Michigan State ends season with mixed emotions
By LARRY LAGE
(AP) -- Michigan State's surprisingly successful season ended with a thud.
The Spartans started the season unranked, then accomplished enough to be a top-seeded team in the NCAA tournament. They advanced to the round of 16 for the 10th time in 15 years, but ended with perhaps their poorest performance of the season.
Louisville sent Michigan State home with a 57-44 win Thursday night in the West Regional semifinals.
"It's hard to feel good and hard to feel bad," Spartans coach Tom Izzo said. "It's hard to feel good because I don't think we had anybody that played at all like they played in the last three weeks. But it's hard to feel bad because Louisville deserved it."
Michigan State entered the game on a roll, winning three games to earn the Big Ten tournament title and its first two games in the NCAA tournament.
The Spartans saved their worst for last. They made just 29 percent of their shots overall and got outrebounded by the Cardinals, whose zone defense slowed down a previously effective offense.
"We thought we was pretty well prepared for it," forward Draymond Green said. "It's not our coaches' fault. I think they gave us a great game plan. At the end of the day, players play, and we didn't, we just didn't execute well."
Green, though, did for much of the season.
The do-it-all forward was chosen the Big Ten player of the year, the conference tournament's most outstanding player and broke Greg Kelser's school record for career rebounds.
Michigan State returns a solid nucleus of players, including point guard Keith Appling, centers Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne along with guard Branden Dawson, whose freshman season was cut short by a left knee injury. Dawson has had surgery and hopes to be ready to join the team for preseason practices next fall.
The Spartans have a highly touted recruiting class, including two of the top in-state players, Bay City's Matt Costello, who won the Mr. Basketball award and runner-up Denzel Valentine of Lansing, along with Gary Harris, who was recognized as the top player in Indiana, and Ohio's Kenny Kaminski.
Michigan State won the Big Ten title for the third time in four years, claimed the conference tournament championship for the first time since 2000 and advanced to the NCAA's round of 16 for the 10th time in 15 years.
For the first time in four NCAA tournaments as a No. 1 seed, Izzo didn't guide the Spartans to at least four wins to reach the national semifinals. His record fell to 7-3 in the round of 16, and he wasn't happy about preparations for the first regional semifinal with just three days off.
The team flew to Arizona on Monday night, a day after beating Saint Louis, to prepare for Louisville.
"I think I made some mistakes, too, I really do," Izzo said. "I'd never come out on a Monday again. I think we needed more time (in East Lansing). It was just a weird situation for us.
Michigan State started the season in an unusual position, not ranked in The Associated Press preseason poll. The Spartans had just two players - Green and Appling - who averaged double digits in minutes last year.
After setbacks in showcase games against North Carolina on an aircraft carrier and to Duke in New York, the Spartans won 15 straight, including at Gonzaga, against Indiana and at Wisconsin. They then lost three of five in January and rallied with a seven-game winning streak that gave them a piece of the Big Ten title. They ended up sharing it by closing the regular season with two straight losses.
Izzo and his players overcame the loss of standout Dawson at the Big Ten tournament in wins over Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa and with two victories in the NCAA tournament.
"We had a special year," Thornton said. " We know we did some things at Michigan State that haven't been done in a long time
"Our ultimate goal was to make it to New Orleans to the Final Four. We weren't able to accomplish that."
Izzo said no one played well, or coached well, in the finale.
"We grew together, we won together, we had fun together, we cried together," he said. "You couldn't even look at one guy or blame one guy; collectively we just didn't get it done."
Updated March 23, 2012