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Michigan State's Izzo looks back, and ahead

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Michigan State has prided itself on the fact that every recruit Tom Izzo has signed played in a Final Four if he stayed for four years.

That feat will be put to the test next year.

The Spartans (27-9) were limited to two or fewer NCAA tournament wins for the third straight year, giving Adreian Payne and Keith Appling one more shot as seniors next year to reach the national semifinals.

That is, of course, if Payne stays in school.

``We've got a chance to be pretty good if everybody comes back,'' Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said Saturday in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

If Payne decides to return, the Spartans likely will lose only departing senior center Derrick Nix.

Payne, Keith Appling, Gary Harris and Branden Dawson would be the returning starters from a team that was eliminated by Duke on Friday night in the regional semifinals. Key reserves Travis Trice, Denzel Valentine, Alex Gauna and Matt Costello also should be back.

Izzo said he will do his due diligence for Payne, a 6-foot-10, 240-pound forward, who would probably be a first-round pick in the NBA draft if he chooses to skip his senior season.

``We'll talk to real people in the league and we'll advise him,'' Izzo said. ``If it's best for him to go, we'll support him. If not, we'll advise him to stay another year and be a top-10 pick, which I'm sure he would be if he comes back.''

Izzo is encouraging one key part of the program, associate head coach Dwayne Stephens, to move on if he gets an opportunity.

``I think DJ is ready to get a head coaching job,'' Izzo said. ``I'd love DJ to get a shot because he deserves it.''

The Spartans swung and missed when they tried to land perhaps the top recruit in the country, losing to Duke off the court for the coveted Jabari Parker of Chicago. They have gotten a commitment from Findlay Prep forward Gavin Schilling, who is from Chicago, and might sign one more recruit to help next year's team. Izzo and his assistants are aggressively recruiting some of the top juniors in the country, including Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, Cliff Alexander and Devin Booker.

This season, Michigan State seemed to meet relatively modest expectations.

``I still think we had one of our more successful seasons because of what we accomplished with the schedule we had and the injuries we overcame,'' Izzo said.

The Spartans were No. 14 in the preseason poll and weren't picked to be among the top three teams in the Big Ten race.

They finished tied with Ohio State for second place behind Indiana in the regular season and earned a 16th straight NCAA tournament appearance, the third longest streak among active runs and the longest by one Big Ten coach.

Third-seeded Michigan State made it to the round of 16 for the fifth time in six years - joining Kansas as the only other school to do that - and for the 11th time in Izzo's 18 seasons as head coach.

The Spartans struggled to make shots when their season was on the line and couldn't stop Seth Curry.

Payne, Nix and Harris combined to make just eight of 31 shots while Curry connected on six 3-pointers and scored 29 points in a 71-61 win for the second-seeded Blue Devils, who led by only one point at halftime.

That loss ended the college career of Nix, who led the team with an average of 15 points and nearly 11 rebounds in the NCAA tournament.

``It's sad because you have a guy like Derrick Nix being that it's his last year, we wanted to win a championship,'' Dawson said told reporters in Indianapolis. ``That was our goal as a team. Right now, guys are sad and upset.''


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The Associated Press News Service

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The Associated Press
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