Tom Izzo is one of the best postseason coaches in the history of college basketball. If you want to argue that fact, I can’t help you, but this article is not going to be reminiscing about Izzo’s illustrious success at Michigan State.

Quite the opposite, in fact. Sure, the Spartans continued their active NCAA Tournament streak under Izzo this season, and the always masterful head coach delivered a clinic in a first-round win over Mississippi State.

Along the way, Izzo added to his own personal record in March Madness. That record is 17 victories for Izzo as the head coach of the lower-seeded team in an NCAA Tournament game.

Unfortunately, that record is only achievable because some recent issues have cropped up in East Lansing. No matter how you frame it, the Spartans just wrapped up the worst 4-year stretch of Izzo’s tenure with the program.

There’s an easy line of demarcation to use to revisit some of Izzo’s recent teams: The canceled NCAA Tournament of 2020. And before we dive into the trends, let’s highlight for a second the missed opportunity from 2020.

During the 2019 postseason, MSU advanced to the Final Four before losing to Texas Tech. The Spartans returned a veteran and talented roster the following season, led by Cassius Winston and Xavier Tillman.

Those two players were on a roll and firing on all cylinders with anticipation growing for the postseason and a return trip to the Final Four. Alas, fans will always be left to wonder what could have been if March Madness had not been canceled.

RELATED: The Spartans are out of March Madness but the second weekend of the tournament heats up with the Sweet 16 this week! Track the latest odds and get in on the action with Tradition’s Ohio sports betting links.

Wrong trend since 2020

In the 4 seasons since 2020, Michigan State has found itself in an unusual spot as a bubble team at various points in those seasons. The Spartans have appeared in every NCAA Tournament, but their average seeding in those tournaments is 8.5.

The Spartans have advanced out of the first weekend of the tournament just once in that stretch, and a loss in “First Four” action is included.

Even with the NCAA Tournament performances excluded, the regular season performances have not been up to the standard Izzo has established. MSU is just 41-38 in Big Ten play since the start of the 2020-21 season, and the Spartans have not eclipsed 23 total wins in a season in that 4-year stretch.

By comparison, Izzo’s team averaged a 4-seed from 2015-19 while going 55-19 in conference games. The Spartans also won 29+ games in 3 of those 4 seasons.

In terms of average seeding, MSU’s other worst 4-year stretch under Izzo is when the Spartans averaged a 7.25-seed from the 2002-05 NCAA Tournaments. There’s just one big difference between that stretch and the current debacle.

Since the 2021 tournament, Izzo is 4-4 in the Big Dance. From the 2002-05 tournaments, the Spartans were 7-4 with a pair of Elite 8 appearances and a trip to the Final Four.

When things were tough in the past, Izzo could still rally his squad and get deep in March Madness. That hasn’t happened lately, and the regular-season records point to a growing negative trend in East Lansing.

Can it be fixed?

At the risk of lobbing myself a softball question: Yes, the current issues in East Lansing are 100% fixable. That will always be the case when you have a tactician the level of Izzo on staff to help balance out any talent discrepancies on the court.

And arguably the biggest factor in getting things fixed is Izzo’s recognition that the standard has not been reached lately.

“Listen, I’m not making any bones about it. We underachieved, and that falls on me,” Izzo said after losing to North Carolina. Michigan State opened the season with a top-5 ranking on the AP Poll. “I’ve said that before, and I’ll say it again. That’s why I thought we could make a run.”

The legendary head coach also acknowledged the seriousness of the recent trend in March Madness:

“I’m getting back to a deeper run in this tournament, or I’m going to die trying,” proclaimed Izzo.

So, if Izzo acknowledges the seriousness of these disappointments (he does) and claims he will get things fixed (he did), the biggest question turns to how? One factor that must be answered is roster construction, particularly in this era of constant change and the transfer portal.

Before we get any further, it should be clarified that Izzo is not 100% anti-portal.

He added Joey Hauser from Marquette in 2019 with the forward going on to start 79 games (97 appearances) while averaging 10.5 points for the Spartans. Tyson Walker joined the program in 2021 after beginning his career at Northeastern with 104 appearances (96 starts) for MSU in a key role.

Those two players were some of the key contributors for the Spartans during their time in the program. So, no, Izzo isn’t opposed to the portal, but it’s clear he needs to do a better job supplementing the roster via the portal.

This past offseason, Izzo notably avoided the portal in gearing up for the 2023-24 season. Part of that is related to a deep group returning and a strong freshman class, but it’s clear now that was the wrong move.

Part of Izzo’s trend so far when it comes to the portal is grabbing multi-year players. On the surface, that is sound, but every player is different. You only need to look within the B1G to see some of the biggest impact transfers of the season.

Illinois added Marcus Domask, a veteran performer from Southern Illinois, and he blossomed into the perfect running mate alongside Terrence Shannon Jr. and Coleman Hawkins. Purdue, arguably the team with the best returning roster from last season, even hit the portal and added veteran guard Lance Jones. He has been a strong contributor for the Boilermakers while helping take the pressure off the younger backcourt of Purdue.

What does that mean for Izzo? He needs to shift his mindset when it comes to the portal.

Brad Underwood has gone a bit more portal-heavy with the Illini, but that would not be an accurate description of Matt Painter’s approach with Purdue. The Boilermakers are still built on recruiting and development, but even Painter approached the portal with a more aggressive mindset after an early exit last year.

If Izzo is serious about fixing things (and let’s be real, he 100% is deadly serious), it’s time to get a bit more aggressive in the portal.