Monday, March 29, 2010
Izzo leads Michigan State to Final Four
By Dick Vitale
What an incredible achievement for Tom Izzo and Michigan State! To reach six Final Fours in a 12-year span is remarkable in this day and age.
It shows his brilliance in a one-loss-and-you're-out situation of the 65-team field. His players have really matured at the end of the season and played with purpose. I really believe that motivation and inspiration have played a huge part in their success.
Michigan State finds a way to win close calls. The Spartans have won their four tourney games by a total of 13 points.
On Saturday comes the showdown against Butler. Can they stop a mid-major from standing tall and reaching its dream at the Final Four? Michigan State will have a major challenge, but this is right up Izzo's alley. The Spartans have caught a break, and if they win their semifinal game, they could reach the championship game April 5 without facing a top-three seed. Not taking anything away from their accomplishment, but their tourney wins have come against New Mexico State (12), Maryland (4), Northern Iowa (9) and Tennessee (6). Butler is a No. 5 seed.
Many people are talking Butler, Butler, Butler, especially because the Bulldogs play six miles down the road from Lucas Oil Stadium. Yet Izzo is a master of putting together a game plan that can surprise people.
Raymar Morgan and Durrell Summers came up big in Sunday's win over the Vols. Morgan had a double-double, and he will have to be superb against the Bulldogs and their multitalented squad.
Defense will be the common denominator in Saturday's matchup. Butler has played stifling defense, allowing less than 60 points to each of its four opponents in the tournament to date. That is an amazing stat, as they play with great rhythm and togetherness. It brings a smile to a defensive guru, my buddy Robert Montgomery Knight.
Michigan State's gutsy, courageous kids have found a way to win despite the absence of injured junior guard Kalin Lucas. They beat Maryland on Korie Lucious' dramatic, winning jumper. Then there was the win over Northern Iowa, which had previously stunned Kansas. Many had thought the Spartans would have been gone from the tourney by that point!
The Spartans denied the athletic, tough-minded Vols their first trip to the Final Four because of defense, grit and their ability to get Morgan involved. Summers has come through with his perimeter shooting, too, and he's averaged 22 points in his past three outings.
Yes, Saturday should be interesting. But something tells me Izzo's magic will find its way into the championship game a week from Monday.