As the wins keep piling up, the anticipation for Michigan State and Michigan squaring off in the final two weeks of the Big Ten regular season is growing.
Of course, there’s a way to go until that point, but that hasn’t stopped the speculation of which team will come out on top.
In this week’s mailbag we start to take an early peek at the matchup, and even dive into whether the next MSU head basketball coach is currently on staff.
And what would a mailbag be without some football? Recruiting is tackled, as well as the standard questioning of Dantonio’s choices with his coaching staff.
►Question. All the metrics say MSU and UofM are top 10 basketball teams this year. Do you agree? If both teams are completely healthy, who do you think is better? -— @randycharb
►Answer. It’s hard to argue with most of those metrics when you combine it with what you see with your own eyes. The only conclusion can be that the Spartans and Wolverines are among the best 10 teams in the nation, and as much as MSU fans might not love it, there’s a solid argument to make for the Wolverines being the best team in the nation. The beauty of college basketball is that every team gets to play for it, so we’ll figure it all out over the course of the next couple of months.
As for who’s better, that’s a tougher one to answer. Right now, it’s Michigan, especially considering Michigan State is without Joshua Langford and Kyle Ahrens. How quickly they’re both back is just as hard to predict, but let’s assume both are healthy by the time the teams meet on Feb. 24. It’s so close that I’ll take the easy way out and say they split with the home teams winning. I like the Ward-Teske matchup for MSU, but as we all know (it takes about 3 seconds to figure it out on social media) the Winston-Simpson matchup will be the one everyone will watch. There’s no doubt Simpson won that one last year, but Winston’s a different player now. So, we’ll see. I know I’m looking forward to it.
►Q. I’m pretty confident State can beat those pretenders "Wolverines.” What’s your take? — @KonamiJustin
►A. Well, I’m not sure how the Wolverines would be considered pretenders. I mean, their only loss since last February was the national title game, so I’d say they’re legit. OK, I get that is hard for fans in a rivalry to admit, so we’ll let it slide. As for what’s my take on whether Michigan State can beat Michigan? Of course they can, but it will be no walk in the park. As I said earlier, I’m eager to see how Winston plays against Simpson this year. He’s a stronger, smarter, more patient player now who doesn’t get rattled. Will that be the difference?
Also, so much of it comes down to getting Langford back. Yeah, he can commit some bad turnovers and is a streaky shooter, but his experience, ability to defend on the perimeter and how well he runs the floor have all been missed. Try and beat Michigan without that and it might not turn out very well.
►Q. With each year that Dane Fife stays on Izzo's staff, I feel that they are setting the table for a transition similar to Jud/Izzo. Hope Izzo stays forever, but knowing that isn't possible, do you see this as the most likely outcome once Izzo decides to retire? — @K_Schneider17
►A. Hmmm. I’m not so sure about that one. It’s not that anyone thinks Fife wouldn’t be capable, but there are several factors in play here, the most important that Fife absolutely has his eyes open every season for job openings. He nearly took the Duquesne job a couple of years ago, but felt he’d already been down that road after his time as the head coach at Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne. So, middle of the pack mid-major might not be what he’s looking for. If an athletic department from a major school is looking to turn around a program that’s stuck in the mud — Penn State???? — that might be a job he’d go after.
Also, let’s not count out Dwayne Stephens. He’s been in the mix for several head-coaching jobs over the years, but it’s never worked out. He’s highly respected in the profession, and he’s a former Spartan player. Hard to go wrong there.
My guess is the next coach might not be on the staff right now. If Mark Hollis was still the athletic director, I’d feel supremely confident in that. Now that Hollis is gone, I’m not sure the direction the Spartans would head, but they can rest assured knowing they have two solid candidates on staff now.
►Q. Safe to make the argument that Izzo might actually be at his best with no NBA-now young talent? That sequence against Penn State where Winston had about 5 turnovers on 5 possessions but stayed in. JJ and Deyonta Davis would have sat down immediately. Wish he’d let youngsters ride out storm. — @backpackeracker
►A. Not sure if it’s a safe argument but it’s a popular one, albeit a bit unfair. Most of Jaren Jackson’s problems with playing time had to do with the fact he was regularly in foul trouble. The real problem is fans can’t get the NCAA Tournament game vs. Syracuse out of their heads. Yeah, Jackson should have played more down the stretch, but Ben Carter didn’t miss the last 14 shots of the game. Davis is a tougher one, but while he was a solid rim protector, Davis was just scratching the surface of his ability. And I’m not so sure Davis was an NBA-now talent. Of all the guys that left early, he should have stayed. So, we’re really talking about one guy that everyone still thinks would have single-handedly beat Syracuse.
I’ll say this: Was the same argument being made about Gary Harris? How about Miles Bridges? Each of those guys logged heavy minutes, no matter how the game was going.
►Q. Any expectations for February signing day? — @JohnnyMacSparty
►A. Michigan State has landed another commitment since the early signing period in December — three-star wide receiver Tre’Von Morgan. A 6-foot-6, 215-pound, three-star prospect from Massillon, Ohio, Morgan adds a red-zone threat with Felton Davis off to the NFL. The Spartans are still in the market for a tight end and maybe another defensive tackle. Keep an eye on where tight end Brett Seither of Clearwater (Fla.) Catholic Central lands.
The biggest news on signing day will be whether Alante Brown signs. The high school quarterback from Chicago Simeon has been committed to Michigan State as a receiver, but did not sign in December. He said then he’s still committed to MSU and plans to sign in February, however, he’s since gained offers from the likes of Florida State, Iowa State and Cincinnati.
►Q. What position is Tate Hallock going to play? Who are guys that we should be excited about going into 2019 for football? — @RealKyleHoward
►A. The feeling is Hallock’s first reps will probably come on defense, most likely at safety. Obviously, Hallock played all over the field at Forest Hill Central in Grand Rapids, which made him an attractive prospect. But Mark Dantonio has likened Hallock to recently graduated Matt Morrissey, a five-year player who was a safety.
As for who to keep an eye on, there are some obvious ones in the freshman class, including offensive lineman Devontae Dobbs and defensive back Julian Barnett, both from Belleville. Both are the type of players that can make an immediate impact, while linebacker Luke Fulton is the exact sort of middle linebacker the Spartans love. Some of the young receivers will be interesting, including Tre Mosley and Jase Bowen. Add a few redshirt freshmen in there, too, including linebackers Edward Warinner and Jeslord Boateng, offensive lineman Jacob Isaia and defensive tackle Dashaun Mallory, as well as running back Elijah Collins and cornerbacks Kalon Gervin and Chris Jackson.
►Q. Are there some rules that says the press covering MSU football has to "make nice" with Dantonio? I think a question all Spartan fans would like answered is, “Since you didn't make any personnel changes to your offensive staff does that mean you are satisfied with their results?" — @SpartyNColumbus
►A. Sorry, no rules. And as I mentioned on Twitter, I’ll give you the answers even if they’re not the ones you want. We asked him that, numerous ways. His answer was clear: No, he wasn’t satisfied and that’s why he made the changes he did. Now, it might not be the changes many wanted, but it’s what he thinks will work. So, agree or not, it does answer the simple question of whether he’s satisfied.