Michigan State Basketball: Ranking the 5 Best Seasons in Spartans History

Adam Biggers@@AdamBiggers81Senior Analyst IIJune 26, 2013

Michigan State Basketball: Ranking the 5 Best Seasons in Spartans History

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    Michigan State Spartans basketball has a rich history of winning. 

    From the days of Jud Heathcote to the current era of Tom Izzo, the Spartans have put together memorable seasons. Some of them have ended prematurely, while others have ended with Michigan State cutting down the nets in places such as Salt Lake City in 1979 and Indianapolis in 2000. 

    While winning a national title is always the goal, some of the Spartans' best offerings haven't led to championships. 

    This slideshow will list the best seasons in Spartans history. Some of the choices are obvious, while others may come as a surprise. 

    Enjoy the ride. 

Starting a Dynasty: 1998-99

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    In 1995, a young Tom Izzo, an Iron Mountain, Mich. icon, took over the reins from Heathcote, his mentor. 

    And it was then that he lured in the building blocks of the "Flintstones," a collection of players from Flint that put Spartans hoops back on the map. 

    In 1998, Izzo's dream of glory started to come to fruition. In 1999, led by Mateen Cleaves, Charlie Bell, Antonio Smith and Morris Peterson, Michigan State made a name for itself by reaching the Final Four, Michigan State's first since 1979. 

    Izzo's club knocked off Mount St. Mary's, Ole Miss and Oklahoma before meeting the Kentucky Wildcats, national powers who were led by, among others, future Detroit Pistons star Tayshaun Prince. 

    After handing the Wildcats their walking papers in the Midwest Region Final, the Spartans met the Duke Blue Devils, led by Elton Brand (also a future NBA player) in a game that started a heated rivalry between Izzo and Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, the man simply known as Coach K. 

    Coach K, already a figurehead in collegiate lore, X'd and O'd his way to a 68-62 Final Four victory over Michigan State.

    But that was just the beginning. 

    Record: 33-5, 15-1 Big Ten (first place)

    Key players: Cleaves, Peterson, Bell, A.J. Granger, Andre Hutson, Jason Klein

2000-01: Michigan State Is a National Power

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    In 2000-01, the Spartans appeared in their third consecutive Final Four. It was a season in which many thought Izzo's team could repeat as national champions, a title it claimed the year prior in Indianapolis. 

    With former Saginaw Arthur Hill highlight reel Jason Richardson leading the way, the Spartans once again tore through March. Yes, they were quite comfortable in their "dancing" shoes by time the 2000-01 season started. 

    Richardson, Michigan's Mr. Basketball in 1999, was a sophomore that season, but he played like a seasoned vet, earning All-American honors and striking fear into rims everywhere. 

    As the South's No. 1 seed, Michigan State toppled Alabama State, Fresno State, Gonzaga and Temple before losing 80-61 to Arizona in the Final Four. 

    It was a sour way to end a promising campaign. It could have been two titles in a row for Michigan State, but Andre Hutson's team-high 20 points weren't enough to dispose of the Wildcats, who were paced by Jason Gardner's 21. 

    Record: 28-5, 13-5 Big Ten (second place)

    Key players: Richardson, Zach Randolph, Marcus Taylor, Hutson

2004-05: Spartans Battle Juggernauts

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    This squad was perhaps the most exciting Spartans team to ever take the floor of the Breslin Center. 

    The 2004-05 Michigan State club had high-flyers like Shannon Brown and Maurice Ager, but it also had a deadly shooters in Chris Hill and Alan Anderson.

    Paul Davis was an excellent force in the paint. Matt Trannon scrapped for boards and Kelvin Torbert embarrassed more than few with cataclysmic dunks. 

    Izzo's Spartans didn't win a title that year, but they made their fourth Final Four under Mr. March. 

    And it wasn't easy. 

    To this day, not many teams have had such a dangerous and trying trek to the national semis. The Spartans faced No. 1-seeded Duke in the regional semis before going toe-to-toe with No. 2 Kentucky in the final. 

    It didn't stop there. 

    Next stop was a date with No. 1-seeded North Carolina, the eventual champion. That Tar Heels team had a roster that would make any coach cringe: Sean May, Rashad McCants and Jawad and Marvin Williams, all double-digit scorers.

    Record: 26-7, 13-3 Big Ten (second place)

    Key players: Ager, Hill, Brown...and everyone else. 

1999-2000: Spartans Win It All, Cleaves Becomes NCAA Legend

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    It was the year of Mateen Cleaves, an exuberant floor general with a grin that spanned from Flint to the Grand River strip in East Lansing. 

    After falling short the year prior, Michigan State completed its mission, winning its first national championship since the days of Magic Johnson. 

    Cleaves was everything that Izzo could have wanted that year. The former Flint Northern superstar was tough. He was clutch. He was a true leader. 

    In his most famous appearance, Cleaves suffered an ankle injury in the second half of the national title bout in Indianapolis but hobbled back onto the floor to help his team put away the Florida Gators, 89-76.

    Michigan State had it under control for the most part, but without the injured Cleaves, the Spartans lacked energy. A roar from the stands rained down as Cleaves made his heroic strut back to the sidelines.

    The rest is history. 

    Why do you think Izzo named his son after Cleaves? Cleaves was that important to the program, to the title run and to Izzo, who, to this day, can't say enough great things about his star pupil. 

    The win solidified the Spartans as an elite program. It also made Izzo a household name. 

    Record: 32-7, 13-3 Big Ten (first place)

    Key players: Cleaves, Morris Peterson, A.J. Granger, Andre Hutson

1978-79: Magic Happens, NCAA Basketball Changes Forever

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    He didn't only change the college game, he changed the NBA. 

    Magic Johnson is the greatest Spartans hoopster for good reason. The former Lansing Everett standout led Michigan State to glory in the 1979 national title game, in what was college basketball's most anticipated national championship ever. The game matched up Johnson and Michigan State with Larry Bird, also a future NBA Hall of Famer, and the Indiana State Sycamores in Salt Lake City. 

    Magic versus Bird set a new tone for a sport that desperately needed a boost. In their 1979 NCAA tournament run, Michigan State romped through Lamar, Louisiana State and Penn before downing Bird's Sycamores, 75-64. 

    Although it was played over 30 years ago, the 1979 national championship has served as a point of inspiration for every Michigan State player since.

    That's probably an understatement. That game has served as a point of inspiration for countless collegiate basketball players, regardless of school. It was that important. 

    Record: 26-6, 13-5 Big Ten (first place)

    Key players: Magic Johnson, Jay Vincent, Greg Kelser, Terry Donnelly and Ron Charles

    Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan State Spartans basketball writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

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