It’s been over 23 years since a Big Ten men’s basketball team went through the NCAA Tournament and left with a banner.
The league looked a bit different then. But there was Tom Izzo, raising that 2000 banner at the Breslin Center two decades ago.
Now the league has ̶f̶o̶u̶r̶t̶e̶e̶n̶ s̶i̶x̶t̶e̶e̶n̶ apparently eighteen entire teams. Maryland is here for some reason and UCLA is on the way, I guess. Every other coach in the league has changed but even now there’s Izzo, pacing on the sideline beneath two banners that read “1979” and “2000”.
He’s had his chances to add more, reaching the Final Four in 2001, 2005, 2009, 2010, 2015 and 2019. Just once, in 2009, did the Spartans play in the championship.
This coming year could be one of Izzo’s best, and last, chances to hang another. At 68, he’s watched colleagues such as Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams and Jay Wright choose to retire, all of whom have won at least one title since 2000.
The Spartans’ 2023 recruiting class showed that Izzo is nowhere near slowing down though. The class, consisting of four members, is among the best in the country.
The first to join, four-star point guard Jeremy Fears, committed way back in January 2022. Months later, he was joined by five-star center Xavier Booker out of Indianapolis, who rocketed up the recruiting rankings prior to his senior season.
Those two alone would’ve made for a fine class, but Izzo wasn’t done. Four-star small forward Gehrig Normand and four-star power forward Coen Carr announced their intentions to play for the Spartans in August 2022.
Michigan State had locked up a top 2023 class before its 2022-23 team had taken the floor for a single game. That roster found itself in a very weird Big Ten season where an 11-8 record in the league was good enough for fourth place.
Then that team was the only one of the conference’s eight tournament teams to reach the second weekend, getting past USC and Big East champion Marquette in the process. A run largely fueled by guard play from AJ Hoggard and Tyson Walker. Just a handful of points kept these Spartans from the Elite Eight and FAU.
Joey Hauser is the most notable departure from last year. With an experienced backcourt and plenty of talented freshmen, MSU’s roster looks to be a national contender.
What separates the Spartans from their competition is, of course, Izzo. Balancing the experience with that talent could prove a difficult task for a less experienced coach, but this group will be led by the best coach in the conference and one of the best in the country.
For years it’s seemed that Izzo would be the one to break the Big Ten’s title drought, even through periods of prominence from in-state rival Michigan under John Beilein. He’ll have the roster to do it, more talented and experienced than those of his peers.
The immediate threat to their conference title chances is Purdue, which won the league by three entire games last season. It’s worth considering that Izzo was among the first Big Ten coaches to give the Boilers trouble by pressuring their freshmen guards and not focusing on National Player of the Year Zach Edey.
Michigan State is more dynamic and experienced than Purdue. Even if they don’t win the league, they’re the better tournament squad. Just like they were last year.
One way or another, there’s probably gonna be another banner in Breslin by 2024.