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Spartan Final Four Blog

April 1, 2015


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Logo  Saturday, April 4 Coverage:
Grinz on Green: MSU's 'Incredible' Ride Ends in Final Four | Spartans Already Looking Forward to Next Season | Photo Gallery | Game Recap/Notes/Quotes/Stats

Michigan State's "incredible" Final Four ride - in the words of head coach Tom Izzo - came to an end Saturday night with an 81-61 loss against Duke at Lucas Oil Stadium. Although the Spartans battled all game, the top-seeded Blue Devils proved to be too much to handle in the first national semifinal.

But the final score hardly diminishes what the 2014-15 Spartans accomplished, as they advanced to the ninth Final Four in school history, the seventh under Izzo, and won 27 games.

For a look ahead to what promises to be another successful season in 2015-16, check out the latest Grinz on Green column by Steve Grinczel.

Tom Izzo has led three Michigan State teams seeded No. 5 or lower to a Final Four, the most of any coach in NCAA history (No. 5 seed in 2005 and 2010; No. 7 in 2015).

"I got a lot out of a lot of teams over the years - this was like squeezing blood out of a rock. This team gave me everything they had to give me and they played through so many things."
-Tom Izzo

Logo  Friday, April 3 Coverage:
Photo Gallery | Grinz on Green: Spartans Still Improving Heading Into Final Four

It was another eventful day for the Spartans in Indianapolis on Friday as the countdown to Saturday's tipoff against Duke drew closer.

The team began the morning with a practice at the University of Indianapolis before heading to Lucas Oil Stadium at 11 a.m.

Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo then met with the media for the final time before the Spartans take on Duke Saturday in the first national semifinal at 6:09 p.m.

Izzo spoke for 30 minutes in the media room at Lucas Oil Stadium on various topics, including why Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice are so valuable off the court, the improvement of MSU's defense throughout the season, and why this Final Four run has been so special. MSU's five starters took part in media breakout interview sessions, while the rest of the team answered questions from reporters in the team locker room.

"I've listened to a lot of things in the last three, four days," Izzo opened at his press conference. "I would be the first to admit that a month and a half ago I questioned where we are. But we've earned our right to be here, too. So we're not going to apologize anymore. The teams we beat at the end of the year at the Big Ten Tournament, and I think we played maybe the toughest of the four teams to get here. So we've earned our right, we're ready to play. We know we're playing a great team in Duke and excited about the opportunity."

For complete coverage of Friday's press conference, click here.

Following their time with the media, the Spartans took the stage on the Lucas Oil Stadium court before thousands of fans to hold their open practice. While many questions from the media surrounded the shooting background in such a large venue, one good sign during practice for the Spartans was the sight of Bryn Forbes hitting 22 consecutive 3-pointers during one stretch, which led to a large applause from the Spartan faithful in attendance. The team ended its workout by throwing down several dunks, led by Branden Dawson, Denzel Valentine and even point guard Lourawls "Tum Tum" Nairn Jr.

When the 50 minutes were up, the Spartans waved goodbye to the fans, and Izzo spoke briefly with CBS Sports' Jim Nantz.

"I just want to thank them all for the support they've given us all year," said Izzo. "The first two rounds were incredible, Syracuse was orange, but it really was green last weekend. There's a lot of Michigan State people here - I want to thank you. Hopefully we'll do it right for you."

Izzo also had a chance to see former Spartan All-American Mateen Cleaves, who was on the set for CBS Sports Network at Lucas Oil Stadium. Izzo messed with Cleaves by playfully grabbing his head from behind as Cleaves was broadcasting a live show on CBS Sports Network. Cleaves, who led the Spartans to the 2000 National Championship in Indianapolis, will serve as the analyst on MSU's "teamcast" Final Four simulcast on TruTV.

The Spartans ended the day by visiting a packed pep rally of more than 3,000 fans at the Indiana Convention Center, which included MSU president Lou Anna K. Simon and head football coach Mark Dantonio.

