The Michigan State women’s basketball program has become a model of consistency.
It started under Joanne P. McCallie and has carried over with what Suzy Merchant has done with the program over the past six seasons.
Merchant helped MSU reach 20 wins for the 10th straight season on Wednesday after they posted a 54-45 win over Northwestern. It’s the longest streak of teams in the Big Ten. Six of those 20-win seasons have come under Merchant.
Dating back to her time at Eastern Michigan, Merchant has guided her teams to 20 wins in nine straight seasons.
This year’s march to 20 wins is impressive considering all the distractions the Spartans have had to overcome this season to reach that mark. There have been the season-ending injuries to Madison Williams, Aerial Powers and Branndais Agee and the early suspensions that forced Kiana Johnson and Akyah Taylor to miss the first nine games.
Despite those distractions, this year’s Spartans became the third quickest to reach the 20-win mark in school history, tying the 1977-78, 1996-97 and 2006-07 squads.
That success has come from Merchant’s ability to build a program.
“She has made that a destination and a good place for local talent to be,” ESPN women’s basketball analyst Beth Mowins said. “Everybody around the country knows that the state of Michigan and the Midwest still is able to crank out a lot of good talent. With the transition from Suzy coming in to take over I think she’s done a terrific job of keeping some of the best players at home.”
Merchant, who has won nearly 70 percent of her games since arriving in East Lansing in 2007, has landed two of the last three Miss Basketballs in Klarissa Bell (2010) and Jasmine Hines (2011). That streak could become three of four if incoming recruit Tori Jankoska wins this year’s award.
Jasmine Thomas (2009), Annalise Pickrel (2010), Williams (2010), Becca Mills (2011), Powers (2012) and Agee (2012) have each finished in the top five of the voting for the award.
“You’ve got a terrific core of local players,” Mowins said. “I think first and foremost she has made that a place where people want to stay and want to play. I think that’s been instrumental because Michigan has still got a very good stockpile of talent. I think its gonna be real interesting now with Kim Barnes Arico arriving over in Ann Arbor to see how it all plays out. Suzy has kind of got a head start with getting the local talent.”
Regardless of what Michigan does, the Spartans appear positioned to extend their 20-win streak over the next few seasons. Williams, Powers and Agee likely would have been key contributors this season before going down with injuries. If that trio bounces back from their injuries well and the Spartans remain healthy as a team next season they could be dangerous for years to come.
“I think Michigan State is in great shape with four consecutive trips to the tournament, probably gonna be five this year,” Mowins said. “(They’re) racking up the 20-win seasons. I think the Spartans look awfully good for years to come. The big question is gonna be what is the rest of the league doing? It was a big step forward last year with seven teams in the NCAA Tournament. With some of the coaching changes around the conference I think the Big Ten really picked up some terrific coaches and then you’re talking about adding Maryland and Rutgers – two teams with national championship pedigree.
“Michigan State is gonna have to keep maintaining and getting stronger because I think the rest of the Big Ten is going to be headed in that direction too.”
SUZY MERCHANT 20-WIN SEASONS (DIVISION I)
2003-04 (EMU) – 22-8
2004-05 (EMU) – 23-8
2005-06 (EMU) – 22-8
2007-08 (MSU) – 23-14
2008-09 (MSU) – 22-11
2009-10 (MSU) – 23-10
2010-11 (MSU) – 27-6
2011-12 (MSU) – 20-12
2012-13 (MSU) – 20-6
* Merchant was on maternity leave in the 2006-07 season.