Appreciate the Now Part II: Spartan Edition

It’s no secret on the banks of the Red Cedar that Michigan State basketball has landed two five-star recruits and two four-star recruits with a potential third five-star on the way. This is a very unorthodox recruiting style for head coach Tom Izzo and the Spartans. Very similar to, dare I say, a Duke or Kentucky style of recruiting. Well, this “rumor” has a lot of die-hards and even the most casual of fans excited for Spartan basketball… in 2016-2017.

In the first part of Appreciate the Now, I mentioned the quality of talent and craziness of this year’s college basketball season and how it is being overlooked by draft buzz and ESPN’s “green room” segment. Fans need to slow down and just take in all the awesomeness in front of them. The same thing can be said for Michigan State basketball.

All too often do I hear something along the lines of: “This is year is cool, but next year is going to be insane.” Or: “I’m going to get season tickets next year when we have all of those stars.” Or: “Next year is the real deal.”

My response, every time, is that this team here in 2016 can win the national championship. And that is not even me being a homer (well, maybe a little).

But in all honesty, with the way this year has been going, the odds stack in MSU’s favor. The Spartans are one of the few complete teams in the nation. They can definitely shoot the three-ball. Denzel Valentine, Eron Harris and Tum Tum Nairn can all drive to the hoop. Matt Costello and Deyonta Davis’ can present a strong big man game. In my opinion, driving to the hoop, drawing fouls, and having solid big man play were aspects the team severely lacked last year, and the squad still made it to the Final Four.

For the first time in many years, we are not seeing a true number one team in the nation; in fact, we aren’t even seeing a group of top-tier teams that could be defined as elite. That being said, we are also seeing a lot of lower-tier teams with some good players that, on the right day, can come in and upset a team come tournament time, especially since there are so many teams with holes. As I mentioned in Part I, only three days in January were ranked teams left unscathed by their unranked opponents.

Despite the Spartans being one of those teams shocked by an unranked opponent, this team is really good. Their ball movement has been highlighted on multiple occasions throughout the year; this is backed by the fact that they are No. 1 in the nation in assists per game. Valentine, Costello and Bryn Forbes are averaging double figures in points per game. Harris isn’t far behind with 9.3 per game, respectively. The team free throw percentage is up from last year, shooting at 72.8 percent (anything is better than ranking 336 of 351 teams in free throws). But stats cannot show the fact that this team is going to run the floor, already have guys attacking the hoop the second the other team scores, and play hard-nosed Izzo defense.

It is so easy to get wrapped up in the excitement of recruiting such high-profile stars out of high school. But Michigan State fans are already being blessed with a magnificent blend of veteran leaders who had to work their tails off to get where they are at, as well as young, gifted talents who have come a long way already since November.

For all we know, we could be moving into a new era of Michigan State basketball that continues to recruit the five-star one-and-dones in order to stay competitive. So for now, appreciate seeing Kenny Goins earn himself a scholarship after one year, recent medical school applicant Colby Wollenman fight for a rebound, and home-grown Denzel Valentine become one of the top players in the country. Because when you start to recruit only four- and five-stars, you do not get the players who have everything to prove doing everything they can to stay on the roster or fight for a starting spot. The phenoms come in expecting to win, expecting to start, and hoping to grow for a year or two before making their way to the NBA. Sure, there will always be walk-ons. But for now, soak in everything this current team has accomplished and what it can continue to do this season. Right now, with the way this year has been going, it’s anyone’s game.

Any team that catches the Spartans on a night where they are on fire, I wish them luck. When this team is hot, they can beat anyone in the country, and they can make them look silly while doing it.

Next time you are at a game or watching on TV, look for the championship pieces that already lie within this team, the special bond they have with one another, and how when that Matt Costello tongue is flapping around, you know it’s getting ugly for the other team.

After all, you can’t spell March without Izzo.