Spirits are high at Michigan State these days, as the Spartans are coming off the big win at Michigan on Sunday and now sit atop the Big Ten standings with just three games left in the regular season.
That’s a hot topic for readers of this week’s mailbag, as are the potential for individual accolades for guards Cassius Winston and Matt McQuaid.
As always, we look toward what’s next by delving into recruiting and who might head to the NBA a year ahead of time.
And with the NFL combine this week, we close with the prospects for Michigan State wide receiver Felton Davis, who is recovering from a ruptured Achilles.
►Question. Where does McQuaid stand in the DPOY race? — @mherek
►Answer. If we’re talking about the Big Ten, there’s a decent chance, but considering he’s in the same conference as Michigan’s Zavier Simpson, I’m betting it will be tough to move past the Wolverines’ guard. It’s not that McQuaid isn’t deserving — just ask Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, who has been offering weekly reminders of how the Spartans senior has been regularly shutting down the opponents’ top scorer on a recent basis. But a lot of it is perception, and the belief heading into the season as that Simpson was a great on-ball defender — which he is — while McQuaid didn’t have a reputation as an outstanding defender.
Right or wrong, that perception is tough to overcome, and if the semifinalists for national defensive player of the year is any indication, it means Simpson will be considered and McQuaid likely won’t. That said, if McQuaid doesn’t at least end up on the Big Ten All-Defensive team, then get rid of it. He doesn’t block shots like former Spartan Jaren Jackson Jr. did last season when he was named the conference’s top defender, but he is easily among the five best in the Big Ten this season.
►Q. Did Cassius (Winston) put himself in the National Player of the Year conversation or is it just a pipe dream? — @RandyCheadle
►A. He was probably already in the conversation, which means his performance in the victory over Michigan only guarantees the fact he’ll be considered and likely moves him up a few spots to some observers. Winston, who has been named Big Ten Player of the Week five times this season, is one of 30 players included on the midseason team for the 2019 Citizen Naismith Trophy Player of the Year Award, was selected to the John R. Wooden Award Late Season Top 20 Watch List, was named one of 10 candidates for the 2019 Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year Award and was one of 12 players selected to the Oscar Robertson Trophy final Midseason watch list.
So, yeah. Winston almost certainly will be named the conference’s top player and while there are plenty of flashier names that will garner national attention, you’d have to think Winston is quickly moving his way up.
►Q. With Rocket Watts seemingly in, where does this leave (Foster) Loyer? Does he stay as a backup or do you think he enters the portal? Do you believe the offer to (Julius) Marble is a "we'll take you if we don't find better?" Finally, who is the first '20 BB commit? I'll hang up and listen. — @pfnnewmedia
►A. Lots to unpack in this question, but we’ll start with Loyer. A lot will depend on what he wants. I don’t think Michigan State will be looking to force him out by any stretch, especially considering Watts is really more of a scorer. He’s listed as a “combo guard,” which means Watts can play point, but he’s really more of a two guard, leaving open the chance Loyer could still play himself into spelling Cassius Winston. Of course, that assumes Winston is back, which seems likely, but is far from a guarantee.
As for Marble, this is absolutely a legit offer. The idea of “we’ll take you if we don’t find better” would assume there’s someone better to find. I know some holler for a junior college player or a grad transfer, but Marble is rising fast and might end up being a top 100 player in the rankings when it’s all said and done.
The first 2020 commit? Man, I’m terrible at predicting where guys decide to go but I’ll say Flint Beecher guard Jalen Terry.
►Q. Scholarship breakdown for next year and incoming class now that Rocket is more solidified. What's going to happen for NBA prospect of Cassius, Joshua, and Nick? — @RandyCheadle
►A. If Watts signs, which I expect, and nobody leaves early, there is technically one scholarship open. Currently walk-on Conner George has what is basically and open scholarship, so if nothing changes and Marble commits, there would be room. That said, I still think Nick Ward will be gone next season, opening up another scholarship that might be banked and go back to a walk-on like George.
Ward almost certainly will enter the NBA Draft, as he did last year when he didn’t sign with an agent, went through individual workouts and decided to return to Michigan State. Whether he signs with an agent is the only question. I’d expect Winston to do the same in order to get feedback from folks at the NBA level. I do not think he leaves early, though, and will be back for his senior season. Joshua Langford’s injury almost certainly means he’ll be back next season.
►Q. I thought I read at the beginning of the season that Izzo was working on using a zone defense at times. Have we seen the zone? Do you expect to see it in the upcoming tournaments? — @patrickagains
►A. I remember at an early practice seeing them work on the zone and wondering aloud if this was the year we saw it. I did it half-joking. Izzo has a strong belief in the man-to-man defense the Spartans always have played, and it was a big enough shift for them to switch ball screens like they did on Sunday at Michigan. So, the easy answer to both questions is no.
►Q. Assuming MSU wins the next two games, is the UM game Tom Izzo’s most important Big Ten game to date? B1G title, 600th win, at home against biggest rival, last game of the season? — @AGallante
►A. Well, those would all make it pretty darned big. I don’t know; it’s tough to say where they all rank for him. There have been plenty of big ones in the moment — rolling over Michigan at home to close the 2000 season stands out — but overall, I’d hate to hazard a guess. I’ll be safe and say it would land in his top five.
►Q. What do you think will happen with Felton Davis? He seems to lack only elite speed and has every other attribute you could want. Assuming full recovery, why wouldn't he be drafted? — @DavidJa88692244
►A. This is a tough one because you’d have to think that speed could be affected by the Achilles injury. The tough part is he won’t get to show teams for quite a while, including at this week’s combine. He’ll be there to be interviewed and to go through medical testing, but he won’t be taking part in any of the on-field work. That means predicting whether Davis gets drafted or not is impossible right now. My guess is he does but it will be late.