Well what do you know, it’s March and Michigan State is back in the NCAA Tournament. It’s now been 20 straight years the Spartans have gone dancing so it’s no wonder Tom Izzo is considered Mr. March around these parts.
While Michigan State is back in the NCAA Tournament again this year, it wasn’t a pretty season for the Spartans by any means. Izzo’s young bunch had to overcome a tough schedule and a number of key injuries to make it back to the tourney, and there’s no guarantee it’ll be a long stay. Michigan State opens the NCAA Tournament in the 8-9 seed matchup against Miami on Friday in Tulsa, Oklahoma. If they are fortunate enough to get by the Hurricanes then an exciting matchup with 1 seed Kansas follows so it’ll be tough sledding for the Spartans this year.
But they are in as they say, and you got a fighter’s chance as long as you’re in. That is especially true for Izzo’s recent teams that have gone on deep runs despite a tough seed and/or bracket. With Michigan State’s first round matchup against Miami still a few days away let’s take a look back at the Spartans’ history in the NCAA Tournament.
Very Old History (1957-1979):
Michigan State has reached nine Final Fours throughout its program’s history and the first came in 1957, which was also the first year they qualified for the NCAA Tournament. There were only 23 teams in the field back then so Michigan State only needed wins over Notre Dame and Kentucky to reach the Final Four, before losing to North Carolina and then San Francisco in the National 3rd Place Game.
From there Michigan State would reach the NCAA Tournament two more times (1959 and 1978) before getting back to the Final Four in 1979. The Spartans were led by legend Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson, Greg Kelser and head coach Jud Heathcote, steamrolling their way to the program’s first ever National Championship.
The Spartans knocked off previously undefeated Indiana State in the 1979 National Championship game by a score of 75-64. Magic Johnson had 24 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists to get the best of the Sycamores and their own legend Larry Bird. This was the beginning of what turned out to be an incredible rivalry between Magic and Bird.
Old History (1980-1995):
The win over Indiana State for the 1979 National Championship was the high point of Spartan basketball for years to come. MSU failed to get back to the NCAA Tournament again until 1985, and from that point on struggled to experience any success in the big dance.
MSU reached the NCAA Tournament in both 1985 and 1986. From there they missed the tourney until 1990, where they qualified five out of the last six years under Heathcote. The team, however, never made it deep into the tournament only reaching the Sweet 16 one of those five years.
Michigan State would be stunned in 1995 by 14 seed Weber State in the First Round, which ended up being Heathcote’s final game as the Spartans’ head coach.
Recent History (1996-present):
Heathcote retired following the 1995 season and one of his assistant coaches was hired as the new head man — Tom Izzo. Michigan State failed to reach the NCAA Tournament in each of Izzo’s first two seasons, creating some discomfort amongst the fan base. However, the following year Izzo guided the Spartans back to the NCAA Tournament and they haven’t missed the big dance ever since.
Throughout Izzo’s 19 previous years in the NCAA Tournament Michigan State has experienced a great amount of success. He has guided the Spartans to seven Final Fours — 1999, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2009, 2010 and 2015 — with his greatest achievement coming in 2000 when Michigan State topped Florida for the National Championship.
The Spartans’ 2000 National Championship team was led by the “Flintstones” — a combination of Flint-born players. Mateen Cleaves, Morris Peterson and Charlie Bell made up the “Flintstones” in 2000, helping lead the way to Michigan State’s second National Championship in program history.
Izzo holds a 46-18 record in the NCAA Tournament and most notably is known for being so tough to beat in the second game of a Tournament weekend. He holds an incredible 21-4 record in the second game of the weekend (second round, Elite 8 or National Championship).
With all of the praise comes certainly some criticism as well. Michigan State has reached seven Final Fours under Izzo but has only won one National Championship and reached the title game only twice. And probably the worst loss of Izzo’s career came in last year’s NCAA Tournament against 15 seed Middle Tennessee State. Michigan State was the trendy pick to cut down the nets in Houston last year but ran into a buzz saw in the opening round that cost Izzo a chance at his eighth Final Four and second National Championship.
We’ll see this week if Michigan State can get get back to creating history or if it’ll simply be a short trip to the NCAA Tournament.