Any Volunteers? Michigan State Battles to Another Final Four Birth
I know for a fan of any other team, the endless pundit slobbering about Michigan State coach Tom Izzo and his incredible postseason run can get a little old.
What's so bewildering is that they all still pick against him.
Almost every year over the last twelve that MSU has reached an amazing six final fours, the popular perception has been that the Spartans seldom have the horses to make a legitimate run, and yet nearly every year they seem to do just that.
That's why Izzo deserves the slobbering.
With recruiting classes that don't even approximate the five-star recruits of the UNC's, the Duke's, or whichever program Calipari is steering toward another NCAA violation, with starters hurt and leading scorers out, Michigan State simply finds a way to win.
But it's never easy.
They fight, they scrap, they employ every ounce of their talent and somehow eek out a win: against teams like New Mexico State, Maryland, and Tennessee.
It's not often pretty, but they win and that's the bottom line.
Now I say it's not pretty, and that may be true for the casual basketball fan who prefers teams that don't play defense and thrive on one-on-one brilliance. But to the fan of team basketball there is nothing more beautiful, then watching Draymond Green setting a hard screen, or 5-11 point guard Korie Lucious coming down with a rebound over a larger man.
There's nothing more satisfying than watching coach Izzo call a time out at a critical moment, and then drawing up a play to perfection.
There's nothing more gratifying than watching a team give everything they have on the hardwood.
There's nothing better than the MSU Spartans in March.
In a battle against a very game, aggressive, athletic, and well coached Tennessee team under the guidance of Bruce Pearl, Michigan State dug down yet again. The Spartans won on a Raymar Morgan last-second free throw, set up by another great open-court decision by Draymond "dancing bear" Green, whose bulk belies his nimble feet, deft touch, and impressive vision.
Durrell Summers continued his hot hand by dropping in 21 points on 8-for-10 shooting, making a case for himself as the tournament's most outstanding player and lifting his team in the absence of it's leading scorer, Kalin Lucas.
Raymar Morgan added 13 as did Green, on a night that Korie Lucious was erratic at the point but gave them a solid effort nonetheless.
Tennessee put up a worthy fight, with four of its starters scoring in double digits (and the fifth scoring nine) led by the multi-talented Wayne Chism who burned the Spartans early in the game with his impressive three-point range.
And a look at the box score shows that this game really could have gone either way.
Both teams battled to a draw on the boards. Tennessee edged the Spartans shooting 51 percent from the floor to MSU's 46 percent. State edged Tennessee from the line, shooting 76 percent to the Volunteers 66 percent. Both teams had similar assist to turnover ratios, and both teams played tough man-to-man defense.
Is it any wonder the game came down to the last play?
And at this point, in a game that was mostly a draw, you've got to give the advantage to Michigan State.
The Spartans, for whatever reason, be it their coach or the type of players he recruits or both, always seem to make the right play in crunch time to move on in the tournament.
Michigan State is playing its best team basketball of the season, and like always, seems to be coming together at the right time.
And at this point with most of the big dogs out of the fight and the remaining No. 1 seed being a team that State has already beaten (Duke), there's absolutely no reason why the Michigan State Spartans can't take the whole tournament.
Granted, you could probably make the same case for any of the teams in this year's Final Four because their is no clear favorite.
But in the past couple years when the Spartans got deep into the tournament they usually lost to a team that simply had much superior talent. Last year, it was North Carolina, and a few years ago it was Memphis.
This year, I don't think that case can be made.
This year, I think the playing field is pretty level.
This year, the Spartans truly hold their own destiny.
And I'll be the first to admit that I was a bit wary of the Spartans chances entering this tournament, beset by injuries, inconsistencies, and leadership concerns. But they've gelled together and received the breaks of a tournament that went crazy, allowing them an easier path to the Final Four than expected.
That's not taking anything away from the teams they've beaten because anyone that's watched those games knows there was nothing easy about those wins.
And that's kind of the point.
The playing field is level.
And given what we've all witnessed about the Spartans and close games, does anyone really want to be the next Volunteer?
Butler's got next, and will face MSU in front of a home town crowd that will be fueled by a nation quickly piling on the bandwagon as the next team that State can't get past.
But to me the Spartans match up awfully well with this team.
To me it looks like Sparty has the horses this time to finish the race.
And when all things appear equal...
...advantage Tom Izzo and his resilient Michigan State Spartans.
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