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State of the Spartans: Looking Ahead to 2016

After an exhilarating tournament run and a crushing Final Four defeat, where does the Michigan State basketball program stand?

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

After suffering a disappointment, who hasn’t turned to comfort food to help ease the pain? There is just something so satisfying about eating your feelings in a moment of despair.Those burgers and fries just seem to understand.

So after Michigan State saw its thrilling tournament run come to a screeching halt in the Final Four against the Duke Blue Devils, who could blame Tom Izzo for having some cravings of his own.

And where better to sate that hankering than Mickey D’s?

Izzo had already secured one McDonald’s All American in Deyonta Davis, and decided to make it a combo, adding center Caleb Swanigan late last week.

Swanigan is ranked No. 8 in the country according to ESPN and former AAU teammate and 2015 Michigan Mr. Basketball Deyonta Davis checks in at No.16.

The Spartans will also add four-star shooting guard Matt McQuaid, a four-star shooting guard from Texas and Kyle Athrens, a three-star shooting guard.

This is the first time since 2003, when the Spartans welcomed-in Shannon Brown and Brandon Cotton, that Izzo has received commitments from two McDonald’s All Americans in one year. The Spartans currently have the No. 3 recruiting class for 2014 according to 247 Sports, which gives aggregate rankings from all major recruiting sites, the highest such ranking for MSU in more than a decade.

While championships are not won simply by landing top flight talent (just ask Rick Barnes) there is evidence to support that having McDonald’s All Americans on your roster is nearly a prerequisite to winning a title. In the past 16 seasons, only the 2002 Maryland Terrapins and the 2014 Connecticut Huskies have claimed a national title without a Mickey D’s player on its roster. Over that same time-span, the average number of McDonald’s All Americans on the championship winning team is 3.3. The trend shows no signs of stopping, of the past eight title winners, only two teams have had less than three of the nation’s most highly touted players (Uconn in 2011 had two McDonald’s All Americans and Uconn in 2014 of course had zero). Meanwhile the average number of All Americans per championship team rose to 4.6 during that stretch.

The recent additions should put Michigan State among the pre-season favorites to capture a title in 2016. Though the Spartans lose key contributors Branden Dawson and Travis Trice, the team returns every other member of this year’s Final Four squad, including Lansing native Denzel Valentine. Along with Valentine, expect for West Virginia transfer Eron Harris to have a large role after practicing with the team for an entire year during his time in college basketball purgatory. The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 17.2 PPG in his final season with the Mountaineers and should help to fill the void that Trice’s departure has left. Izzo will also likely count on Lourawls "Tum Tum" Nairn to come into his own offensively in his sophomore campaign. The speedy freshman with a top-flight nickname stepped up big for the Spartans when he was called upon to take on a bigger role, but also became a bit of a liability on offense as teams saw that they could lag off him on the perimeter.

In the front court, Izzo will face an enviable problem of having too much depth and talent. Davis and Swanigan will join senior Matt Costello, junior Gavin Schilling and sophomore Marvin Clark Jr. in what could become a real fight for playing time. The embarrassment of riches gives Izzo all sorts of possible lineup combinations to toy with in the off-season and it will be intriguing to see how this log-jam shakes out in November. Regardless, the lack of physicality that plagued the Spartans front court in its season ending loss to Duke should no longer be an issue.

It is worth noting that in the past 10 years, only the 2012-13 Spartans featured two or more freshmen who logged 20-plus minutes per game in a season. While Izzo has been more hesitant than some of his peers to lean heavily on freshmen, he has demonstrated throughout his career that the best players will see the court regardless of experience.

Though it is still far to early to know what this team will be, it remains certain that the foundation of the Spartans basketball program is as solid as ever. With one of the best college basketball coaches in the nation at the helm of what could prove to be his most talented team in more than a decade. Expectations will be high, but then again, it seems they always are at Michigan State. It is part of the program and culture that Izzo has worked so hard to build; so evident now that even those not yet indoctrinated into the Spartan-way can understand.

"They do a lot of great things there," Swanigan told recently. "Tom Izzo is a great coach, he's a man of March. He's going to put me in a very good position to be successful."