Caleb Swanigan is a 6’9″ big man (emphasis on “big”) from Ft. Wayne, Indiana who ended one of the wilder recruitments in recent memory with a commitment to MSU which caught many off guard. However when viewed through the prism of the entire recruitment, it really shouldn’t have been that surprising. MSU was the first major program to offer him IIRC…they were certainly the one he warmed to early on. I still remember reading enthusastic tweets from him two years ago from Midnight Madness in East Lansing…MSU was on him hard for a long, long time. Now, that doesn’t always seal the deal but in this case, I think the depth of the relationship and the obvious fit between player and program ultimately got the job done. He’s MSU’s first top 10 consensus recruit since Shannon Brown, so it’s a big, big deal.
What MSU is getting as a player is a unique set of attributes in the modern game. First and foremost, Caleb is a dominant low blocks player. Now, he’s not at the Okafor level but we’re still talking about a kid who should be among the best low post players in the entire conference from the moment he steps on the court…I’d guess that the only guy in the Big Ten who can lay claim to a similarly advanced set of post skills would be Diamond Stone. Caleb has exceptional hands, great footwork and a nice sense of space and angles and ability to use his body to create them with. That matters because he’s not an explosive athlete, so when you have to play below the rim, you need to carve out room and he can and does.
Additionally, he has outstanding vision and passing skill out of the post. That is what elevates him into an elite player IMO. Yes, he’s really good scoring down low and he’s a great rebounder as well, but you can find guys at some other places who can do those things…not many, but they’re out there. Few of them can see the floor the way he does, though. If you remember how effective MSU’s offense was in the latter stages of Derrick Nix’s career, with him passing out of the post and just punishing teams which would double or dig down on him…Caleb is a better passer than Derrick was IMO. It will make MSU’s offense come so much easier to have a guy like that operating down low.
The areas where he needs improvement are fairly well known. He needs to improve defensively…you can’t play major minutes at MSU if you don’t check. He can improve his conditioning further, though he’s made great strides in HS. He needs to be careful to not let his desire to play a face up game take away from his gifts inside. Yet, these are all pretty small issues compared to the strengths he has. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a development curve similar to the one Zach Randolph went through at MSU, where Caleb might not start or play huge minutes early on but sees his PT increase as his defense improves enough to gain trust. It’s the tried and true way of things in East Lansing and I don’t think it’ll change with him. He is a difference maker, though, make no mistake. He may not average 20 and 10 but he will make a profound impact on MSU’s team next year, just by making everyone else’s job easier via his presence.
Deyonta Davis is the other McDonald’s All American MSU signed this year. The 6’10” Muskegon native is a very different guy physically and game-wise than Swanigan, his AAU teammate. Deyonta is a major league shotblocker and I believe becomes the best Izzo’s ever had from the moment he steps on campus. He has exceptional length with a 7’2″ wingspan, a great sense of timing and high level athleticism. I think he’ll impact games immediately as a defender and rebounder…he needs to add strength but he has a great instinct for rebounding and I think he’ll be effective right away because of it. OFfensively, he’s a work in progress. He has good range out to about 15 feet already and I suspect that will expand in short order. I also think his ability to run the floor will get him some transition buckets and he should be a capable garbage man as well. WHat he doesn’t have yet is a sophisticated post game. He’ll need time to hone that and add the strength necessary to hold position on the blocks. For now, I expect him to be a key part of MSU’s rotation but probably as a 15-18mpg reserve.
Matt McQuaid comes to MSU as something of an unusual recruit, hailing from Texas (though he has deep familial connections to the state, specifically to Midland). The 6’5″ guard is multi skilled…he has a deep shooter’s rep but also possesses a strong handle and better-than-you-think athleticism. I’m not saying he’ll end up as this level of player but the combination of attributes and his lack of strength remind one a bit of Nik Stauskas…he’s not solely a spot up shooter. He also gets high marks for his defensive insitncts and want-to on that end. However, he has two roadblocks to immediate minutes. One is MSU’s depth on the perimeter…assuming no transfers, MSU has 6 veterans back for the three perimeter spots. The other is his lack of strength. I think he could really benefit from a redshirt year…gain 15-20 good pounds and come back ready to roll physically. I don’t rule out that he could force his way into a role…he has enough talent to do that potentially. I just think you’d rather have him fully ready to play physically first. I suspect we’ll learn a lot as the summer unfolds for him.
Kyle Ahrens is another wing who would seem to be heading for a redshirt but for different reasons. The 6’5 Ahrens is, unlike McQuaid, probably ready physically for the Big Ten right now. He’s a very athletic kid who has fought his way back from some injury issues and they think long term he can really help as a good shooter, superb athlete and potential defensive force on the wing. Yet, again, MSU has a ton of veteran depth at the positions he plays and he could probably use a year to adjust to this level of play, continue to hone his ball skills, etc. He’s got a bright future I think, but it’s probably not immediate.
OVERALL – I think MSU is in a group of 3 along with Maryland and IU at the top of the conference…maybe Michigan leapfrogs WIsconsin and gets into that discussion if they add Jaylen Brown but I still have my doubts about their interior and their defense. What separates these three from everyone else in the conference is the balance, at least on paper. They all have potentially strong interior games with depth at the post spots, and they all have a great mix of talent on the perimeter as well.
I have MSU in 1st by a narrow margin, only because I think their issues are slightly lesser in nature than the other two teams (and it is SLIGHT). To me, MSU is the most balanced of these teams. Maryland looks to potentially have to figure out some stuff on the wing offensively and they need to reduce their turnovers. IU has to make a big leap forward on defense. MSU doesn’t have any issue nearly that profound, IMO. They should have tremendous balance between low post offense and their perimeter guys. They have plenty of great shooters. They return most of a team which really figured things out defensively last season, and at least one of the new guys should be an impact guy at that end as well. They did a decent job holding down TOs as the season progressed last year as well. So, to me, they’ve got the least ugly warts of this elite group.
I think it’s going to be a hell of a Big Ten race. I think any of these top 3 teams could be good enough to get to a Final Four and maybe even win the whole thing. I certainly put MSU in that category. I have no doubts about the guys they’ve added. Harris is going to be a major impact player for MSU, no question. Swanigan will change the way teams have to defend MSU when he’s on the floor. Davis will be the best rim protector Izzo has ever coached and I think we’ll see some of that immediately. Add that to a potential Big Ten POY in Valentine, veterans with success and winning behind them in guys like Tum, Schilling, Forbes, Costello and Clark…and now a kid like Bess coming back into the mix…and you have a recipe for a very, very good team. Final Four good again? Big Ten title good? National title good? We’ll see. At a minimum, I think all of those things are realistic goals for this group to have.