Michigan State seeks to extend a Final Four streak
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan State coach Tom Izzo is proud that every player who has stayed for four seasons to play for him has been to at least one Final Four.
The Spartans, though, haven’t advanced to the NCAA tournament semifinals since 2010 when Adreian Payne and Keith Appling were in high school.
“We understand what’s at stake,” Appling said Tuesday at the team’s media day.
Izzo said he doesn’t harp on the Final Four feat every day when he talks to Payne and Appling.
“They’ve got enough pressure on them,” Izzo said.
Payne and Appling said they don’t need to hear about it from their hard-driving coach because it’s already a topic of conversation between the two.
“We talk about it a lot,” Appling acknowledged.
“It’s always brought up — every time we talk,” Payne said
Michigan State seems to have a shot to finish the season in five months among the nation’s elite college basketball teams.
The Spartans return six of their top seven and a veteran coach who has won a national title in one of six trips to the Final Four in 18 seasons.
Izzo liked Michigan State’s chances of reaching the Final Four in 2000 — when it won the school’s second national title — and of returning to the NCAA tournament semifinals the following year.
“Other than that, I don’t think we’ve ever had as good of a chance,” he said.
When The Associated Press college basketball preseason poll is released next week, the Spartans are expected to be voted one of the top teams.
It’s easy to see why.
Michigan State has a talented, deep and experienced team that is without only one key player, center Derrick Nix, from last season’s 27-win team that made it to the round of 16 and was a game out of first place in the Big Ten.
Payne and Gary Harris put their NBA dreams on hold, turning down a chance to likely be first-round draft picks, to come back to campus for another season. Appling is motivated to prove to professional scouts he can run a team. And, Branden Dawson would probably love to play up to his potential and prove that he’s good enough to make the jump to the league after the upcoming season.
“I’m hoping that this year I’m happy for a lot of guys (who end up going to the NBA) because I think I’ve got some guys that are capable,” Izzo said.
The Spartans, unlike last year, are healthy going into the season.
Dawson was slowly recovering from major surgery on his left knee a year ago while Travis Trice was dealing with a mysterious ailment.
Izzo said Trice had a “brain infection,” that led to him losing 22 pounds and sleeping up to 16 hours a day.
“We were worried about his life, to be honest with you,” Izzo said.
Trice was, too, especially because a series of tests didn’t definitively reveal what was wrong. But, he insisted it doesn’t scare him now.
“It almost like strengthens my faith that something that dangerous that could’ve killed me I don’t have to worry about anymore,” Trice said. “I came out of it a better person.”
Izzo hopes his team gets better throughout the season, which includes early tests in Chicago against Kentucky and at home against North Carolina before Big Ten play, and ends up extending the program’s Final Four run.
“Like every other streak on record, it’s one that’s made to be broken,” he said. “I just hope it’s not this year.”
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