Michigan State, the No. 7 seed in the East Region, defeated No. 3 Oklahoma, 62-58, on Friday night inside the Carrier Dome in Syracuse. The Spartans will play No. 4 Louisville for a shot at the Final Four.
The Spartans held off a late comeback bid from the Sooners, hitting all six free throws in the final 80 seconds of regulation.
Travis Trice had another good showing in the NCAA tournament with a game-high 24 points while Denzel Valentine added 18. Buddy Hield led Oklahoma with 21 points.
It wasn’t until 9:30 left in the game that Michigan State took its first lead. Just over two minutes later, Oklahoma would recapture the lead with a TaShawn Thomas layup. However, that’d be the Sooners only field goal in an eight and half minute span. That slump didn’t snap until Hield hit a second-chance three with just over a minute to go, cutting the deficit to 58-56. From there Michigan State closed it out from the line.
The win for Michigan State sets up Sunday’s matchup between two coaching greats — Rick Pitino and Tom Izzo — who have both been terrific this March. As I mentioned earlier in the night, Pitino dismissed Chris Jones from the program last month, yet finds his team in another Elite 8; the third time in four years.
This time last year, No. 4 seeded Michigan State was a trendy pick to be the national champion. Every four-year player under Izzo had reached at least one Final Four entering the 2014 NCAA Tournament, however, eventual champion UConn ended that streak in the Elite 8 along with the careers of Adreian Payne and Keith Appling. Sophomore Gary Harris decided to declare for the NBA Draft, leaving Izzo with some experience, but no stars.
That was apparent in November when the Spartans played the role of odd man out in the Champions Classic double-header. Each of the other participants — Kentucky, Kansas and Michigan State’s opponent that night, Duke — all had their share of McDonald’s All-Americans, compared to only one (Dawson) for Michigan State.
Yet, here they are, relying on the play of Trice, Valentine and Dawson, all of whom have had their share of NCAA tournament experience.
Two unlikely runs converge on Sunday between Louisville and Michigan State, but only one will continue on the road to Indianapolis.
Four missed shots and two turnovers in the opening four minutes was not an ideal start for No. 7 Michigan State in the Round of 64 contest against No. 10 Georgia. Nearly blowing a 12-point lead in the final two minutes isn’t exactly how Sparty wanted to end the game either.
However, it is March and it is Tom Izzo, and once again Michigan State is advancing in the NCAA Tournament, knocking off Georgia, 70-63, on Saturday afternoon.
The Spartans were plus-eight on the glass, which helped spark the transition offense along with early turnovers from the Bulldogs.
Despite battling foul trouble in the first half Branden Dawson scored 14 points. He was one of four Spartans in double figures along with Denzel Valentine (16), Travis Trice (15) and Bryn Forbes (14), who combined to shoot 7-of-16 from beyond the 3-point line.
It was that 3-point shooting and ability to get on the fast break that helped Michigan State not only take the lead, but build on it, taking a 13-point into the locker room after ending the first half with an 8-0 run. The Spartans were able to maintain that lead as well. A 4-point play from Bryn Forbes bumped the lead back up to a baker’s dozen with inside eight minutes to play. It looked like Michigan State had put the game out of reach after Dawson and Valentine converted on back-to-back buckets, putting the Spartans up 64-52 with 2:05 left, but then Michigan State went on cruise control.
The Bulldogs attempted a final comeback, going on a 9-2 run to cut it to a one-possession game at 66-63 with 20 seconds to play, though, their efforts were too little, too late. After struggling from the line as a team, Valentine iced the game with four straight free throws.
Michigan State gets the winner of No. 2 Virginia and No. 15 Belmont on Sunday.
New Year’s Day, as is often the case, is a holiday in which college football gets far more attention than college basketball and many programs and conferences have accounted for this. With a light schedule in college basketball, some players have the opportunity to watch their classmates play in their biggest game of the season.
That was the case for the Michigan State basketball team, which was able to watch their football team come back from a 20-point deficit to beat Baylor 42-41 in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic. Above is a short video of the players watching the end of the game in the locker room, with Connor Cook’s game-winning touchdown pass to Keith Mumphrey with 17 seconds remaining and linebacker Riley Bullough’s game-sealing interception being the plays watched in the video.
Football is a sport Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo has incorporated into his program throughout his tenure in East Lansing. In past years Izzo’s players have donned shoulder pads in practice for incredibly physical rebounding drills, and last season’s team took a trip to Indianapolis to watch the football team beat Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package. We continue our countdown today with No. 22 Michigan State.
They’ll be good because … : Tom Izzo is still the head coach at Michigan State, and as long as he’s running things in East Lansing, the Spartans will be relevant. He’s been to the Sweet 16 12 times in the last 17 seasons, he’s made the Elite 8 eight times and by losing to UConn last year in the Regional Final, Adreian Payne and Keith Appling became Izzo’s first four-year players to leave school without reaching a Final Four. He wins. Period.
And while the Spartans will have quite a bit of production to replace this season, Izzo will himself have a veteran, blue-collar group to work with. It starts with Branden Dawson, a former five-star recruit that played the best basketball of his career in March last season, averaging 15.7 points and 8.1 boards in the postseason. Denzel Valentine, the other forward in Michigan State’s starting lineup, is one of the most versatile players in the country, a guy that can guard power forwards and run the point. Bruisers Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling round out the bigs.
