The upcoming season for Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans can either tell us nothing or everything about the future of this program, depending on which viewpoint you choose to take. On one hand, Tom Izzo’s job is about as safe as Coach K’s at Duke. Izzo is one of maybe five coaches in college basketball whose legacy is cemented no matter what he does from now until his eventual election into the College Basketball Hall of Fame. It appears as though yet another summer of speculation about a potential leap to the NBA for Coach Izzo will come and go as just that, speculation. Izzo is entrenched in this program and it continues to look as if it will remain that way until he decides to hang up the clipboard
However, if there is one knock on Coach Izzo and his staff in recent years it has been their inability to land top flight recruits. The 2014-2015 campaign is the first year where we might actually see the effects of this talent drop off on the basketball court. After missing out on the likes of Jabari Parker, Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker and failing to convince Montaque Caeser-Gill, a highly touted 2015 recruit, to reclassify and join this year’s Spartan class, one has to ask the question if Izzo is losing some of his touch. To be fair, this issue is mitigated if Gary Harris opted to return for his junior season following a somewhat inconsistent sophomore year. Nevertheless, Izzo’s ability to coach and develop lower-ranked players, his calling card, will be put to the test more than ever this upcoming year.
As far as on the court, the Spartans have to avoid what some experts perceive could be a transition year for the program. At established basketball schools, like MSU, transition years don’t sit well for anyone in and around the University. Michigan State has failed to reach the 20-win plateau only three times in the last 17 years under Tom Izzo and only once in the last decade. However, with John Beilein down the road in Ann Arbor, and the Big Ten as a whole more competitive than ever, it’s going to take some improvement from key players to avoid that mark this season.
Perhaps more than anything, this upcoming season is key in terms of holding serve on the in state battle with rival Michigan. The Wolverines dominated Michigan State in the two regular season games last season and while the Spartans won the Big Ten title game rather handedly, they did so with two seniors and a lottery pick in next month’s draft. The fear in East Lansing is that Coach Beilein has had two teams in the last two years that seriously contended for the National Title, despite having teams made up largely of freshman and sophomores. Coach Izzo has done less with more the past two seasons by any standard when compared to what Beilein has achieved in Ann Arbor.
That being said, I expect the Spartans to hit 20 wins and beyond, and to hold a national ranking for much if not all of the season. Expectations compared to last year are undoubtedly lower and they should be as this new crop of Spartans just flat out is not as talented or experienced as teams in years past. However, counting out Coach Izzo’s teams never really seems to work out well so if Branden Dawson and Travis Trice step up as seniors and the supporting cast led by Alvin Ellis, Matt Costello and Kenny Kaminski can fill their roles adequately, then expect the Spartans to be right there when the Big Ten season comes down the wire. Expectations are lower this year, but this program is no stranger to overachieving.