- C.L. Brown, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Michigan State Spartans advance.
Should anyone really be surprised? For the seventh time in the past eight seasons, the Spartans won two tournament games to reach the Sweet 16. For the second straight time, it came at the expense of the Virginia Cavaliers, who were a No. 2 seed this season after being bumped by Michigan State as a No. 1 last season.
The Spartans don’t have as much talent as previous Izzo teams, but it doesn’t matter because they’re playing their best basketball now.
Star of the first weekend: Travis Trice scored 15 points in the Spartans' opening win over Georgia, but it was his work against Virginia that set him apart. Trice said he received a text from former Spartan Draymond Green on Sunday morning that said, "Don't let this be your last game."
"I texted him back and said, ‘I won’t,’" Trice said. "But that was our mindset coming in. We knew they were a great team, we had to jump out on them early."
The 6-foot senior guard took charge from the beginning against Virginia, scoring 13 of the Spartans’ first 15 points en route to a game-high 23 against the Cavs. It marked his career high for an NCAA tournament game.
The big moment in Charlotte: Virginia scored the first two baskets of the second half Sunday. And when Mike Tobey tipped the ball out on a missed free throw, the Cavs had the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead. Malcolm Brogdon, in what typified Virginia’s shooting struggles, missed a 3-pointer. (The Cavs shot 2-for-17 from behind the arc.) Denzel Valentine answered for Michigan State with a 3-pointer that softly bounced on the rim three times before dropping through the net. The Spartans then got another favorable roll when Branden Dawson was fouled on a dunk attempt in which the ball plopped from the base of the rim and rolled in the basket. That was part of a 13-3 run by the Spartans to reassert control, and their lead never dipped below five the rest of the game.
What’s next? Thanks to NC State’s upset of No. 1 seed Villanova, the East Regional is wide open. There isn’t a team remaining the Spartans should fear, which could make the talk from Trice, Valentine and Dawson about starting a new Final Four streak a reality. Until last season, every player who stayed for four years under Izzo made a Final Four appearance. The way the Spartans played against Virginia, don’t be surprised to see them in Indianapolis.