Michigan State Basketball: Why Spartans Must Go All in on Cliff Alexander

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Michigan State Basketball: Why Spartans Must Go All in on Cliff Alexander
Chicago Curie's Cliff Alexander has MSU in his top five.

Michigan State's Tom Izzo will soon find out if one of 2014's prime-time targets will choose the Spartans. 

Chicago Curie's Cliff Alexander, the No. 3-ranked prospect at power forward of this upcoming graduating class, according to 247Sports, is being pursued by heavies from across the country.

With bated breath, fans of multiple programs have waited for months to hear the news. The same could probably be said about Izzo, who needs an upper-echelon commit to round out his upcoming haul. 

Nov. 16 is just around the corner. So who are the lucky potential suitors? Well, bet your bottom dollar that the Spartans—who were once considered favorites to land the 6'9", 240-pound power forward—will be in the race until the very end.

If successful in getting Alexander, Izzo would have two pieces of a national-championship puzzle in place. Just weeks ago, Lourawls Nairn, a 5'10", 165-pound point guard out of Wichita Sunrise Christian, committed to Michigan State. 

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Nairn's leadership has been compared to that of former Spartans star Mateen Cleaves, who is arguably the finest point guard in program history. Forging ahead after an ankle injury, Cleaves' inspirational and gutty performance shoved Michigan State to an 89-76 national title victory over coach Billy Donovan's Florida Gators in 2000. 

So yeah, Izzo has a beyond-decent point guard rearing to go at the Big Ten next season. All he needs is another Adreian Payne-like big man to complement his new Mateen

And that's clearly Alexander. 

 

Cliff Equals Power

With Payne graduating this spring, and most likely heading to the NBA, the Spartans are going to need another dominant force in the paint. Alexander is that ball-swatting, rim-wrecking hurricane, and he's even likened himself to Payne, who is a national player of the year candidate. 

And it certainly doesn't hurt that Alexander holds Mr. March in high regard. 

"Izzo. Everything. I like everything about them. Izzo is a great guy. I love him," Alexander recently told ChicagoHoopsMedia (via YouTube). 

Michigan State's success has always been directly influenced by a great point man. Kalin Lucas, Drew Neitzel and Cleaves are examples of that. Go back to the mid-1980s, and it was Scott Skiles carrying the load. 

But Izzo has made leaps and bounds with bigs, too.

As a junior, Paul Davis was a fantastic contributor to the Spartans' dash to the 2005 Final Four. Not exactly a big, Draymond Green, then a sophomore, helped mold a hard-nosed team that reached the 2010 Final Four.  

The point is that guards aren't always the catalysts. They've happened to be more often than not, but centers and forwards have also proven vital to Izzo's winning ways. 

Michigan State needs that presence in the coming years. 

 

Future Success Hinges on 2014 Crop

Cliff Alexander has a monumental decision to make.

Keith Appling is a senior. Gary Harris, a sophomore, will most likely go pro after this year. Payne is done, too. Branden Dawson, a junior, is a 'tweener. If he has a standout season, he could declare for the 2014 draft. 

So then what?

The Spartans wouldn't have headline talent after those four move on in life and basketball. Compounding matters, Izzo failed to land Jabari Parker, one of the top recruits of 2013, who instead chose Duke. (Maybe he didn't think he'd look good in green and white? Who knows?)

Izzo landed a respectable 2013 class with power forward Gavin Schilling and shooting guard Alvin Ellis. They're both rated as 3-star recruits by 247Sports. Not stars—but far from average. It'll take a little work on Izzo's end, but they could develop into far better athletes than most may expect. 

But that's a lot of "ifs" and "coulds." At this point, Spartans fans are yearning for the sure-shots, the 4- and 5-star guys, who are all but guaranteed to produce from the get-go. 

Alexander appears to be such an athlete. 

 

Get Him or Play Against Him

Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports
Illinois' John Groce is making power moves toward Cliff Alexander.

Izzo faces a dilemma: Either he gets Alexander to sign on the dotted line come signing day, or he risks playing against him up to three times a year—if not more.

If Illinois gets Alexander, the Spartans could see him up to twice in the regular season, once in the Big Ten Tournament and perhaps down the line in March Madness. 

Illinois has crept into the forefront during recent weeks, and head coach John Groce's hiring of Paris Parham is one of the main reasons. Talk about a power move. Groce knows what he's doing, and he's doing it well. 

Parham, according to the Chicago Sun-Times' Joe Henrickson, has plenty of Chicago ties. The Windy City is a basketball mecca, so that's more than helpful when it comes to recruiting. 

Izzo hasn't secured a genuine blue chip from Chicagoland since getting the word from Shannon Brown, formerly of Proviso East in Maywood, more than 10 years ago. Michigan State is due for a little Chicago flair.

Again, Alexander is that guy. 

The recruiting process can take its toll on a young star. That much was clear from one of Alexander's recent Twitter posts.

The following post could also reflect Alexander's mood through the whirlwind that is his recruitment.

Fair enough.

But Izzo better make sure that he's one of the selected few that receive the digits to Alexander's cell phone when it comes time to contact him.

The immediate future of Spartans hoops hinges on Izzo's ability to get the cream of the crop.

And yes, that is Alexander. 

 

Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan State Spartans basketball writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

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