Tom Izzo has a proven recipe that yields March Madness appearances on a yearly basis.
Seventeen straight, actually. Set your watch to it.
To say that he’s “rebuilding” his Michigan State program would be inaccurate. To say that he needs to make major, program-shaking changes would be, too.
The proper terms are “restocking” and “reconfiguring.” Just try a couple of new things, that’s all.
Are major adjustments needed?
His Spartans probably won’t be national-title favorites next year—that’s fine. They’re not last year’s team. Everyone knows that.
They probably won’t be picked to win the Big Ten, either. Again, not a big deal—No. 5-seeded Spartans have romped through March.
But none of that matters, not today. Preseason/offseason hype means zilch, just ask Izzo, who’s been the favorite and the sleeper several times during his illustrious 20-year career as head coach.
He wins some, loses some. That’s the cycle.
Instead of thinking too far ahead, focus on the resources available to Michigan State and how Izzo could better use said talent. It’s worth noting that coaches such as Izzo usually stick to what works—that’s why they’re successful and celebrated.
But it’s a new day, and sometimes small adjustments are needed in order to get the most out of today’s players. Let’s examine a few things that could positively affect the Spartans.
Turn it Down (a Little)
Save it for the locker room.
We'll keep this section short and sweet. But the following point is worth mentioning.
Izzo is Izzo, that much is certain. In 1994, shrinking a guy on TV was a sign of a passionate and fiery coach. The player was better for it, right?
Today, analysts talk about how it's uncalled for and takes away from the game.
Whatever. Izzo's done it for years.
However, this past year was different. For some reason, he appeared to really publicly ride Keith Appling and Branden Dawson. Of course, he wanted to get the best out of them. No harm there. But sometimes, that does more harm than good.
It's a balancing act. Some guys like that type direction and discipline, some don't. Izzo can't let that stand in the way of landing the next program superstar. Sometimes making adjustments helps.
Just a thought.
Tom Izzo on Branden Dawson: "If Michigan State fan--one, one--rips him, give him my number."— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) January 24, 2014
Everyone’s doing it…
The question of “what if Jabari Parker committed?” will live on for a few years, maybe longer. For those in need of a refresher, Parker, Chicago Simeon’s LeBron James, was supposed to be the biggest recruit of the Izzo era.
Really, he would have been right up there with the best of the best Izzo recruits, probably No. 1. At 6’8” and 230 pounds, Parker has shooting guard scoring ability, power forward muscle and small forward athleticism. He’s the total package and will undoubtedly have a long NBA career.
But he would have looked great in green and white, even if just for 35 games or so.
Imagine a team with Parker, Gary Harris, Adreian Payne, Appling and Dawson. That would have been an Izzo-defining roster. Thoughts of that team are enough to energize the soul. Championship No. 2 guaranteed. Mission: Accomplished.
Hang up the whistle, spend time at home and handle things from afar.
Of course, it didn’t happen. Parker committed to Duke, which lost in the first round of the tournament—that was the kicker. Izzo isn’t going anywhere, so the bronze statue will have to wait for a few years.
Ahh, the possibilities. This past year could have been so memorable.
But enough of the dreaming, it’s time to get real: Izzo needs to get out of his comfort zone and do what it takes—all within reason, of course—to get one of these kids. He’s already swung and missed the past two years, and it’s starting to get discouraging.
Adjusting recruiting wouldn’t hurt. Not one bit. He can still sign the role players, the Applings and the Travis Trices, but he must secure a blue-chipper. Those guys have friends, and their friends have friends. They talk to each other and sometimes plan together.
That’s the way of the world. Compete or risk falling behind.
That being said, Coach K’s next class is unfair. It’s No. 1 in the nation, according to 247Sports. Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor?!
Come on, man.
With Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker, Karl Towns and Trey Lyles, Kentucky, yet again, will field a 5-star roster in 2014-15. Thanks for settling for No. 2 in the country, Cal.
Izzo had a chance with each one of these guys. Each one. At one point, Okafor was a serious option. So was Cliff Alexander, who committed to Kansas. Ulis was a maybe. Towns was a prospect. Lyles and Booker were on the radar.
Is there a disconnect? Why don’t these guys see Michigan State in elite light? Izzo’s visiting. They’re not returning the favor. The Spartans have the No. 50 class in the land. No. 50! And they’re owners of the No. 7 class in the Big Ten.
Harris, Dawson and Payne were 5-stars. But recruiting remains a valid concern.
Continue proud tradition.
Seniors are the backbone, really.
Four-year tradition or not, veterans have always been the heart and soul. Izzo's always relied on the old guys.
However, not everyone can be a Draymond Green or Travis Walton. Not everyone comes from the same mold as Mateen Cleaves or Scott Skiles.
They don’t have to be.
They just have to be Spartans seniors—the rest takes care of itself. Trice isn’t going to leave East Lansing as one of Izzo’s greatest athletes. But he can ensure a place in the story if he follows the plan and executes a textbook senior year.
As for Dawson, he could have been one of Izzo’s all-time greats. He really could have been. A flirt with the NBA was all he needed to make his choice: He's coming back, but not just for his fourth year, his senior year.
Making the adjustment from player to pillar of the program will be Dawson’s biggest. It'll probably be the difference-maker for his team, too.
Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan State Spartans basketball writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.