INDIANAPOLIS — The defining characteristic of Michigan State's success in the Tom Izzo era — one national title, seven Final Fours, 13 Sweet Sixteens — is the Spartans' ability to keep their best players at home.
Izzo's current team, which enters the NCAA Tournament as a No. 2 seed, is just the latest example. This year's Spartans are essentially a state of Michigan all-star team, as four of the five best players on the team hail from the Great Lakes State: Denzel Valentine (Lansing), Bryn Forbes (Lansing), Matt Costello (Linwood) and Deyonta Davis (Muskegon).
This formula for success is not new for Izzo, who himself is a native of the state's Upper Peninsula. Valentine, Forbes and Costello played leading roles in Michigan State notching its seventh Final Four appearance under Izzo in 2015. And perhaps most famously, the squad that won the 1999-2000 national championship was guided by a trio of star players who hailed from Flint, Mich.: Mateen Cleaves, Morris Peterson and Charlie Bell.
The Michigan connection is further amplified when examining the top five-minute-receivers on Izzo's seven Final Four teams. Of those 27 players, a whopping 16 spent their formative years playing hoops in Michigan. The next highest state total on that list comes from Ohio, which has had five players star on an Izzo Final Four outfit.
Here's the list, with the players and their hometown listed in order of most minutes played during that individual season:
2014-15: Travis Trice (Dayton, Ohio), Valentine, Branden Dawson (Gary, Ind.), Forbes, Costello.
2009-10: Kalin Lucas (Sterling Heights, Mich.), Raymar Morgan (Canton, Ohio), Durrell Summers (Detroit), Draymond Green (Saginaw, Mich.), Chris Allen (Atlanta).
2008-09: Lucas, Travis Walton (Lima, Ohio), Goran Suton (Lansing), Summers, Morgan.
2004-05: Alan Anderson (Minneapolis), Maurice Ager (Detroit), Paul Davis (Rochester, Mich.), Shannon Brown (Maywood, Ill.), Chris Hill (Indianapolis).
2000-01: Bell, Andre Hutson (Dayton), Jason Richardson (Saginaw), David Thomas (Ontario, Canada), Marcus Taylor (Lansing).
1999-00: Peterson, A.J. Granger (Findlay, Ohio), Bell, Hutson, Cleaves.
1998-99: Cleaves, Antonio Smith (Flint), Hutson, Peterson, Bell.
Each Spartan outfit to advance to the Final Four has had at least two Michigan hoopsters (and an average of three) playing a heavy role in a deep March run.
"This is huge to me. Being from Michigan, being from East Lansing, it was all I saw when I was growing up," Forbes said. "So to leave my own footprint would be huge, and I know (it's) the same for [Valentine and Costello]."
Valentine, whose father, Carlton, was recruited to play at Michigan State by Izzo (then an assistant coach), and wound up a four-year letter winner in East Lansing from 1984-88, has embraced the pressure that comes with trying to log the latest Final Four appearance.
"I think in Denzel's case, with his dad being here and playing here, I just think he looks as this as I'm helping my dad live through me," Izzo said. "And what a cool thing that is."
Valentine recently joined Cleaves, Peterson, Lucas and Green as players to be named Big Ten Player of the Year under Izzo. He knows his team still has more work to do.
"Our goal, when we got here, was to win a national championship," Valentine said, "And we haven't accomplished that yet. We have the perfect team, I think, to do it this year. So us, as seniors and the senior class, we are really hungry to do that and accomplish that goal."
Valentine was candid about what enters his mind when he is at the free-throw line during in-game crucial moments, instances such as late in last Saturday's 64-61 victory over Maryland when the national player of year candidate sunk four of five attempts from the foul line in the final 22 seconds of the game to secure a Spartans victory.
"I think of my legacy," he said.