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Michigan State Spartans Close to Landing Monster Recruiting Class


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It all started at this year’s Final Four. After the Michigan State Spartans were throttled by Duke in a game where the Blue Devils attempted 37 free throws, head coach Tom Izzo made a grand declaration in the immediate postgame aftermath.

“It’s the way it’s going to be called. I’ve got to do a better job recruiting because I’m just going to get guys that can drive. That’s the way the game has changed.”

At the time, these comments were bold words coming from a coach that has already had immense success in college basketball over the years. It was interesting to wonder how a change in recruiting style would translate in terms of who Izzo would target for future roster spots.

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  • Now, as we fast forward to the present, we have reached a a defining period for Izzo’s “new attitude” on the recruiting trail, leaving us in the perfect position to evaluate the class that could potentially come in to East Lansing next season.

    Izzo already has two players in the fold for next year’s class. Nick Ward, a consensus four-star big man from Ohio, ranks at #28 in the Busting Brackets FAB 50. His productive summer on the Nike EYBL circuit has created quite the buzz surrounding his development. Ward is, in many ways, a prototypical Big Ten player. He features a bulky upper body and crafty footwork that allows him to score from the low post despite not having above the rim athleticism. At first glance, he’s reminiscent of Zach Randolph, a former Spartan who developed rapidly under Izzo before moving on to the NBA.

    Ward doesn’t seem to be a part of the new breed of players. The type of big man that Izzo normally recruits is already in an advantageous position according to the way college basketball is officiated right now. Ward’s physical back-to-the-basket game will keep him at the free throw line, and maybe more importantly, keep opposing bigs on the bench.

    The marked change in philosophy becomes apparent when you take a look at the other commitment Izzo has set for arrival in 2016.

    Josh Langford, the latest five star prospect to come from the prestigious Atlanta Celtics program, is an Alabama native with an element of flair to his game. While most Michigan State guards are more pragmatic than spectacular, Langoford is a wing that can fill it up from behind the arc, but is equally dangerous slashing to the rim. His inside outside ability is proof that Izzo is indeed prioritizing a different type of recruit at the top of his wish list.

    Granted, Langford is a five-star prospect. He ranks at #22 in our FAB 50. Izzo would have been recruiting Langford regardless of Sparty’s fate in the Final Four. What likely changed was the pitch that Izzo arrived with. Talents like Langford have previously balked at the notion of playing in grinding systematic offenses like the one deployed at Michigan State.

    In a story from earlier this year, the Detroit Free Press’ Joe Rexrode mentioned that Izzo and his staff have been defensive about their style of play at times.

    "This week, talking to MSU coaches, I sensed some hesitance and sensitivity when it came to talking about the sets. They were forthcoming and even broke a few down on video, but it’s clear that at times they have to defend … running plays."

    Obviously, Izzo isn’t the only coach that is doing a little more on offense than rolling the balls out, but the reputation of stunting freelance creativity may have been hurting his chances to land dynamic guards like Langford in the past. Clearly, something about Izzo’s tune has apparently changed, as it is clear that Langford feels like he’ll be properly utilized as a Spartan.

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  • Izzo has also placed a fixated target on two local prospects. One of which would fill a key role for the team, while the other would signify a pronounced change in culture for the Spartans. Both of these prospects have narrowed their choice of school to a final three, and have set dates for the announcement of their decisions. By mid-October, Izzo will know whether next year’s team will be one that can match talent with the likes of Duke and Kentucky.

    The first big announcement comes this Friday. Cassius Winston, a true point guard from Detroit, will announce his college decision at a pep rally at his high school. Winston is the prototype college point guard. His reputation as a floor general will summon comparisons to Izzo’s first great point guard, Mateen Cleaves.

    However, what makes Winston special is the formidable scoring punch that he’ll also provide, a talent that compares favorably to Kalin Lucas, another guard that dominated Metro Detroit’s Catholic League just as Winston is doing now at University of Detroit Jesuit High School.

    Winston, the #23 prospect in our FAB 50,  is set to decide between Stanford, Pittsburgh, and Michigan State. Due to his strong local ties, it’s expected that he’ll will sign with MSU, and the biggest contender to the Spartans may already be out of the race.

