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Which Izzo-directed Final Four is most magnificent?

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Tom Izzo waves the net to the Spartan crowd as MSU beats Louisville, 76-70, in the East Region final Sunday.

Let's call it a "Magnificent Seven."

There are lots of adjectives you can use to describe a coach taking his team to the Final Four seven times, but magnificent seems as appropriate as any.

Individually, however, the adjectives might range from "expected" to "unbelievable," with plenty in between.

Tom Izzo, with another ... let's go with "amazing" ... run through the NCAA Tournament, now has taken Michigan State to seven Final Fours. That trails only three men, one of whom, Mike Krzyzewski, will be on the other bench when MSU takes on Duke on Saturday night in Indianapolis. Krzyzewski is going to his 12th.

Izzo's seven are tied with the man he sent packing last weekend, Louisville's Rick Pitino, and one ahead of another man coaching in Indy, John Calipari, whose Kentucky team takes on Wisconsin in the other national semifinal.

Naturally, Izzo has been asked numerous times -- including twice early Monday morning while making the radio rounds -- if this team stands out as the most special, given a Final Four seemed so unrealistic just a few weeks ago.

Izzo had a tough time with the question, joking that if he went with this year's team, Mateen Cleaves wouldn't appreciate it, and Draymond Green "would kill me." Of course, he won a national championship, so how can he not go with the 2000 team? And while he's never before taken such a low seed (7) to the Final Four, there have been two 5s to make it, in 2005 and 2010, and both were plenty-big surprises in their own right, especially 2005, which saw a ballgame for the ages in an overtime victory over Kentucky in the Elite Eight.

There've been last-second shots to win it, big-time rallies, and the overcoming of serious injuries.

Most shocking MSU Final Four journey? That's relatively easy to pick.

But most special? You can see, that's a challenge -- and, like with children, probably impossible.

So why don't you decide which MSU team was most special, and most surprising, as we examine the Spartans' seven Final Four runs in 20 years under Izzo.

Mateen Cleaves

1999

Pre-NCAA record: 29-4

NCAA seed: 1

Road to the Final Four: No. 16 Mount St. Mary's (76-53), No. 9 Mississippi (74-66), No. 13 Oklahoma (54-46), No. 3 Kentucky (73-66)

Starting five: Mateen Cleaves, Jason Klein, Andre Hutson, Charlie Bell, Antonio Smith

First two off the bench: Morris Peterson, A.J. Granger

Memorable moment: In the NCAA Tournament for the second time under Tom Izzo, and with the Spartans' first No. 1 seed since 1990, standing in the way of a Final Four was Kentucky, which opened on a 17-4 run. But MSU closed to a one-point deficit at halftime, and Morris Peterson (19 points, 10 rebounds) and Co. took over from there.

Shock ranking: 6 of 7

Final result: The Spartans lost to Duke, 68-62, igniting the infamous riots on Michigan State's campus that drew national headlines and led to a slew of arrests.

2000

Pre-NCAA record: 26-7

NCAA seed: 1

Road to the Final Four: No. 16 Valparaiso (65-38), No. 8 Utah (73-61), No. 4 Syracuse (75-58), No. 2 Iowa State (75-64)

Starting five: Morris Peterson, Mateen Cleaves, Charlie Bell, Andre Hutson, A.J. Granger

First two off the bench: Jason Richardson, Mike Chappell

Memorable moment: The scores made it look easy, but the game against No. 4 Syracuse was actually a bear -- the Orange led by 10 at halftime, igniting an angry locker-room tirade from Mateen Cleaves, and by 11 with 15 minutes left. But the Spartans perked up and went on a 37-9 run, which included 17 unanswered points, to win it.

Shock ranking: 7 of 7

Final result: After beating Big Ten rival Wisconsin, 53-41, in the semifinals, the Spartans thumped Florida, 89-76, for the program's second national title.

