In this world, there are two indisputable truths: Never bet against a Sicilian when death is on the line, and never bet against a Tom Izzo-coached team in March.
Izzo and his Michigan State Spartans turned in a memorable performance against the Louisville Cardinals to punch a ticket to their first Final Four since 2005. The win serves as validation for a tumultuous season filled with injury, illness, surprising losses, and emotional victories.
All season long, fans from the ACC and Big Ten were forced to listen to talk of the Big East's superiority. While this win won't erase the great things that the Big East accomplished during the past season, it puts the rest of the country on notice that great basketball isn't only being played on the East Coast.
The Big Ten champions were the lone Big Ten representative in the Elite Eight and they seemed determined not to let the Big East hype bother them. While the rest of the country may have considered the game a mere formality for the Cardinals, Michigan State had other ideas.
From the first minute, it was clear that Michigan State was going to suffocate Louisville on the defensive end for all 40 minutes. Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Travis Walton was matched up with Louisville's most versatile player, Terrence Williams. All Walton did was hold Williams to five points on 1-for-7 shooting.
On the interior, Goran Suton and Draymond Green made life difficult for the Louisville big men. Earl Clark finished with 19 points, but the rest of the Louisville frontcourt was essentially invisible. Aside from Williams' five points, most of which came at the free throw line, the big men did nothing. Samardo Samuels was held scoreless and frequently found himself left alone by the defense as he sat 20 feet from the basket.
The Cardinals also had a great deal of trouble hanging onto the ball thanks to the active hands of Michigan State. The Spartans forced 12 turnovers, including seven steals, and that doesn't include all of the disrupted and deflected passes forced by the intense pressure of the Green and White.
Louisville actually held a 34-32 lead early in the second half. That's when Durrell Summers took over. A Draymond Green steal led to a Summers dunk. He followed with a pair of jumpers, good for a 7-1 run by himself. By the time Rick Pitino called a timeout with 10:47 left, Michigan State was up by nine points and never looked back.
Coming out of the timeout, Jerry Smith hit a three for Louisville to cut the deficit to six. The inevitable answer came from MSU as Kalin Lucas banked home a deep three. That sequence was the entire game in a nutshell; everything Louisville threw at the Spartans was answered in turn. Louisville had no answers of their own.
As the clock wound down, the question was no longer "Will Louisville come back?" It became "Will Louisville break 50 points?" It took an Earl Clark jumper with 15 seconds left, well after the game had been decided, for Louisville to crack 50.
The Cardinals finished with 52, half of what they had put up in their blowout of Arizona in the Sweet Sixteen. They were held to 38.3 percent shooting by one of the best defensive teams in the nation. Simply put, they were beaten in every aspect of the game.
I'd rather have a "W" thanks to the grit of Walton and Suton than be one of the 61 teams who have been sent home since the tournament began. While the on-court product might be "prettier," nothing looks better than a huge win that extends your season.
This result flies in the face of what most people have believed all season, that the Big East is superior and the Big Ten's style of play isn't quick enough to compete with the big boys.
A look at Michigan State's current run should put that nonsense to bed. All they've done is beat an athletic USC team on a major hot streak, take down the defending National Champs and current Big 12 champs Kansas, and shut down the top seed in the whole tournament.
How many people can honestly say that they saw those results coming? Raise your hand if you didn't believe that a Louisville blowout was a foregone conclusion.
I've got my hand raised.
The next step is to take on a tough UConn team. Forty minutes of basketball for a chance to play for the National Title just over an hour from campus.
On Senior Day, after the team raised the 2009 Big Ten Champions banner to the rafters, Travis Walton said that we weren't done hanging banners this season.
Looks like he might be right.
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