TAMPA — Expectations aren't always what they're supposed to be for Michigan State coach Tom Izzo.
His Spartans, having reached the past two Final Fours, were No. 2 in the national preseason poll, and somehow that wasn't as high as the bar set by his veteran players.
"We'll consider anything less than a national championship a failure," junior Draymond Green said in October, and that was after a long summer of five or six major surgeries to players on this season's team, including star guard Kalin Lucas.
Michigan State (19-14) has fallen short of those high expectations, needing an upset of No. 9 Purdue last week just to lock up an at-large bid in the NCAA field. The Spartans' No. 10 region seed is their lowest in nine years, matching the low during Izzo's 14 consecutive NCAA appearances — only Kansas (22) and Duke (16) have longer streaks intact.
The Spartans open against No. 7 seed UCLA on Thursday at the St. Pete Times Forum.
"You say maybe even though we dropped off the face of the Earth for a while there, everybody else has gone through some struggles and some of those teams are sitting at home," Izzo said. "Instead of complaining about what we didn't do, I'm starting to look forward, to say, 'You know what, we had a lot of things we went through.' We've survived, somewhat."
Izzo's teams have a history of outlasting their seeded expectations — in the past nine seasons, Michigan State has earned a top-four seed just once, yet the Spartans have survived the opening weekend five times, including three Final Fours. So when reminded this week that Green hasn't backed off from his preseason statement, Izzo isn't disappointed by that confidence.
"The guy's been to two Final Fours. We were nobody's pick last year, either," Izzo said. "If he believes that in his heart, he's just got to make sure the other 12 guys believe it."
Lucas, who ruptured his left Achilles' tendon during last year's tournament, had a quick rehab and hasn't missed a game this season, leading the team in scoring, as he did with 30 points in the win against Purdue. Izzo said his program had more surgeries last summer than in the previous three or four years combined. Guard Durrell Summers and forward Delvon Roe were slowed by knee injuries and centers Garrick Sherman (foot) and Adreian Payne (shoulder) spent much of last summer rehabbing.
"You never see a doctor that says everything's perfect. Any time I see them, it's more bad news," Izzo said. "Any time (he) knocks on my door, it's very seldom to say, 'Everybody's healthy and we're ready to go to practice.' "
Green said the team doesn't have the record or seed it had entering past tournaments, but that won't change the Spartans' approach or their confidence.
"We still have the same mind-set. We're going to win a weekend," Green said. "You win a weekend, things start to change."
UCLA has its share of NCAA experience — the past six Final Fours have had either the Bruins or Spartans participating — but Izzo said part of that success is not paying attention to seeds or records or what anyone else expects his team to do.
"UCLA is an incredible foe to start out with, but I'm still going (out) to win the weekend, too," Izzo said. "That's what we do here."