There’s not a single feeling of pomp and circumstance in the locker room. There are few smiles beyond the ones for the satisfaction of a victory, or the amusement of hearing the same questions repeatedly from reporters. There’s not even an official Nike Sweet 16 celebration shirt.
After all, there’s nothing to celebrate — yet.
As the MSU men’s basketball team advances to its fifth Sweet 16 in six seasons, postseason success remains a yearly tradition.
Yet, after defeating No. 6 seed Memphis to move on to its 11th Sweet 16 under head coach Tom Izzo, freshman guard Gary Harris and others have made it clear team goals sit a little higher.
“It’s part of the goal because we need to get to the Sweet 16 to get to the Final Four and eventually a championship,” Harris said. “We’re going to enjoy it on the way back, but then once we get to East Lansing, it’s time to get back to work.”
Opening up the NCAA Tournament in Auburn Hills, Mich., senior center Derrick Nix led the Spartans with 23 points en route to a second round victory against Valparaiso. In the third round game Saturday, it was Harris and junior center Adreian Paynewho carried the torch in a 70-48 blowout win.
Wins in hand, it’s safe to say it wasn’t a perfect weekend of basketball for the Spartans.
A tough scoring stretch continued for sophomore guard/forward Branden Dawson, who managed seven points and one point in the two games, respectively. Junior guard Keith Appling was ailing in both games, injuring his left knee against the Crusaders and later seeing his right shoulder pop out against Memphis.
With high seeds such as Gonzaga, Georgetown and New Mexico losing in the first weekend, the NCAA Tournament can be lethal for lackluster teams.
The goal in the Big Dance is to survive and advance — a feat the Spartans proudly can claim while 52 others no longer can.
“Sometimes (the first weekend is) the hardest,” Izzo said. “I mean, especially that first one is really hard … the way it’s changed since 2000 is a high seed used to get you out of the first weekend, you know, now it barely gets you out of the first game.”
The Spartans stand two wins from a Final Four and four from a national championship. Since every four-year player under Izzohas made a trip to the Final Four, Appling sees the writing on the wall for he and Payne to get there. Readying for the second Sweet 16 of his career, Appling is anxious to push this team further than any other he’s been a part of.
There’s nothing to celebrate yet, but if all goes according to play, there soon will be.
“Last year, we made it to the Sweet 16 and we just don’t want the appearance this year; we want to win the game,” Appling said. “It’s great we’re making it there but our mission isn’t accomplished yet.”
Dillon Davis is a State News men’s basketball reporter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.