With future looking bright, Michigan State can play free in NCAA Tournament

COLUMBUS, Ohio – A few minutes after 11 p.m. on Selection Sunday, an email from Michigan State’s sports communications department underscored the ubiquity of the basketball program this time of year. Izzo sets record for most consecutive NCAA tournament appearances as Spartans extend streak to 25 straightthe subject line read, and the body of the message explained how head coach Tom Izzo, now 68, had surpassed former Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s mark of 24 unbroken offers.

At 19-12 overall and a modest 11-8 in conference play, the Spartans entered March Madness without outside pressure for the third straight season. They started the year unranked, climbed into the Top 25 after beating Kentucky and Villanova in back-to-back games, the first on a neutral court, the second at the Breslin Center, before falling out of the polls for good in early December. Izzo believed his team had a chance to win the Big Ten Tournament after rounding out the form with five wins in seven games to end the regular season, but Michigan State quickly rolled over, 68-58, in a slow loss vs. 13th-seeded Ohio State. .

Last week’s deflation in Chicago extended one of the languid stretches of Izzo’s epic career in East Lansing that spans parts of four decades. His seeding average over the first 22 NCAA Tournament appearances of that remarkable career was 4.6 from 1998-2019, a stretch in which he made eight Final Fours and captured his second national title the history of the school. But over the last three years, as Michigan State won just 31 of 59 conference games for a .525 winning percentage that paled in comparison to Izzo’s career mark of .675, the No. The Spartans’ average fell to 8.3 after bottoming out as an 11-seed in 2021, failing to advance beyond the top four.

“I feel like you come here to get to a Final Four,” guard Tyson Walker said Thursday. “That’s just like the basics. Just coming out the first weekend is good, but we’re trying to make a run. Coach has done that. We just have to follow his lead.”

The amount of staying power this year’s No. 7 seed has will be tested on Friday at 12:15 pm ET against No. 10 USC, and the winner of that game is expected to against second-seeded Marquette on Sunday. But for a certain faction of Michigan State’s rabid fans, anything the Spartans accomplish this week at Nationwide Arena is a plus given the caliber of the 2023 recruiting class that signed Izzo.

Michigan State’s Tyson Walker turns on the jets and hits a powerful block against Rutgers

Michigan State's Tyson Walker turns on the jets and hits a powerful block against Rutgers

His collection of two five-star and two four-star prospects ranks third nationally in the 247Sports Composite behind blue-chip grabbers Duke and Kentucky, and marks the first time Izzo has secured a top-10 class best since 2016.

The pick of the litter is Xavier Booker, a 6-foot-10, 205-pound center who averaged 15.2 points and 8.3 rebounds for Cathedral High School in Indianapolis. As the No. 8 player in his class and the No. 2 center, Booker is among former Michigan State stars Jaren Jackson Jr. (No. 8 overall in 2017) and Miles Bridges (No. 12 overall in 2016) as third. -Best recruit in program history since 247Sports began recording data in 2000. Former Spartans Shannon Brown, who was the No. 4 prospect in the 2003 recruiting cycle, is the only player with a ranking higher than Jackson (second). Booker (third) and Bridges (fourth).

The rest of the ’23 class consists of five-star point guard Jeremy Fears (No. 24 overall, No. 5 PG); four-star power forward Coen Carr (No. 52 overall, No. 10 PF) and small forward Gehrig Normand (No. 102 overall, No. 24 SF).

“Man, it’s awesome,” forward Jaxon Kohler said. “I know they’re a great group of guys. I’ve had the opportunity to play with them and be around them, not just as a basketball player, but as a human being. At the end of the day, you know, t “you have to make sure they’re good people, and every single one of them is an amazing person. And on the court, you know, it’s even better to play with them because they’re so talented. I’m excited to play with all of them and each of them.”

By navigating the 2022-23 campaign with just 10 scholarship players, three under the cap, Izzo can bring in the elite recruiting class without turning away some of his veterans who would like to return. Walker (14.6 points per game), small forward Malik Hall (9.2 points, 4.2 rebounds per game) and forward Joey Hauser (14.2 points, 6.9 rebounds per game) have all the necessary requirements despite being classified as senior or graduate students in that year. listed Neither has announced or specified their intentions for next season, although Hauser has indicated that he is likely to leave.

Joey Hauser drops 20 points in Michigan State’s 80-67 win over Nebraska

Joey Hauser drops 20 points in Michigan State's 80-67 win over Nebraska

As much as he looks to infuse the core of this year’s roster with an ultra-talented freshman class, the teams Izzo built around Bridges and Jackson have yet to achieve in the postseason. Bridges’ first year at Michigan State ended with a quarterfinal loss in the Big Ten Tournament and a second-round upset by top-seeded Kansas in the NCAA Tournament. Jackson joined the following year, in 2017-18, and paired with Bridges to lead Michigan State to a 28-3 record during the regular season before suffering two more early stumbles: a loss in semifinals against Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament and a second loss. round-robin loss to Syracuse after earning a three-seed in the NCAA Tournament.

“I’ve been a seed and lost the first weekend,” Izzo said. “I’ve been a No. 1 seed and gone to a Final Four. I’ve been a No. 7 seed and gone to a Final Four. So why not do it again? Who knows?”

The recent introductions of both the NIL and the transfer portal have offered life rafts to players facing the harsh realization that talent alone does not guarantee success. Roster building and, more importantly, roster balance have turned into a relentless, year-round effort for coaching staffs across the country, even as March Madness rolls around. collapses during its first weekend. Dozens of players entered the portal earlier this week after their respective seasons ended, and on Thursday morning, USC head coach Andy Enfield joked about sleeping while his assistants they get up at 5 a.m. to study film for potential additions.

The reality is that any team making a postseason run could look very different next week.

“The players are worried about who you take as a transfer, what you’re doing here, what you’re doing there,” Izzo said. “It’s very difficult to manage a squad now for managers. But it’s very difficult for players to figure out, ‘Where do I go?’ and ‘Are they going to pick up three more boys?’ We used to know these things, so I keep saying — and I’ll say it until I’m done — the players, I think, hurt themselves more than they don’t help them.

“I mean, I’m going to get players. I’m going to get players and I’m going to win games. How many? I don’t know. But I’m going to get enough. But these players, they get certain lengths of time and that [only] works great for a couple.”

That’s why it’s best to enjoy the present, no matter how promising the future looks.

Michael Cohen covers college football and basketball for FOX Sports with an emphasis on the Big Ten. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Cohen13.

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