And before the day was over, the team had a chance to pose for a photo with all of the former Spartan basketball players that made the trip to Indianapolis, including Magic Johnson, Mateen Cleaves, Morris Peterson, Steve Smith, Matt Steigenga, Chris Hill and Tim Bograkos, among others.

The Spartan Family is definitely out in full force for the Final Four.

Tom Izzo's seven Final Four appearances rank tied for fourth all-time and tied for second among active coaches. UCLA's John Wooden and Duke's Mike Krzyzewski rank tied for first with 12 trips, followed by North Carolina's Dean Smith with 11. Rick Pitino and Roy Williams also have made seven trips to the Final Four. Since Tom Izzo became head coach in 1995-96, no other coach has made as many six trips.

"I've been through a lot in my four years here. Kind of hit rock bottom really going into my sophomore year when I didn't really know if I was even going to live or not. So I think it makes me appreciate everything that much more. I just got to thank God for bringing me out of that and putting me where I'm at now with this opportunity."
-Travis Trice

From the Kansas City Star: From homeless to the Final Four for Kansas City's Marvin Clark Jr.

From Michigan State Relies on its Magic

From the Lansing State Journal: Spartan family reunion: Ex-players meet at Final Four

Logo  Thursday, April 2 Coverage:
Photo Gallery | Grinz on Green: Team Chemistry a Key Ingredient to Final Four Run

The Spartans were the first team to set foot on the court at Lucas Oil Stadium as the team practiced for 90 minutes Thursday morning in the home of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts. After a spirited practice, head coach Tom Izzo and the players did interviews and participated in specialty media shots with CBS, Turner Sports, Westwood One Radio, NCAA Digital and the Big Screen Network.

In a unique press conference, senior guard Travis Trice took the media platform, along with Duke's Quinn Cook, Kentucky's Willie Cauley-Stein, and Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky, as the players answered questions together from the numerous reporters gathered in the cavernous media room at Lucas Oil Stadium.

"Yeah, definitely," Trice responded when asked if he's been able to soak up the moment this week. "Not only this week, but just driving in here, even today, all the media, all the things we've had to do. I'm appreciative of it. After everything I've been through for the past four years, makes it that much more memorable."

As for the reason why the Spartans have been able to persevere to get to the final weekend of the season, Trice said it was due to the team chemistry.

"I think our camaraderie is what's really gotten us to this point," he remarked. "We've kind of had an up-and-down year if you look at some of our losses. I think just staying the course really and never losing faith in our team or our abilities...We're constantly together. Like Frank said, the hospitality room, we were there till 12:00, 1:00 last night. You really got to fight us to get away from each other. I think that's a good thing and helps us in close games."

Izzo then took his turn, taking part in an interview alongside Duke's Mike Krzyzewski for CBS and Turner Sports, followed by a press conference in which Izzo once again was side-by-side with Krzyzewski.

"I just think you have to have a close-knit, together team," Izzo said on what it takes to reach a Final Four. "We've gotten here maybe once where I didn't feel we were maybe as close. Magic told me something once when I first got to a Final Four, he said, Usually those kind of teams have something special, and it's not just talent, it's a camaraderie, a togetherness, having each other's back. It's hard for kids to adjust to all the pressures that you have when you go to a Final Four, and you better be close-knit, tight-knit."

While the Spartans fulfilled their media obligations, they also had a chance to play video games in the locker room, but they weren't the only ones participating. The games were virtually locked in with troops stationed in Afghanistan, giving the players a chance to interact with members of the United State Armed Forces.

In the evening, the team played games at the NCAA Fan Fest at the Indiana Convention Center and attended the salute celebration for the Final Four teams at the Hilbert Center Theater. Colby Wollenman won the Elite 89 Award for having the highest GPA among Final Four participants and received his award with NCAA President Mark Emmert and Jim Nantz.

In the latest installment of March Madness Confidential, check out a must see video of Tom Izzo's speech to the team during the Elite Eight game against Louisville.

