Michigan State Basketball: 5 Storylines from Spartans' 2014 Recruiting Trail
Tom Izzo's Michigan State Spartans are already considered a heavyweight entering the upcoming 2013-14 season by just about anyone who's anyone in the world of college basketball analysts.
ESPN's Dick Vitale likes what he sees when he looks at the perennial Izzo-led powerhouse, dubbing this year's edition as possibly the best ever (h/t Mike Griffith of MLive) at Michigan State in an interview with WXMI-TV.
That sentiment could be debated, but if the Spartans want to have the same expectations come 2014-15, they have to take care of business during the current recruiting period.
Michigan State has a strong foothold when it comes to landing a few of the 2014 class' biggest names. Already in pursuit of the likes of Jahlil Okafor, the country's No. 2 player, according to 247Sports.com's composite rankings, the Spartans stand secure on at least a couple of highly touted prospects for their next collection of talent.
If Michigan State secures the commitment of Okafor, the top-rated center of 2014, it could easily be considered a national title contender for 2014-15.
But Okafor isn't the only guy who Izzo has eyes for.
The storylines are thick with dramatics, so pay close attention to this slideshow, as it'll make a few things clear on what and who to watch for during Izzo's "other" season.
*Unless noted otherwise, stats and information are courtesy of 247Sports.
Izzo's Battles with Duke and Kentucky
Izzo already lost out on the 2013 Jabari Parker sweepstakes.
Once considered a heavy Michigan State-lean, Parker, a Chicago Simeon superstar, pulled away from the Spartans at the last minute, choosing coach Mike Krzyzewski's elite program over Izzo's elite program.
But the tug-of-war with Coach K isn't over—he's hot on the trail for Okafor, too.
According to Okafor's visit timeline on 247Sports.com, Izzo was the last to visit him (April 23). But that doesn't mean that Michigan State is in the lead by any means whatsoever.
It'll be interesting to see if Izzo can rebound from the Parker debacle and lay claim to Okafor, one of the top prizes of the 2014 haul.
Kentucky's John Calipari is in the mix, too; he already snatched Karl Towns Jr., a 2015 phenom who's been compared to Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki, from Izzo's hand. Calipari stocks 5-star recruits like it's going out of style, so be sure to maintain focus on the war for Okafor.
Where he'll go is anybody's guess at this point. However, 247Sports' Jerry Meyer forecasts that Okafor will commit to Duke.
Meyer also sees Tyus Jones, a 6'1", 170-pound, 5-star rated product from Apple Valley High (Saint Paul, Minn.), committing to Coach K's Blue Devils. Jones, like most other 5-star prospects, has an offer from Duke and Kentucky.
Izzo is no stranger to scrums with the elite of the NCAA coaching world. He's not one to really seek the services on potential one-and-doners, but he's bent on winning his second national championship—and those one-and-done talents certainly help get the mission accomplished.
Where Will Cliff Alexander Go?
As mentioned in the previous slide, the Kentuckys and Dukes of the world frequently vie for the attention of the nation's 5-star high school talent.
Cliff Alexander is no different.
As the No. 4 power forward of 2014 and the No. 12 overall prospect, according to 247Sports, the 6'9", 240-pound Chicago Curie bulldozer has caught the eye of Coach Cal and Coach K.
But Izzo wants him, too.
If Izzo can get a firm hold on Chicago, he could end up getting Okafor and Alexander, teammates on the AAU Mac Irvin Fire.
Michigan State is among Alexander's top three, which also includes Illinois and Kentucky, according to Ben Roberts of the Lexington Herald-Leader (h/t Tom Fornelli of SB Nation blog, the Champaign Room.
How Will the Chicagoland Area Treat Izzo?
No less than four potential 2014 recruits hail from the Chicagoland area.
Izzo has three open scholarships and 12 offers on the table, according to VerbalCommits.com.
Here's a rundown of Chi-Town talent that could make its way to East Lansing in 2014 (via 247Sports' list of Spartans targets).
Let's start by pointing out that Michigan State has needs at guard and at forward/center—so do a lot of programs. Obviously, getting Okafor and Alexander would be the best-case scenario.
Izzo could fill a roster spot with Ulis, a bit undersized at 5'8" and 150 pounds; he's a 3-star prospect based primarily on his size. Ulis has good ball-handling skills and developing shooting and passing abilities. Think of him as a really small Kalin Lucas-type—a speedster who lacks ideal stature.
Chicago has been heralded as a premier breeding ground of talent. Izzo knows the areas to tap, and Chicago is one of them. In the past, Flint, Saginaw and Detroit have been great to the Spartans.
Today, Izzo is scouring Chicago and Indianapolis, another great prep-producing metropolis, for the next big thing in Spartans basketball.
Getting in close to Okafor and/or Alexander should be Izzo's goal. As AAU teammates, they most likely have a bit of influence on one another.
Will Izzo Grab an Under-the-Radar Player?
In college basketball, getting the most bang for the proverbial buck is the intention.
It's not like Izzo has the luxury of bringing in a dozen or so players each year—or more—like his counterpart, Spartans football coach Mark Dantonio, does.
With three open spots, it'd be a stretch to say that Izzo will fill each with a 5-star player—though that's the idea—but hey, that's more of Kentucky's thing.
Izzo has done wonders with lower-rated guys in the past, and he'll continue doing so in the future.
So, in the event that Michigan State whiffs on Okafor, Izzo will have to use Plan B in order to get a quality big man—and that could be Cedar Springs' Brad Brechting, an unrated player on 247Sports' scale.
At 6'10" and 200 pounds, Brechting possesses Big Ten size; he could be a diamond in the rough. Detroit Pershing's Justin Tillman, an unrated, 6'7", 190-pound power forward, may be a viable option, too.
Chances are, Brechting would have to prove himself as a walk-on—it's doubtful that Izzo would use a scholarship on him. However, Tillman could collect an offer from Michigan State—he already has offers from Detroit Mercy, Bowling Green and Indiana State.
[View the Spartans' target list to see other players who may fit the bill of "under-the-radar"]
Will 2014 Be a Disappointment?
With the way things are going for Duke and Kentucky, it's possible that they could sweep Izzo's 5-star targets from underneath Michigan State's feet.
That wouldn't be kosher for Spartans followers, who already suffered through the loss of Jabari Parker.
Will 2014 be a repeat? Will the Spartans fail to fill their grocery bag with a 5-star prize?
As of now, Izzo has enough recruits in his line of sight to avoid a 2013-like mishap—and it's not like help isn't on the way for this upcoming season either. Gavin Schilling, a 3-star forward, and Alvin Ellis, a 3-star guard, are set to join the Spartans this fall.
Kevon Looney, a 5-star small forward may find his way to East Lansing. The same could be true for 4-star talents Devin Booker, a shooting guard, and Abdul Malik Abu, a power forward.
Their interest in Michigan State is "cool," according to 247Sports. That could be because they know how hard Izzo is pursuing Cliff Alexander, Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones.
But Looney, Booker and Abu wouldn't be bad consolation prizes by any stretch of the imagination.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan State Spartans basketball writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81