The Michigan State Spartans fell flat in the 2013 Sweet 16 against the Duke Blue Devils.
The Michigan Wolverines exceeded expectations and galloped to the Final Four before losing in the national championship Monday to the Louisville Cardinals.
But now that the dust has settled in the aftermath of the 2012-13 NCAA basketball season, the one question that every college hoops junkie wants to know is this: Which team will be better next year, Michigan or Michigan State?
Okay, so that's a stretch. Maybe that's a question that only Big Ten followers want answered—more specifically, those in the Great Lakes State.
Finding the absolute answer depends on a few variables.
The Spartans have sustained success and have been at elite or near-elite status since the late 1990s under coach Tom Izzo. The Wolverines are just beginning what looks like to be a Spartans-like romp under coach John Beilein.
Factor in who leaves each program—either due to graduation or early entry to the NBA draft—and coming up with a definitive answer gets a little more clear.
Who'll Be at MSU Next Year?
Depending on if Keith Appling, Adreian Payne and Gary Harris leave East Lansing, Izzo's Spartans won't have many weapons to combat the nation's big boys. Doing well in the Big Ten probably won't be a problem—other schools like Indiana are losing stars, too. Victor Oladipo declared Tuesday for the NBA draft, and Michigan could lose a heavy hitter or two as well.
But we'll get to the Wolverines later.
For now, Payne and Harris are the most likely to jump to the league. If they do, the Spartans lose will lose their most athletic big man and second-leading scorer.
Expect Appling to return for his senior year; he's just not ready for the rigors of the pro game at this point. His speed is his best asset, but he'll have to tone down the turnovers and find a consistent scoring touch in order to attract the fancy of an NBA team executive.
But he does have potential. And scouts love the P-word.
At 6'10" and 240 pounds, Payne is a tremendously intriguing athlete. He can haul in rebounds, block shots and post up against some of the most aggressive centers/forwards in college today—and then he can run the floor and splash a long-range dagger.
Yeah, that's a complete skill set.
Payne lacks footwork under the hoop and never really developed a back-to-the-rim arsenal. However, gaining those skills probably won't be a problem for one of the country's most improved players.
Again, he possesses potential. He's an unfinished product, but he's closer to being finished than he is to being raw.
Michigan State returns Branden Dawson, a will-be junior, along with forwards Kenny Kaminski and Alex Gauna. Throw in 2013 recruit Gavin Schilling, and the Spartans will have a solid stable of able mid-sizers to work with next season. Don't forget about will-be-junior guard Travis Trice, either. He's a vital part to the Spartans' backcourt.
The Spartans won't be hurting for talent when the 2013-14 campaign rolls around, but potentially being without at least one or more of the three aforementioned—Harris, Appling and Payne—will certainly hinder a run at a national championship.
If Payne is the one to leave, Michigan State probably won't plan making it past the 2014 Sweet 16. A trip to Jerry's World (Cowboys Stadium, site of the 2014 Final Four) won't be possible without him.
Who Will Be at Michigan Next Year?
Kiss Trey Burke goodbye, Michigan fans. He's done all he can with the Wolverines except win a national championship. Burke, a sophomore, swept every player of the year award category this past season and was easily one of the most dazzling, showstopping athletes.
Simply put, Burke was the man.
Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III are also candidates for the NBA draft. Freshman sensation 6'10" center Mitch McGary could end up on an NBA roster sooner than later.
However, the star-studded cast of Michigan's title run refuses to talk about leaving at the moment.
Burke is gone. That's pretty much certain.
If Burke is the only one to leave, Michigan will still have enough horses to ride on the trail toward the Final Four. Jon Horford will be a junior. Spike Albrecht scored a staggering 17 points in the first half Monday in the Wolverines' 82-76 title game loss to Louisville.
Albrecht was recruited to replace Burke. And like Burke, Albrecht can knock down a shot from a mile away with his eyes closed and hands tied behind his back. His accuracy in opening minutes of the championship bout was incredible (4-of-4 from long range).
Nik Stauskas, a sophomore-to-be, is another marksman that the Wolverines will have in 2013-14. The addition of Zak Irvin, Harris' former teammate at Hamilton Southeastern, only adds to Beilein's stockpile of arms. Irvin won Indiana's Mr. Basketball award this year and is a 4-star rated guard (Rivals.com). At 6'6" and 180 pounds, he's similar in size to Harris.
Derrick Walton brings depth to the point guard spot for Michigan. The former Detroit Chandler Park 4-star standout is the No. 10 ranked 1-guard in the nation, according to Rivals.com.
Mark Donnal, a 6'9", 200-pound forward, is another highly touted prepster making his way to Ann Arbor.
The Wolverines' recruiting class outweighs Michigan State's. Of course, the fact that Izzo didn't nab Jabari Parker—who was to take the only open scholarship at the time—tilts the advantage in Beilein's favor. But cards fall where they may, and Michigan is left holding nothing but aces.
Who Has the Leg Up, MSU or UM?
Again, with the uncertainly of who is staying and who is leaving, it's difficult to assess which team will enter next season with less. Let's assume that Payne and Burke are the only ones to leave. That'll favor Michigan, which will still have an experienced post player in Horford.
Beilein made a coaching boo-boo against Louisville. It was an honest mistake, but he thought Michigan was in 1-and-1 territory.
Why does that matter?
For one, Izzo has been to too many dances to make such a blunder. Izzo has more big-game experience—six Final Four appearances do that for a guy—and has coached at much higher level than Beilein for years.
Izzo has always been Michigan State's safety net. No matter the amount of talent brought in or lost, Izzo is the constant.
So, let's assume some more. Izzo says goodbye to Payne. Beilein holds the door open for Burke to enter the NBA. Both teams lose firepower. It's likely that Izzo could counteract not having a go-to player better than Beilein because he's been through the scenario before.
Izzo doesn't expect to lose anyone. Beilein probably can't say the same.
Izzo told the HUGE Show (via MLive.com), a popular Michigan-based syndicated sports talk program, that he thinks the Spartans will be strong in 2013-14. He always says that, though. But that's because he always has a strong team returning.
I think we will be (top 10). I think we'll have everybody back
If we have everybody back, we're going to be I think really good because we're going to be more experienced. (Branden) Dawson, Harris and (Travis) Trice, having those three guys healthy is going to be the biggest key
Let's Say No One Leaves Early
In the unlikely event that not one player leaves either program, Michigan has to have a slight edge over Michigan State—the Wolverines are set to welcome three recruits to Michigan State's lone newcomer. And they'll have McGary, Burke, Hardaway Jr. and Robinson III looking for redemption, not to mention Abrecht and Stauskas.
Michigan will have a slew of national championship-experienced players. The Spartans will have just one—Appling.
Basically, it all comes down to which team loses the most. Burke's absence would be a huge blow to Michigan. Watching a national player of the year walk off campus hurts both athletically and mentally. Filling that void isn't impossible, but it's not easy.
It's a toss-up. Anyone's educated at this point, but Michigan could be onto something while the Spartans are left to wait for 2014's class of talent.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan State Spartans basketball writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81
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