By Adam Biggers/@AdamBiggers81
Anyone who said they picked Michigan State to make the Final Four was either A. Drunk on Tom Izzo Kool-Aid, B. Out of their mind, or C. Suffering from a combination of both Izzo Kool-Aid intoxication and out-of-mindedness.
But keep drinking and being crazy, because the Spartans have made the impossible seem possible. Just goes to show that March really is Izzo's time and that he can do wonders with a properly motivated group and a couple of seniors.
Due to a somewhat surprising 76-70 win Sunday over No. 4-seeded Louisville in the East Region final, they’re headed to Indianapolis to meet with Coach K’s No. 1-seeded Blue Devils, who deflated Gonzaga in the South Region final Sunday night.
There will be more to come this week, but here are a few scatterbrain thoughts on Saturday’s duel with Duke.
Doesn’t Get Any Better
Izzo and Coach K are two of the collegiate game’s figureheads. Both legends in their own right, the pair of coaches has combined for 19 Final Fours and five national championships. Izzo has seven of the Final Fours and one national title.
In 2013, the Spartans lost to Duke in the Sweet 16, 71-61. Prior to reaching the Final Four in 2005, the Spartans defeated Duke, 78-68, in the Elite Eight. In 1999, the Spartans lost 68-62 to Duke in the Final Four—which was also Izzo’s first tournament meeting with Coach K.
You don’t have to be a fan of Michigan State or even like Duke to appreciate Saturday’s matchup. It simply doesn’t get any better than two of the game's legends, going head-to-head—yet again—for a chance to play for a national championship.
Guard Play, Guard Play
Note: More on Denzel Valentine and Bryn Forbes this week. However, the above play pretty much goes for everyone. Solid defense has led to several open shots for Trice, Valentine and Forbes.
As usual, dominant guards have helped pave the way for the remaining four teams. Usually, experienced guards end up making or breaking runs. With that said, Duke has senior Quinn Cook, a 6’2”, 185-pounder who’s great off the dribble and with the stop-and-pop. He’ll be a factor. His size and strength will pose issues for Michigan State’s combination of senior Travis Trice and freshman Tum-Tum Nairn.
Nairn’s defense has been incredible. Trice’s clutch shooting and playmaking ability have him in the running for tournament MVP. He’s been that good. He scored 15 vs. Georgia, 23 vs. Virginia, 24 vs. Oklahoma and 17 vs. Louisville.
Generously listed at 6’0” and 170 pounds, Trice has the chance to really cut out a place in Spartans lore—a place that’s reserved for a select few. There has been one during the Izzo era, actually—and that’s Mateen Cleaves. You know where this headed. If the Spartans win it all due to Trice, he’ll get talked about as a program great. There’s no way around it.
And really, he’s at least earned the right to be in the “great senior” conversation. He’s never been the flashiest guy around, but Trice’s pure will has fueled Michigan State’s run to Indy.
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