EAST LANSING, Mich. — Another year, another NCAA Tournament trip.
At Michigan State, it gets kind of matter-of-fact. Junior point guard Tum Tum Nairn, who played in the 2015 Final Four, seemed to expect it, even with the Spartans sitting on a 19-14 record.
“I was not nervous,” Nairn said plainly.
Senior guard Alvin Ellis III, the only other active Michigan State player to have seen action for that 2014-15 team, felt proud to extend the Spartans’ NCAA Tournament streak to 20 years, but he made sure to temper his enthusiasm.
“It’s always exciting,” Ellis said. “All the younger guys, they were really excited. We were excited to keep the streak alive. We know that we’ve got work to do, so we couldn’t get that excited.”
But did they at least cheer?
“Yeah, we cheered,” Ellis laughed.
The seeding may have had a bit to do with that. Despite dealing with season-ending knee injuries to three players (Ben Carter, Eron Harris and Gavin Schilling) plus an ankle injury that kept freshman star Miles Bridges out for seven games, the Spartans still managed a No. 9 seed. They’ve twice been seeded worse under Izzo.
And Izzo, who said he felt the Big Ten hadn’t been adequately respected throughout the year for its depth, didn’t find himself disappointed with the seeding. He opened his press conference by saying he was “ecstatic to be in,” and that satisfaction extended to his team’s placement.
“I have no problem with our draw,” he said. “I have no problem. Would it have been better to have been a 10? That’s what’s funny. You complain about if you don’t get a low seed, and then you sit there as you go into the dance and say, ‘Wait a minute. When you look at the brackets, it might be better to be a 10 or even an 11 and play the 6.’ ”
But in terms of respect, his program got it. It enters the tournament with 14 losses, tied for its most during the streak. And yet the Spartans find themselves ranked No. 35 of all the NCAA Tournament teams, with nine at-large bids coming after them. They didn’t even have to sweat. Nairn knew.
Izzo holds the second-longest active NCAA Tournament streak among coaches, behind Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski at 22. At 20 straight years, he has taken the Spartans to more consecutive berths than any other Big Ten program as a whole.
“Twenty straight years is going to mean so much to me later on in life,” Izzo said. “It means a lot to me now, but not even close to what it’ll mean later on. Some of you guys that were here with me at the beginning, the biggest thing I talked about even after we won it — come back 10 years, 15 years. Are we consistent? Not always great, but are we pretty consistent?
“Twenty straight years of doing something at this level is pretty consistent. I hope people appreciate it, and I hope they appreciate it about this year’s team.”