Michigan State might be pushing all of its chips into the middle of the table.
As teams scramble to land the final few commitments for the 2020 class and pick over the transfer portal, Tom Izzo and his staff appear to be betting on their chances with one of the few blue-chip recruits still available – guard Karim Mane.
“I think Karim is option one, two and three right now,” said Corey Evans, national basketball analyst at Rivals.com.
The 6-foot-5, 195-pound combo guard from Vanier College in Montreal has been a target of the Spartans for quite some time and Izzo has made multiple trips north of the border to check out a player that is ranked the 25th best player in the class, according to 247sports.com, and the fifth-best combo guard.
But until the past week or so, Mane wasn’t the only option as the Spartans take the first steps toward life without Cassius Winston. Foster Loyer is expected back for his junior season but has struggled to this point, while Michigan State is also bringing in AJ Hoggard, a top-100 prospect who can play both guard positions.
Even when Hoggard and big man Mady Sissoko signed last November, Izzo talked about bringing in one more guard, leading the Spartans to kick the tires the last few weeks on a handful of transfers, including Harvard’s Bryce Aiken, Radford’s Carlik Jones and UNLV’s Amauri Hardy.
Each of those players has already committed elsewhere, with Aiken headed to Seton Hall, Jones to Louisville and Hardy, the Detroit native, going to Oregon. But how much Michigan State as truly interested remains a question mark.
“With those transfers, they're leaving for a reason,” Evans said. “Those guys want a bigger piece of the pie, somewhat, and there's a select few that have worked out. I think (Izzo) understands that even the guys that you think are going to be really good, most of those guys are coming from mid-major level and very (rarely) do they succeed. I think a place like Michigan State, where the X is on your back every time down the floor, it’s going to be hard to bring in a guy like that.”
This means, if Michigan State is to add another player to the roster before next season, it will likely be Mane or bust.
The competition hasn’t lessened, even as it is becoming more difficult for teams to recruit. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, in-person recruiting has been halted and players are unable to visit campuses. That’s something Mane has done at Maryland and Marquette and was planning to do at Michigan State before things were shut down.
For the past few months, the crystal ball predictions at 247sports have been focused on Marquette. This week, though, one analyst at Rivals placed his bet on Michigan State. In the meantime, programs like Memphis and Alabama have turned up the heat and Mane, 19, has the option of declaring for the NBA Draft.
“It's an option,” Evans said of the NBA. “Marquette was in early and it might hurt them that they lost their lead assistant, Stan Johnson, to the Loyola Marymount head coaching job. But he developed a good enough relationship with (Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski), but right now he's wide open. It’s Alabama, it’s Memphis, it's Pittsburgh, it’s DePaul, it's Michigan State, it’s Maryland. So the list is actually expanding before it's being cut down.”
If Michigan State is unable to land Mane, it likely heads into the 2020-21 season with Loyer and Hoggard as the only true point guards while increasing the likelihood that sophomore Rocket Watts gets much more time running the offense.
Watts’ role, of course, could be determined, too, by the decision still to come from Joshua Langford. After missing the better part of the last two seasons with a foot injury, Langford has left open the option of returning for a fifth season. If he does, shifting Watts to the point would free up more minutes for both.
There’s no timetable for Langford’s decision and he wasn’t offering any hints when Michigan State played its final game in early March.
“I'm not in a rush,” Langford said, “but at the same time I don't want to wait too long.”
When a decision from Mane will be coming is anyone’s guess at this point, as well. When it does come, the Spartans will be paying close attention.
“This dude is not budging,” Evans said. “When I talked with him two weeks ago about how long this could go, he doesn't care. It doesn't really impact him whatsoever.
“So I think it's a wait and see approach. I mean, the kid could commit tomorrow or he can commit in June, July. If there's gonna be no offseason and getting guys on campus, I guess what is the rush? If he can take the visits before making a decision, which is what he wants to do, then that's probably the route he's gonna go.”