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Tom Izzo’s NCAA streak pre-dates Tar Heel birthdays

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By TOM SHANAHAN

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Michigan State joined basketball royalty under head coach Tom Izzo in the past-quarter century. The Spartans are in their 26th straight NCAA tournament under Izzo, the longest such streak for one coach at one school.

That may not be not enough for many college basketball old-timers to grant the Spartans the blueblood stature of, say, a North Carolina, Kentucky or Duke, but it’s more than enough for North Carolina’s 2023-24 roster.

The Tar Heels of today know nothing but Michigan State ranking as a perennial power.

“It’s kind of a surreal moment to think about for the right to go to the Sweet 16, you’ve got to face Tom Izzo and Michigan State,” said North Carolina forward Harrison Ingram. “They’re a great team. They’ve had an up-and-down year. But they’re a preseason Top Five, and they earned their right play in the tournament. They’re a really good team, and we’re ready to go.


More of my Michigan State basketball regional coverage from Charlotte:

Wednesday: Is there a doctor in Michigan State’s Charlotte house? – Tom Shanahan Report

Thursday: Sissoko’s long season coming up big in the end – Tom Shanahan Report

Friday: Tom Izzo’s NCAA streak pre-dates Tar Heel birthdays – Tom Shanahan Report

Friday: Kevin Guskiewicz wearing green for this year’s NCAA Tournament – Tom Shanahan Report

Saturday: The Spartans, despite struggling, stayed together to the bitter end – Tom Shanahan Report

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To North Carolina’s athletes, Izzo on the opposite bench translates to seeing a John WoodenDean Smith or Bob Knight for their NCAA West Regional Second Round game.

Ninth-seeded Michigan State (20-14) faces No. 1 seed North Carolina (28-7) at 5:30 p.m. Friday at the Spectrum Center in the Queen City.

North Carolina guard/forward Cormac Ryan is a 25-year-old graduate in his sixth college season (including a redshirt year), but even he was born before Izzo’s first NCAA trip, the 1997-98 season. Yes, Michigan State won an NCAA title under Jud Heathcote in 1979, but no Michigan State coach has matched Izzo’s consistency on the national stage.

“Two really historic programs,” Ryan said. “Obviously they’re really well known in college basketball, especially after the last 25 years. So, you can’t ask for anything better than in March Madness than to go up against great teams, great programs, and come away with a great win.”

Entering the season, North Carolina was the team with transfers in and out – Caleb Love is now at Arizona after three seasons in Chapel Hill – while Michigan State was the team returning four starters plus a part-time starter. But as the season played out, it was North Carolina that meshed well and early, while the Spartans rode a roller-coaster season in search of consistency.

“Things change year to year,” Cormac said. “I think obviously they’re a little bit different this year, and we’re different. I’m with a different group, and I couldn’t imagine a better team to go and take on Michigan State than the team we’re with that we’ve brought to Charlotte. We’ve been saying it all year. Our chemistry, our togetherness, I think that’s one of our biggest strengths.”

History aside, Michigan State arguably has the more tournament-tested roster in 2023-24, even though the Tar Heels finished as the NCAA runner-up in 2022. UNC fell to Kansas in the NCAA final that year.

North Carolina seniors Armando Bacot and R.J. Davis played on the 2021-22 team, but the other three starters combined for only one tournament season until the Tar Heels defeated 16th-seeded Wagner on Thursday night, 90-62.

Ryan didn’t make the NCAA Tournament as a freshman at Stanford, 2018-19; he redshirted, 2019-20; and he made the NCAA in only one of his three seasons at Notre Dame, 2021-22.

Ingram, a 6-7, 225-pound junior, didn’t play in an NCAA Tournament game in his previous two seasons at Stanford.

Point guard Elliot Cadeau is a true freshman. He played in his first NCAA game against Wagner.

The Spartans have two starters in their fourth NCAA Tournament: seniors A.J. Hoggard and graduate student Malik Hall. Part-time senior starter Mady Sissoko in his fourth tournament; graduate student Tyson Walker and junior Jaden Akins are in their third; and sophomores Tre HollomanJaxon Kohler and Carson Cooper are in their second.

In the First Round of the NCAA, tournament experience appeared to make a difference. The Spartans played one of their best games of the year, defeating eighth-seeded Mississippi State, 69-51.

North Carolina ended up routing Wagner by 28 points, but first-half Tar Heels mistakes allowed Wagner to remain in striking difference until the second half.

Now, the teams are on equal footing with one 2024 NCAA game under their belts. Anything that has happened previously might not matter all that much to the individuals who will decide Saturday’s game and who advances to the Sweet 16. 


Click here for the remainder of the Spartanmag.com story

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