Michigan State Basketball: Analyzing the Importance of the 2015 Class

Brad AlmquistFeatured ColumnistMay 29, 2014

Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo directs his team in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Northwestern in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Conference tournament Friday, March 14, 2014, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Michael Conroy/Associated Press

Tom Izzo has attracted numerous high-profile recruits for the class of 2015. As Michigan State surrenders arguable its three top players, garnering as much incoming young talent is vital.

As they head into their 2014-15 campaign, the Spartans still face questions in multiple facets. The losses of Keith Appling and Gary Harris evidently diminish the firepower and experience of their backcourt. Appling’s backup, Travis Trice, played pivotal minutes and produced clutch performances as last season winded down.

Trice took care of the ball and knocked down perimeter shots with great consistency throughout the majority of the season, and that efficiency led to Izzo handing increased minutes to the junior point guard. Now, after waiting three years, Trice has the keys to the offense.

Moving forward, he must seek to penetrate more frequently and present more of a threat than just his perimeter shooting. Trice has some experience as the starter, as Appling was sidelined last year due to a nagging wrist injury.

Trice’s transition into a starting role should be rather smooth. Who replaces Harris as the 2-guard, however, is much more obscure.

Alvin Ellis has yet to prove that he can perform consistently at the Big Ten level. While Ellis is a true wing player, incoming freshman Lourawls Nairn could certainly grasp that spot with an impressive start to the season. Despite his lack of size, Nairn’s dynamic skill set and scoring abilities compensate.

Izzo won’t hesitate to play Trice and Nairn aside from one another, if indeed they are the best options.

State’s list of targets indicates a number of impressive guards. Montaque Gill-Caesar, a player who has shown developing interest in Michigan State, plays with tremendous physicality and athleticism on the wing. He lives from within 17 feet and in, but can also hit the occasional outside jumper.

As one of the most coveted recruits in the class, acquiring his services would provide an instant boost to the backcourt.

Eric Davis is another one of Izzo’s targets. As a hybrid between a point guard and a wing player, the 6’3” Davis can impact a game in a multitude of ways. He is an excellent three-point shooter off the dribble or pass, but Davis also enters the lane with a meticulous craftiness.

With tremendous touch, Davis’ sweet stroke both inside and outside of the paint make him a tough cover. In addition, he can lead the offense with his underrated vision and passing skills.

Davis and Gill-Caesar could realistically become Spartans in 2015. Another esteemed, high-scoring guard who has been offered by MSU is the sweet-shooting lefty, Jalen Brunson.

Brunson is a prolific scorer with unlimited range. He plays at his own, distinct pace and is adept at picking his spots in the defense. Brunson handles the ball well also, but his true worth lies in his ability to take over a game at any juncture.

In-state rival Michigan is closely seeking Brunson, as well. If he were to choose between the Spartans and Wolverines, the team that will acquire his talents may put another twist in the revamped rivalry.

Any of those three rising high school seniors will help MSU immediately. If Izzo can acquire two of them, it will bolster the backcourt’s talent level dramatically.

While the guard play may not replicate the level of the 2013-14 season, State has enough returning options in the backcourt to be dangerous. However, it is the frontcourt that took a major blow once Adreian Payne departed.

Branden Dawson returns and will likely lead the team in rebounding. But even the hyper-athletic Dawson only stands at 6’6”, with no additional impact post players present on the other block.

Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling must improve offensively. Both of their skill sets are severely limited, which is why some of the talented forwards on MSU’s radar are that much more important to secure.

One of those targets is Trevor Manuel, a 6’9” lanky forward with outstanding athleticism. He has fantastic touch around the rim and he knows how to slip around defenders to score. He could potentially provide that post presence that the Spartans currently lack.

A player whose body type and skill set is eerily similar to Manuel’s is verbal commit Deyonta Davis. He is another tall, skinny forward but has a fantastic mid-range game. With some added weight and a year or two under Izzo’s system, Davis could become a double-double machine.

Simply put: The future could be bright with some of the aforementioned recruits joining the Spartans in a year. This season’s team lacks the abundance of talent that the 2015 class could plentifully provide.

While Izzo consistently validates his greatness by developing his players into disciplined and effective byproducts of his system, nothing can replicate talent. Seemingly every recent national championship-winning team possesses multiple players with NBA talent.

His last two years as a recruiter have been down, according to his standards. But the 2015 class has the potential to catapult MSU to another Izzo-esque Final Four run.