Last year seemed to be the year where Tom Izzo might finally add that second national championship to a resume that is already studded with success, shown by his induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame this month. However, the stars failed to align in a year with a roster laden with senior leadership, skill and young talent.
Following the disappointing first round exit, the Michigan State Spartans will be looking to bounce back. Here are three key storylines to keep an eye out for heading into this season.
1. Touted freshman will be looking to step in for lost talent
Denzel Valentine and Matt Costello were both huge losses from the senior class for the Spartans this offseason, but they weren’t the only ones leaving East Lansing. Deyonta Davis headed off for the NBA and while the decision was no surprise, it still left a gap in production to be filled.
Of course, Michigan State has absolutely been on fire on the recruiting trail, especially this freshman class. With McDonald’s All Americans Miles Bridges and Josh Langford stepping in along with Michigan Mr. Basketball winner Cassius Winston, the Spartans certainly don’t lack talent. Izzo is obviously one of the best in the business and it will be interesting to see how quickly these freshman can get up to speed to play well in some of the very high profile games the Spartans will play in.
2. Spartans will certainly be battle-tested for conference play
The Spartans have one of the tougher non-conference schedules you’ll find, including very interesting matchups with both Arizona (to tip off their season) and Kentucky in the Champions Classic in Chicago. They’re also scheduled to appear in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, which also has a very strong field as multiple tournament teams from a year ago will be taking part in the tournament. Baylor, VCU, Louisville and Wichita State will all be in the field, all four of which were tournament teams from a year ago.
The biggest meeting of the non conference slate for the Spartans comes during the Big Ten - ACC Challenge when they go on the road to face the powerhouse Duke Blue Devils. Coach K has easily one of the most talented classes that he’s ever had at Duke for this year and this will be an incredible heavyweight fight early on in the season.
Appointment television, ladies and gentlemen.
3. Tom Izzo can bounce back from disappointment
While Tom Izzo has made his living and his legacy off of his postseason success, he has had his hiccups along the way. Last season was the fourth time that a Tom Izzo coached team was knocked out in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Of course that’s not that bad when you consider his 19 appearances in the tournament.
In two of the years following early first round exits, Izzo has reached an Elite Eight and a Final Four. Or in other words, the Spartans can bounce back from disappointment. Drawing off the feeling of the emptiness following such an early tournament loss can drive a team to do the little things so much better the following year. While a lot of the biggest pieces of that team are gone in Valentine, Costello and Davis, plenty of the players are still here. Don’t think for a second they’ve forgotten how badly that loss tasted.
You can look for the Spartans to have a strong season and a strong showing in the tournament, if history means anything.