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Can Michigan State be considered ‘elite’ with run to the Elite Eight?

Stop me if you’ve heard this before — Michigan State is in the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament. Usually that’s where Tom Izzo’s Spartans are supposed to be. After all, his teams have made it this far in the NCAA tournament eight times in his 20 seasons at the helm of the Spartans.

Usually that’s a mark of a truly “elite” team, you know…hence the whole Elite Eight concept. In fact, Sporting News makes the claim that this season’s Elite Eight are just that — elite.

As Ryan Fagan’s article points out:

[pull_quote_center]”The South Region final is the No. 1 seed vs. the No. 2 seed. Same thing for the West Region, No. 1 vs. No. 2. In the Midwest Region, it’s No. 1 vs. No. 3. The East Region is the outlier, with No. 4 vs. No. 7, but those teams are coached by legends Rick Pitino and Tom Izzo. Seriously, awesome.”[/pull_quote_center]

Fagan is right to point out that Louisville vs. Michigan State is the outlier of this Elite Eight. Not only because it’s the only one without one of the top three seeds in its region, but also because calling anything the Spartans have done this season “elite” is preposterous at best.

Coaches help, but saying that a team has coach XYZ on the bench makes any team they coach elite is ridiculous. It’s the player’s ability to take coaching and turn things in to elite status that matters. Players win championships, while coaches steady the ship during the course of a long season.

Fagan’s argument is also preposterous when you consider the resumes of any other team in the Elite Eight and even more when you consider the season the Spartans have had.

Let’s not forget that this is the same team that finished 12-6 in a Big Ten conference that was no doubt down from a season ago. Let’s also not forget that this is a team who went 1-5 against Top 25 opponents before postseason play and were just 21-10 in regular season play.

The lone win was against a then No. 23 Ohio State team and the 10 losses were the most by a Michigan State team since the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons. Those teams? Dropped in the first and second round of the NCAA tournament and not exactly ever considered ‘elite’ in any way, shape or form.

Yet this double-digit loss season is somehow different because of two wins in a 37-game season? Yes, wins over second-seeded Virginia and third-seeded Oklahoma were impressive things in the past two contests during the tournament.

Still, it doesn’t outweigh the fact that MSU has four losses this season to fellow Elite Eight teams, losing to Duke, Notre Dame and Wisconsin (twice). Let’s also not forget that just two weeks ago these same Spartans were sent packing in the Big Ten championship thanks to an overtime where it couldn’t score and blew a large lead late in the second half too.

Not only that but let’s explore MSU’s other seven trips to the Elite Eight and beyond.

Not a single one of them were double-digit loss seasons, and only last season’s 12-6 Big Ten record is as bad as the one the Spartans had this year.

So, congratulations to Michigan State on a massive run in the NCAA tournament, but let’s also not forget that this team hasn’t proven to be great from start to finish. “Elite” teams like Kentucky, Wisconsin and the other six members of the Elite Eight this season have proven just that entering this weekend.

Ultimately, it is the age-old question of college basketball. Does the NCAA tournament make you a great team or does the body of work throughout the entire season matter?

Winning a national championship would make this a moot point, but until that happens the Spartans have failed to prove they are “elite.”

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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