Three years ago, Michigan State was dealing with the hype and expectations of being the preseason No. 1 team in college basketball.
Now, the Spartans are a ways from that.
The Spartans are picked to finish outside the top three in the Big Ten standings for the 2022-23 season.
They’re not in Associated Press preseason top 25, finishing six spots out in the received votes category.
Analytics website Kenpom.com has the Spartans No. 31 in its preseason rankings.
But you won’t find much disagreement to those rankings in the head coach’s office at the Breslin Center.
“I can see why we’re not everybody’s favorite,” Tom Izzo said last week at Big Ten media days. “Deservingly so. We haven’t accomplished enough.”
Michigan State remans one of the most recognizable programs in college basketball, thanks to Izzo’s national title and eight Final Fours over 27 seasons.
But the team’s current core of players haven’t been able to reach those heights.
No scholarship players who played in the 2019 Final Four remain in the 2022-23 roster. Of the players on the 2020 Big Ten title team, only Malik Hall is still on the roster (Joey Hauser was at Michigan State but sat out that year after transferring).
The current core of players is 38-26 in the last two seasons, with a 20-20 record in Big Ten play and one NCAA Tournament win.
The result: this year marks the first time since 1996-97 that Michigan State has been unranked in the preseason poll in back-to-back years.
Izzo thinks this group should feel like underdogs as a result of those rankings. But it shouldn’t feel overlooked.
“I do like the underdog mentality, because I think they have a chip on their shoulder, and should carry that chip on their shoulder,” Izzo said. “And it’s not one that ‘Oh, nobody believes in us,’ or ‘Oh, the media doesn’t, fans don’t.’ No, that’s been earned, too. You earn both.”
Asked if people were sleeping on Michigan State, Hall said he hasn’t noticed.
“To me, I never paid too much attention to what people had to say about my team or even individuals as much, even if it was good things,” Hall sad.
Yet over the last two decades, Michigan State’s preseason ranking hasn’t been a strong indicator of success come March.
Since 1999-2001, when Michigan State made three straight Final Fours after starting the season in the top five, preseason rankings haven’t closely correlated to postseason results.
Six times, Michigan State has started as a preseason top-five team (not counting the 2019-20 season, when the NCAA Tournament was canceled). The Spartans have averaged 1.5 NCAA Tournament wins in those years, with one Final Four (2010).
Four times, Michigan State started outside of the top 15. The Spartans have averaged two NCAA Tournament wins in those seasons, with one Final Four appearance (2015).
Hall said he thinks this team could be another to outperform its preseason ranking.
“I feel like we have a lot to offer, and a lot of people don’t know what we have to offer yet,” Hall said. “I think it’ll surprise a lot of people, what we have to do this year.”
On the surface, little about Michigan State’s roster suggests a sizable jump. The team lost its top three scorers from last year and didn’t add any recruits ranked among the top 50 in the offseason.
But Izzo sees a roster with plenty of breakout candidates that can be far better than what we’ve seen thus far.
“They put themselves in a position, or I put them in a position where we weren’t as good last year, and I think I know the reason why,” Izzo said. “And so now, I think I know the reason why we can be good. Whether it’s going to be good enough, we’ll see.”