Izzo's Michigan St. Final Four streak ends; expectations will fall, too
The Spartans had the right group to make a title push this season. They came up short, and in doing so, signal a change for the program going forward.
NEW YORK -- One prominent part of Tom Izzo's legacy has ended.
Throughout his career, Izzo had one unreal accomplishment at Michigan State: If you graduated in four years as a Spartan, your career included a Final Four. It was a heck of an achievement, and something that certainly helped in a recruiting pitch.
Now that's no longer true, as Adreian Payne and Keith Appling will leave East Lansing having never reached the sport's ultimate stage.
The run is over because MSU couldn't get past No. 7 UConn on Sunday at Madison Square Garden. This tournament gave us another thriller, but the impressive, home crowd-esque Huskies backdrop -- in addition to some outstanding defense -- prevented Sparty from booking space in Dallas.
Izzo said he didn't care about it, the streak in general.
"You know, that streak doesn't mean anything to me, as dumb as it sounds," he said. "Sometimes you got lucky. There were teams that we went to a Final Four with that weren't as good as some teams we didn't."
Credit to UConn for the win. It looked Michigan State's equal, at the very least, most of the afternoon.
No doubt MSU expected to outplay UConn -- it just didn't happen. The defense was stellar for most of the second half. The Spartans had more talent, but they didn't have the singular best talent. Shabazz Napier made the Garden entirely his, just as a few Huskies legends that came before him did the same.
Spartans junior point guard Travis Trice took it as badly as anyone else in the postgame locker room. It was a shock, especially after they led 25-21 at halftime, shutting down UConn for the majority of the first 20 minutes.
When you're Izzo, losing a streak like this isn't such a terrible thing -- it means you've had an incredible career already. When you're a player, a hope, a promise that you had in coming to the school.
The loss not only signals the end of the streak but also a big-time drop in outlook for Izzo's program. While it seems likely the 59-year-old Izzo won't leave for the NBA, you couldn't blame him for flirting hard again with the pros. (Detroit has been rumored to be interested.)
There's no denying it: MSU has some uncertainties heading into next year. This program does not use the word "rebuild," but it's clear next season's team could be just another group in the greater realm.
MSU loses Payne and Appling to graduation. Harris, a projected top-20 pick, is expected to declare for the NBA Draft.
And it's going to be one of the weaker incoming classes MSU's head in some time. Lourawls "Tum Tum" Nairn Jr. is a borderline top-100 prospect, and Javon Bess and Marvin Clark are three-star guys. If Harris leaves, it'll open up one more spot on the roster. Expect Michigan State to scour the market for a transfer to replace Harris.
All in all, MSU will probably have its lowest expectations -- at least from the outside -- since the 2006-07 season. Usually big seasons of expectation are followed up by significant drops the next year. That's just how college sports works at most programs. For MSU, it's a rare position.
"Considering what we went through, both back home and throughout the year, this would have been as important as any one I've been in, just because I think we went through the most and it's just disappointing," Izzo said.
It doesn't mean Izzo can't get this team back into the NCAAs or competing for a Big Ten title. But for the first time in a long time, it's not a given. Spartans fans are facing an offseason with more ambivalence than they've had in almost a decade.
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