Apr. 22—Roster management always has been critical for college basketball teams.
How many players to sign in each class? Who's heading early to the NBA? Who is looking to leave? It's always been something programs have had to contend with, but with the inception of the NCAA transfer portal and the decision by the Division I Council to grant players a one-time transfer without being forced to sit out a season, things have changed significantly.
The new transfer rule likely will be ratified later this month, and in anticipation of that ruling, players have been jumping into the portal early and often.
Michigan State has been no exception. When the Spartans' season ended last month after a loss to UCLA in the First Four of the NCAA Tournament, they faced a potentially crowded locker room as they looked toward the 2021-22 season.
At that moment, Michigan State was one over the scholarship limit of 13, including the three-man incoming recruiting class of 2021. And there was no word on whether Joshua Langford was planning to return for another season, though his scholarship would not have counted toward the maximum number allowed.
With one more player on the roster than scholarships, it was clear there was going to be some shuffling. The first move came when sophomore guard Rocket Watts entered the portal, getting Michigan State down to the limit of 13. However, a little more than a week later, Michigan State already was back over the limit as it welcomed incoming transfer Tyson Walker, a point guard from Northeastern.
On April 12, Aaron Henry announced he was forgoing his senior year and declaring for the NBA Draft, the one move many expected. It got Michigan State back down to 13, though it was hardly the end of the juggling.
Next came the transfer of junior forward Thomas Kithier followed by the same decision for junior guard Foster Loyer. Suddenly, the Spartans find themselves with 11 scholarships accounted for heading into next season.
It begs the question: What does Tom Izzo do with the two available scholarships? It's hardly clear-cut, so here are some of the most likely options.
Sign another guard
With the departure of both Watts and Loyer, it might seem logical to add another guard through the portal, even including the arrival of Walker, a player most expect to come in and start immediately for the Spartans.
However, it's not like there will be a ton of minutes available for an incoming guard, considering Walker and incoming freshman Jaden Akins likely will split most of the point guard duties while A.J. Hoggard will have a chance to build off a decent freshman season.
The playing time on the wing will be just as hotly contested as Gabe Brown enters his senior year while incoming freshmen Max Christie and Pierre Brooks II almost certainly will be in the playing rotation early.
Is there room for someone else? Perhaps a stone-cold shooter? Maybe. There are plenty of names in the portal right now of guards who could fit that spot for the Spartans. The question might be whether anyone looking for a new home would want to come to a roster with no guarantee of how much they'll see the court.
Sign another big man
This is a better idea in theory than it might be in reality this season. Why? As of right now, there's not a ton of big men in the portal who would offer a significant upgrade to what Michigan State has.
Yes, they lost Kithier, but Marcus Bingham and Julius Marble both played well late last season, and there's at least the hope they'll continue that progression and become contributing pieces to a team that will be talented in the backcourt. Also, Mady Sissoko continues to just scratch the surface of his potential. Is it worth taking minutes from him and potentially hurting his development?
At the power forward spot, Joey Hauser is expected to rediscover his confidence while Malik Hall has been slowly developing into one of Michigan State's most reliable front-court players. Both have the ability to score from the perimeter, while Hall can guard multiple positions.
If there was a big man available worthy of 25 minutes a game, maybe Michigan State goes after that guy. As of right now, any potential names — Penn State's John Harrar, Rutgers' Myles Johnson — have made their choices.
In the past, going into a season with two open scholarships would have been a bad move. But in this day and age, flexibility will be critical. There's no telling when a player might enter the portal, meaning the Spartans could suddenly find themselves in the market for a player over the summer, or in need of filling another hole.
Roster flexibility will be important at that point, and having the open spots might not be the worst move ever for a team like Michigan State, which has plenty of pieces to contend for a conference title and beyond. Having the ability to add a player that might make the Spartans a Final Four contender could be valuable, and not jumping on a player early for the sake of filling the roster could be huge.
There's one wild card in this scenario as well — Emoni Bates.
There's no word whether the MSU commit from Ypsilanti Prep will reclassify to 2021 or that he'll ever play college basketball. But if he decides to make that move and head to East Lansing, having at least one scholarship in his pocket will be remarkably valuable for Izzo.