Since 2000, the Big Ten conference has been loaded with elite talents and some of college basketball’s greatest players. Fans have seen numerous Big Ten players earn All-Americans and National Players of the Year honors during that time.
But who has been the best?
With the offseason in full swing, BTPowerhouse has decided to sit down and break down the Big Ten’s greatest players since the start of the 2000-01 season. We will be taking a look at each program and how it fits into the league.
This time, we will look at the greatest players from the last 17 seasons for the Michigan State Spartans. Please note that this evaluation only looks at college contributions at the particular school. It does not include a player’s contributions at another school or the professional level.
Brief Recap Since 2000
Before we jump into the discussion regarding Michigan State’s greatest players — and believe me there’s a lot — over the last 17 seasons, let’s take a second to recap what the program has done during that time frame. After all, 2000 may not seem that long ago, but there are kids literally on the verge of graduating high school who were born then. As such, it’s probably worth a quick recap.
Basic Stats Since 2000
- NCAA Tournament Appearances: 17
- Winning Seasons: 17
- Big Ten POY Winners: 3
- Consensus All-Americans: 3
It’s fair to say Michigan State has experienced the most success of any Big Ten team in the past 17 seasons. Wisconsin and maybe Ohio State can be part of a discussion but the Spartans have been the most consistent and experienced the most success in the NCAA Tournament during this span.
Michigan State has reached the NCAA Tournament every season since 2000 and experienced plenty of success during March as well. Under Tom Izzo, Michigan State has reached the Final Four five times since the beginning of the 2000 season. No other Big Ten team has gone to the Final Four more than twice during that span.
The Spartans have been at the top of the league during the regular season and conference tournament as well. Michigan State has been crowned regular season Big Ten champs four times and captured a Big Ten Tournament title three times since 2000. The Spartans’ conference tournament success has been more recent with each of its championships coming since 2012.
Michigan State’s Mount Rushmore Since 2000:
Draymond Green (2009-12)
Each one of these players led the Spartans to a Final Four during their time in green and white, and that includes Green. In four seasons with Michigan State, Green transformed his game becoming one of the best players in all of college basketball by his senior season.
Green gradually improved his game throughout his four years. Each year he improved his scoring and rebounding average, and by his senior year was averaging a double-double at 16.2 points and 10.6 rebounds per game. He finished his career as the Spartans all-time rebounding leader with 1,096 career rebounds. He is one of three Spartans all-time to record 1,000 points and rebounds in their career.
Green’s stats are great but he was also a key leader for some successful Spartan teams. Green was a role player on back-to-back Final Four teams in 2009 and 2010. He was one of a few bright spots during a total let down season in 2011 — the Spartans were favorites to win it all but barely made the NCAA Tournament — and led the Spartans to a Big Ten regular season and conference tournament championship in 2012. He earned Big Ten Player of the Year during that season and helped Michigan State reach the Sweet 16.
Kalin Lucas (2008-11)
Lucas was a pure scorer and the perfect player to build your team around. Lucas averaged double-digit scoring numbers all four years and finished his career fifth all-time in Spartan scoring. Like Green, Lucas earned Big Ten Player of the Year during his career, with his award coming during his sophomore season in 2009.
Also like Green, Lucas was part of two Final Four teams but played a bigger role. Lucas averaged 14.3 points and 5.7 assists per game to help Michigan State reach the National Championship game in 2009. The following year Lucas suffered a season-ending injury in the second round and had to watch the Spartans reach the Final Four from the bench. Had he not gotten injured Michigan State may have won the National Championship that season.
The only knock against Lucas is that he was part of the 2010-11 team that was predicted by many to win it all but fell flat on its face. As I mentioned before, that team was a total let down and just barely made the NCAA Tournament. However, Lucas did average 17 points per game that season so he wasn’t the main reason for the disappointing year.
Jason Richardson (2000-01)
Of everyone on this list, Richardson was probably the biggest toss up. Part of that is because he was only in East Lansing for two years but while he was there he was electric. Richardson was part of two Final Four teams — I hope you’ve noticed this pattern — and also won a National Championship in 2000. However, this list begins with the 2000-01 season so the main focus is on his sophomore season with the Spartans.
Richardson was a role player on the 2000 National Championship team and once many greats left after the season he became one of the stars in East Lansing. Richardson averaged 14.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.2 assists during the 2001 season. He was the team’s leading scorer and was considered by many as a human highlight reel — similar to Miles Bridges on the current Spartans roster.
Richardson gets the nod over some other great Spartan players because he was able to get Michigan State back to the Final Four in 2001. It was the Spartans third trip to the final weekend of college basketball, but it was the first without Spartan legends Mateen Cleaves and Morris Peterson. Charlie Bell was another key player on that team and it was truly a toss up between the two for this spot. However, I felt Richardson had more upside and if he had stayed all four years then his number would be up in the rafters of the Breslin Center.
Denzel Valentine (2013-16)
Last but not least is the most recent Spartan great to wear the green and white — Valentine. Like Green, Valentine escalated his game throughout his four year career becoming a star by his senior season.
It wasn’t until his junior and senior season that Valentine emerged as a Spartan legend. As a junior he became a reliable scorer and helped lead Michigan State on a magical run to the 2015 Final Four. He reached double figures in all but one game during that NCAA Tournament and averaged 15 points, 7 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game as the 7-seeded Spartans reached the Final Four.
He followed up that season up with an incredible senior season in East Lansing. He earned Big Ten Player of the Year and multiple National Player of the Year awards during the 2016 season, averaging 19.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game. Michigan State won the Big Ten Tournament championship that season and was the favorite to win it all. However, the Spartans were upset by 15-seeded Middle Tennessee State in the first round putting one big blemish on an outstanding career.
Honorable Mention: Charlie Bell, Miles Bridges, Shannon Brown, Paul Davis, Gary Harris, Drew Neitzel and Zach Randolph.