MSU mailbag: Next loss in hoops, recruiting wish list
East Lansing — With the early signing period closing for football and basketball ready to head into a quick holiday break, Michigan State fans are looking ahead.
For football, we take a look in this week’s mailbag at how the Spartans might finish the 2018 recruiting class, while also taking a peak at Washington State heading into next week’s Holiday Bowl.
With the basketball team, there’s continued concern over the mounting turnovers while a guess at when the Spartans might lose again.
■ Question: Which game for MSU men’s BB is most likely for an upset in the remaining schedule? Assuming we are favored in all of them. — @BrianHi76643923
■ Answer: On New Year’s Eve against Savannah State. OK, I don’t really mean that. This actually is kind of a tough one because Michigan State is better than every team left on its schedule. Of course, we all know that guarantees nothing, and the odds of going unbeaten the rest of the way aren’t great. So yeah, there’s gonna a loss or two in there and any one would be labeled an upset. So where will it come? How about I give you some that all might equally be difficult for different reasons?
At Ohio State on Jan. 7 could be interesting, just because the Buckeyes are playing better than most expected and it’s on the road. At Maryland on Jan. 28 seems like a prime spot for a potential upset considering the talented youth of the Terrapins and the difficult atmosphere in College Park. After that, the best chance is probably in February with five of seven games on the road. The toughest of that is a three-game stretch at home against Purdue followed by road games with Minnesota and Northwestern. Whether it’s the first loss or not, odds are not great of going 3-0 there.
■ Q. If there’s two late add-ons to this football recruiting class, who does the staff need the most.... I’m thinking O/D-linemen. — @chuckgsparty
■ A. I think you’re right on when thinking defensive lineman. Mark Dantonio said openly in his press conference on Wednesday that the Spartans are looking to add another defensive lineman and co-defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett said they were looking specifically for a defensive tackle. Tennessee Pututau of Salt Lake City East and Jackson Cravens of Provo (Utah) Timpview are on the list. So that spot is at the top of the list, while offensive line coach Mark Staten would love to add another player up front. The Spartans signed three offensive linemen, but as Staten said, he’s selfish and always wants more, so don’t rule that out.
The other position to keep an eye on is wide receiver. Michigan State is still pursuing Tommy Bush of Schertz, Texas, though the four-star is also at the top of the list for Georgia and has multiple major offers. The Spartans are also hoping to get Jalen Nailor of Las Vegas Bishop Gorman on campus for a visit.
■ Q. What do you make of MSU’s turnover issues? Is that something that could prevent this team from being great? — @TheRealTHort
■ A. It’s a bit confounding considering the number of turnovers that seem to come from a simple lack of focus. Tom Izzo describes them as casual turnovers and after Monday’s win over Houston Baptist, he was about to lose it over the turnovers. He had a few issues that night, but turnovers is one that hasn’t gone away dating to last season. Practices were closed the last two days and Izzo said he was going to do whatever it took to fix them. I can only imagine how that went. To the players’ credit — Cassius Winston, in particular — say they recognize the problem, too. The next step is eliminating them.
■ Q. Do you think MSU will give Wazzu a few 3-4 looks to give their offense a little confusion? — @LuGWit
■ A. Well, I’m not sure how much it will be for confusion, but Michigan State often runs a 3-4 as its nickel package. The fifth defensive back has varied as sometimes it’s another corner, other times it’s been a safety and there’s even been time or two it’s been another linebacker. But considering the fact Washington State throws the ball more than 55 times a game, I’d expect a fifth defensive back on the field quite a bit while you’ll see plenty of rotating at the linebacker spot, too, with freshman Antjuan Simmons likely getting plenty of work. It’s an offense that the Spartans never have really seen, so expect some adjustments once the game gets rolling, as well.
■ Q. We have all heard a lot about the WSU offense, but the WSU defense is actually pretty stout. How big of a surprise might the WSU defense be for MSU fans? — @Adam_Burke
■ A. Hey, it surprised me once I really started diving into things, and I feel like I followed it pretty well considering I did try and put some effort into my top-25 vote. But one look at the numbers and it shows just how good the Cougars have been this season. They’re second in the Pac-12 in total defense and fourth in scoring defense. Washington State ranks first in pass defense at 167.4 yards a game and created a league-best 27 turnovers.
The Cougars were prone to some duds, too, not completely unlike Michigan State. The allowed 37 points in a loss to California, 58 in a loss at Arizona and 41 in the Apple Cup loss to Washington. So, there are points to be scored.