Was Michigan State’s 69-58 first round NCAA Tournament loss to North Carolina State the end of the Spartans’ run as one of the premier programs in the country?

Paul Wong
Raphael Goodstein

Probably.

For the first time in five years Michigan State was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament before the Sweet Sixteen. But don’t mistake Friday afternoon’s loss for an upset. It wasn’t.

The Spartans were beaten by a better, more talented team that, surprisingly, was more prepared and better coached.

Even more surprising, though, is that the Wolfpack achieved the win with their best player having to sit on the bench due to foul trouble.

Michigan State allowed North Carolina State to win because the Spartans consistently committed stupid fouls 30 feet from the basket. And they also committed several fouls while a North Carolina State player was converting a layup, especially in the second half.

Even rebounding, which has been a staple of Michigan State’s success during the last five years was absent Friday, as the Wolfpack outrebounded Michigan State, 33-28.

Even had the 10th-seeded Spartans’ found a way to get past No. 7 seed North Carolina State, there is little doubt that No. 2 seed Connecticut would have ended the Spartans season yesterday. After the loss, even Izzo conceded that the loss might have marked the end of Michigan State’s run.

While the Spartans have another highly-touted recruiting class coming in next year, continuing to bring in such classes will only get tougher for Izzo now that Michigan coach Tommy Amaker is successfully contending for the same players. Amaker’s class next year is right on par with the Spartans’ class. Both classes have one consensus top 20 player, and two other top 100 players.

But more importantly, Amaker has made a point of re-establishing Michigan’s presence in Michigan, something former coach Brian Ellerbe never did.

While Ellerbe was a good recruiter, most of his talent was from outside the state. This allowed Michigan State to snatch up most of the in-state talent and build a contender around that. If Michigan State only gets half of the in-state talent, it’s doubtful that it’ll continue to succeed at that level.

Now that Michigan State has lost, and Izzo was outcoached, it’s likely that the perception that the Spartans are one of the premier programs in the country will change.

Michigan State has never consistently been a premier program for an extended period of time. For the most part, it has been a good program which consistently contended for an NCAA Tournament bid, like it did this year. But Michigan State is by no means a program on par with Kansas, Duke or Kentucky – programs that will almost annually contend for the title.

After their first-round loss, the Spartans talked about the year with a positive tone. This year wasn’t a bad one for Michigan State. For premier programs, if a season ends in the first round, the season was a failure – just like if Michigan’s football team doesn’t win the Big Ten or play in a BCS game. That’s life at a premier program. That isn’t life at Michigan State.

What’s more, the same problem that has plagued many of schools (Michigan included) the last 10 years has hit Michigan State – the best players leave school before their four years of eligibility are up.

Last year, Spartans Zach Randolph and Jason Richardson left before their eligibility was up, and there is talk that point guard Marcus Taylor will leave school after this year.

Without Taylor, the Spartans once again will be left without the necessary talent to contend.

And with Michigan hot on the Spartans’ heels for talent, it appears as thought it will be some time before they once again have the talent to contend for a national title.

Raphael Goodstein can be reached at raphaelg@umich.edu.

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