Adreian Payne and Keith Appling will be gone.
Gary Harris might be, too. Maybe Branden Dawson as well.
Still, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said, don’t count out his team next season.
“We’ll be OK, just like we were in 2002 and 2006 when we were pronounced dead because we had no bigs, no anybody,” Izzo told The Associated Press on Monday, a day after the Spartans were eliminated in the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight.
Payne and Appling finished their careers with a 60-54 loss to Connecticut in the East Regional final and became the first seniors recruited by Izzo to not play in at least one Final Four. The seniors, who say they will be the first members of their family to graduate from college in May, went out with a 29-9 record this season.
Payne missed 10 of 14 shots, scored 13 points and grabbed nine rebounds. Appling was 1 of 3 for two points with two assists and four of his team’s 16 turnovers. Appling’s fifth foul ended his college career and gave Shabazz Napier three free throws with 30.6 seconds that he made to boost the Huskies’ lead to five points.
“It’s tough to go out like this, when we were so close to achieving our goal,” Payne told reporters in New York on Sunday.
Izzo expects Travis Trice, as a senior, and Denzel Valentine, as a junior, to take advantage of more minutes and shots next season. Matt Costello, Gavin Schilling and Alvin Ellis will be counted on much more next season when the program tries to match Indiana’s Big Ten record with an 18th straight NCAA tournament appearance.
“When no one gives you a chance, someone will get better,” Izzo said. “You’re going to see Valentine and Trice have great years. Costello, Schilling and Ellis can get better, too. And we’re going to end up with a good recruiting class.”
The Spartans signed point guard Lourawls Nairn and small forward Javon Bess to letters of intent in November. The 5-foot-10 Nairn led Sunrise Christian in Kansas, one of the top-ranked high school teams this season. The 6-5 Bess was voted to the AP Division I All-Ohio team this season.
“We’re in a quiet period now, but I’ve got one more recruit we’re going to try to get,” Izzo said. “I’ll have meetings with our players Monday. I’m going to tell them to get away from basketball for a week or two. Then, we’ll come back to work.”
Two of Izzo’s players may opt to get paid to shoot hoops.
Harris is projected to be a lottery pick if he decides to skip his junior season.
“It’s the last thing on my mind right now, honestly,” Harris said Sunday. “I’m just still in shock about the loss.”
Dawson would be taking more of a gamble if he goes pro after showing inconsistent flashes of promise during his three years at Michigan State.
Michigan State started the season ranked No. 2, rose to No. 1 for a few weeks after beating top-ranked Kentucky, then struggled to stay in a groove because several players had injuries or ailments that led to 15 different starting lineups.
The Spartans ended up up-and-down regular season 12-6 in the conference, tied with Wisconsin for second behind rival Michigan. They eventually got healthy and good enough to beat the Wolverines to win the Big Ten tournament final.
The fourth-seeded team was a popular pick to win a second national title under Izzo. Michigan State seemed to be building momentum with three wins until turning the ball over too much and missing too many shots against seventh-seeded Connecticut.
Even though the game was essentially over in the final seconds, Izzo called a timeout to teach his underclassmen a lesson about taking advantage of every moment to play hard and smart in the NCAA tournament.
“Sometimes that happens with pressure, sometimes it happens with fatigue,” Izzo said at a news conference in New York. “I just wanted our team to capture the moment and learn from it, so next year we can be better at what we do.”
Follow Larry Lage on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/larrylage