It’s been a while since we’ve had a Michigan State mailbag, and since the calendar has suddenly opened up, what better time than now to dive into questions you might have?
As we looked at our televisions and wondered where the first-round NCAA Tournament games were, the questions flooded in. There was plenty of talk about the future of the basketball program, one that seemed primed for another deep tournament run but now contemplates what’s next, while the attention to football has hardly waned.
While fans won’t be getting a look at Mel Tucker’s team anytime soon — the spring game for April 18 has been canceled — the hope remains that preseason camp will start on time in August.
Until then, we’ll do our best to provide some answers.
►Question. Any basketball or football transfers worth knowing for potentially landing at MSU? I try not to get my hopes up for transfers. – @C_D_Zimmerman
►Answer. It’s probably a safe bet to not put too much stock on a transfer. I’m not saying it won’t happen and I guarantee both programs are taking a look, but the fit would have to be pretty specific. It’s the same question we got from our friend @daveholz, so there’s definitely folks paying attention. In football it would seem quarterback is the most likely spot to find some help, but with the players still available, I’m not sure any end up in East Lansing.
In hoops, of course, point guard would always be a position to keep an eye on while a big man could be on the wish list if Xavier Tillman decides to head to the NBA. Harvard point guard Bryce Aiken would seem to fit that bill, and according to reports, he’s interested in MSU. The question is if MSU is interested.
►Q. What is your gut feeling on Tillman Sr. returning? How much does not having a tourney this year affect his decision? – @BFlowSpartan
►A. My gut feeling is Tillman would love to stay but it might be hard not to leave. A lot will depend on what the NBA folks are telling him and Tom Izzo. There’s a chance if Tillman grades out as a fringe first-round he’d stay. But if he gets a first-round grade, I’d expect him to leave. The only issue here is how will the draft and workouts leading up to it be affected over the next few months.
►Q. So missing the NCAA Tournament (my favorite sporting event of the year)! My question is do you think Rocket Watts will be MSU leading scorer next season? – @JWilliamsMSUFan
►A. I feel your pain. It was tough when noon rolled around on Thursday and my TV wasn’t set to games for the next 12 hours. Alas, we must move on. I’m not sure if Watts is the leading scorer but I feel safe saying he’ll probably take the most shots. That, of course, means he’s got a pretty good shot to lead the team, but there’s also a good chance he’s getting heavy minutes at point guard, meaning he’ll have to be just as effective getting others involved.
The way he played down the stretch this season, though, showed he is on track to balancing his roles as distributor and scorer. His shot selection was much better and he started to become one of the most important parts of the offense.
►Q. What are the actual chances Emoni Bates comes to MSU? – @CoachNoffke @TroyBrinkel
►A. This was essentially the same question from two readers (and many others for that matter). The key here is if Bates ends up reclassifying to the 2021 class. If not, he’ll be in the 2022 class and many believe by then the age limit will be waived by the NBA and Bates would forgo a college career. If he reclassifies, the chances are very good he ends up at Michigan State. You can bet the likes of Duke and Kentucky will be involved, but Bates has spent so much time in East Lansing over the last two years and says MSU is his dream school. I know, others have said that in the past, but if I had to pick right now, I’d say Bates is wearing green and white if he ends up in the ’21 class.
►Q. Do you expect any transfers from the basketball program? What do you think happened to Gabe Brown, and how does he get his aggressiveness back? Do you think Marcus) Bingham will develop into a starting center who can play 25 minutes a game night in and night out? –@WaiteMarc
►A. Marc’s got a lot on his mind. We touched on the transfer issue earlier and I’d say it’s a possibility right now with point guard the most likely position being considered. Brown is a tough case to dissect. He’s loaded with talent and potential. A great shooter who has the ability to attack the basket, Brown struggled defensively at times and his confidence too often takes big swings. If he can find some consistency, Brown could still be a difference-maker for this team. As for Bingham, I don’t know. I’ve gone back and forth on him a lot. He clearly causes problems with his length, but he still isn’t strong enough to play on a regular basis. Can that change in an offseason? Hard to say, but if it does, he can absolutely become a key part of the rotation.
►Q. What’s the latest on Karim Mane? – @EhEnDeeWhy
►A. The 6-foot-4 guard from Canada has drawn plenty of interest, including Izzo, who has been to Montreal several times to see Mane. He’d seem to be a perfect fit for the Spartans, but they aren’t alone in their pursuit. Marquette and DePaul are pushing hard while teams like Maryland, and Georgetown are also making a push.
►Q. Super-early starting lineups for FB? – @Aurelius291
►A. This could be a whole story but we’ll try and fit it in here, so I’ll be light with the explanation. Offensive line I’ll go with LT: Devontae Dobbs, LG: J.D. Duplain, C: Nick Samac, RG: Kevin Jarvis, RT: Jordan Reid. As for skill positions, TE: Trenton Gillison, WR: Jalen Nailor, WR Tre Mosley, WR: Jayden Reed, RB: Elijah Collins. Quarterback is the tough one. At this point, it seems like the roster won’t change. I’ll go out on a bit of a limb and say, Payton Thorne.
Defensively we’ll start up front in what should be a 3-4 and say, DE: Jacub Panasiuk, DE: Michael Fletcher, DT: Naquan Jones. From there it gets tougher, but we’ll say OLB: Antjuan Simmons, OLB: Chase Kline, ILB: Jeslord Boateng, ILB: Noah Harvey. At defensive back, there are sure to be some battles. We’ll say, CB: Shakur Brown, CB: Julian Barnett, S: Xavier Henderson, S: Michael Dowell.
Special teams would have Matt Coghlin as the kicker, Jack Bouwmeester at punter and a host of potential return men from Nailor to Laress Nelson to Barnett to Anthony Williams and probably a few more.
►Q. What do you make of the new aggressive recruiting approach? Do you think they'll be able to rebuild the recruiting bridges in Detroit and what's the odds someone not named Lombardi is the starting QB? – @pfnnewmedia
►A. The aggressive approach was absolutely necessary, especially after things had grown stagnant. Building a better relationship in Detroit is never a bad thing, but that was hardly the only place the Spartans had been lacking. Things have fallen off throughout the state as more recruits they had targeted ended up at places like Northwestern, Purdue and Kentucky. Getting those types of players back, regardless of region, will be critical.
As for the quarterback situation, I’d say it’s absolutely possible Rocky Lombardi is not the starter. It’s far from a guarantee and it’s too bad spring practice has been canceled. It would have provided the chance for all the quarterbacks to stand out and for those who didn’t to contemplate their futures.
►Q. Does Mel Tucker land any 4-star prospects for 2020? – @Gottabesweet
►A. I’ll just play the odds and say he does. It’s hard not to get caught up in the buzz that is surrounding the program and it seems likely that leads to landing at least a few four-star prospects. There is no shortage of offers and plenty of players are including Michigan State in the schools they are considering. Again, I’m no expert in predicting what’s in the mind of a high school senior, but I’d be surprised if Michigan State didn’t do better than a three star in 2021.