16 years ago Michigan State legend Mateen Cleaves guaranteed a national championship following a win over rival Michigan on Senior Day. This year, senior guard Denzel Valentine followed in Cleaves’ footsteps with a guarantee of his own after the Spartans dominating 91-76 victory over Ohio State.
Cleaves was able to make good on his guarantee as MSU cut down the nets in Indianapolis after their national title victory over Florida, but can this year’s squad do the same?
“Maybe I can say that now,” Valentine said. “National championship guarantee, right now.”
“Yeah,” Valentine said. “I mean, we have the team to do it. The only thing that’s going to stop us is us, so we’re going to do our part.”
Many comparisons can be made between the 2000 title-winning team and this year’s Spartans. For one, both teams were led by seniors with Cleaves and Morris Peterson in 2000, while this year’s team is led by the senior trio of Valentine, Bryn Forbes, and Matt Costello. Both teams had to overcome injuries to star players with Cleaves missing time at the beginning of the season while Valentine had to miss four games in the middle of the season. Also, both will have entered the Big Ten Tournament ranked No. 2 in the country.
Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo seemed to agree with his star guard, saying that this team is one of four throughout his tenure that he thought had a legitimate shot at the national title. The 2000, 2001, and 2014 teams being the others on that list.
Only time will tell whether or not this year’s Spartan squad can deliver on that long awaited second national championship for Izzo, but they have as good as a shot as anyone in a wide open tournament field.