The Michigan State Spartans are headed back to the Final Four for the eighth time under hall of fame coach Tom Izzo, and their first Final Four appearance since 2015.
“It never gets old,” Izzo told Westwood One broadcasters Kevin Kuglar and John Thompson moments after the victory.
While each Final Four appearance is special in its own right, this year’s breakthrough achievement represents Izzo’s most impressive accomplishment of his illustrious career. Recency bias? Maybe. But forgive me for anointing the same coach that was condemned by the media just over a week ago for ‘clenching his fist at a player.’ That same coach now has his team back in the Final Four after defeating the tournament’s top seed no less.
Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, and the rest of the of the 5-star, McDonalds All-Americans and lottery picks that made up this Duke team inevitably resulted in them being one of the most glorified and hyped groups in recent memory. Michigan State’s win forced the collective national media to pump the breaks a little bit on the hype-train surrounding this Blue Devil team, and more importantly, proved to be an example of experience outlasting sheer talent. Despite Duke having four projected first-round draft picks, it was Tom Izzo’s bunch prevailing when the clock hit zero. Izzo wouldn’t trade his guys for anyone, but make no mistake about it, they were the underdog and severely outmatched on paper in this one, but the green and white triumphed.
For the first time since 2000, the Spartans won at least a share of the Big Ten regular season title, the Big Ten tournament title, and reached the Final Four. Forgive me for the history lesson, but that’s also the year of Izzo’s lone National Championship. Time will tell if Sparty can go all the way this year, but this year’s team bears a striking resemblance to that 2000 team and the ‘Flint-Stones.’ Nevertheless, Izzo and company have gotten it done all year, and while they’ve certainly had their fair share of mishaps, Michigan State has been able to weather the storm and continue this magical run to Minneapolis.
Maybe this should become Izzo’s calling card. He should forbid McDonalds All-Americans from enrolling at Michigan State and resort to only coaching four-year, ‘program players.’ Forget the metrics and statistics, Izzo’s guys have played with the immeasurable qualities like heart, grit, and swagger in both the B1G tournament and the ‘Big Dance’. The Spartan moxie was on full display against an undoubtedly more talented Duke team on Sunday, another testament to the coaching job by Tom Izzo.
In Michigan State’s biggest games this year, the Spartans thrived in executing when it mattered most. In all three of its contests against the University of Michigan, Michigan State was the better team in pivotal moments, and Michigan failed to adjust. Furthermore, on the biggest of stages, Tom Izzo outcoached the legendary Mike Krzyzewski, most notably in drawing up the winning play in the form of a Kenny Goins three-pointer to put Michigan State up two points with 34.3 seconds left in the game.
The storybook ending of course would culminate with Michigan State winning two more games and winning a National Championship.
However, regardless of what transpires from here on out, when you truly break it down, it’s hard not to marvel at what Izzo and the Spartans have done – through the highs and lows, Michigan State is headed back to the Final Four, and it’s Izzo’s most impressive accomplishment yet.