You will not find many better basketball rivalries across the landscape of college sports than the one that the Michigan Wolverines and Michigan State Spartans have been involved in for a better part of the last decade or so. While Tom Izzo’s program is among the most decorated in the country, Michigan has been no slouch in recent seasons, spearheaded by the program’s turnaround under former head coach John Beilein.
Juwan Howard is on the sidelines now and looks the part of a coach that can be successful at Michigan after a 19-12 campaign in a pandemic-shortened debut season on the bench. A lot of narratives are still to be written, especially without the benefit of a postseason to judge him by.
It’s what makes what is currently in motion so exciting as someone who just likes to watch good, competitive basketball with something on the line. Howard has his 2021 class started with a pair of commitments in four-star guard Isaiah Barnes and three-star forward Will Tschetter — both prospects seen as rising recruits after strong junior seasons. They are the first two of what could be a recruiting class that features as many as seven new faces.
For Michigan State, it has been a bit of a sexier start to the 2021 cycle for them with commitments from four-star guard Pierre Brooks and five-star guard Max Christie, who committed to the program on Tuesday and is seen as a top-15 prospect. It also appears possible that 2022 phenom Emoni Bates — the top basketball prospect in the world, regardless of class — might reclassify and join the Spartans for the 2021-22 season. There are still doubts as to whether he will ever play college hoops, but he maintains that the NBA G-League is not an option and for now, the plan is to play in East Lansing.
Now, some of you may be thinking, “This is a Michigan blog. Why are we taking the time to sing the praises of MSU basketball?”
Well, that’s not exactly what we are here for. Izzo does deserve credit for suddenly flipping a switch on the recruiting trail, as his last four classes have ranked 45th, 26th, 17th and 49th. His current batch ranks fourth in the country, so we are simply here to size them up as the formidable foe that they are. Regardless of rankings, we know the types of teams Izzo usually has, anyway.
Michigan can’t match with an Emoni Bates-type acquisition, so his status is the wild card here right now. However, they may be able to answer with the addition of any combination of five-star prospects such as combo guard Jalen Warley, big men Charles Bediako and Efton Reid, wings Matthew Cleveland, Trevor Keels and Harrison Ingram and more. With so many spots to fill and the voice that Howard has found on the recruiting trail, there could be a nice crop of NBA Draft lottery-potential recruits playing between a pair of rivals.
That seems like a heck of a lot of fun to think about, regardless of who you root for.
Howard has a ton to prove still, especially in closing the deal on the recruiting trail. Right now, he has more spots to fill than Izzo will for the 2021 class and a lot of young faces will be leading the way when the 2021-22 season rolls around. There is a nice young core of recruits in place already with Hunter Dickinson, Terrance Williams, Zeb Jackson, Jace Howard, Barnes, and Tschetter so far.
Those figures to be program guys who stick around for more than a few seasons and all of them have the look of players you can compete with. What will determine Michigan’s season is hitting on some of these bigger names moving forward, especially now that they find themselves in a little bit of an arm’s race with the program they measure themselves against in the state.
Still, it is hard to think of more exciting scenarios in play for basketball in the state of Michigan in a post-Fab Five era. Izzo appears to have found his second wind on the recruiting trail and the allure of Bates being associated with the brand at all will draw more eyeballs to what’s going on in East Lansing. Howard has his work cut out for him in making sure the Block M still sells itself, as well. So far, he seems to be doing a pretty good job with it, but there is still work to be done.
There’s a vested interest here in Michigan winning more of these battles than losing them, but as someone who loves the game of basketball and the ability to showcase a sports state that is sometimes slept on, I’m all for what the future looks like for both of these programs.