There’s no need to remind them – they already know.
The minute the game clock read zeros at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis last March, ending MSU’s season in the Sweet 16, another clock started ticking.
Seniors Adreian Payne and Keith Appling are the torchbearers for one of head coach Tom Izzo’s most impressive feats: Every four-year player in Izzo’s tenure has reached the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four.
MSU’s last Final Four appearance was in the 2009-10 season, meaning the streak is in jeopardy if they can’t lead the second-ranked Spartans to Arlington, Texas at season’s end.
“You can’t keep beating a dead horse, you know — we know it’s there,” Payne said. “It’s in the practices, it’s in the facility, you look up (and there’s) Final Four (banners) right there. It’s like you can’t go a day without seeing something about it.”
Since arriving together as freshmen in 2010, Payne and Appling have seen their seasons end in the Sweet 16 twice, and once in their opening game of the tournament – what the NCAA technically calls the “second round” games.
“I feel like we’re due for one,” said Appling, who was named a captain midway through last season.
“We had the first-round exits, the Sweet 16 exits, we feel like it’s time to go that extra mile and reach one of the things that every other player has reached here at Michigan State,” he said. “It’s a grind each and every day.”
Despite it being a point of personal pride, as well as a valuable recruiting pitch, Izzo said he sparingly mentions the streak to his team. He prefers to leave the prideful speeches and motivation to former players, such as Travis Walton, Mateen Cleaves and Draymond Green.
Izzo earned his first Final Four banner in his fourth season as Jud Heathcote’s successor. He’s gone on to collect five more throughout his 18 seasons as MSU’s head coach.
With Izzo’s streak on the line, though, coaching a team he feels has the best odds to win it all since his 2001 Final Four squad certainly doesn’t hurt his cause.
“Adreian and Keith are more than aware of it,” Izzo said. “We’ve talked about it in a big picture thing, but it’s not something I use every day. That’s a streak that, I don’t know anybody that’s had it. I guess John Wooden would have had one like that, but there are not many people that have it.
“Yet, like every other streak on record, it’s one that’s made to be broken. I just hope it’s not this year because it is something that I’m very proud of.”
A national-championship-or-bust culture has overtaken the MSU program heading into this season, and Appling and Payne have no intentions of being the senior class to break the streak.
Both players have increased their roles as leaders during the offseason, with an increased sense of urgency knowing what is at stake. The last time the Spartans had this much hype entering the season was 2010, when they were ranked No. 2 in the preseason before flaming out with a 19-15 overall record.
“It’s real important, it’s tradition here,” Payne said. “It’s something that we think about all the time, Keith and I. It’s like coach puts so much into us that we feel that we owe it to him because we’re the seniors and we’ve got to lead.”