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Michigan State's Sweet 16 appearance is no accident; On Tom Izzo's 25th straight NCAA tourney

There has arguably never been a better embodiment of their school, program, and community than Tom Izzo. PIC: MSU Alumni

As the saying goes, January, February, IZZO, April, May...and so on. And Tom Izzo's namesake rightfully belongs as a synonym for March.

On the cusp of the Sweet Sixteen matchup vs. a pesky Kansas State group, Michigan State fans have too many reasons to be excited for the path in front of them. A team that has had its ups and downs this year looks to string together two more wins to get to the Final Four, but the discussion has shifted to the possibility of head coach Tom Izzo making a run that Sparty hopes ends in April. Izzo, who has been with the Spartans since 1995, boasts an impressive resume that includes eight Big Ten Championships, a National Title in 2000, and eight Final Four appearances.

The Spartans were picked to finish fourth in the Big Ten at the beginning of the 2022-23 season, and that's exactly where they ended up. They were a quick exit in the Big Ten Conference Tournament, however, where they were a victim of the "wrong place, wrong time" adage as the buzzsaw that became Ohio State wiped them out in their first contest. But after stringing together a quality win over #10 USC and a monster win over #2 Marquette, it's safe to suggest that Michigan State has been lurking the background with a team capable of special things.

For Michigan State, their balance and depth jumps off the page. They have a deep bench, with multiple players who can step up and make big plays. Joey Hauser finally became the player that Tom Izzo purged from Marquette years ago; the senior forward has been a consistent scorer (14.3 PPG, 46% from 3PT) and rebounder (7.1 RPG), setting career highs in both categories. Add in a breakout year from Tyson Walker (14.8 PPG) and an emerging star in AJ Hoggard (12.5 PPG, 5.9 APG) and it's a recipe for success.

It's not just the starters who are contributing - the whole team has been playing with solid chemistry together, coupled with strong defense and efficient shooting. Malik Hall and Mady Sissoko have played reliable minutes in the front court. Pierre Brooks and Jaxon Kohler have played supporting roles in a crowded offense. And Jaden Akins - who's played in all but 5 contests this year - is on the cusp of contributing 10 points per game.

Chalk up the chemistry to Tom Izzo, who instead of prioritizing the transfer portal, stuck with his (mostly) homegrown roster. And as he told the media, the group has grown significantly under his leadership this year.

"This team should be wired for (the playoffs), they should be ready for that," said Izzo before the Big Ten Tournament. "They faced every obstacle you could face and then some that I didn't think you could they've been battle tested. They've played a good schedule. They've been under adversity. They've gone through tragedy. Whether they're mentally tough enough now & not fatigued mentally, that'll be the difference. If they they get ready to go mentally I think physically we'll be fine."

Michigan State kicks off the second weekend of their 25th straight NCAA Tournament appearance with another tough opponent in Kansas State. Backed by first-year head coach Jerome Tang, the Wildcats are led by a pair of transfers. Ex-Florida forward Keyontae Johnson looks like his old self again after notably collapsing on the court during a December 2020 game, and Little Rock transfer Markquis Norwell is making headlines with his upbeat style of offense. After that, the winner takes on the victorious party of either FAU or Tennessee; FAU's riding a 33-3 season, and Tennessee's defense has held its opponents to an average of 53.5 points over their two tournament games.

Of course, Michigan State yearns to bring home a ring this year. And if there's a coach to navigate them through it, it's the man that is almost synonymous with the Spartans. "I said what I said and I still believe it," he exclaimed to the media: "I still think this team is good enough to make a run. And that's putting myself out there a little bit, but I don't always say it."

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