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Ranking top 10 individual March Madness performances under Tom Izzo

These players had some epic performances.



Michigan State basketball
© Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Who has flipped the switch the most and carried their fellow Spartans? Here are the top five March Madness performances under Tom Izzo.

Tom Izzo has led the Spartans now to 25 straight NCAA Tournament appearances, making him the all-time record holder, and the second-lengthiest program streak, only behind Kansas’ 32. While some seasons have been prettier than others, the Spartans have performed when they needed to in order to continue the streak.

Once into March, however, who has flipped the switch the most and carried their fellow Spartans?

I have compared 85 different individual players’ NCAA Tournament performances, applying points for average points, assists, rebounds, steals, blocks, tournament honors received, and how far they were able to lead their team in that tournament. With extra emphasis on more important stats such as scoring, assists, championships, prestigious awards, etc., the highest possible score is 780. A perfect score would indicate highest average stats, most tournament awards, and finishing with a national championship.

Will a member of Izzo’s 2022-23 team be added to the NCAA Tournament Spartan greats?

Here are the top five individual March Madness performances under Izzo’s command.

10. Travis Trice (2014-15), score of 409.5/780 – lost in Final Four 

Points/Game Rebounds/Game Assists/Game Steals/Game Blocks/Game Tournament Honors
19 3 4.2 0.4 0 All-Region Team

9. Adreian Payne (2013-14), score of 418/780 – lost in Elite Eight

Points/Game Rebounds/Game Assists/Game Steals/Game Blocks/Game Tournament Honors
20.5 6.5 1.3 1 1 All-Region Team

8. Charlie Bell (1999-2000), score of 429/780 – won national title

Points/Game Rebounds/Game Assists/Game Steals/Game Blocks/Game Tournament Honors
7.1 6 2.83 1.16 0 All-Tournament Team

7. Denzel Valentine (2014-15), score of 442.5/780 – lost in Final Four

Points/Game Rebounds/Game Assists/Game Steals/Game Blocks/Game Tournament Honors
15 7 3.6 1 0.2 All-Region Team

6. Draymond Green (2011-12), Score of 454.5/780 – lost in Sweet 16

Points/Game Rebounds/Game Assists/Game Steals/Game Blocks/Game Tournament Honors
18 14 6 1.3 0.7 All-Region Team

5. AJ Granger (1999-2000), score of 487.5/780 – won national title

Points/Game Rebounds/Game Assists/Game Steals/Game Blocks/Game Tournament Honors
11.8 4.3 1.7 0.2 0.5 All-Tournament Team, All-Region Team

AJ Granger was truly the X-factor for Tom Izzo and his 1999-2000 championship squad. Mateen Cleaves may have been the heart and soul of the team, but Granger was arguably just as important for the green and white.

For opposing teams, Granger was a matchup nightmare. Standing at 6-foot-9, the senior forward had the ability to be physical downlow, or step out and shoot the three. Seeing his 3-point percentage increase from 26 percent as a sophomore to 45 percent during his senior run, AJ added a third key piece along side Mateen and Morris Peterson.

During the 1999-2000 championship run, Granger helped in both the comeback against Syracuse, hitting clutch 3-pointers along with buzzer-beating layups, as well as the late run against Iowa State in the Elite Eight. Granger put up a game-high 18 points, successfully getting the crowd involved by hitting big shots when needed. When he wasn’t asked to score, AJ focused on other key parts of the game, securing seven rebounds in an ugly Final Four game against fellow Big Ten team Wisconsin.

In the national championship, Granger finished second in scoring for the Spartans, going 7-for-11 from the field and finishing with 19 points as well as grabbing nine boards.

While Cleaves or Peterson may get more recognition than Granger during the 1999-2000 national championship run, AJ was a true catalyst for Izzo’s only national championship season.

4. Kalin Lucas (2008-09), score of 511/780 – lost in national title

Points/Game Rebounds/Game Assists/Game Steals/Game Blocks/Game Tournament Honors
14.3 1.3 5.7 1.2 0 All-Tournament Team, All-Region Team

Often thought of as a top five point guard under Tom Izzo, Kalin Lucas became an immediate contributor once on campus. Averaging 10.3 points and 3.8 assists on over 25 minutes per game in just his freshman year, Lucas was quickly trusted by Izzo and co to lead the Spartans. While Kalin showed much promise in that first year for the green and white, it was his sophomore campaign that ranks in the best NCAA Tournament performances under Izzo.

