Spartans a win away from extending Izzo Final Four streak

Spartans a win away from extending Izzo Final Four streak
March 29, 2014, 11:30 pm
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Vinnie Duber

One more win.

One more win for Keith Appling and Adreian Payne, one more win for Michigan State and the somewhat unbelievable streak stays alive.

In case you haven't heard, Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo has taken every one of his classes to a Final Four. That's to say that no senior player has left East Lansing after four years without playing in a Final Four. And that's amazing.

That streak, however, is in danger of being snapped. Seniors Appling and Payne haven't yet been to a Final Four, though they'll be two of the biggest factors in reaching college basketball's ultimate peak, in reaching Izzo's fifth Final Four, in keeping this unbelievable streak alive.

But what's perhaps even more shocking than the streak itself is what Izzo thinks of it. The standard line, the sports cliche would figure to be that this is just a meaningless piece of trivia. You'd expect a coach to say that it's just a coincidence and that it doesn't matter and the only thing that does matter is focusing on the next game. But that's not the approach Izzo has chosen.

[MORE: Badgers off to Final Four following win in OT classic]

"I didn't bring it up as much in the last two months because we had so many other things to deal with," Izzo said at a Saturday press conference. "It's something we talked about early in the year, but even to this day I have not talked to those guys as much about it or anything, because I think they have had enough other things. But if they didn't like pressure, they picked the wrong school to come to. If they didn't like the pressure of playing in Elite 8s or going to Final Fours or having streaks or having NCAA tournament bids. Those streaks mean that the players before you lived up to the standards that the players before them had. And that's part of your obligation when you come here. They don't like it?  Bad choice for them.

"You know, when I had Travis Walton in 2009, every day he was alive he walked in, 'I'm not going to be the class that didn't make it. I'm not going to be.' He put pressure on me. I felt like an anvil on my back by the time I got done. But it worked out OK, too, because it drove him. So this one we have been a little bit more — we have been like our society has, we got a little softer on this one. You know, we kept it a little more mellow, and yet I'm starting to hear them talk about it and I think it's a good thing."

Standing in the way of the fifth Final Four appearance during the Tom Izzo Era is Connecticut, a team who's No. 7 seed doesn't inspire much terror the way others would have. But UConn has plenty of weapons, particularly a very talented guard in Shabazz Napier. A challenge could exist in playing a speedy UConn team right after a physical Virginia team. But the way Michigan State's been playing, it seems the Spartans are up to just about any test.

"I think that we go from two different teams, a team that was so physical and big, huge guards, to a team that has maybe the quickest guard tandem in the country in Shabazz and (Ryan) Boatright," Izzo said. "So it's going to be a good challenge, but I'm proud of these guys, too. They have been through a lot this year and have weathered the storm and hopefully we're into playing our best basketball down the stretch."