Izzo: Spartans have chance at Final Four
by Joe Rexrode, USA TODAY Sports
EAST LANSING — The expectations are back, among the highest they’ve been in coach Tom Izzo’s tenure, and he did nothing at Michigan State basketball media day to contest them.
Izzo talked today of a team coming off one of its best summers, in terms of chemistry, hard work and health. And he made the strongest comment yet on its potential, saying he hasn’t felt this good about a team’s chances to reach the Final Four since before the 1999-2000 and 2000-01 seasons. The former ended in a national title and the latter in the third of Izzo’s six Final Fours.
“Other than that, I’m not sure we’ve ever had as good a chance,” Izzo said of a team ranked No. 2 in the preseason USA TODAY coaches poll.
The Spartans also made the Final Four in 2004-05, 2008-09 and 2009-10, losing in the title game to North Carolina at Ford Field in 2009. The last time they were ranked No. 2, before the 2010-11 season, they struggled to a 19-15 overall record and a one-game NCAA tournament stay.
So Izzo has examples both ways in terms of teams reaching expectations or not, and he also has a Final Four streak to consider. Every four-year player who has finished his eligibility has reached at least one under Izzo, and seniors Keith Appling and Adreian Payne will break the streak this season if they can’t help the Spartans get there.
“Like any record and streak, it’s made to be broken,” Izzo said. “I just hope it’s not this year.”
Appling will stay at point guard after Izzo briefly considered moving him in the off-season. He said he thought about “pulling him in the seventh inning” but liked how Appling worked to become a better distributor during the summer.
Sophomore guard Gary Harris is said to be past his shoulder injuries, and junior forward Branden Dawson is mentally over a knee that was surgically repaired at the end of the 2011-12 season, Izzo said.
Junior guard Travis Trice suffered a frightening infection that robbed him of much of the summer of 2012, then two concussions last season robbed him of … [For more on Tom Izzo says Spartans have chance to reach Final Four, click here.]