Most mentions of Michigan State’s 2016 recruiting class are preceded by some form of "among the best in program history".
And there are reasons to think that could be possible. Head coach Tom Izzo and his staff put together an impressive class that consists of four players ranked in the top 40 of ESPN’s Top 100 for the Class of 2016. Miles Bridges is the highest regarded at No. 8 overall, followed by Josh Langford (No. 19), Cassius Winston (No. 31) and Nick Ward (No. 39).
The talent and potential is there, as a couple of the newcomers have been talked about as potential one-and-done players. But their standing in Michigan State history will depend on how they perform as a group.
Could they be the best in school history? Let’s take a look at the top recruiting classes in Izzo’s 21 years at the helm of Michigan State.
1996 – Mateen Cleaves; A.J. Granger; David Thomas; Jason Webber
In just his second year as head coach, Izzo got the class that would form the backbone of Michigan State’s 2000 National Championship team.
McDonald’s All-American Mateen Cleaves was the jewel of the class, coming in and averaging 10.2 points, 5.0 assists and 2.5 rebounds per game as a freshman. The four-year point guard eventually led the Spartans to the 1999 Final Four and 2000 National Championship. A two-time Big Ten Player of the Year, Cleaves finished his career as a Michigan State legend.
A.J. Granger was a steady role player, playing 129 games in his career. The forward averaged 9.5 points and 5.3 rebounds per game as a senior, including a huge 19-point, nine-rebound effort in the 2000 title game.
David Thomas and Jason Webber both eventually transferred out of the program.
Morris Peterson deserves a mention here. The forward was a redshirt freshman in 1996 and steadily progressed until he won Big Ten Player of the Year honors as a senior in 1999-2000. Peterson had a team-high 21 points in the national championship win.
1997 – Charlie Bell; Steve Cherry; Doug Davis; Lorenzo Guess; Andre Hutson; Ken Miller
The large class of 1997 was exactly what the Spartans needed to complement the duo of Cleaves and Peterson. The group reached three Final Fours as Spartans.
Charlie Bell averaged 9.2 points and 4.4 rebounds as a freshman. The guard scored in double figures his final two years as a Spartan before putting together a seven-year NBA career.
Bell and Andre Huston both started on the championship team. Hutson averaged 7.5 points and 5.2 rebounds as a freshman and increased those numbers to 13.8 points and 7.6 rebounds per game by the time he was a senior.
2000 – Jason Andreas; Zach Randolph; Marcus Taylor; Adam Wolfe
The 2000 recruiting class had a short but profound impact. The Final Four recruiting bump led to two of the nation's top recruits. McDonald's All-American's Zach Randolph and Marcus Taylor entered the program ready to go.
Randolph was a monster the minute he stepped on the floor for Michigan State. The big man averaged 10.8 points and 6.7 rebounds as a freshman before being drafted 19th overall by the Portland Trail Blazers in the 2001 Draft.
Marcus Taylor was also ready as a freshman, averaging. 7.4 points and 3.6 assists per game for the 2001 Final Four team. The next year, those numbers jumped to 16.8 points and 5.3 assists to game and Taylor jumped to the pros, where he was drafted 52nd by the Minnesota Timberwolves.
2001 – Tim Bograkos; Kelvin Torbert; Chris Hill; Alan Anderson
In contrast to 2000, the 2001 recruiting class gave Michigan State three four-year contributors that made the 2005 Final Four as seniors.
Chris Hill made the earliest impact, averaging 11.5 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game as a freshman. Those numbers increased throughout, as Hill's career highs were 13.8 points per game as a junior and 4.2 assists per game as a senior.
Kelvin Torbert was consistent for Michigan State, averaging between 8.2 and 10.7 points per game in each of his four years.
Alan Anderson started slower offensively, but did a little of everything in his four-year career. ]Anderson averaged 13.2 points and 5.6 rebounds per game as a senior.
2002 – Maurice Ager; Paul Davis; Andy Harvey; Erazem Lorbek; Jayson Vincent
Maurice Ager and Paul Davis both seemed like they were at Michigan State forever. Particularly Davis, who was considered one of the best players in the Big Ten for years. Davis earned significant playing time all four years, averaging 7.8 points and 4.7 rebounds per game as a freshman before topping out at 17.5 points and 9.1 rebounds per game as a senior in 2005-06.
Ager had a similar progression, capped off by scoring a team-best 19.3 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game as a senior.
2007 – Chris Allen; Jon Crandell; Tom Herzog; Mike Kebler; Kalin Lucas; Durrell Summers
The deep 2007 class reached the title game as sophomores and Final Four as juniors.
Kalin Lucas was the star, coming in and averaging 10.3 points and 3.8 assists per game from the get-go. The point guard averaged at least 14.7 points per game in each of his final three seasons, including averaging 17 points and 3.4 assists on his way to being named the 2011 Big Ten Player of the Year.
Durrell Summers joined Lucas in the backcourt and left the program as the school's career leader with 145 games played. Summers averaged double figures in his final two seasons.
Chris Allen had three solid years at Michigan State, but never really put it all together before transferring to Iowa State.
2008 – Draymond Green; Korie Lucious; Delvon Roe
This group never fully reached their potential. They reached the Final Four in their first two years, but two of the three players didn't last all four years.
Draymond Green is the big name, although he didn’t play a huge role in a run to the title game as a freshman in 2008-09. The NBA All-Star forward steadily improved over his four-year career, including averaging 16.2 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.5 steals as a senior.
Point guard Korie Lucious played a significant role his first three years before finding some trouble and transferring to Iowa State.
The highest-regarded player of the group, Delvon Roe, never truly got it going before injuries struck. The forward averaged 5.6 points and 5.2 rebounds per game as a freshman, but never made the jump, averaging 6.4 points and 5.0 rebounds as a sophomore and 6.1 points and 5.0 rebounds as a junior. Roe didn’t play as a senior due to knee injuries.
2012 – Denzel Valentine, Gary Harris, Matt Costello, Trevor Bohnhoff
Despite the tough ending in the first round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament, the most recent Michigan State graduates put together solid careers.
Gary Harris was the first to make an impact, earning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors and second-team All-Big Ten recognition. Harris got even better as a sophomore, averaging 16.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.8 steals per game to receive a first-team all-conference nod. Harris left for the pros, where he was selected 19th by the Chicago Bulls before being traded to the Denver Nuggets.
Denzel Valentine needed a couple more years to round out his game. He did so, being named the Big Ten Player of the Year and Associated Press Player of the Year after averaging 19.2 points, 7.8 assists and 7.5 rebounds per game as a senior. Valentine was selected 14th in the 2016 NBA Draft by the Chicago Bulls.
Matt Costello improved each year before starting and averaging 10.7 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game as a senior.