#14 Michigan State by Mike Rutherford

Photo: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps the biggest tribute to Michigan State's run of consistent success is the fact that one of college basketball's most tired phrases has to do with its head coach's NCAA Tournament prowess. Everyone knows about "Tom Izzo in March," so much so that the four words get tossed around with equal doses of irony and sarcasm every time the Spartans look less than stellar during the first half of the season.

No one batted an eye last April when seventh-seeded Michigan State joined a trio of No. 1 seeds in Indianapolis to make up the 2015 Final Four. In fact, the Spartans were dubbed by some as the "favorites" to emerge from the East Region before the tournament started. Had the team slotted No. 7 not been coached by Izzo and not been wearing green and white -- even if they had the exact same body of work as the Spartans did entering the big dance -- there wouldn't have been nearly the same amount of buzz.

Reputations are earned, as Izzo's rep for being among the best in the game at getting his team to peak at the right time is backed up by facts. Michigan State has been to the NCAA Tournament 18 times under the guidance of Izzo, and in exactly half of those appearances they have advanced to the Elite Eight. Seven times they've won that regional final game and gone on to the Final Four.

Those numbers are impressive enough, but it's how Izzo has achieved them which makes up the foundation of his reputation. Though his lone national championship came via a heavily favored No. 1 seed, Izzo is a remarkable 13-10 in the NCAA Tournament when Michigan State is the lower-seeded team. Those 13 wins are the most all-time for a head coach in the big dance. Perhaps most ridiculous of all, Izzo is 22-4 in the second game of any NCAA Tournament weekend, with all four losses coming to No. 1 seeds or eventual national champions.

You may roll your eyes when "Izzo in March" starts getting tossed around after the Spartans take a loss in November and December this season, but the words will be on your mind when you fill out your bracket a few months later.

How the Spartans can succeed: Taking advantage of a roster with an increase in offensive talent

Four wins in March completely wiped away the fact that Michigan State was frustratingly inefficient for much of last season, piling up inexplicable turnovers and bad fouls that doomed them to a pedestrian 21-10 record entering the Big Ten Tournament. Things then clicked, as they tend to do for Tom Izzo at that time of year, and the Spartans advanced to both the Big Ten championship game and yet another Final Four.

A lack of both experience and talent led some to dub last season as a "rebuilding year" before it even got started. Expectations are higher as we stand on the doorstep of the 2015-16 season, and for good reason.

Sparty has built a reputation under Izzo for winning with tough defense and unparalleled rebounding prowess. They might win that way again at times this season, but with the offensive talent that is both coming back and to East Lansing for the first time, those games will likely wind up being the exception rather than the norm.

Michigan State now has a proven go-to scorer in Eron Harris, who transferred in after averaging 17.2 ppg for West Virginia in 2013-14. Harris is not an elite defender and also had turnover issues during his time in Morgantown, which is why sitting out last season was probably the best thing that could have happened to his college career. He, along with 44 percent shooters Denzel Valentine and Bryn Forbes, will be asked to fill the offensive void left behind by Branden Dawson and Travis Trice.

The backcourt rotation will likely be a fluid situation during the first part of the season. Tum Tum Nairn started at point guard as a true freshman down the stretch last season, but both Izzo and Spartan fans would like to see him emerge as more of an offensive threat. Forbes provides instant offense off the bench and fellow reserve Alvin Ellis III has the athleticism and experience to compete for minutes as well. Freshman Matt McQuaid is a dangerous outside shooter who also knows how to finish around the rim. He'll be a star for Izzo, it's just a question of how soon.

Even though Izzo has been labeled as a coach who doesn't like to deviate a whole lot from his trademark style, this roster has too much versatility for him not to at least try out some different looks early in the season. Izzo has expressed his openness to this throughout the offseason, even discussing sliding Valentine over to the point if he thought going big would provide State with an advantage in a game. This group is so talented and diverse that any number of different things would probably work, The task for Izzo is simply finding the look that winds up working best.

How Michigan State can go home early: The frontcourt fails to step up

The departure of Branden Dawson, Michigan State's all-time leader in blocked shots, leaves the Spartans without a frontcourt star for what feels like the first time since before Izzo took over in 1995. Matt Costello, Marvin Clark and Gavin Schilling all have experience inside, but none of them have ever averaged more than 20.4 minutes per game, and none have rebounded or defended the way Dawson (the Big Ten's leading rebounder last season) did throughout his college career.

It's been odd to hear Izzo worry this offseason about his team's rebounding and interior defense, since those two things have been his calling card for the past 20 years. The assumption is always that multiple frontcourt players will step up at some point during the five-month season and provide the toughness on both ends of the court that Michigan State is known for, and it's more than likely that this is exactly what will wind up happening. But what if it doesn't?

Having proven scorers and guys with versatile skill-sets is a welcome luxury for Tom Izzo, but it's a luxury what won't matter if he can't find guys to master the areas of the game where Michigan State has built its success. Still, the safe bet is that the message gets across to the Spartan big guys sooner rather than later. And even if it doesn't, there's always going to be Tom Izzo in March.

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