Team of the 2000s: #5- Michigan StatePosted by zhayes9 on August 15th, 2009
Ed. Note: Check the category team of the 2000s for our other entries in this feature.
With the first five teams of our Team of the 2000s countdown here at Rush the Court out of the way, we can truly delve into the class of the decade. These are teams that didn’t just experience a couple years of peak success, but sustained prominence and positive standing throughout the ten seasons that are being considered. These are programs that first pop into the head of basketball fans when considering the cream of the crop not only in recent years, but throughout the annals of the sport’s illustrious history. The midpoint takes us to the Midwest. In fact, they’re the lone team from their conference on the list- the Michigan State Spartans.
#5 – Michigan State
Overview. While the Spartans did experience certain success during the Jud Heathcote era extending nearly 20 years in East Lansing, Michigan State battled through nine seasons of .500 or worse basketball in conference play during his tenure. Enter longtime assistant Tom Izzo, a passionate and in-your-face personality that immediately made marked improvement for the program, sending the Spartans to the NCAA second round in 1996 and 1997, followed by a Sweet 16 in 1998, a Final Four in 1999 and culminating in the program’s second national championship to kick off the decade of the 2000s. From there, Izzo has continued to deliver, sending the Spartans to the Final Four yet again in 2001 and winning 20 games every season in the decade with the exception of 19 and 18 wins in 2001-02 and 2003-04, respectively. Unlike some teams preceding the Spartans that have faded out of contention, Izzo has sent Michigan State to the tournament every single season in the 2000s (they didn’t have one losing season, either) and only two programs – Kansas and North Carolina – have averaged more NCAA wins than Michigan State (2.5 per tournament).
Pinnacle. Only two programs have sent their basketball teams to the Final Four on four separate occasions in the decade – North Carolina and Michigan State. The 2001 run is slightly tainted because the Spartans had to defeat a 16, 9, 12 and 11 seed to reach Minneapolis only to get throttled by Arizona, but give that team credit for collecting a #1 seed. The 2005 run is famous for the thrilling double-OT win over Kentucky involving Patrick Sparks’ foot-on-the-line game-tying three. That Spartans team led at halftime against eventual champion UNC in the national semis before faltering. The 2009 run was also memorable with a gut-check win over Kansas and the dismantling of #1 seeds Louisville and Connecticut (gives me an excuse to show this). But the pinnacle is fairly easy to determine – the 2000 national title run behind Mateen Cleaves, Jason Richardson, Morris Peterson and Charlie Bell takes the cake. That juggernaut won every single NCAA Tournament game by double digits. Hey, even if it took place three months into the decade, it still counts.
Tailspin. Michigan State has been so consistent as a program over the course of the decade, it’s hard to pinpoint a specific tailspin similar to, say, Syracuse missing the tournament two years in a row. The one knock on Izzo has been his inability to win Big 10 conference regular season and tournament titles. This might stun you, but the Spartans did not win a single regular season title for six consecutive seasons in the middle of the decade and hasn’t won a Big 10 conference tournament since the 2000 national title season. My vote goes to 2005-06 and 2006-07: 16-16 in Big 10 play including a first round loss to George Mason in 2006 (that team faded away right after said upset).
Outlook for 2010s: Grade: A. Seriously, the Spartans are in TREMENDOUS shape as long as Tom Izzo is leading the charge, and he shows no signs of slowing down. Unlike Gary Williams’ struggles to recruit within the D.C./Baltimore region, Izzo perennially raids Michigan of its elite talent. Five and four star recruits Durrell Summers, Kalin Lucas, Draymond Green and incoming center Derrick Nix are all from Michigan and Izzo has extended his boundaries throughout the Midwest. Izzo not only collects lauded recruits, but they immediately buy into his hard-nosed system that has proven so effective. Izzo has run a notoriously clean program that graduates players at a high rate. The Breslin Center is one of the loudest arenas in college basketball. What’s not to like here? With another potential top-five team gracing the hardwood again this season, the future for Michigan State in the next decade is very bright.