State of the Program: What would it take to give Izzo a serious shot at title #2?

We've just been through a couple Spartan basketball seasons that have been pretty mediocre by Izzo standards, finishing outside the top 25. And so, I think it's worth digging in to consider how MSU might reestablish itself as a threat to win another title. What has been the problem, and what is the solution?


Why did MSU lose to Duke to end this season? Most fundamentally, it was because Duke has better players. But is recruiting responsible for the recent fall-off in Spartan success? Below is a chart that shows for each fall year (since 2003), the average national positional ranking of the freshman recruits, and also the final coaches poll ranking of that year's team (which we might predict to follow recruiting quality as a lagging response variable, a couple years behind).

Year RecRank PollRank

2003 6.5 unranked
2004 15.8 5
2005 28.5 unranked
2006 13.7 unranked
2007 9.3 13
2008 12.3 2
2009 9.5 4
2010 17.3 unranked
2011 21.3 7
2012 19.8 13
2013 51.5 8
2014 30.0 7
2015 25.7 7
2016 6.0 unranked
2017 15.0 11
2018 23.8 3
2019 20.3 12
2020 10.0 unranked
2021 7.3 unranked

2022 11.0 ?

There are a couple take-homes from this chart... For one, this isn't the first time Izzo's Spartans have finished outside the top 25 two years in a row. Second, it seems like there is only a weak relationship between recruiting ranking and subsequent years' rankings. Third, this is pretty much how Izzo's recruiting has always been - in general his classes are above average for a major conference team, but far from elite. And upcoming classes have that same profile thus far.

Clearly, there are multiple reasons why recruiting has not been Izzo's strongest suit, including opponents essentially paying their recruits under the table. And recruiting is clearly a fickle thing - we were lined up to have Emoni Bates (back when he was viewed as a generational talent) and Enoch Boakye, until we weren't. But just because MSU's recruiting success hasn't really declined in recent years, and therefore can not explain recent underwhelming results, that doesn't mean that improved recruiting couldn't be part of the solution going forward. Playing for a HOF-er like Izzo should be an amazing draw, and to some extent it is, at least for a more enlightened set of recruits. But I feel like one big disadvantage for MSU is the lure of ex-NBA players like Juwan Howard and Penny Hardaway. MSU has put a decent number of players into the league, and some of them have gotten into coaching, so why aren't any of them on the staff? Can't we ring up Charlie Bell?

So what does explain the recent decline? Has MSU taken a step back in player development? That gets harder to quantify, and some of this could be random variation, but even if we set aside a case like Rocket Watts, it feels like we're not getting as many individual "leaps" as we used to. But we're really only a few years removed from vastly improved players like Winston and Tillman, so there is probably some random variability in play here.

Or is it an issue in the strategy department? One concern is that Izzo has kept his coaching staff pretty static and insular over the years, preferring to rehire former assistants when necessary, rather than bringing in new faces. Of course familiarity and shared backgrounds don't have to be total barriers to developing new ideas, but it may not help.

In strategy and in player development, it may be more a matter of the competition catching up, and somewhat neutralizing advantages that Izzo used to have. Teams definitely have to keep innovating just to maintain the same level of success. My hope is that even at 67, Izzo will still discover some new tricks.

Obviously I'm not claiming to have all the answers here. So why don't you tell me - what do you think is the path to Izzo's 2nd championship?

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This is a FanPost, written by a member of the TOC community. It does not represent the official positions of The Only Colors, Inc.--largely because we have no official positions.