Valentine guarantees national title for MSU

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Denzel Valentine waves to the crowd after as MSU beats Ohio State.

East Lansing – Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said on Saturday he believes his team has a legitimate shot to win the national championship.

And minutes later, after No. 2 Michigan State knocked off Ohio State, 91-76, in the final game of the regular season, Denzel Valentine upped the ante.

The seniors did not give individual speeches after the game, and when Valentine was asked if he was going to guarantee a national title like Mateen Cleaves did back in 2000, he didn’t back down.

“Maybe I can say that now,” Valentine said. “National championship guarantee, right now.

“We have the team to do it. The only thing that is gonna stop us is us.”

The 2000 team, of course, backed up its star by going out and capturing the second national championship in school history and the first for Izzo.

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If this team pulls it off, it won’t be a surprise to Izzo, who earlier in the Senior Day ceremony told the crowd how he felt.

“In the 21 years I’ve been a head coach we’ve been to seven Final Fours,” Izzo said. “Three of those (teams) I thought had a legitimate chance to win going in (to the NCAA Tournament). I’m putting my neck on the line. This is the fourth.”

Later, Izzo said the other teams he believed had what it took were in 2000, 2001 and 2014.

The Spartans won it in 2000 and got back to the Final Four in 2001. The 2014 team lost in the regional final to UConn, and this year’s seniors were sophomores on that team.

“That kills me,” Valentine said. “Me and Gary (Harris) talk about that a lot. I’m thinking we’re going to the Final Four, this is our year, and then it flipped like that. I guess it was a learning experience that the next time we’re in that position we have to finish games, finish that moment. I know if we would have won that game we would have won the national championship.”

Before the Spartans get another shot, they’ll first head to the Big Ten tournament, a title they won in 2014 before falling to UConn in the Elite Eight.

Fellow senior Matt Costello wasn’t sure about a guarantee, but he likes his team’s chances.

“You can’t be guaranteeing anything,” Costello said. “But we’ve got a really good shot. I’m happy to be on this team.”