EAST LANSING: Miles Bridges first used the magic words publicly last April, when sat in front of the Sparty statue on campus and announced he was returning for his sophomore year.
“I want to win a national championship,” Bridges said.
The ensuing 10 months have been spent under the microscope of being one of the most talented teams in college basketball. There have been the ups, like winning 13 straight games to take the Big Ten regular season title outright and winning the PK80 title in Portland back in November. There have been a few downs as well, most notably being swept by in-state rival Michigan in two games, the latter of which in the Big Ten tournament.
But after Michigan State learned its NCAA Tournament draw on Sunday night, the goal Bridges spoke that day seems no less achievable.
“Those words are what propelled us to right now,” Spartans point guard Cassius Winston said. “We feel that we’re an actual contender to win this thing.”
The Spartans open the NCAA Tournament on Friday as the No. 3 seed in the Midwest Region. A game against No. 14 seed Bucknell will be the first in what Michigan State players hope will be a six-game run to the program’s second national title.
The Spartans’ road to the Final Four could feature tests against an old NCAA Tournament nemesis, Duke, and the team that beat it in last year’s NCAA Tournament, Kansas. But the Spartans had already emerged on Selection Sunday as a popular national title pick among analysts after a 29-4 regular season.
During that season, Winston said he saw that thought of a national title turn from a dream into something within reach.
“It’s a huge difference when dreams actually turn into something that’s achievable,” Winston said. “We’ve got the players, the coaches, all of the things we need for that goal to be achievable. We’re going to take it one game at a time, nothing’s given, but I like our chances.”
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo wasn’t quite as direct in talking about a national title as his point guard was. But he also wasn’t buying any excuses for his team not to be able to go all the way.
Friday’s NCAA Tournament opener in Detroit will come after a 13-day break, due to the early Big Ten tournament this year. That’s by far the Spartans’ longest break of the season.
That made for plenty of Selection Sunday questions about possible rust entering the tournament. But Izzo made it clear that he wasn’t buying that as a reason his team won’t be making a run.
“Nothing is going to cause us to lose but us,” Izzo said.
As for the player who first spoke of that national title, Bridges said he hoped by speaking about a national title, he could one day make it a reality.
“I just wanted to speak things into existence,” Bridges said. “I never knew what could happen, I didn’t know if we would deal with injuries or anything else that would happen. I just wanted to speak it into existence.”