As he enters his final season, it seems we may have reached the point where we accept that Matt “is what he is,” as the cliche goes. I think hopes may have been for something different. I know mine were. He was Mr. Basketball (beating out Denzel for that honor, remember) and more than just pure production was the way he played, with a chip on his shoulder and some nasty attitude. At times in HS, Matt could be just barely on the right side of the “cheap shot artist” line and I thought MSU could actually use some of that nasty.
As his career has unfolded, it hasn’t quite played out the way I thought it might. Matt certainly hasn’t been a “bust,” so let’s dispense with that nonsense right away. He’s played heavy minutes on an Elite Eight and a Final Four team…can’t be a “bust” if you do that, not in my book at least. He’s become a very reliable defensive presence, becoming a mostly good pick and roll defender and an outstanding shot blocker, one of the best in school history as a matter of fact. Offensively, while he’s never shown consistent assertiveness, he has had some big moments (Iowa in 2014 and Purdue last year standing out) and last year showed off good range on his jumper, something I hope we see more of this season. Yet, the offensive aggression hasn’t been present often enough and we’ve rarely seen the kind of physical and attitudnal presence on display I thought we’d see.
Sometimes seniors just have a breakthrough moment and everything changes. We’ve seen it here before, where very good players suddenly become elite ones (Skiles, Green) or solid players become very good ones (Trice). Big guys in particular are subject to the light switching on when you least expect it. So, I can’t and won’t rule out that all of a sudden we see Matt become a consistent 12/8 guy this year. He has the tools to do it…that part I’d never question. I just don’t think I can say I *expect* it, though. What I do expect is more of what we’ve seen lately from him. Good, sound defense with a knack for erasing shots. Steady rebounding work. Good, strong picks on offense, with the occasional 15 foot jumper or putback or rim running transition dunk mixed in. I think he and Gavin together have become a good combination at center which could be something more than that this year if either or both find a higher level of consistency in their play.