The Spartans wrapped up their regular season with a shocking 70-64 win at home against the rival #2 ranked Michigan Wolverines. With that win, they punched their ticket to the program’s 23rd straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
Michigan State has had an absolute roller coaster of a season. As a fan of this team, I don’t think I had ever been this angry but also this excited in the same season ever. I saw it all this season… I saw Tom Izzo collect his first win at Cameron Indoor Stadium in a game in which they pounded Duke. I saw them lose two games by 30 points vs Iowa and Rutgers. I saw them have to take 3 weeks worth 0f games of because of coronavirus. I saw them have a 4-9 conference record a few weeks ago. I saw them have a 5% chance to make the tournament. I also saw them beat three top 5 teams in two weeks to finish off the year and revive their tournament chances. This season was nothing short of crazy.
In the last eight games of the season, the Spartans went 6-2 with very little rest in between games. Because they missed 3 weeks as they had 9 players with coronavirus, they had to cram in games and basically play on an NBA schedule for the past two and a half weeks. Tom Izzo could have sat in a corner and hid like Juwan Howard did and not makeup games but he didn’t. I have more respect for Tom Izzo than I do for anyone else in sports. Not to mention junior guard Foster Loyer had season-ending surgery on his shoulder. Foster Loyer isn’t some amazing player but this team needed him. Because of his injury, Izzo was forced to play a freshman who wasn’t ready in AJ Hoggard. Hoggard was so bad that they had to play walk-on Jack Hoilbergh for 7 minutes in their win over Michigan.
In those eight games they played four top-5 teams in which they went 3-1, including a dominant win vs. #5 Illinois, a come-from-behind win vs #4 Ohio State, and of course a pretty controlling win vs #2 Michigan on senior night. The Illinois and Ohio State games were both games in which MSU was coming off just one day of rest. The Michigan win came off two days of rest. What I have watched these past weeks may have been some of the greatest coaching I have ever seen from Tom Izzo. This team wasn’t making the tournament 3 weeks ago and looking at the schedule ahead of them it was going to be impossible.
I remember reading an article on The Athletic that was talking about the blue blood program chances to make the tournament… they gave Michigan State a 5% chance to go to the big dance. Just 5%. When you look at pure coaching, this might be up there with the Final Four’s. What Tom Izzo did was absolutely incredible. I am more critical of Tom Izzo than any other Spartan fan (besides Mike Valenti of course). There were times this year where I thought he had lost his mind. A perfect example of this was their 30 point embarrassment at home vs Iowa in which they were triple-teaming Player of the Year candidate Luka Garza. They held Garza to just 8 points but Iowa just so happens to be the best 3 point shooting team in America. But the little old man in a green tie found a way to turn it all around.
In this wild two-week run, junior forward Aaron Henry has been stellar. When everyone else was struggling, Henry was pretty consistent for the most part. Aaron Henry is someone who I have been very, very critical of, especially when he was a freshman and sophomore. He drove me nuts. Henry declared for the NBA draft after last season but decided to return to Michigan State to play his junior season. Without Aaron Henry, this MSU team probably would be playing in the NIT. I can sit here and write about how good he has been on offense but where he has been his best is on the defensive end. Down the stretch in these big games, MSU has won because Aaron completely took away an entire side of the floor… he was that good. These past two weeks, Aaron Henry is playing like a top-5 player in the country.
Another guy I wanted to touch on is Josh Langford. Langford missed all of last season and most of the season before due to ongoing foot surgeries. I believe he ended up having two foot surgeries in two years. He was supposed to graduate last year but he decided to take advantage of an injury redshirt and gained another year of eligibility. The fifth-year senior has exceeded expectations by a lot. I didn’t really know what to expect from him this year but many people thought he could be a 15 minutes per game type player and come in and hit a few threes then head back to the bench. Josh struggled at the beginning of the year but after MSU came back from the COVID-19 layoff, Langford has been really solid.
He is by no means perfect, but he’s been really good. He is playing about 32 minutes per game with solid defense and great mid-range shooting. He may have hit his last ever shot at the Breslin Center vs Michigan and it was a good way to end it. He hit a three point shot from the wing up by two with about 30 seconds to play ( it pretty much buried Michigan). There has been some talk about Langford coming back for a 6th season. I don’t know how realistic him coming back is. If he comes back I can almost guarantee you that Emoni Bates will not reclassify and come to Michigan State. You would also need a player on scholarship to transfer. I guess a few transfer candidates are junior forward Thomas Kithier and maybe AJ Hoggard.
The Spartans will face off against Maryland on the second day of the Big Ten Tournament at 11:30 AM EST. Can Michigan State run the table and go deep in the Big Ten Tournament? I don’t know. Do I think they can beat anyone in the conference? Yes.
Thank you so much for reading. I appreciate it very much. You’ll hear from me again before the NCAA Tournament to talk about this team’s ceiling.