MINNEAPOLIS — Every year, hundreds of players across the country spend months working towards the same goal: getting in to the NCAA Tournament.
For some programs, a trip to the big dance is a program milestone to be celebrated for years to come. For others, anything less than a Final Four appearance constitutes a wasted season.
Michigan State is amongst the latter — a nationally-recognized program with a premier head coach in Tom Izzo and a wide array of successful NBA players.
Before advancing to the 2019 Final Four, the Spartans hadn’t made it past the second round since 2015.
“Coach (Tom) Izzo has been to eight Final Fours and to be a part of one of them is huge,” senior guard Matt McQuaid said. “That’s what we do here though, our main goal is championships every year.”
Despite all the success and tradition associated with MSU basketball, the team is still recognized as being tough-nosed and hardworking.
“I think Michigan State’s one of the best defensive teams in college basketball, as they are every year,” Texas Tech head coach Chris Beard said. “To me, it’s much more than just the rebounding. It’s the positioning and the gaps and the toughness, the mental toughness, the lack of mistakes, the players playing roles, their rim protection.”
Winning a championship would further cement the team’s status among the elite programs in the country.
“I think winning it might put as at the top of the blue bloods, right there next to Duke, right there next to Kansas and Kentucky,” sophomore forward Xavier Tillman said. “Even if we are going to be considered a prestige, top-tier team, we’re known as being hardworking, being tough, a getting out of the mud and grinding type of team.”
Izzo has led the Spartans to become a perennial powerhouse and won a national championship in 2000. Even with all his success, he says he needs to win one more championship to feel validated in his accomplishments as a head coach.
The players are aware of the significance of the moment for Izzo and what it could mean for his legacy.
“We want to win this really bad,” freshman forward Aaron Henry said. “With the relationship that all the players have with him and for him getting on us to make us better, I want to make him be the best coach he can be. Hopefully his record can resemble that and what he does for us.”