The back court is more of a question mark. Travis Trice has spent three years recovering from a variety of ailments, but he’s a coach’s son that can run the point and hit three or four threes in a row when he gets into a rhythm. Lansing native and Cleveland State transfer Bryn Forbes needs to become a better defender, but he’ll certainly be able to score in the Big Ten. Lourawls ‘Tum Tum’ Nairn Jr. is a four-star freshman point guard with a five-star name, while sophomore Alvin Ellis should provide some pop off the bench.
But they might disappoint because … : The Spartans don’t have the amount of pure talent that they have had in the past. They’ll make up for it with experience, as the Spartans will start three juniors and two seniors, but experience and coaching will only get you so far. Having a guy like a Gary Harris or an Adreian Payne is, obviously, a valuable weapon. Who will Michigan State’s go-to guy be? Whose name does Tom Izzo call when his team is down two with 15 seconds left in Ann Arbor?
I’m also concerned about the point guard spot. Trice is a capable senior point guard, a guy that can run a team and get his offense into their sets. But he’s more of a spot-up shooter than he is someone that can create those open looks for his teammates, which will be an issue on a team that lacks big-time scoring threats. The only other point guard on the roster is Tum Tum, and while he’s got talent — and speed! — to spare, he’s still learning the nuances of the game. He’ll be a factor defensively and do things in transition, but he’s not a guy that can run a team, at least not yet.
Outlook: There are definitely some red flags with this Michigan State team entering this season, specifically their lack of scorers and their question marks at the point. The Spartans are going to have quite a few games end up being dogfights, but I have a feeling that won’t bother Izzo one bit.
But there are two reasons why I’m higher on this group that a lot of people — even some Michigan State fans — seem to be. For starters, I think that Valentine’s ability to distribute will alleviate some of the point guard concerns. He averaged 3.8 assists as a sophomore and should be able to have the offense flow through him. I can’t over-emphasize how much I love the pairing of Valentine and Dawson at the forward spots.
The other reason? Losing Appling, Harris and Payne will hurt from a talent perspective, but this year’s Spartan team should be more consistent and will have much better leadership at the top. Wisconsin is the clear favorite to win the Big Ten this season, but there’s no reason the Spartans can’t end up being the second-best team in the league.
As a result of various injuries, the 2013-14 season was a “wait and see” kind of campaign for the Michigan State Spartans. As in, “wait and see” what the Spartans do once everyone’s available to play, with Tom Izzo’s team entering the NCAA tournament as a trendy pick to reach the Final Four on the heels of their run through the Big Ten tournament.
Ultimately the Spartans reached the Elite Eight, falling to eventual national champion UConn, but even with that achievement and the 29 wins it was hard to not think about “what could have been” for Tom Izzo’s team. With Keith Appling, Gary Harris and Adreian Payne all having moved on, something for Michigan State to address as the 2014-15 season approaches is who their team leaders will be.
Izzo was very clear that Trice and Valentine will be the leaders for the 2014-15 season. Not surprisingly he named Mateen Cleaves and Draymond Green as past leadership examples he strives for but was missing in seasons past.
“They work, but they’re not afraid to drag other people into work,” Izzo said about Trice’s and Valentine’s qualities that stand out. “They are two of my hardest workers, but I’ve got a lot of guys that work hard, but not a lot of other guys drag people with them.
“You don’t have a ton of those kind of guys. It would be nice to say you do every year, but you don’t, and neither does anybody else. They’re special guys.”
Also of note in Izzo’s appearance was the fact that he stated that those two, along with senior forward Branden Dawson (11.2 ppg, 8.3 rpg), all made improvements this offseason. With Michigan State having to account for the departure of three of their top four scorers, it’s vital that Dawson, Trice and Valentine did just that. All three have shown flashes throughout their careers, but injuries have impacted their careers from a consistency standpoint.
With one last run to make sure they don’t become the second consecutive senior class to leave East Lansing with a Final Four appearance to their credit, Michigan State’s leaders will need to step forward when it comes to both numbers and intangibles in 2014-15.
A few days removed from winning the Big Ten tournament title, the question for East Region No. 4 seed Michigan State was whether or not they’d be able to build on the momentum that has led to many picking them to reach the Final Four. Thanks in large part to Adreian Payne, Tom Izzo’s team advanced to the round of 32 with a 93-78 win over Delaware in Spokane.
Payne scored a career-high 41 points, with 23 of those coming in the first half as Michigan State took control of the game against the CAA champions. The senior forward was nearly unstoppable, making ten of his 15 shot attempts from the field and all 17 of his free throws while also grabbing eight rebounds.
As a team Michigan State shot 53.6% from the field and 10-for-18 from beyond the arc, finding the looks they desired for much of the afternoon. While there were a couple lulls, allowing the Blue Hens to remain within striking distance, it didn’t seem as if the Spartans were truly threatened against a team they matched up well with.
However Payne wasn’t the only standout for Michigan State, as guard Travis Trice contributed 19 points and three rebounds off the bench. With Keith Appling and Denzel Valentine combining to score just seven points against Delaware, Trice’s scoring output gave Michigan State a welcome boost. In total four Spartans scored in double figures, and Appling tallied seven assists with just two turnovers.