Tom Izzo has put together quite the resume as the head coach of the Michigan State Spartans. A national championship in 2000 and seven trips to the Final Four line his trophy case, but what he gives to his players in terms of coaching and development may be what make him one of the best collegiate coaches ever.
The list of players that have played under Izzo at Michigan State and moved on to play in the NBA is a lengthy one. Some notables include: Alan Anderson, Morris Peterson, Mateen Cleaves, Gary Harris, Adreian Payne, Zach Randolph, Jason Richardson, and Draymond Green, among a plethora of others. He has a knack for recruiting players, who may not be the most talented in their respective recruiting classes, but he then turns them into pro-ready prospects who perform like stars during their time in East Lansing.
Fast forward to the recruiting class of 2016 that Tom Izzo has put together for the Michigan State Spartans, and it could go down as one of the best in school history. Four recruits inside the top 40 rankings, according to ESPN, have committed to play for the Spartans, and more could be on the way. Izzo wanted to get a point guard, a scoring wing player, and a big man in the middle, and he addressed all of those needs in a big way.
The Spartans’ recruiting class already contains Miles Bridges, Josh Langford, Cassius Winston, and Nick Ward, all of whom fill needs for the Spartans. This recruiting class could make the Spartans one of the preseason favourites in advance of the 2016-17 season. With more talent possibly on the way via other top recruits, the Spartans could be assembling a recruiting class that rivals the ones Kentucky has put together in recent years, and could lead to another deep post-season run for Izzo.
What do these four players bring to the hardwood? We take a deeper look at all four players to give you a better idea of what to expect from them in 2016-17.
Miles Bridges – #8 Recruit in ESPN Top 100
Tom Izzo said he wanted to add a scoring wing to his 2015-16 roster. Izzo can cross that off his list with the addition of Miles Bridges.
In Bridges, the Spartans get a 6’6”, 225-pound small forward who is highly regarded as one of the best players in the class of 2016. He is ranked as the 8th-best recruit in the class of 2016 by ESPN.
Bridges is a left-handed combo forward who is big and powerful, and has drawn comparisons to former NBA player Rodney Rogers. Bridges excels in the transition game, as his athleticism and size make him a tough body to stop on the fast break. Bridges has the explosiveness to excel at the next level, and the size to overpower defenders and battle in the paint, but he also has the finesse game that make him a strong player. He has a good, natural touch as a shooter, and can shoot with a bit of range. Bridges uses his size to his advantage when battling for rebounds on both ends of the floor, and he has the work ethic and drive to win that you wish every player on your team would possess.
While Bridges’ size has its benefits for his game, it could also hinder him down the road. He’s a bit bigger than your average perimeter player, and if he gets bigger in the upper body, it could pose more challenges. He has struggled in the past against quicker wings, and getting bigger may make that issue more glaring. He can sometimes lose confidence in his jump shot if he gets on a cold streak, so maintaining that confidence level will be crucial for his success.
In the end, Bridges is one of the more gifted recruits in the class of 2016, and that’s no secret. His combination of skill, athleticism, size, and versatility will set him up for success in his basketball career.
On Izzo’s ‘Basketball Wish List’ for the 2016-17 season, check off a scoring wing with Miles Bridges.
Josh Langford – #17 Recruit in ESPN Top 100
Tom Izzo wanted to add another scoring wing / combo guard to his 2016-17 recruiting class and to his roster. Meet Josh Langford, the Spartans’ latest offensive threat in the back court.
In Langford, the Spartans get a 6’5”, 215-pound shooting guard from Huntsville, Alabama. He is the 17th ranked recruit in the Class of 2016, according to ESPN.
Before Bridges committed to Michigan State, Langford was the big name coming to East Lansing. He still is a big name, and the Spartans had to dip into the talent pool in Alabama to land his services. Like Bridges, Langford is a big and strong wing player who is a terrific playmaker and a strong offensive threat. He can attack the rim through contact due to his size, and he used his size to overpower opposing wings in high school. Langford is a good ball handler and passer, and can hit the mid-range jumper with consistency. His high basketball IQ allows him to defend all three guard positions, adding more diversity to his game.
Langford is an emotional player on the court, which can be both good and bad for his game. If he can control his negative emotions, and stay mentally focused during games, his game will go to another level. As well, he needs to become am ore consistent three-point shooter. If he can do that, which he is fully capable of doing, then he will become a nightmare on the offensive end for opposing teams to guard.
