There’s been a common point that I’ve been attempting to emphasize in our sports group chat, and the message is simple: Unranked Izzo is coming! The refrain is one I’ve shouted often after news came out that Michigan State would be outside the AP Top 25 to start the season. This also came off the heels of confirmed reports that Tom Izzo‘s masochistic non-conference scheduling strategy was being cranked up to eleven! Seeing games against Gonzaga, Kentucky, Villanova, Alabama, and Notre Dame left many wondering how this all could work out in any positive way for Michigan State. Three games into the 2022-2023 college basketball campaign, however, has me already excited for more Unranked Izzo.
How good is an unranked Izzo team?
The small history of Tom Izzo’s unranked teams
The first thing I would like to highlight when stating my case for the power of Unranked Izzo is setting the groundwork, some history as to how rare it really is for Tom’s teams to be unranked to start a basketball season. In his 27 years at Michigan State, Izzo has only ever started the season outside the AP Top 25 eight times, including the first two seasons when he started at the program and the last two seasons at the time of this article. Of those seven seasons, only the very first two of Tom’s career did the Spartans not make the NCAA tournament.
Even more remarkably, Michigan State in the four campaigns of unranked preseason basketball excluding the first two and this current season, 1997-1998, 2006-2007, 2011-2012, 2021-2022, Izzo has won at least one NCAA tournament game in each season. The seeding for each of those four years was four, nine, one, and seven respectively, staying safely outside of the bubble for the tournament. In 1997-1998 & 2011-2012, MSU went to the Sweet Sixteen while the other two years were second-round exits.
Izzo already has an impeccable track record at Michigan State, with no losing seasons in his 27 years and only one season with a sub.500 Big Ten record. In fact, of those seasons, MSU has won over 20 games in 21 of them, eclipsing 30 in five. Add the results from when the AP doubts his program, and we can see a promising season ahead for Michigan State.
There’s little doubt this unranked Izzo trend won’t continue
What has transpired through three games already leads me to believe this trend will only strengthen. Michigan State has sparred against two of the top teams in the country in Drew Timme & Oscar Tshiebwe, splitting the bouts and playing to within one point against the #2 team in the country on a boat in the middle of the ocean. Against #4 Kentucky was even more impressive, as MSU pulled out a gritty double overtime victory with multiple players showing out.
The continued growth of Mady Sissoko, Joey Hauser, and Tyson Walker has already paid dividends to start the 2022-2023 campaign, and it looks like that is not stopping anytime soon. At the top of the piece, I mentioned the murderer’s row that Izzo subjected his team to. Knowing exactly why he schedules these pivotal games early in the season is EXACTLY why unranked Michigan State teams never fail to overperform. The program is built on constantly testing itself, going through the crucible of competition to improve players like Sissoko.
Early on, Sissoko’s development already has Spartan fans buzzing and the team has shown they are more than capable of rising to the occasion no matter what the challenge is. In a year where the Big Ten has no gargantuan squad to fear, the Spartans can take full advantage and prove themselves to be the real danger. As I said before the season started, and I will keep saying, Unranked Izzo is coming, so watch out!