Over the course his first 18 years as head coach of the Michigan State Basketball team, Tom Izzo has certainly seen his share of success.
When you look over his list of accomplishments, 16 straight NCAA Tournament appearances comes to mind along with 11 Sweet Sixteen’s, 6 Final Fours, and 7 Big Ten Championships.
But one unique stat that comes to mind is the fact that over the past 18 years, every four year player under Izzo has made it to a Final Four.
The last time the streak was in jeopardy was in the 2008-09 season. That year, the lone four year senior on the team, Travis Walton, entered the season having never made it to a Final Four (Goran Suton and Marquise Gray were redshirts in the 2005 run).
However, at the end of that season sophomores Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers, and a then freshman Draymond Green rallied the 5th seeded Spartans all the way to the National Championship game, where they eventually fell to the North Carolina Tar Heels, 89-72.
Flash-forward to this year and once again the streak is in jeopardy, with both seniors Keith Appling and Adreian Payne having never made it to a Final Four.
And although Izzo says the streak is not something he harps on every day, it has been discussed and his players do know about the streak.
“I think Adreian and Keith are more than aware of it,” Izzo said of his two seniors. “We’ve talked about it in a big picture thing, but it’s not something I use every day. That’s a streak that, I don’t know anybody that’s had it…Yet, like every other streak on record, it’s one that’s made to be broken; I just hope it’s not this year because it is something that I’m very proud of. I hope they’re proud of it, and understand how important it is to at least live up to or more than the players that played before you.”
However, if there was ever an Izzo team to be expected to make it to a Final Four, it would be this one.
From a team that won 27 games a year ago, the Spartans return every player but one, and also bring in talented freshmen in Alvin Ellis and Gavin Schilling, as well as getting Kenny Kaminski back from a redshirt year.
Couple that with one of the healthiest off seasons this Michigan State Basketball program has had in a while, and this team has the makings of potentially being an all-time team. All of this and more are reasons for the Spartans being ranked at No. 2 in the preseason Coaches Poll.
“We have very high expectations of this team,” Appling said, one of the seniors who is looking to get to a Final Four this year. “Each and every guy got better over the summer…We’re all excited and we’re ready to get it going.”
As for his coach, Izzo has reiterated the fact that his team has the chance to do something great this season.
“I think we have a bunch of guys that understand that this is an opportunity of a lifetime,” Izzo says of how good his team is, adding later on that this past summer Draymond Green came up to him and said that he was “dying to play for this team.”
Still, amid all the expectations and preseason accolades, the focus is there to get back to the Final Four and win a National Championship.
“It’s very important,” Payne said of continuing the streak. “I think about that every night. It’s our last year. We do it this year or it’s not going to be done for me and Keith. We just got to continue to get better and for us to get there, we’re going to have to lead us there.”
However, it’s not just the seniors who are aware of the streak. Underclassmen are also determined to get this team back to a Final Four.
“We have to (keep the streak alive),” MSU Basketball sophomore Gary Harris said. “We don’t want to be the first class breaking Tom Izzo’s Final Four streak…When that gets brought up, we’re going to be the team and we don’t want to be thought about that way. I feel like we all have a lot of pride and we want to keep this going for Coach Izzo for his legacy and for ours as well.”
“We have a shot to make a run deep in March this year,” Harris went on to say. “I feel like if we all come ready to play, that’s a realistic goal for us.”
Michigan State opens up the season at home on November 8 against McNeese State.
Follow Ryan Squanda on Twitter @squandaryan
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