The Spartans are making their ninth appearance in a Final Four (1957, 1979, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2009, 2010, 2015), good for the eighth-most all-time in NCAA history.

"I still think you have to play your role. You can't be somebody you're not. Just like as coaches, we can't change and be somebody we're not. If I think back to my early years, our first championship was here, too, in this city, there are mistakes that were made. In fact, my first Final Four, we played you down in Tampa. I just felt like I was still doing hotel tickets on Friday night and game tickets Saturday morning. So you grow as a coach. I think the same as players, you grow, but I don't think you want to try to be somebody you're not. I don't think we will be. I don't think we have those kind of players. It's not a big ego group here."
-Tom Izzo, on the key to being successful at the Final Four

From How Tom Izzo Succeeds In March

Logo  Wednesday, April 1 Coverage:
Grinz on Green: Spartans Roll into Indy for Final Four

The theme of the day seemed to be escorts as the Spartans left for Indianapolis on Wednesday.

Following practice, the team left the Breslin Center at 3:30 p.m. and was escorted out of East Lansing by a mobile billboard truck with "Go Green" and "Go White" painted on both sides.

Upon arriving in Indianapolis, the team ate dinner and played games at Dave and Buster's before getting escorted downtown by an indy car. As if the indy car wasn't enough in the home of the most famous race in the world, the Indianapolis 500, MSU Athletics Director Mark Hollis was in the second seat of the indy car that led the Spartans to their team hotel.

"It was fun to spend some time with the team, the guys got to relax and have some fun," said Travis Trice, as the team serenaded Javon Bess at dinner with "Happy Birthday" as the freshman from Columbus, Ohio, celebrated his 19th birthday. "It kind of takes some pressure off of being at the Final Four. The guys were excited.

"I think it's really starting to sink in that we're at the Final Four, just with everything that's going on now. So far, it's everything I've dreamed of and more. We've got the biggest (hotel) rooms I've had since I've been in college. Everyone is coming up to you and asking to take pictures - it's almost like you're a rock star. It feels great, but at the same time, we're trying to stay focused, knowing that we have a big game on Saturday."

Check out the latest episode of Spartan Basketball All-Access, "Never Stop," which gives fans a behind-the-scenes look at the Spartans winning the East Regional in Syracuse, New York.

Michigan State is one of only two schools (Florida) to win multiple national titles in football & men's basketball.

"Been on it before. It's fun. It's a good ride...It's that moment when you realize that all the falderal that goes along with this, all the great media coverage we get, the fan adulation that we get, all of a sudden it's just you and them. That's the way it's going to be on the floor."
-Tom Izzo on the bus ride to Indianapolis

Logo  Tuesday, March 31 Coverage:
Grinz on Green: Spartans Don't View Themselves as Underdogs at Final Four

The media blitz continued for the Spartans on Tuesday as head coach Tom Izzo addressed reporters at a press conference inside the media center at Spartan Stadium - the Tom and Lupe Izzo Family Media Center to be exact - to preview the Final Four matchup against Duke.

"Well, 'excited to be here' would be a very average way of putting it," opened Izzo, who spoke for about 45 minutes to a throng of media from around the state. "About as excited as I've been in any Final Four we've been going to. Feeling incredibly blessed to be at another one. It's something that never gets old."

Izzo talked about not only facing the Blue Devils, but what reaching the Final Four means for the program and past players, the atmosphere surrounding a Final Four, and how his team has gone on a run to win 12 of the past 15 games heading into Indianapolis.

"One of the goals is for my players to get to have what I have," said Izzo. "I've lived my dream as a kid growing up, figuring out where I wanted to go, getting to the pinnacle, being at a university like this, winning some championships, winning the national championship.

"I just think it's such a memory making experience when you do things that few can do. That was my battle cry to my team on Sunday. I just said, two hours of work for 60 years of memories."

For complete coverage of Izzo's press conference, click here.

Following practice, the players had their turn with the media, answering questions from reporters about the upcoming trip to the Final Four, the first for everyone on the roster.