With the Spartans losing key guard players following the 2015-16 season, including Denzel Valentine, Josh Langford has the perfect opportunity to step in and contribute right away for the Spartans as a freshman.
On Izzo’s ‘Basketball Wish List’ for the 2016-17 season, check off another scoring wing with Josh Langford.
Cassius Winston – #29 Recruit in ESPN Top 100
Tom Izzo wanted to add a top-tier point guard recruit to the class of 2016. Meet Cassius Winston, the Spartans’ newest floor general in the back court.
In Winston, the Spartans are getting a 6’1”, 177-pound point guard from nearby Detroit. Winston is the 29th-ranked recruit in the class of 2016, according to ESPN.
Winston is a shifty point guard, as he can change speeds to get my his opponent and keep his opposition off balance. He’s been described as an “old school” scoring point guard. He has deep range on his jumper, and he is effective both of the catch-and-shoot and off the bounce. His bread and butter is his passing ability and court vision. On the offensive end, he is a creative player who uses his excellent floor vision to get his teammates involved. In terms of defense, Winston is a reliable player who Is at his best when playing the passing lanes for steals, due to his quickness.
With his creativity and young age, Winston is turnover prone on the offensive end, like most young point guards are in today’s game. As he gains more experience, the problem should take care of itself. If not, having Izzo glaring at you from the bench after a turnover will force you to put more value on the basketball in a heartbeat. Winston is the type of player who needs the ball in his hands to maximize effectiveness. If he can become a better off-ball player in the back court, his game will steadily improve.
In 2016-17, the Spartans will have an experienced Lourawls Nairn and a young Cassius Winston manning the point, both of whom are two great options. They should complement each other well as the season progresses.
On Izzo’s ‘Basketball Wish List’ for the 2016-17 season, check off a point guard with Cassius Winston.
Nick Ward – #39 Recruit in ESPN Top 100
With the departure of Branden Dawson, Tom Izzo made it a priority to get a big man for his 2016 recruiting class. Meet Nick Ward, the latest bruiser to patrol the front court for the Spartans.
In Ward, the Spartans are getting a 6’8”, 230-pound center from Gahanna, Ohio. Ward, the 39th-ranked recruit in the class of 2016 on ESPN, was the first commit for the Spartans in the 2016 class.
Ward is a top-five center in the recruiting class, and gives Tom Izzo another bruiser in the front court to follow in the footsteps of Branden Dawson. He’s a wide-bodied, left-handed big man who can fill the lane. Equipped with a 7-foot wingspan, he has quick reactions and solid hands that allow him to catch the tough passes inside and be able to grab rebounds and get easy tip-ins on the offensive end. He’s got the power to bully opponents inside, but he also has a soft touch around the rim.
On the offensive end of the floor, Ward isn’t the most explosive big man in the game. He’s rarely going to finish above the rim in traffic due to his lack of a strong vertical. His lateral movement is limited, meaning he could struggle to defend and contain guys on the perimeter. In certain lineups, Ward will be better suited to play at center as opposed to power forward, although he lacks the height of a true center in the NCAA.
While he doesn’t have the athleticism or the size of a true center, Ward is a powerful, left-handed big man who will give Izzo a go-to option in the paint. He has the scoring touch around the rim to make up for not being the mist gifted in terms of a vertical leap.
The recruiting class for 2016 is shaping up to be one of the best that Izzo has ever assembled at Michigan State, if not the best. On paper, it looks like the Spartans have everything that they need. With that said, they are still firmly in the race to land the services of Josh Jackson, the 3rd-ranked recruit in the class of 2016.
If the Spartans are able to land Jackson’s services, who says he is ‘intrigued’ by the Spartans after their recent editions, the 2016 class for Izzo will be scary good. The five players he would be bringing in, all of whom would be ranked inside the top 40, could rival the ones Duke and Kentucky put together in advance of the 2014-15 season, at least on paper. Both the Blue Devils and Wildcats brought in four recruits apiece.
Regardless of Jackson’s decision, the recruiting class that Tom Izzo and his staff have put together for the 2016-17 season is incredible. These young players will keep Michigan State right near the top of the Big Ten, and may make them conference favourites.
Time will tell how this all plays out. But for now, the buzz around the Spartans for 2016-17 is already soaring high.