    Winston was strongly linked to the Michigan Wolverines basketball program throughout his recruiting process. Some people close to his recruiting process had even alleged that Michigan was the frontrunner for his services. As it turns out, Michigan wasn’t willing to risk losing out on Winston. According to a conversation Winston had with reporter Shane Kinnee, Michigan pulled their scholarship offer in order to secure another commitment.

    The player Winston refers to in the conversation is fellow four-star point guard Xavier Simpson, who announced his commitment to Michigan the same day Winston announced a final three that curiously excluded the Wolverines.

    If Winston does sign with the Spartans as expected, it will set the stage for the biggest domino to fall in favor of Coach Izzo and his team.

    Miles Bridges is consensus top ten prospect (ranked #5 by us in our FAB 50) and a bonafide stud. The impressively built small forward also hails from Flint, Michigan, a city that has been credited with supplying the talent for Michigan State’s greatest teams.

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  • In the nineties, Izzo recruited a quartet of players from the blue collar city located a few hours northwest of Detroit. Antonio Smith came first, before Mateen Cleaves, Charlie Bell, and Morris Peterson eventually arrived. The latter three would go on to win Michigan State’s first national championship since 1979.

    Bridges projects to have a different type of impact for Izzo and his program. It’s likely that he won’t be present for any long term plans Izzo has for this group of Spartans.

    While elite talents have donned the Spartan colors frequently during Izzo’s tenure, Michigan State has not spent much time recruiting players that are normally identified as “one-and-done” prospects. However, Bridges falls into that special category. At six-foot-six, 225 pounds, Bridges possesses elite physical attributes that suggest his body is ready for the NBA today.

    If Izzo can beat out the likes of Kentucky (a team that specializes in sending players to the NBA as quickly as possible) and Indiana, Izzo will have landed his highest-rated recruit ever (that distinction currently belongs to Kelvin Torbert, who was the Sporting News and Gatorade National Player of the Year in 2001).

    Landing Bridges would be Izzo’s Final Four postgame comments manifesting in the form of one singular player. In fact, Bridges’ game is similar to that of Justise Winslow, a player that the Spartans had no answer for during their contest with Duke (Winslow scored a team-high 19-points thanks to a 9 for 11 effort from the free-throw line). If Bridges has a similar impact, it’s likely that his stay in East Lansing would be a short one.

    Though Bridges has been strongly linked to Kentucky in recent weeks, Michigan State fans have reason to be optimistic of a potential Bridges commitment. As teammates with Detroit-based AAU outfit The Family, Bridges and the aforementioned Cassius Winston have become close friends. Talk of a package deal has persisted throughout the summer, and has been a running joke between the two friends on social media.

    In response to Bridges tweeting his top three schools, Winston responded with this tweet.

    For those who are unfamiliar, OCC is short for Oakland Community College in nearby Oakland County, Michigan. The OCC Raiders have not commented on Bridges backing out of this deal. However, Miles did acknowledge reneging on the commitment.


    A more serious instance of hint-dropping came last Saturday while Bridges and Winston were both on campus at Michigan State. Bridges encouraged his followers on Instagram to follow his “future point guard” on the social media platform. The post has since been deleted, but obviously caused tremors throughout East Lansing.

    In fairness, Bridges dropped a similar hint for Kentucky fans two weeks prior in a tweet that involved him and fellow five-star prospect Malik Monk.


    There doesn’t seem to be too much stock taken in this tweet because Monk seems to be a ways away from making a decision. However, with Winston’s decision coming this Friday, and Bridges slated to announce on October 3, the likelihood of a Bridges/Winston package seems to be worth mentioning.

    If Izzo manages to bring in Bridges and Winston to pair with Ward and Langford, the Class of 2016 will be Sparty’s best ever. Combining the influx of talent with expected returners such as West Virginia transfer Eron Harris, Lourawls Nairn, and 2015 McDonald’s All-American Deyonta Davis — Michigan State will field one of the most talented rosters in the country.

    After seeing what Coach Izzo has managed in East Lansing without landing elite talent, the 2016-2017 Spartans could be the first example of what it looks like when he does.

    Regardless of the looming decisions, these are exciting times on the banks of the Red Cedar. Tom Izzo is hitting the recruiting trail in a way that he never has before, and it’s only a matter of time before it pays off big for the Michigan State Spartans.

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