EAST LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — This time last season, there was talk of Michigan State basketball potentially missing out on its first NCAA tournament in 25 years. This season, the talk is much different, with MSU expected to start the season as a Top 10, if not Top 5 team. 

“I love it. I love it. We’re not 1997, we’re 2023. And the program has earned the right to be a quality program, so if it’s not ranked there, that upsets me more,” said head coach Tom Izzo.

The Spartans ended last season in the Sweet 16, but ceiling for their 2023-24 campaign is much higher. Talks of a national championship weren’t even out of the question.

“If I say yes, that’ll be the headline and I’ll have bulletin board material. If I say no, I don’t believe in my team, so I’ll say I believe. We have a chance to be very good. And I think we have a chance to get what some teams that I’ve coached have gotten to,” said Izzo.

The Spartans haven’t reached the national championship game since 2009, so what makes this year different? Well, a nationally-ranked freshman class will certainly create some buzz, plus the handful of returning veterans that have already tasted success. AJ Hoggard, Tyson Walker and Malik Hall are included in that group and can feel something special. 

“It’s super encouraging, especially us knowing each other for so long, we’ve all been playing together for three years so it’s definitely going to help a lot, and it’s definitely big having been in these situations together, having been in those types of games, it helps a lot,” said Hoggard.

“This year, I’m just really excited, I have an opportunity to help lead some of the younger guys and hopefully win a national championship and that’s what I’m most focused on,” said Hall.

The Spartans’ four newcomers — Xavier Booker, Coen Carr, Jeremy Fears and Gehrig Normand — are together ranked the No. 7 class in the country by 247 Sports. Three of them were the top recruit from their state. They are primed to be one of the best new groups the program has seen in more than a decade.

“They all bring different facets to the game that I kind of feel like we haven’t seen…” Hall said of the freshmen. “And I think they all have the right mindset and I think partner that with coach and having older guys like us, I think it’ll go a long way for them.”

A five-star recruit, Booker ranks as the best player in the class. He’s among the MSU’s all-time best commits behind Shannon Brown and Jaren Jackson.

“We’re very special. Obviously we haven’t played a game yet and a lot of people talk about our potential as one of the best classes, but can’t really say too much about that yet. We just got to prove it,” Booker said.

Izzo expects all of his freshmen to see the court this season, though he says there’s plenty of room for improvement.

“It’s going to take a little time and it should take a little time. There’s a process that everybody wants to speed up, and I’m just happy I got them and they’re working their tail off to get better,” Izzo said.

It’s not surprising to see a strong incoming class at Michigan State. Izzo is a traditionalist and longtime critic of the transfer portal, saying he wants his program to remain one of relationships, not one that is transactional.

“I came here to be coached hard, play a great schedule, so I’m definitely feeling that right now,” Carr said. “(Izzo is) pushing me every day, every second of practice.”

“We all have to continue to keep working, keeping getting better and stay hungry,” Fears added.

The Spartans officially tip off the season on Nov. 6, but first they’ll welcome fans to the Breslin on Oct. 13 for Midnight Madness. Izzo hopes this annual tradition will bring the community and school together ahead of a year with some major expectations.