For Keith Appling and Adreian Payne, it is nitty gritty time. The seniors have at most 11 days left in their college careers and how close it can be to over set in after a close call with Harvard last Sunday.
Naturally, it brought a scare for them to see the margin for continuing to play and seeing a career end so close.
"I hate to use the word scared because I think that's wimpy, but I think there is some truth to that," coach Tom Izzo said. "I feel a little different sense of urgency."
The Final Four – and a national title – are hardly new topics around this Michigan State team or for the seniors. But the reality of what little time remains to accomplish so much is very present as the Spartans prepare to play Virginia on Friday in New York City.
"I understand that it's a tradition here that we're trying to uphold," Appling said. "I'm just trying to stay on top of my game as much as I can."
The tradition is well-established, but has had its close calls. Final Four appearances in 2005 and 2009 kept the streak alive on the final chance for the respective senior classes.
As if that pressure isn't enough, Izzo noted there are additional pressures beyond facing a potential final game. From being picked to win the national title by President Barack Obama to being a favorite as a No. 4 seed against No. 1 – according to Las Vegas – there is more on the Spartans' seniors. Izzo's message to Appling is being nervous with such pressures is fair, but there is a line around the Michigan State program.
"Nervous is like preparing for a test and you go and you're nervous for the test.," Izzo said. "If you did your work, you're allowed to be nervous.
"You're not allowed to be scared, not in this program."
The program is in the Sweet 16 again – the third in a row and third of Appling and Payne's careers. But that is not the expectation and acceptable end in Appling's eyes.
"We have an opportunity to do something special," Appling said. "I just don't wanna come up short. Each and every possession that I'm out there on the floor, I'm gonna give it my all and leave it all out there."
It is that effort that Izzo lauded from the first two games of the NCAA Tournament, which Michigan State played in Spokane, Wash. The Michigan State coach praised his senior point guard for his defensive play and for "doing what needed to be done."
With a possible four games remaining, that is all Appling hopes to do as his time winds down.
"I just look to do whatever I can to help the team win, whether it's being the superhero, the unsung hero or a nobody," he said. "Whatever I can do to help us win, I'm satisfied."