The 2018-19 Final Four features two programs who have never been before (Texas Tech and Auburn), one that hasn’t been since 1984 and has never won a title (Virginia), and Michigan State. The Spartans are the lone team remaining that has won a national championship, cutting down the nets in 1979 and 2000. Tom Izzo is the lone coach in this year’s quad that has ever been to a Final Four as a head coach, let alone won one. As for players, Michigan State’s Kenny Goins — a redshirt senior — is the only one to have been to a Final Four before.
Goins didn’t play at all his first year, so his role on basketball’s biggest stage was more of a spectator than contributor. Still, the memories of that trip to Indianapolis stand out to the 6-7, 230-pound forward.
“It’s hard to forget a Final Four,” Goins told the throng media gathered around his locker on Thursday afternoon. “Back then, I was just enjoying the ride. It’s easy to enjoy the down time when you know there is a .001 percent chance you are going to play. Now, I have to focus on getting ready for the game.”
In MSU’s Elite Eight matchup with the No. 1 overall seed Duke, it was Goins’ three-pointer that put the Spartans ahead for good. Down one with under 40 seconds remaining, sophomore Xavier Tillman found Goins alone on the arc. He drilled it over the outstretched hand of a closing Zion Williamson, effectively booking Michigan State’s trip to Minneapolis.
He attributed that moment and the success of the Spartans this season to MSU’s senior leadership and experience. “It’s been huge, and it hasn’t just been seniors,” Goins stated. “Cassius [Winston], Nick [Ward], Josh [Langford], Kyle [Ahrens] — all those guys have the experience of being through so many things. Just being able to have that and going into the end of the Duke game helped us make those winning plays in the end.”
Fellow senior Matt McQuaid knows there is value to having Final Four experience in the locker room. “We’ve had a lot of coaches on our coaching staff that have either played or coached in a Final Four. They’re just, everyday in practice just emphasizing little things, what we need to focus on, turnovers and stuff like that. Little defensive adjustments.”
Experience is the name of the game for the Spartans. Michigan State’s roster is made up of two seniors, five juniors, two sophomores, and seven freshman (two of which are redshirts). Izzo’s starting lineup features two seniors, a junior, a sophomore, and a freshman, though junior Nick Ward started for the Spartans prior to being sidelined with an injury in February.
Beyond being the only coach with any Final Four experience, Izzo and the Spartans carry the burden of the entire Big Ten conference on their shoulders. The Big Ten hasn’t won a national championship in basketball since 2000 — won by Michigan State — despite having outstanding teams in that stretch.
“I do have great feelings for the Big Ten,” Izzo said in his press conference, continuing, “I’ve been in the Big Ten for 35 years as an assistant, grad assistant, and coach, and I think our conference this year was as good as any in the country and sometimes didn’t get as much credit as I think they deserved from top to bottom.
“But if we could carry the mantle for our league and end that drought, I’d be double excited. One for Michigan State and one for the Big Ten.”
Michigan State will have to get through the Texas Tech Raiders and its staunch defense to make the title game, but the Spartans will be able to rely heavily on their experience to hope to bring a trophy back to the Big Ten.