It's certainly true that when the curtains dropped on the 2013-14 season for the Michigan State Spartans, there seemed to be a lot left to be desired. This Spartan senior class missed out on the Final Four, a rare feat under their living legend head coach Tom Izzo. Their final act was one that sputtered into the ground, as the Connecticut Huskies -- the eventual National Champion -- decimated them defensively inside the confines of The World's Most Famous Arena.
Even then however, it is hard to look back at this season and deem it as a failure.
Tom Izzo has built Michigan State into a perennial powerhouse during his time in East Lansing. The Spartans have made the NCAA Tournament every year since 1998. A Sweet 16 appearance has occurred 12 times since 1998, and even further, the Spartans have made the Final Four six times in that time span. The culture is established in the state of Michigan: it's a Spartan world, and everyone else in the mitten is just living in it.
As a result, it seems almost like a formality year after year that the boys in green and white will compete for the National Championship, and a smaller scale, the Big Ten Championship. That held true in the preseason, when Michigan State was unanimously selected as the preseason Big Ten Champion. In addition, they were ranked No. 2 to start the year in the preseason poll by the Associated Press. Spartan success seemed routine as the college basketball world has come accustomed to Michigan State mowing down the competition.
And for a while, that habitual prosperity was ever apparent.
Sparty rolled through its non-conference schedule with sound victories aplenty. This included a deft defeat over the oft-praised Kentucky Wildcats, who of course would mature later on in the season to become the National Runner Up. Only one hiccup occurred for the Spartans prior to their Big Ten slate: a 14-point loss to the schizophrenic North Carolina Tar Heels in early December.
Of course, as time has shown too often, success is often paired with adversity. And in the middle of the season, the Spartans had their fair share. Dealt a bad hand in regards to injuries, Michigan State was without some of its most key contributors for the better part of the back half of their Big Ten schedule. As a result, after starting off 7-0, the Spartans won just five of their next 11 games, rounding off the year with a horrific loss to Illinois, and a crushing two-point loss at the hands of the Ohio State Buckeyes.
But in the Big Ten Tournament, the Spartans found their edge again. After the reinforcements arrived towards the end of the season, the chemistry was reborn. And after soundly beating Northwestern, Wisconsin and in-state rival Michigan in three consecutive games, Michigan State won its fourth Big Ten Tournament title since 1999.
Spokane was the site for the Spartans' first matchups in the NCAA Tournament, and they certainly took care of business. Behind an outstanding 41-point performance from Adreian Payne against Delaware and after holding off upset-minded Harvard, Michigan State was on its way to New York City. There, the one-seed Virginia Cavaliers brought their own style of defense and play to the fold. But as we have seen far too often, Tom Izzo & Co. weathered the storm, and to the Elite Eight they went.
The season did not end on a high note. Keith Appling and Adreian Payne are without a Final Four appearance in their time in East Lansing. Gary Harris, a product of Fishers, In., is now NBA-bound. And next year, the Spartans should feel the impact of those absences.
But even then, it's very hard to look back at Michigan State in the 2013-14 season and feel that the glass is mostly empty.