March Madness hits different for Tom Izzo at Michigan State, where 26th bid in a row wasn't a layup

Tue, Mar 19, 2024

March Madness hits different for Tom Izzo at Michigan State, where 26th bid in a row wasn't a layup

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) - March Madness kept Tom Izzo sleepless for more than 24 hours before he heard and saw Michigan State made it into a 26th consecutive NCAA Tournament.

The Hall of Fame coach said he had one of the most anxious days of his career on Sunday, sensing his record-breaking streak might get snapped after the Spartans started No. 4 in the AP Top 25 preseason poll and finished an uneven season with five losses in seven games.

Izzo was able to exhale - and get some much-needed sleep - because Michigan State (19-14) was placed in the West Region as a No. 9 seed and matched up with No. 8 seed Mississippi State (21-13) on Thursday in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Even though the Spartans haven't played up to their potential consistently, Izzo insisted he still has faith they will when it matters most.

"I still believe we can," he said Monday.

If Michigan State plays the way it did during a six-week stretch midway through the season, with 13 wins in 14 games, including a 24-point victory over Baylor, it will have a shot to advance at least once.

"If we don't play at that level, we'll be coming home Thursday night," Izzo said.

The Spartans have had only one opening-round exit over the past seven years, a stretch that includes Izzo's eighth run to a Final Four in 2019. Even though it seems highly unlikely they could win it all for the second time under Izzo, one of his veterans said the competition might have a reason to be fearful of MSU.

"We still have the possibility of being national champions, in my eyes," fifth-year forward Malik Hall said. "If we're all clicking or on the same page and we're all doing what we're supposed to offensively and defensively, I think everybody is scared."

Izzo was worried when a series of upsets in conference tournaments took away some at-large bids, putting one of college basketball's longest streaks in jeopardy.

He led the Spartans into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 1998, in his third season, and last year became the first coach to take one school to 25 in a row.

In college basketball history, just two streaks are longer than Izzo's at Michigan State.

Kanas has a record run of 35 straight NCAA Tournament appearances, including sanctions for violations that vacated the 2018 run to the Final Four, with coaches Bill Self and Roy Williams.

North Carolina is No. 2 on the all-time list, going to 27 in a row from 1975 through 2001 under three coaches.

The Spartans were not expected to have trouble simply making it to a 26th consecutive tournament this year.

Expectations were high and seemed to be justified five months ago, when even the hard-driving Izzo expressed his love for the team.

There was a lot to like at least.

Five of the top six scorers from last season, when Michigan State reached the Sweet 16 for the 15th time under Izzo, returned and were led by a trio of talented and experienced guards: Tyson Walker, A.J. Hoggard and Jaden Akins.

Hall was one of a handful of post players, potentially providing an inside threat offensively, and the highly touted freshmen were projected to provide an influx of talent.

The Spartans, though, lost five of their first nine games and won just two of the last seven because they failed to find consistency up and down the lineup.

"Could we have done more? A hundred percent," Izzo said. "It has not been the year I was hoping it would be."

Hall and his teammates are well aware they haven't achieved what they, or the public, thought they would - so far.

"Once you're in, it doesn't matter where you are at," he said.


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LARRY LAGE Lage has been the Michigan Associated Press Sports Editor since 2000, serving as a beat writer for eight teams in pro and college. He has covered the Winter Olympics four times, most recently as the ski jumping and Nordic combined writer at the 2022 Beijing Olympic Games. twitter instagram mailto "
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