Michigan State basketball’s 2020-21 squad among most athletic ever

EAST LANSING, MI - NOVEMBER 18: Gabe Brown #44 of the Michigan State Spartans dunks the ball during the second half against the Charleston Southern Buccaneers at Breslin Center on November 18, 2019 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)
EAST LANSING, MI - NOVEMBER 18: Gabe Brown #44 of the Michigan State Spartans dunks the ball during the second half against the Charleston Southern Buccaneers at Breslin Center on November 18, 2019 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images) /

With the departure of all-time great Cassius Winston, let’s turn to the positive and look at how athletic the 2020-21 Michigan State basketball team can be.

Before I went to bed last night, I stumbled across a video of highlights from this past season and something stuck out to me: when Cassius Winston and Xavier Tillman are gone, this team is going to become way more athletic.

That’s no disrespect to either of those guys — Cassius was obviously and all-time great during his four years and Tillman was an incredible talent. They just weren’t the most athletic guys, and with their departure comes more playing time for more athletic players. And actually, we’re not even sure if Tillman will leave. I’d say theres a very good chance he returns to the green and white.

The idea behind this is more heavily leaning on the point guard position with Rocket Watts picking up a bulk of Winston’s production. Rocket didn’t fully showcase his athleticism last season because of nagging injuries, but there was plenty of film of him throwing down powerful dunks in high school.

Even if you look beyond his hops, he’s the fastest guy out on the court every play, hence the nickname “Rocket”. In both quickness and top-end speed, just about nobody can match him. I found the best example of this in a late-season game against Penn State, when he took off past Lamar Stevens for an easy layup. It looked so effortless while he left the first-team All Big Ten forward in the dust.

At the two spot, Aaron Henry will almost definitely be returning. I don’t have to speak too much on his athleticism, but he’s shown that he can dunk with the best of them. Most memorably, he dunked on two Michigan players, including Iggy Brazdeikis in the 2019 Big Ten Tournament Championship Game.

At small forward, it’s a bit of a toss-up as to who will get the most playing time, but whether it’s Gabe Brown or Malik Hall, we’ll be seeing an athlete in the starting lineup. Gabe is one of the most athletic guys I’ve ever seen play at Michigan State. He’s no Miles Bridges, but I’ve never seen a guy finish an alley-oop as effortlessly as he does. He can jump out of the gym and fly down the court as fast as any player on the team (other than Rocket).

Now, I’m going to casually glaze over Joey Hauser at power forward, as he’s a great player, but not a stunning athlete. He’s not a poor athlete, but he doesn’t have any physical attributes that jump off of the page. If you move one spot beyond him though, you’ll find a guy whose athleticism often gets overlooked.

Marcus Bingham Jr. has showcased jaw-dropping athletic plays out of nowhere. We’ve seen these plays more and more as his career has progressed, and if he can put on more weight he’ll be a problem. Maybe because of how skinny and tall he is, you don’t expect him to be extremely athletic, but every so often he’ll have a put-back dunk or a huge block that gives you a little reminder. But it’s this very same reason that we consider him to be such a freak of nature. He’s Jaren Jackson Jr. minus 30 pounds. The guy’s athleticism is clear and his potential is through the roof.

Tillman’s potential return to Michigan State basketball

Now, up until this point, I’ve been assuming that Tillman is gone, but if he returns, he’ll bring back the athleticism that we’ve seen out of him the past three years. When he came to East Lansing, he wasn’t all that athletic. People couldn’t tell him and Nick Ward apart before his transformation. We’ve seen him throw down against Duke in the Elite Eight and we’ve seen him secure the outcome of a game with a put-back dunk against Illinois. Whether it’s Bingham Jr. or Tillman, Michigan State will be in good hands going into the 2020-21 season.

Wow, I just wrote this entire list and forgot about Mady Sissoko. I’m embarrassed, but here’s a little bonus section about the 40-year-old man of a center that we’ll be watching next season. Sissoko is a four-star center with a 7-foot-4 wingspan. Yes, you read that right, and he’s not a skinny guy either. This fella makes me look like a third grader getting ready to go to Chuck E. Cheese for my birthday party.

If you watch his highlights, he’s out there blocking guys with his elbow. At the high school level, he had more length than he knew what to do with, and he might even have this problem in college. If nothing else, the guy has a menacing presence and he’s not the type of player you want to line up against if you’re playing Michigan State. He’ll be an instant impact guy and likely look like a man against boys in his first year in East Lansing.

Constructing MSU basketball's ideal 2021 class. dark. Next