MSU mailbag: Two-way street when going for decommits

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Joshua Langford

East Lansing — Not surprisingly, Nick Ward was a hot topic in this week’s Michigan State mailbag.

Ward, a sophomore center, played one minutes, 11 seconds in the second half of Michigan State’s victory at Rutgers on Tuesday, and was seen sitting quietly on the bench most of that time, even as his teammates were standing and cheering.

He and coach Tom Izzo tried to diffuse it after the game, saying everything was fine, however, the fans don’t seem convinced.

We hit that along with some football recruiting and whether or not the Spartans can go unbeaten in basketball this season in a clearly weak Big Ten.

Question. MSU have any desire or chance to look at the recruits who are bailing the schools who changed coaches? @bg8675309

Answer. Let’s be clear on this one — Michigan State would always be interested, though as always, it’s a two-way street.

There have been plenty of coaching changes already and not every schools has found a replacement yet, so it’s still sort of shaking out, though with early signing date on Dec. 20, there isn’t a lot of time if any of the players thinking of flipping want to enroll early.

One of the top names on the list for the Spartans is Muskegon dual-threat quarterback La’Darius Jefferson. Technically he decommitted from Central Florida before Scott Frost decided to take the head coaching job at Nebraska, but we’ll put him in here anyway. Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio and co-defensive coordinator Mike Tressel had an in-home visit with Jefferson this week, and the Spartans are seen as competing primarily with Indiana.

The Hoosiers have said they want Jefferson as a quarterback while MSU has been talking about running back for Jefferson with potentially getting a shot at quarterback.

One other name to keep an eye on is four-star athlete Braden Lenzy. He’s decommitted from Oregon now that coach Willie Taggart has left for Florida State. He had an offer from Michigan State and has visited, but he was once committed to Notre Dame, which means the Irish could figure in with Lenzy.

Q. Not really a question, I guess, but Nick Ward is an important piece of this team. Based on the tweets from his mom and the comments from him, I hope we can get his head back in this thing. We don’t need a fractured locker room. @matt7738

A. This, obviously, was a popular topic this week as @murph196 also wondered if there was a happy medium between “trust Izzo” and “free Nick Ward.” If there is a happy medium, I think we’re still a long way from finding it judging from the fan feedback I’ve received. It seems to be split pretty evenly.

As for Ward’s mom popping off on Twitter, I’m not sure where that plays into this. It’s not like she’d be the first parent to be frustrated with their kid’s role, but few make it public like that.

My gut tells me, as well as being around these guys a decent amount dating back to next year, is that it won’t lead to an issue in the locker room. There is still some sort of disconnect between the staff and Ward because when you ask Ward, he believes he’s playing good defense by asking who has scored on him.

However, he’s also admitted he’s struggled on ball screens. It’s a tough position considering how efficient Ward is offensively while lacking any consistency on defense. Of course, the opposite can be said for Gavin Schilling, whose strength is on defense.

That’s all my way of saying we’ll have to see, but I’d say the safe bet is to trust in Izzo and that this will eventually be looked at as just a rough patch in an otherwise solid season.

Q. Given how weak the Big Ten looks, do you see the team losing more than three games the rest of the way?@TheRealKzoury

A. Before the season I thought Michigan State would lose at least a couple of games considering it plays both Minnesota and Purdue on the road. But now I’m wondering if there’s a team that can challenge the Spartans. I still think the Gophers and Boilermakers have the players to do so, but to this point, they haven’t shown it.

I also believe Maryland, Michigan, Penn State and Northwestern will get better.

And, let’s be honest, Michigan State showed on Tuesday it can still deliver a clunker, and the fact it was playing a Rutgers team that couldn’t shoot straight was huge. Play that way against any of the teams mentioned and it results in a loss.

So, lose more than three? I say no way.

Go unbeaten in the Big Ten? Probably not.

Q. Heard anything on Izzo/staff possibly pursuing Brian Bowen since he won't be playing at Louisville? Know Izzo was on him in recruiting process. @nd_joyce

A. How do I put this politely? No chance. Look, Michigan State had pretty well backed off recruiting Bowen with any sort of significance well before he made his commitment to Louisville.

And, quite frankly, I’m not sure too many teams would be lining up to bring in a player that was part of an FBI investigation, one that alleges Adidas funneled $100,000 to the family of an unnamed player, later identified as Bowen, to sign with Louisville at the request of a Cardinals coach.

Q. What are the odds that Joshua Langford goes pro after this year? He's a former McDonald's All American that's played much better this year (excluding the Rutgers game). Seemed like he never got up to speed after his injury last year, but I've generally been impressed so far this year. @johns1pr

A. I would think a logical person would say, at least 10 games into the season, that Langford should not head to the NBA after this season. However, that rarely comes into play these days, and quite frankly, I wouldn’t guarantee any player on the roster returns. That said, I’d be surprised if anyone outside of Miles Bridges or Jaren Jackson Jr. does, in fact, leave early.

I’d put Nick Ward in the mildly surprised category because it was contemplated last season.

I think Langford needs to continue to become a better defender and the consistency still needs to develop. He’s a shooter, and some nights shots don’t fall, but he needs to consistently take better shots and make good decisions with the ball. As Izzo said after the Rutgers game, Langford invented some new shots.

Holiday Bowl

Michigan State vs. Washington State

Kickoff: 9 p.m. Dec. 28, SDCCU Stadium, San Diego

Records: Both teams are 9-3

TV/radio: FS1/760