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Michigan State Lands 5-Star Miles Bridges, Is Tom Izzo Building a Favorite?

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Michigan State basketball picked up a very big commitment Saturday afternoon when 5-star small forward Miles Bridges announced his commitment to Tom Izzo and the Spartans.

Bridges is 6-foot-6, 218 pounds and he’s ranked as ranked as the No. 3 small forward in the nation, according to the industry generated 247Sports Composite. He’s also the No. 12 overall recruit nationally, according to the 247Sports Composite, and the 8th overall recruit in the ESPN 100.

With his commitment, Michigan State’s 2016 class now features four commitments. Bridges joins fellow 5-star shooting guard Joshua Langford, 4-star point guard Cassius Winston and 4-star power forward Nick Ward. Kentucky and Indiana were also in the running for Bridges’ commitment, though he did also have offers from basketball powerhouses such as North Carolina, Kansas, Louisville and Florida among others. In total, his offer list features 16 schools.

In Bridges, the Michigan State is getting a player Mike Wilson of spartantailgate.com called “arguably its biggest commitment in more than a decade”. The Spartans also capitalized on some “home field advantage” if you will, because it’s well worth noting that Bridges grew up in Flint and actually attended Flint Southwestern Academy before transferring to Huntington Prep in West Virginia, which is a rather common move for elite basketball talent heading into their senior seasons.

Bridges announced his commitment at Mott Community College, which is in Flint, Michigan, and the chance to play near to home definitely appeared to be a major factor in his commitment, according to quotes from ESPN’s Paul Biancard (h/t ESPN’s Jeff Borzello for passing them on via his article).

“It’s home and I’m close to the guys (Cassius Winston, Nick Ward and Josh Langford) that they’re bringing in, both on and off the court,” Bridges told ESPN’s Paul Biancardi. “I am comfortable with the staff and I know a lot about the program. Coach Izzo has stayed dedicated to me the entire recruiting process. He is a very loyal guy.”

To add onto that, here’s what Bridges—and his mother—had to say about the Spartans and Izzo to our very own Adam Biggers:

Izzo is highly regarded as one of the best college basketball coaches in the nation and he’s without a doubt a hall of fame coach when all is said and done. He has Michigan State contending in the Big Ten on a year-to-year basis, and the same can be said of the NCAA Tournament. If you draw the Spartans, you know you’re in for a tough game.

Still, with that said, Izzo’s recent recruiting classes haven’t necessarily blown away the competition.

You’d have to go back to the 2010 signing period to find a Michigan State class that was ranked anywhere near the Top 10 nationally, and that class—which featured Adreian Payne (5-star), Keith Appling (4-star), Russell Byrd (4-star) and Alex Guana (3-star) was ranked No. 12 nationally.

The last time Izzo had a Top 10 class was in 2008, when he landed 5-star power forward Delvon Roe, 4-star power forward Draymond Green—who ended up playing like a 5-star—4-star point guard Korie Lucious and unranked guard Joe Sweeny. That class was ranked No. 10 nationally and made appearances in the NCAA Championship game (losing to North Carolina), Final Four and Sweet 16.

Izzo’s 2009 class was ranked 28th nationally, 2011 was 23rd, 2013 checked in at No. 74 nationally (two 3-stars and an unranked small forward), 2014 was ranked No. 50 and 2015’s class checked in at No. 18, all according to the 247Sports Composite Team Rankings.

Since the aforementioned 2008 class, Michigan State—again, one of the more prominent college basketball schools in the country, mind you—has landed just four 5-star recruits: Roe, guard Gary Harris, Payne and small forward Branden Dawson. Meanwhile, schools like Kentucky, Kansas and Duke are getting multiple 5-stars a recruiting cycle; and those are the programs that we all consider national powers, right?

And this is perhaps the biggest question to ask today when looking at the commitment of Bridge: Does more 5-stars mean more opportunities at national championships for the Spartans?

Keep this in mind. Michigan State is a highly recognized and respected program, and Izo doesn’t necessarily need 5-star recruits to make an impact in the Big Ten or on the post-season. After all, since winning the National Championship in 2000, Izzo’s Spartans have made the dance every single year and they’ve made some notable runs through the tournament as well. Credit Izzo for that, because he’s a tremendous coach. But still, sometimes great coaching isn’t enough.

He’s not the one out there playing defense or making a big free throw in the clutch. All Izzo can do—or any coach for that matter—is put his players in the best position to succeed, and their talent has to take over and do the rest.

And that’s why recruiting is so important in college sports, because no matter how talented the coach is, it always comes down to who you have on the field or court. There’s an old coaching saying that generally rings true: “It’s not about the X’s and O’s. It’s about the Jimmys and Joes.”

Of course, the big X-factor here is that recruiting rankings don’t and truthfully can’t factor in one thing, and that’s motivation. A great coach can take good talent and motivate it to be great. A great coach can take great talent and motivate it to be elite, and that’s one of the things that Izzo has had going for him during his time at Michigan State. He has a way of getting the best out of his players, so he hasn’t necessarily needed 5-star talent on a year-in, year-out basis. He can take lesser-ranked players, and motivate them to play higher than their talent ceiling.

He’s found ways to motivate and scheme his team to big wins, and he’s found ways to create a hard-nosed identity that has given the Spartans a chip on their shoulders in the past. So no, Izzo doesn’t need 5-star talent to be successful.

But will he take it?

Of course.

Izzo’s coaching has been able to get Michigan State to the dance in the past, but it’s players like Bridges who can help put the Spartans over the top.

He’s a freakish athlete with the dunking ability to punish the rim, so he’s going to be good for a few highlights during his Michigan State career. He’ll be a major game-changer in transition for the Spartans, but he’ll also be a factor defensively because of his length and athleticism. Offensively he can spread the floor with a smooth jump shot, so overall he projects to be a pretty complete player for the Spartans.

Without a doubt, though, Bridges will really stand out for Michigan State is in his ability to drive the lane and make a big plays, and that has got to be exciting for Spartan basketball fans.

With his addition, Michigan State now boasts the top 2016 recruiting class in the nation, according to 247Sports. The Spartans now also have two 5-stars in one class, and that’s well worth noting when you factor in the recruiting history mentioned above.

The rankings can and will change, but this MSU class has a chance to be very special. And while Izzo doesn’t necessarily need major talent to find major success, just imagine what he can do with a player like Bridges on his squad.

He’s done more with less in the past, so could the addition of Bridges, and players like Langford, Winston and Ward be the tipping point for Izzo when it comes to finally getting back over that hump and bringing another championship to East Lansing?

The Spartans have been hard to count out before because of Izzo alone. They’ve always been contenders, but now Michigan State could be well on its way to building a favorite.

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