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Mar 20, 2024 2:05 pm

With 26 in a row, Tom Izzo, Michigan State are NCAA Tournament constant

Tom Izzo

CHARLOTTE — Forget about a gravely voice that signifies mid-March at Michigan State, Spartans coach Tom Izzo could never tire of the energy borne from taking his team to the NCAA Tournament.

Izzo, 69, celebrates his 26th annual trek to the tournament with No. 9 seed Michigan State at the site of his first tournament appearance on Thursday against Mississippi State (23-11). The winner advances to likely face No. 1 seed North Carolina on Saturday.

“I’m excited to be here. When you go 26 times in a row, which is pretty neat and one of your first was here, makes it even neater,” Izzo said on Wednesday. “I think the best thing was to actually be in a room — not sure what was going on, not sure what was going to happen, and to see players and families and managers and even me kind of excited that we got in. Not that in ways I didn’t think we deserved to get in, but I understood where we were.”

A consistency that has reached a level of constancy isn’t lost on opponents. Mississippi State is in back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time since 2008-09 and 13th overall.

Izzo has the longest active streak for NCAA Tournament appearances and third-longest in the event’s history. And Izzo isn’t known for coming this far to, well, come this far. He’s 19-5 in the round of 64.

Michigan State (19-14) was .500 in the Big Ten, failed to win 20 games and took a few painful losses in a season that began with a home defeat to eventual 31-win James Madison, a No. 12 seed that opens against a Wisconsin team that beat the Spartans twice this season. Michigan State lost five of its final seven games, two to regular-season champion and No. 1 seed Purdue, and Izzo huddled a team on Selection Sunday truly not knowing what type of conversation he would be leading Sunday night.

“(In the past) it’s kind of been, well, we’re in. Where are we going?” Izzo said. “This year it kind of made me appreciate it a little bit what has gone on the last 26 years, and that was probably good for me. Wouldn’t want that to happen that often, but it was exciting for that night.”

This year’s iteration of Michigan State might be underappreciated, but Izzo’s legacy as a March maestro isn’t overlooked.

“He’s done it all,” Mississippi State coach Chris Jans said. “All the Final Fours, the national championships, the Hall of Fame coach. Whenever he decides he’s had enough, he’ll be revered as good a coach as there ever was.”

Izzo is putting his pessimistic nature in his back pocket for the moment because of the hindsight perspective he’s been able to apply to this particular team’s trek to reach the tournament. He also knows the two constants he views as prerequisites to any tournament right are in hand — great guard play and postseason experience.

“I am optimistic because we’ve played so many of those top teams. Right there with Arizona, we played Duke, we played Baylor, even played Tennessee in that exhibition, but it was a full game. Then of course Purdue twice and Illinois twice. I mean, those are a lot of 1, 2, and 3 seeds. We’ve been right there in every one of them,” Izzo said. “So I think that brings some optimism to my pessimistic way of living.”

–Field Level Media

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