Jason Richardson

2001

Pre-NCAA record: 24-3

NCAA seed: 1

Road to the Final Four: No. 16 Alabama State (69-35), No. 9 Fresno State (81-65), No. 12 Gonzaga (77-62), No. 11 Temple (69-62)

Starting five: Jason Richardson, Andre Hutson, Charlie Bell, David Thomas, Aloysius Anagonye

First two off the bench: Marcus Taylor, Zach Randolph

Memorable moment: MSU was without a ton of key players from the 2000 championship team, but still made its mark -- granted, with the help of wild-and-crazy bracket that featured several upsets. In the regional final, Temple was tenacious for an 11 seed, but, in the end, proved no match for David Thomas (19 points) and MSU.

Shock ranking: 5 of 7

Final result: After rolling through a slew of low seeds to get to the Final Four, the Spartans were pummeled by No. 2 Arizona, 80-61, in the semifinals.

2005

Pre-NCAA record: 22-6

NCAA seed: 5

Road to the Final Four: No. 12 Old Dominion (89-81), No. 13 Vermont (72-60), No. 1 Duke (78-68), No. 2 Kentucky (94-88, 2OT)

Starting five: Maurice Ager, Alan Anderson, Paul Davis, Shannon Brown, Drew Neitzel

First two off the bench: Chris Hill, Kelvin Torbert

Memorable moment: The regional final was an all-time classic, given the 3-pointer Kentucky's Patrick Sparks hit at the end of regulation to tie it. It took the refs several looks at the replay to determine it was, indeed, a 3. One overtime wasn't enough, but MSU seized command in the second, scoring the first five points.

Shock ranking: 2 of 7

Final result: North Carolina proved far too much to handle in the national semifinals, beating the Spartans, 87-71, en route to a championship.

2009

Pre-NCAA record: 26-6

NCAA seed: 2

Road to the Final Four: No. 15 Robert Morris (77-62), No. 10 Southern California (75-69), No. 3 Kansas (67-62), No. 1 Louisville (64-52)

Starting five: Kalin Lucas, Goran Suton, Raymar Morgan, Delvon Roe, Travis Walton

First two off the bench: Durrell Summers, Chris Allen

Memorable moment: There was a lot of pressure on the Spartans, even as a No. 2 seed, because their fans were waiting for them at the Final Four in Detroit. The regional semifinal against Kansas looked dire, as MSU trailed by 13 in the first half, but it rallied, and Kalin Lucas' three-point play in the final minute won it.

Shock ranking: 3 of 7

Final result: The Spartans beat Connecticut, 82-73, in the semifinals, before getting smoked by North Carolina, 89-72, in the Ford Field final.

Kalin Lucas

2010

Pre-NCAA record: 24-8

NCAA seed: 5

Road to the Final Four: No. 12 New Mexico State (70-67), No. 4 Maryland (85-83), No. 9 Northern Iowa (59-52), No. 6 Tennessee (70-69)

Starting five: Kalin Lucas, Raymar Morgan, Durrell Summers, Chris Allen, Delvon Roe

First two off the bench: Draymond Green, Korie Lucious

Memorable moment: This tournament looked like it would be over early for MSU, after Kalin Lucas suffered a season-ending leg injury against Maryland. But Korie Lucious, who had a very rocky tenure as a Spartan, saved the season, taking a Draymond Green pass at the top of the key and nailing a last-second 3 to advance.

Shock ranking: 4 of 7

Final result: Every game was a stress test to get to the Final, and it was no different in a 52-50 loss to Butler in the national semifinals.

2015

Pre-NCAA record: 23-11

NCAA seed: 7

Road to the Final Four: No.10 Georgia (70-63), No. 2 Virginia (60-54), No. 3 Oklahoma (62-58), No. 4 Louisville (76-70, OT)

Starting five: Travis Trice, Denzel Valentine, Branden Dawson, Gavin Schilling, Lourawls Nairn Jr.

First two off the bench: Matt Costello, Bryn Forbes

Memorable moment: Missing a couple key throws down the stretch looked like it might cost them, but Louisville missed a key one, too, sending the game to overtime, where Branden Dawson made the play of the tournament for the Spartans, putting back an offensive rebound that all but sealed the game and a Final Four berth.

Shock ranking: 1 of 7

Final result: We'll know soon enough. The Spartans are, by far, the longest shot of the Final Four, but they've proven plenty capable of shocking the experts.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

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