After losing in the Sweet 16 his freshman year, Kalin took the necessary steps in order to better himself and the Spartans in his second year. Kalin would have a mediocre first 38 minutes offensively against Kansas in the Sweet 16, but turned it on when needed. Lucas would end up scoring seven straight in the final 49 seconds, finishing with 18, to send the Spartans to the Elite Eight with a 67-62 win over the Jayhawks.

During the Spartans’ Final Four in Detroit, Lucas fed off the crowd to upset the No. 1 UConn Huskies. Kalin would finish with 21 points and five assists to send Michigan State to its second national title game under Izzo. Unfortunately, even with having 14 points and seven assists, Lucas would not be able to get the job done at Ford Field, coming up short against the Tar Heels.

3. Morris Peterson (1999-2000), score of 537.5/780 – won national title

Points/Game Rebounds/Game Assists/Game Steals/Game Blocks/Game Tournament Honors
17.5 4.3 1.16 0.8 0.33 All-Tournament Team, All-Region Team

The highest points per game scorer in the top five, ‘Mo Pete’ provided much of the offensive firepower during his time at Michigan State.

Before being drafted 21st overall in the 2000 NBA Draft, Peterson was apart of the heralded Flintstones along with Mateen Cleaves, Charlie Bell, Anthony Mull, and Antonio Smith. During his senior year, Peterson would start every game but one for MSU, averaging 17 points, six rebounds, and almost 43 percent from deep.

Peterson used his Big Ten Player of the Year momentum in 1999-2000 to help carry the Spartans in the NCAA Tournament. Eventually being named to the All-Tournament Team, Mo Pete continuously put on a show during the second halves of Michigan State‘s national championship march. During MSU’s Sweet 16 matchup against Syracuse, Peterson scored 16 of his 21 in the final 20 minutes of regulation, and during the Elite Eight against Iowa State, Peterson had all but five of his 18 in the second half as the Spartans mounted their comeback.

In the Final Four against Wisconsin, Peterson would finish with 20 of Michigan State’s 53 total points. He continued his offensive march in the national championship game against Florida, tying his tournament-high with 21 points and five assists. Peterson would eventually be inducted to the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame in 2019, thanks in part to his NCAA Tournament performance in the 1999-2000 season.

2. Goran Suton (2008-09), score of 543/780 – lost in national title

Points/Game Rebounds/Game Assists/Game Steals/Game Blocks/Game Tournament Honors
13 10.7 1.8 1.8 1.3 All-Tournament Team, All-Region Team

It’s easy for casual viewers of Michigan State to forget about the performance from senior Goran Suton in 2008-09. Coming to MSU as a four star recruit, the Lansing native had the good fortune to play alongside others on this list. Averaging over 25 minutes and almost 10 points per game, Goran played his part to perfection.

Specifically, Suton assisted in the double-digit comeback against reigning nation champions, Kansas, in the Sweet 16, scoring 20 points to go along with nine rebounds. Suton then led the way once again in the Elite Eight versus Louisville, and in the Final Four against Connecticut, putting up 19 points and 10 rebounds in both games.

Despite having to play extremely different styles of basketball in each round, an extremely slow pace in the Elite Eight against Louisville and then a fast paced style against UConn in the Final Four, Goran excelled nonetheless. While this Spartan squad’s luck ran out in the national title game against one of the best college basketball teams in recent history, Suton still performed well, scoring 17 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks, cementing himself as one of the greats for Tom Izzo in March.

1. Mateen Cleaves (1999-2000), score of 744.5/780 – won national title

Points/Game Rebounds/Game Assists/Game Steals/Game Blocks/Game Tournament Honors
14.1 2 4.5 1.16 0.28 Most Outstanding Player,
All-Tournament Team,
All-Region Team

While some others on this list may have come as a surprise, Mateen leading the way should shock no one. Easily considered one of the best players to play under Tom Izzo, Mateen had his best season in 1999-2000. After passing up on the NBA after his junior year, Mateen not only lead the Spartans statistically, he would go on to lead the entire tournament, winning the Most Outstanding Player.

Even with missing the first 13 games of the season, Cleaves came back and hit his stride in March. Through his strong leadership skills and his ability to make his teammates better, Cleaves lead the Spartans past huge deficits in the Sweet 16 against Syracuse, in the Elite Eight against Iowa State, and eventually led the Spartans head to head against Florida in the championship.

Cleaves started the national title game on a tear, helping MSU out to a 43-32 lead after going 3-for-3 from deep. It seemed only fate could stop Mateen from leading this team to a championship. Unfortunately, fate almost won as he would roll his ankle as the second half began. One of the most famous clips in MSU history is of Cleaves being helped to the locker room. Mateen allegedly told the trainer “they’d have to amputate it to keep me out of this one.”

