Michigan State is in the round of 16, as usual
EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State so routinely wins at least two games in the NCAA Tournament that no one in the program gets real fired up about the accomplishment.
The Spartans are in the round of 16 for the 10th time in 15 years. Only Duke, with two more appearances, has won at least two games in NCAA Tournaments more often since 1998.
“It’s another opportunity to possibly reach a Final Four,” do-it-all forward Draymond Green said Monday. “We’ve never been excited about making it to Sweet 16s. It’s just one of those bumps that you have to go through in order to make it to the final destination.”
Michigan State didn’t have much time to celebrate anyway.
The top-seeded Spartans practiced Monday at home about 24 hours after beating Saint Louis in Columbus, Ohio, and were scheduled to fly to Phoenix by Monday night. They face Louisville on Thursday night in a West Region semifinal.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo is 7-2 in the round of 16, but he’s never had just three days to prepare for a regional semifinal. The Cardinals were already in Arizona practicing on Monday after beating New Mexico in Portland, Ore., on Saturday night.
“I don’t think it creates a world of difference, especially going out a little early,” he said. “But it is a little different.”
The Cardinals likely will use the extra rest to make the Spartans run. Louisville deployed its pressing, up-tempo style early against Michigan State in a 2009 regional final and the Big Ten powerhouse proved it didn’t have to plod to win. The Spartans beat the Cardinals in that matchup by a dozen points.
“Last time, they thought they were going to run us out the gym,” Green said. “We ran them out the gym.”
Michigan State routed 16th-seeded Long Island University-Brooklyn 89-67 in a fast-paced game, then held off ninth-seeded St. Louis 65-61 in a grinder.
The wins put Izzo in good company.
John Wooden, Adolph Rupp, Dean Smith, Bob Knight, Denny Crum, Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, Jim Calhoun and Izzo are the coaches who have advanced to the round of 16 at least 10 times in a 15-season span, according to STATS LLC. If the Spartans get past Louisville, history suggests they’ll beat the winner of the Marquette-Florida to reach the Final Four for the seventh time in 14 seasons under Izzo. He is 17-3 in the second game of an NCAA Tournament weekend.
Green has been leading the way for the Spartans. Since the field expanded in 1985, he has more combined points (40), rebounds (20) and assists (16) than any other player in his first two games of an NCAA Tournament.
Green, though, isn’t interested in taking a break to enjoy any gains made by himself or the team.
“You could even see it after our celebration after the game — (just) hugs,” he said. “It’s just another step in the road to get to where we’re really trying to go.”
Unlike the two second-seeded teams that are already out of the tourney, Michigan State has avoided an early knockout as a high-seeded team in the NCAA Tournament under Izzo. He has lost in the first round four times as 10th-, seventh- and six-seeded teams. Izzo’s teams that have been seeded fifth or better have at least reached the round of 16.
“I think that speaks about some leadership,” Izzo said. “When you go to these tournaments and you get in those hotels, that’s where all the distractions start. If you don’t have good leadership in the hotels, parents come, aunts and uncles come, I’m sure there’s agents swarming around hotels, just alums in general. I think we’ve stayed pretty focused. … That’s why we’ve had some success.”