Dueling column: Season was ultimately one to remember
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NEW YORK — It’s been a good year in Spartan basketball land.
Beating the No. 1 team in the country in the second game of the season and getting off to the best start in program history before ending as one of eight teams left at the basketball Mecca.
It doesn’t get much better.
But sure, the expectations were there.
Head coach Tom Izzo said this was one of a very few teams he’s had in his 19 years at the helm that had the talent to go all the way.
And yes, the president himself and most of the college basketball media and public picked the Spartans to win it all. But not making it to the Final Four does not define the identity of this MSU team or the program as a whole.
Two seniors, Keith Appling and Adreian Payne, grew on and off the court.
Payne’s well-documented relationship with Lacey Holsworth is something few players around the country can come close to building.
Izzo has said numerous times that Payne benefited from a senior year in school, and he is one of the players Izzo is most proud of through his career.
The growth of Appling was much more gradual.
He came to MSU as a basketball player that made young mistakes, and he’s leaving as a mature, well-rounded leader, despite the injuries he faced.
Don’t forget that he’ll be the first in his family to graduate with a college degree if the basketball track doesn’t work out.
Injuries obviously cast a dark cloud over the entire season, with Izzo calling it one of the most difficult situations he’s faced as a coach.
But again, it did not ruin the season.
Without injuries, chances are the Spartans wouldn’t have lost as many games in the regular season, and they might have even beat Michigan once or twice.
But I’d argue they wouldn’t have won the Big Ten Tournament or gone as deep as they did in the Big Dance.
Injuries gave this squad something to play for.
Izzo used the word ‘resiliency’ throughout the postseason.
It was that attitude that helped MSU streak through the Big Ten Tournament and finally get a statement win again U-M in the final.
Resiliency also pushed the Spartans to victory in close games against Virginia and even Harvard.
I don’t see injuries as the single thing that doomed MSU, but rather as a motivator.
Nearly everybody was picking against them after losses to Illinois and Ohio State. This team came through, ultimately.
Does losing hurt? Of course. It always does.
But that doesn’t mean this hasn’t been a season to remember.
Zach Smith is a State News basketball reporter. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org .