"It was all good at first, after the game and a little bit during the night, but as soon as I woke up, I woke up with Duke on my mind," said Denzel Valentine. "I'm ready to play them and ready to get this national championship."

Senior Branden Dawson is not just looking forward to the Final Four experience, but also playing Duke once again this season.

"That was basically the first time really playing together, being that we have a younger team," said Dawson on the first matchup against Duke back on Nov. 18. "I think now we're a much better team all around."

Michigan State is the 13th school to finish in The Associated Press top five in football (No. 5) and go to a Final Four in the same athletic season, and the first since Florida and Ohio State in 2006-07.

"I don't want to feel like an underdog. I understand where we are. There's no question that Duke is a favored team. There's no question that Kentucky is the favored team. If we played Wisconsin, they'd probably be the favored team. I guess if you look at it that way, we're underdogs all weekend. I don't look at it that way because I know where this program's at. As far as where this team's at, every time we've been under dogged, we've answered the bell lately."
-Tom Izzo on the Spartans being the lowest seeded team in the Final Four

From Izzo Radio Interview

Logo  Sunday, March 29 Coverage:
Grinz on Green: Spartans Display Heart in East Regional Final; Earn Trip to Final Four

Following Sunday's dramatic overtime victory against Louisville in the East Regional final in Syracuse, the Spartans were greeted home in style.

Thousands of fans filled the Breslin Center Sunday night to welcome back the Final Four-bound Spartans. With a piece of the net from the Carrier Dome secured in their East Regional Champs hats, the players entered the floor through the tunnel with the MSU Fight Song blaring, waving to the fans and soaking up the moment.

After a highlight video, Coach Izzo took the mic and spoke to the crowd.

"(The Big Ten) banners are hung on the side of the court," he said. "Final Four banners are hung over the court. I prefer the ones that are looking down the court."

Well, there's plenty of them in the rafters of the Breslin Center. Eight now, with another one soon to follow.

"These guys deserve (it)," Izzo continued. "They've been through hell this year, between injuries, missed free throws, and all of things we've had to deal with. But they kept bouncing back. I can't tell you how proud I am of them."

The three seniors - Branden Dawson, Travis Trice and Keenan Wetzel - then had their turn.

"I'm so excited right now...this is just an amazing feeling," said an exasperated Dawson, with a whole net hung over his neck. "I just want to thank you for coming out tonight, the players, my teammates, the coaching staff, the managers, they do a great job of getting ready for each and every game.

"But right now, for our seniors, Travis and Keenan, it feels great. Last year, it was hard watching Keith (Appling) and AP (Adreian Payne) go out the way they did, but I mean, we did it for them. We did it for Draymond Green, we did it for all the guys who came before us.

"Draymond said if I would've played against Louisville my freshman year when I tore my ACL, we would have made it to a Final Four. Just to get this win tonight feels amazing. I love you guys, and I want to keep in going."

Trice, who was named the Most Outstanding Player of the East Regional and also sported a full net around his neck, was the final senior to speak. But it took a minute. Chants of "MVP, MVP" filled the arena, before he playfully cut them off.

"We just want to thank you for your support through the ups and downs, we know it's been a roller coaster season," said Trice. "But you guys are the true fans. You're here now, and you were here in the beginning. The last thing I want to say is, we're not done yet."

Izzo closed the rally by thanking MSU Athletics Director Mark Hollis, and also head football coach Mark Dantonio, who was in attendance and joined Izzo at midcourt.

"When Mark Hollis asked me to be on a board to pick a head football coach," remarked Izzo, "and we got one of the best in the country, we said we're gonna have a day where when we both win a national championship. We're not there yet, but we're getting closer."

Michigan State will be making its seventh trip to the Final Four in the past 17 seasons, the most of any school in the nation during that time span (since 1998-99).

From Yahoo Sports: Michigan State's trip to Final Four an exhausting, emotional journey for Travis Trice and his family

From Travis Trice's road to Indianapolis

Final Four



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