Not surprisingly, Tom Izzo was in no mood to look ahead in the wake of Friday’s first-round NCAA Tournament loss to Middle Tennessee.
It’s understandable when the senior-heavy Spartans were one of the favorites to win the national title yet were headed home before the first weekend was done.
“I don’t care about next year. I don’t care about tomorrow,” Izzo said minutes after the most surprising loss in program history. “That’s the problem. You know it’s always what’s next? … I got 200 days to worry about next year, and I’m not going to worry about it one bit today.”
It was a perfectly legitimate response for the coach who is seeking a second national championship after winning back in 2000. He’s been to seven Final Fours and this team seemed destined to make it eight.
But once the sting of the loss wears off and the sights do eventually turn to the 2016-17 season, Izzo will likely start to feel better when he realizes what awaits.
Losing a player the caliber of Denzel Valentine — the Big Ten Player of the Year and a finalist for the major national player of the year awards — is tough to overcome, not to mention losing Matt Costello’s toughness and Bryn Forbes’ sharp-shooting.
However, when you consider the Spartans are bringing in arguably the best recruiting class in Izzo’s tenure — one that could get even better as the nation’s No. 1 recruit, Josh Jackson, considers Michigan State — there’s no reason to believe they can’t be back in the same position as a tournament favorite by the time next March rolls around.
Izzo has joked he’ll have to call Kentucky coach John Calipari to figure out how to manage such a large group of stars, some who might very well be one-year players.
Leading that group is 6-foot-7 Miles Bridges, the Flint native and No. 9 player in the nation, according to 247sports.com. The wing player averaged 15.7 points and 10.6 rebounds as a senior at Huntington (West Virginia) Prep and was named a McDonald’s All-American.
Josh Langford, a 6-5 shooting guard from Huntsville, Alabama, was also a McDonald’s All-American. The No. 26 player in the country was a four-time Class 3A Player of the Year in Alabama and won two state championships.
U-D Jesuit point guard Cassius Winston (6-2), the 36th-ranked player in the nation, and 6-8 forward Nick Ward, the 50th-ranked player from Columbus (Ohio) Gahanna, round out a class that ranks third in the nation, according to 247sports and Rivals.com.
Whether or not Jackson joins the group remains to be seen. He took an official visit to Michigan State on Senior Day when the Spartans beat Ohio State, and he was joined by Bridges and Winston. Jackson is also considering Arizona and Kansas.
As for the current roster, the biggest question is whether freshman forward Deyonta Davis returns for his sophomore season. There seems to be little doubt the 6-10 forward could use another season, but he’s high on plenty of NBA mock drafts.
Sports Illustrated has him going No. 11 overall to Orlando while NBAdraft.net has the Bulls taking Davis at No. 14.
Davis gave no indication on Friday what he intended to do, but players now can attend the NBA combine before deciding whether or not to declare early for the draft.
Guard Eron Harris will likely be counted on plenty as a senior while point guard Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr. will enter his junior season likely far healthier than he was this season battling plantar fasciitis. Matt McQuaid also made strides as a freshman this season and Alvin Ellis should be back for his senior season after a solid finish in 2016. Kyle Ahrens will enter his sophomore season.
Up front, Gavin Schilling will be a senior and have the most experience in the frontcourt while Marvin Clark Jr. and Javon Bess will be juniors and Kenny Goins a sophomore.
Whether every one of those players returns remains to be seen, as well. With the quality coming, there’s always a chance a player could transfer if they feel like minutes will be hard to come by. And if Winston commits to MSU, a scholarship will need to open.
What Izzo does know is that this season’s team will have a lasting impact, one he’s not sure he’ll experience again.
“They resurrected me, for whatever length I coach, whatever number of years it’s going to be, I’ll owe them that,” Izzo said. “They brought the fun back into it. … I can look everybody in the eye and say I’ll probably never have a team like this. I’ll probably never have guys like this, but we’ll shoot for it.”
And however the roster shakes out by the time Michigan State opens next season, Izzo’s goals will remain the same.
“This is where this program’s at,” he said. “Next year we’re gonna try to win a national championship, and the year after. And if I ever tell you I’m not, write the obituary.”
MSU NEXT SEASON
Deyonta Davis; F; 6-10/240; Soph.
Eron Harris; G; 6-3/185; Sr.
Kyle Ahrens; G; 6-5/210; Soph.
Javon Bess; F; 6-5/220; Jr.
Alvin Ellis III; G; 6-4/205; Sr.
Tum Tum Nairn; G; 5-10/175; Jr.
Connor George; G; 6-3/190; Soph.
Marvin Clark; F; 6-6/230; Jr.
Matt McQuaid; G; 6-5/190; Soph.
Kenny Goins; F; 6-6/225; Soph.
Matt Van Dyk; F; 6-5/210; R-Sr.
Gavin Schilling; F; 6-9/250; Sr.
Miles Bridges; G/F; 6-7/218
Joshua Langford; G; 6-5/200
Cassius Winston; G; 6-2/194
Nick Ward; F; 6-8/241