The Michigan State Spartans storied basketball history has a long list of greats. But when asked to name the greatest teams in program history, the top of the list is obvious. It appears the college basketball community as a whole tends to agree.
A recent collaboration between SB Nation and SLAM ranked the 50 greatest men’s and 50 greatest women’s teams in NCAA basketball history. Both the 2000 MSU national champions and 1979 champions earned spots on the list. The rankings were put together using a combination of a deep statistical dive, game analysis and a heavy emphasis on versatility throughout generations.
The most recent MSU champion, the 2000 squad, came in at No. 42 on the list. Tom Izzo’s championship team was led by point guard Mateen Cleaves, who was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. Cleaves led the team in assists and averaged more than 12 points per game, behind only Morris Peterson’s 16.8 average. In addition to Cleaves and Peterson, Charlie Bell and Jason Richardson all reached the NBA from that year’s team.
“The Spartans weren’t pristine during the regular season but closed the year with 11 straight wins to take the Big Ten tourney crown and NCAA Tournament championship. Nicknamed “The Flintstones,” due to several players on the roster from Flint, MSU won each of its NCAA games by double digits, including the national final over Florida, and was led by charismatic point guard Mateen Cleaves and versatile forward Morris Peterson (16.8 ppg, 6.0 rpg).”
The next MSU entry jumped all the way up to No. 21 with Magic Johnson’s 1979 squad. In what may be the most important team in college basketball history, the Spartans ran through most of the regular season and landed in the most legendary championship game in NCAA history. Jud Heathcote’s team beat Larry Bird and Indiana State, who came in ranked No. 50 on the list.
Magic even made the cover of SLAM’s special edition magazine. Of course, standing right next to Bird and above another player who looks vaguely familiar.
“Perhaps the most important team in college basketball history, the ’78-79 Spartans brought the sport into the national consciousness, thanks to the dazzling play of oversized point guard Magic Johnson. His flair and energy captivated fans and turned March mad. MSU lost its final regular season game to Wisconsin but was unstoppable in the NCAA tournament behind Johnson and forward Greg Kelser (18.8 ppg, 8.7 rpg). Its title game win over Indiana State remains a classic.”
The Spartans haven’t been able to break into the championship ranks since the 2000 squad, despite sending numerous teams back to the Final Four. However, even another champion would need to be truly special to rank among those two legendary squads.
The collaboration between SB Nation and SLAM isn’t over. With the lists out, they are now turning to fans to help analyze the teams even further. Answer the questions below to be a part of the process.