Cleaves would make an emotional return and help lead the Spartans to their first national championship since Magic did so in 1979. In 1999-2000, Cleaves had one of the best NCAA Tournament performances of any player ever, let alone just at Michigan State.


Michigan State basketball: Way-too-early projected starting 5 for 2023-24

Next year’s team could be special.



Michigan State basketball
© Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State basketball has officially entered the offseason and now it’s time to predict what next year looks like.

Markquis Nowell will go down in Michigan State basketball history as one of those forbidden names. We will no longer be mentioning the Kansas State guard as he’s now in the same group as Giddy Potts, Boo Buie, Jabari Parker, and Shabazz Napier. We’re just throwing those names out for good.

Now that we got that out of the way, we can move forward and look ahead to next season.

And next season could be special. Michigan State brings back some key players such as Jaden Akins, AJ Hoggard, Mady Sissoko, Jaxon Kohler, Carson Cooper, Tre Holloman, and potentially Pierre Brooks. However, decisions have yet to be officially made for Tyson Walker, Malik Hall, and Joey Hauser, but an elite recruiting class is coming in.

In fact, the Spartans are bringing in one of the best recruiting classes in program history, led by five-star big man Xavier Booker, five-star point guard Jeremy Fears, four-star super-athlete Coen Carr, and four-star athletic sharpshooting wing Gehrig Normand.

The lineup next year should be athletic and the bench will be deep.

But what will the starting five look like, assuming that Hauser is gone? Here’s my best guess:

PG: AJ Hoggard, SR
G: Tyson Walker, SR
G: Jaden Akins, JR
F: Xavier Booker, FR
C: Mady Sissoko, SR

AJ Hoggard will be back for his senior year to lead the team at the point and he might just be the Big Ten’s best at the position. He showed against Kansas State that he can take over a game offensively and I’m looking forward to seeing him take another step in 2023-24.

For my bold prediction: I think we see Walker return. The way the season ended left a sour taste in his mouth and he became one of the best players in the Big Ten. If he gets the green light next year, he could be the Spartans’ go-to- scorer and potentially a Big Ten Player of the Year frontrunner.

Akins’ return is going to be huge for this team as well. If Walker were to leave, he’d assume the role of go-to scorer and I know he’d flourish. But he did play well in a No. 3 option role this season and he’s going to excel as the second option next season. He is the starting five’s top NBA prospect outside of Xavier Booker at the four.

Speaking of Booker, I see him sliding in as the starting power forward much like Jaren Jackson Jr. did as a true freshman. He’s a long, athletic big who can rebound and score in the post and that’s just what was missing this year. While I do think Hall returns and could play the four in a small-ball lineup, I think Tom Izzo brings him off the bench and Booker starts.

Lastly, Mady Sissoko grew a ton this season and I don’t think he’s done getting better. He had his ups and downs and showed how raw he truly was this year, but I think Izzo can mold him into a dominant defensive center. Will he be Oscar Tshiebwe down there? No, but I could see him averaging 2.0 blocks and 7.0-plus rebounds per game next season while continuing his lob-threat ability. Maybe he’ll even develop a post game on offense.

Coming off the bench would be Fears, Hall, Carr, Normand, Holloman, Cooper, and Brooks (assuming he doesn’t hit the portal).

This will be one of the deeper teams that Izzo has ever had and full lineup changes won’t completely crush momentum.

Raise your hand if you’re looking forward to next season.

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Michigan State basketball: Did Tyson Walker hint at return?

Something to monitor.



Michigan State basketball
© Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Tyson Walker might just be teasing us, but he hinted at a return to Michigan State basketball on Instagram.

Now that Michigan State basketball is headed back home after a crushing loss to Kansas State in the Sweet 16, a couple of storylines are going to dominate the offseason.

One, is Tom Izzo going to reach into the transfer portal for some help?

And two, will Tyson Walker, Joey Hauser, or Malik Hall decide to return?

The first question won’t be answered until the second one is and it feels like it’s been one-third answered. Hauser posted somewhat of a farewell on Instagram on Friday with the caption “that’s a wrap” and a green heart emoji. No one was shocked as he was the least likely to return, but it was Walker’s comment on the post that has people raising an eyebrow.

The “idk who I’m going to sit next to on the planes now” comment followed by Houser offering up Jaxon Kohler seems promising. Maybe it’s just two guys having fun with the fans, knowing that emotions are at an all-time high and we will find a way to make every word seem important.

But I’m putting stock in this. It just feels like Walker is leaning more toward coming back because he didn’t even think twice about writing that knowing that people would overreact (like myself).

And Hauser’s response makes it seem even more likely. Like he knows Walker wants to return.

