Seven months removed from an improbable Final Four run, and one full year away from the debut of a truly impressive (and perhaps even "Super") recruiting class, the 2015-2016 MSU basketball team sits at an interesting crossroads in the history of the program. In the rearview mirror is the first twenty years of Tom Izzo's tenure, nine final fours, two national titles, and thirteen conference championships. In an article I wrote after last season, I discussed the disappointment associated with the Duke loss in the Final Four, suggesting that the 2015 run would eventually live in my mind as something like the 2013 Rose Bowl: all fun, with no downside. Expectations were wildly exceeded, and what feels like years later I can say with confidence that I have nothing but fond memories of the 2014-15 season.
On the road ahead is a good shot at Izzo's second national title. The 2016 class as it currently sits is the top class in the nation per 24/7 composite, and with no additional commits should still end up in the top 5. It could get better with the additional of 24/7 composite number one Josh Jackson, though to get him there might have to be some roster, ahem, management. With or without Jackson, this MSU recruiting class consisting of Miles Bridges, Josh Langford, Cassius Winston, and Nick Ward will be an instant, high-end talent infusion; Bridges, Langford, and Winston are all top-30 for the 2016 class, and Ward is top-50. Even if 2016-17 isn't necessarily the year for MSU to win it all, the future for the program is as bright as it has ever been.
But where does that leave us for this year?
Gone are seniors Branden Dawson and Travis Trice, both of whom played immense roles in getting this MSU team to the Big Ten Tournament championship game and the Final Four last season. Dawson leaves a void at power forward which will need to be filled by a guy who missed most of last season (Javon Bess), a guy who won't be healthy for another few weeks (Marvin Clark) and a talented freshmen (Deyonta Davis). Trice's role will be filled by committee; Tum Tum Nairn is the only true point guard on the roster, and the role of go-to guy late in games will be almost certainly given to senior Denzel Valentine. A look at the roster shows too few point guards, too many wings, and some confusion about how the bigs will be able to play together.
To all of those questions about this team my answer is mostly: who cares? This team is immensely likable. Obviously, my preference is for Marvin Clark, but Nairn, Valentine, Bryn Forbes, and Colby Wollenmen are all guys I want to see do well. Denzel Valentine will be fun to watch grow into a larger role than I ever thought possible for him; by now you should trust Tom Izzo to figure out how best to manage the roster. In the ideal case, this team competes for the Big Ten Championship in a field which is significantly more open than last year; in the worst case I can't see this team missing the NCAA tournament.
Which all amounts to this: sit back and enjoy this year. We're playing with house money.