EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP)—Tom Izzo had just become the sixth coach in Big Ten history with at least six conference championships, and he didn’t even realize it.
“Really? That’s the one thing I don’t keep track of,” Izzo said after No. 11 Michigan State beat Michigan 64-48 Sunday to finish the regular season in a three-way tie. “I keep track of national championships, and I want more of those.”
If Raymar Morgan can maintain his momentum, the Spartans will have a shot to give Izzo his second national title and the school its third.
Morgan scored 13 of his season-high 22 points in the first half, helping Michigan State build an 18-point lead that it used to cruise to an easy victory against its overmatched rival.
The senior forward—whose career has been marked by inconsistency— averaged 16 points and 11 rebounds over the last four games.
“If he plays like he’s been playing lately, the sky is the limit for us and we can get back to the Final Four,” teammate Kalin Lucas said.
Michigan State has advanced to the Final Four a nation-best five times in the previous 11 NCAA tournaments.
The Spartans (24-7, 14-4 Big Ten) shared the conference championship with Ohio State and Purdue, winning their second straight title and sixth since Izzo was promoted to replace Jud Heathcote for the 1994-95 season. They will be the third-seeded team at this week’s Big Ten tournament behind the top-seeded Buckeyes and Boilermakers.
“I can enjoy this one right now because it was the toughest of the six to get,” Izzo said shortly after the school’s 12th Big Ten championship banner was hoisted to the Breslin Center’s rafters. “We were picked to win it, which makes it hard, then we had to overcome some setbacks along the way.”
The Wolverines’ season has been full of setbacks since being ranked No. 15 in The Associated Press preseason poll, and the lowlight might’ve been getting routed at Michigan State after a 28-point win over Minnesota.
“It was really disappointing and frustrating, but never discouraging,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “It was over real early.”
Michigan failed to live up to high expectations, slumping to a .500 record after six games and following up a win over then-No. 15 Connecticut two months ago by going 4-9.
The Wolverines (14-16, 7-11) will have to make a stunning appearance in the Big Ten tournament final to avoid a losing record and would have to win that postseason title to earn a second consecutive bid to the NCAA tournament. They will be seeded eighth and matched up with ninth-seeded Iowa on Thursday.
“It’s a different season now,” DeShawn Sims said. “We have nothing to lose.”
That’s one way to look at it.
Michigan might not even earn a spot in the NIT and might be relegated to the College Basketball Invitational or CollegeInsider.com Tournament. Beilein looked as upset as he’s been in three seasons on Sunday, but he refused to sound defeated.
“We have a plan and we’re working on it,” Beilein said. “I’m very confident in the plan.”
Michigan’s Manny Harris and Sims made only one shot each in the first half as their team matched a Big Ten-low with 14 points, outscoring Morgan by only a point. Harris missed nine of 10 shots, finishing with four points, and Sims scored just nine.
Michigan State has won 18 of 21 against its rival overall and 11 straight at home.
“This is definitely one of the best places to play,” Sims said. “They definitely put on a show.”
“This is definitely one of the best places to play,” Sims said of the Breslin Center, where the Spartans have won 18 of 21 against their rival. “They definitely put on a show.”
Harris has said he plans to return for his senior season, but declined to say if he just played his last regular-season game for Michigan.
“I’m not thinking about that right now,” he said. “I’m going to the Big Ten tournament to try to win the whole thing. Then, I’ll think about the future.”
It took a look at the Big Ten’s past to figure out who’s in Izzo’s company.
He became the first coach to win at least six conference titles in his first 15 seasons since Bob Knight won seven during the same span at Indiana.
Knight finished with 11 championships with the Hoosiers from 1971-2000, matching the Big Ten record set by Purdue’s Ward “Piggy” Lambert. The other coaches with at least six Big Ten titles are Minnesota’s Walter Meanwell, Ohio State’s Fred Taylor and Purdue’s Gene Keady.
If Izzo gets his wish of a national title, he and the program will be in elite company.
Izzo would trail just John Wooden, Adolph Rupp, Bobby Knight and Mike Krzyzewski on the list of coaches with multiple titles, and Michigan State would join UCLA, Kentucky, Indiana, North Carolina, Duke and Kansas are the only programs with at least three championships.
“Right now we’re better than I give us credit for,” Izzo said. “But not as good as I think we can be.”