s currently No. 50 on Jeremy Woo’s Big Board and penciled in as a pro for the purposes of these rankings."
►Michigan at No. 12: "We’ll see what happens with Dickinson and also whether maybe one of (Eli) Brooks or (Chaundee) Brown returns to Ann Arbor. But even if one of those guys leave, Juwan Howard is bringing in a star-studded class with a trio of McDonald’s All-Americans. There’s still a lot to be ironed out, but the Wolverines should have enough talent to be in the top 20 — and maybe even higher."
►Michigan State at No. 18: "The Spartans, who are losing Watts, have some decent pieces with (Joey) Hauser, (Gabe) Brown and (Malik) Hall but are lacking in the star department. I’m not sure that Walker, a transfer from Northeastern, is a star but he is an upgrade at the point guard position. Tom Izzo also adds three top-75 freshmen — including talented wing Christie and another possibility at the point guard spot in (Jaden) Akins."
►Michigan at No. 2: "The big question is whether Dickinson leaves for the NBA, but even if he does the Wolverines will still be a top-10 team. Juwan Howard has shown he is an excellent coach, and now he has assembled the nation’s No. 1 class, headlined by three McDonald’s All-Americans in Diabate, Houstan and Bufkin. Don’t count out the possibility that Brooks or Brown, and possibly both, will be back in Ann Arbor."
►Michigan State at No. 20: "I’ve got Henry listed among the returnees, but I don’t expect him to be back, especially considering he entered the NBA Draft last year before returning. Tom Izzo hopes he has solidified his point guard issues by bringing in Walker, who averaged 18.8 points and 4.8 assists last season at Northeastern. Even without Henry, Izzo is bringing back a veteran core and will add a terrific three-man freshman class that includes a McDonald’s All-American in Christie."
►Michigan at No. 4: "The Wolverines likely lose Isaiah Livers and Franz Wagner to the NBA, but there's a strong chance they bring back second-team All-American Hunter Dickinson and key players in the nucleus. Coach Juwan Howard has hauled in a No. 1 recruiting class, per 247Sports, that’s headlined by five-stars Caleb Houstan and Moussa Diabate."
►Michigan State at No. 13: "Northeastern transfer Tyson Walker, one of the best mid-major guards in the country, chose the Spartans over Kansas and Maryland. He averaged 18.8 points and 4.8 assists and was the CAA defensive player of the year. He'll mesh with a returning roster of Joey Hauser and potentially leading scorer Aaron Henry if he holds off on the NBA. Five-star freshman Max Christie will add immediate scoring."