Of course Walker had to post this to calm the rumor mill, but maybe he just let his intentions slip in the original post on Hauser’s Instagram post?

Maybe both guys are just messing around and both Hauser and Walker want to return along with Hall? OK, now I’m going way too far down the “what does this comment mean?” rabbit hole.

Either way, I would venture a guess of Walker returning with Hall while Hauser hangs up the green and white jersey for good.

If that’s the case, it was one heck of a career for Joey and Walker has big things ahead of him in East Lansing.

We can hope.

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Michigan State Basketball: 3 potential 2023-24 lineup options

There will be plenty of options.



Michigan State basketball
© Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Michigan State basketball season came to an unfortunate end yesterday after the devastating overtime loss in the Sweet 16. But what about 2023-24?

That loss is going to sting for at least the next few months. With Tennessee losing as well, the path to the Final Four was Michigan State’s for the taking. Unfortunately, the better team won Thursday night, and it wasn’t Michigan State basketball.

With that being said, there’s a lot of hope and optimism looking forward. Along with the hope, however, comes numerous variables regarding the Spartans’ roster.

Let’s go through a few options Tom Izzo and staff can roll with, roster-wise, in 2023-24.

Option 1: Roll with the roster we have (with a returning member)

  1. A.J. Hoggard/Jeremy Fears
  2. Tyson Walker
  3. Jaden Akins/Coen Carr/Gehrig Normand
  4. Xavier Booker/Jaxon Kohler
  5. Mady Sissoko/Carson Cooper

In option one, Tyson Walker doesn’t want to leave Michigan State with the Kansas State loss looming over him and so he decides to return for one final year. One of the nation’s best guard combinations of AJ Hoggard, Tyson, and Jaden Akins run it back with more experience and more expectations.

Being that Walker returning is the main variable in this scenario rather than a transfer acquisition, Michigan State moves forward with the players and recruits already bought in.

With that being said, Michigan State basketball would be left extremely thin at the four in this scenario. This would force Xavier Booker to step up (a common theme in these scenarios), along with a possible big ball lineup, shifting Jaxon Kohler to the four. With his offensive upside shown this season, but defensive downfalls, this could actually act as a plus.

Option 2: Attack the transfer portal

  1. A.J. Hoggard/Jeremy Fears
  2. Jaden Akins
  3. Transfer Player/Pierre Brooks/Gehrig Normand
  4. Xavier Booker/Coen Carr
  5. Mady Sissoko/Jaxon Kohler

Most fans will be shouting for option two to become reality but, with Tom Izzo’s track record, it’s not as likely.

The variable for option two is Walker, Joey Hauser, and Malik Hall all electing to move on, so Izzo and Co. turn to the well that is the transfer portal. Doing so in the past has seemed to work out with Tyson, so Izzo will be looking to strike gold once again to fill the open wing position.

While there are plenty of names within the portal, the Spartans have been linked to just a few. Six-foot-6 small forward Zack Austin from High Point, 6-foot-5 shooting guard Jace Carter from UIC, and 6-foot-3 combo guard Jayden Taylor from Butler have all been contacted by MSU and would fill the three-guard/small four role well.

Still, MSU would be somewhat light at the four, so the coveted 6-foot-10 freshman Booker would find himself in the starting lineup once again.

The offense would be led by Hoggard, but run through Akins, as he’s proven to be up to the challenge

Option 3: Feed the young bucks

  1. A.J. Hoggard/Jeremy Fears
  2. Jaden Akins/Pierre Brooks
  3. Coen Carr/Gehrig Normand
  4. Xavier Booker/Jaxon Kohler
  5. Mady Sissoko/Carson Cooper

Even less likely than turning to the transfer portal, is option three.

A staple for Tom Izzo-led teams is veteran leadership. It isn’t often a freshman steps in and is given a starting role right away. Think Kalin Lucas, Miles Bridges, or Jaren Jackson Jr. to name a few who were.

In this scenario, not only do Tyson, Hauser, and Hall all move on, but the Spartans also decline to bring in any transfer players. A young starting core would pose a difficult task for Izzo, leading this to being the least likely scenario. I can see plenty of frustration from Hoggard and Akins resulting from the inexperience around them, not to mention a possible second line of Tre Holloman, Pierre Brooks, Jeremy Fears, Gehrig Normand, and Carson Cooper. While it isn’t likely this lineup would see the floor all at the same time, it’s hard to find the trusted go-to guy in that group. MSU is better off avoiding this scenario.

In all reality, Michigan State’s 2024 lineup will likely combine all three of these options. Why choose just one when the most realistic path back to the Final Four is a combination of the three? We will see.

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