Michigan State aiming for national championship under Izzo
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- Tom Izzo has led Michigan State to seven Final Fours over 17 seasons, earning a spot in college basketball's showcase more frequently than any other program during the stretch.
He isn't satisfied with that. The Spartans aren't, either.
The hard-driving coach and his players, who were humbled by a 20-point loss to Duke in the 2015 NCAA Tournament semifinals, are openly talking about aiming for a national title.
Izzo hasn't won it all since 2000 and that fact is consuming him going into his 21st season in charge of the team he took over from mentor Jud Heathcote.
"The mission now is to try to take it back to one more level," he said.
The talented and deep Spartans seem to have a shot with nine of their top 11 players back from last season, four of whom started at least 17 games. Here are some things to watch as they strive toward a third NCAA championship in program history:
Denzel Valentine, Bryn Forbes, Matt Costello and Colby Wollenman give Izzo plenty of experience as seniors. Valentine's all-around skills helped him average more than 14 points, six rebounds and four assists last season, leading returning players in those categories. This season, he will be counted on to play point guard more than he has in the past.
Izzo said Forbes was "MVP of the summer," which included a trip to Italy to play national teams from Russia, Italy and Georgia. The shooting guard added muscle without affecting his shooting stroke. Costello's career has been relatively disappointing because of the expectations generated by him winning Michigan's Mr. Basketball award in 2012. If the 6-foot-9 forward plays close to his potential consistently, he can help Michigan State reach its lofty goals. Wollenman may have a key role early in the season because forward Marvin Clark is recovering from surgery on his left foot.
Eron Harris is eligible to play after sitting out a season following his transfer from West Virginia, where he averaged 17 points per game two years ago as a sophomore.
"I'm very hungry," Harris said. "I've never sat out a year of basketball."
Freshman forward Deyonta Davis and guard Matt McQuaid will get a chance to contribute right away. The 6-10, 240-pound Davis has a chance to start at power forward.
"He could be one of the most talented big men we've ever had," Izzo said.
Michigan State will miss Travis Trice, who graduated along with Branden Dawson, and his 3-point shooting. It should have plenty of players to make up for the loss. Valentine, Forbes, Harris and McQuaid are all capable of taking and making a lot of shots beyond the arc.
"Potentially, this is the best shooting team we've had," Izzo said.
The Spartans struggled during stretches last season in part because Costello and Gavin Schilling could not stay out of foul trouble. If that happens again, they could struggle again because of a lack of depth in the post.
"Costello and Schilling have been two- and three-year hatchet men," Izzo said. "That would be a concern."
Michigan State opens the regular season Nov. 13 at home against Florida Atlantic in what should be a tuneup for a highly anticipated game four days later against Kansas in Chicago. The Spartans can potentially play Arizona in the Wooden Legacy tournament, and will host Louisville and Florida.
"The schedule is going to be brutal again," Izzo said. "It's going to be great for us again to see where we're at."