It's no surprise that Michigan State's 2011 and 2012 recruiting classes are among the nations best. The Spartans have pulled in classes that ranked in the Rivals top 25 in five of the last six years.
The difference for these classes --especially the 2011 group-- is how much State fans are putting on these kids' shoulders.
"Last season, in particular, Michigan State was often a step too slow or too small and that hampered their ability to play with the aggressiveness that has been a Michigan State trademark under (coach Tom) Izzo," Patrick Hayes of The Only Colors said. "If (the recruits) develop, Michigan State will have a lot of depth and many ways to attack opponents over the next two seasons."
Spartan nation wasn't happy with a 19-15 (11-10 Big Ten) effort last season. The incoming freshmen are being counted on to help turn the page.
"You’ve got a true point, some versatile wings, and two forwards with inside/outside ability," Josh Moon, also of The Only Colors, said. "What more could we ask for?"
The bulk of the responsibility will fall on five-star forward and McDonald's All-American Branden Dawson from Lew Wallace high school in Gary, Ind. Dawson is a 6-foot, 6-inch wing who has been touted as the best rebounder in his class.
"It’s a great fit for Dawson at MSU," Moon said. "He’s going to a school that will help develop him into an athletic NBA wing in the model of Jason Richardson and Shannon Brown, yet his rebounding skills and post-friendly game will be utilized 100 percent. The wing roster is very young at Michigan State this year and there should be lots of playing time up for grabs among the freshman."
Dawson is, perhaps, the biggest name grabbed by a Big Ten school this year.
"Oh, man. Expect to hear Branden Dawson’s name early and to hear it often," Alex Brooks of Spartan Avenue said. "His size, athleticism and mental toughness have drawn him comparisons to ex-Spartan Raymar Morgan. And if history is any indication, the Spartans would love to have another Raymar Morgan."
Dawson chose Michigan State over Purdue, UCLA, Indiana and Georgetown.
The 2011 class is rounded out by 5-11 point guard Travis Trice, Detroit-product Brandan Kearney and consensus four-star commit Dwaun Anderson.
Anderson is a shooting guard from Suttons Bay, Mich. with sneaky athleticism who may develop into a star.
"With the emergence of Michigan's program last year, Michigan State no longer has a monopoly as the state's only basketball power. Even mid-majors like Oakland and Detroit have emerged over the last few years, giving MSU more of a run for in-state recruits," Hayes said. "It's going to be even more important for Michigan State to maintain that brand recognition in the face of greater competition."
Izzo also managed to land Valparaiso transfer and All-Horizon League guard Brandon Wood, who will spend his final year of eligibility in green and white. The word is Wood will play a major role, probably starting at one of the guard spots.
The 2012 class is highlighted, at the moment by power forward Matt Costello, a four-star recruit from Linwood, Mich. Costello was the 2011 Michigan Gatorade Player of the Year, averaging 19.8 points, 13.0 rebounds and 3.8 blocks per game.
"Costello’s been the talk of (Michigan) prep basketball circles for a couple years now and it’s nice to see him now get recognition in the national rankings from the major services," Moon said. "For more casual fans, I know from experience on The Only Colors that I had to talk certain fans into Matt but that’s passed for the most part."
Costello took his Bay City Western high school, which had never before won more than 14 games or finished above .500 in its conference, to the state semifinals.
A pair of wings, Denzel Valentine and Kenny Kaminski, round out the official commits for 2012. But Izzo has still been seen hanging around talented 6-foot, 4-inch Indianapolis guard Gary Harris.
"Rumor has it that he has been eyeing Purdue, Indiana and Michigan State as his top choices," Brooks said. "He is one of the most promising prospects in the class and is driving Spartan Nation crazy with his decision."
Harris is a consensus five-star ranked number 13 in his class by ESPN and number 26 by Rivals.