By George B. Eichorn
Now there are just four. Michigan State’s fiesty Spartans are one of the remaining teams vying for college basketball’s national championship. MSU, Texas Tech, Auburn and Virginia are in Minneapolis for a Saturday doubleheader that determines the Monday championship pairing. Spartan Nation cannot control its excitement!
Coach Tom Izzo and his team knocked out No. 1 seed Duke in last Sunday’s East Region finals, 68-67, as Kenny Goins (Warren Mott) calmly hit a clutch 3-pointer to cement the victory in Washington, DC. No. 2 MSU now faces No. 3 West Region champion Texas Tech on Saturday at 8:49 p.m. on CBS/Channel 62 and WJR-AM (760). Sparty is favored by three. The 6:09 p.m. games pits No. 1 South Region champion Virginia against No. 5 Midwest champion Auburn (VA is favored by 5 1/2). The winners of these two games meet Monday at 9 p.m.
Izzo has achieved so many accolades in 24 seasons behind the MSU bench yet he has just one national championship to show for it. He badly wants a second crown. Izzo’s numbers: 606 career wins (ranks 5th all-time among coaches for wins in first 24 seasons), 8 Final Fours as head coach, 22 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, 15 Big Ten titles (regular season/tournament), and 20 NBA draft picks.
He defeated old nemesis, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, to punch MSU’s ticket to the Final Four. It was just Izzo’s second win over mighty Coack K in 13 head-to-head games. This MSU team is one of Izzo’s most interesting ever assembled. Despite injuries to key players (two of which are gone for the season), he has keep his team together like a father over his family in troubled times.
“This game was a heavyweight battle and Tom Izzo was like Emanuel Steward in the Spartan’s corner, carefully pushing and orchestrating the winning moves in the final 30 seconds,” said Bill Harrington of Detroit Sports Media. “This team proved it can fight anyone and come out on top.”
Michigan State is led by co-captain Cassius Winston, the pint-sized junior point guard who earned All-American honors, fifth-year senior Goins, freshman forward Aaron Henry, co-captain senior guard Matt McQuaid, junior forward Nick Ward, sophomore forward Xavier Tillman, and freshman forward Gabe Brown. Freshman guard Foster Loyer also sees action off the bench. Junior guards Joshua Langford and Kyle Ahrens are out with injuries.
It’s MSU’s first Final Four appearance since 2015 when they lost to North Carolina, 87-71, in the semi-finals in St. Louis. The Spartans are one of two nationally-recognized programs (Virginia is the other) still standing in 2019. Powers like Michigan, Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville, Florida, Gonzaga, LSU and Syracuse are watching from their homes.
Who knows if Michigan State can win out? One thing is for sure: there’s no denying that this is one of the most gratifying tournament runs in school history. MSU is tough as nails with solid rebounding, smart and intense play, reliable 3-point shooting, and a hero-a-night. These are hallmarks of this edition of the Spartans.
Defeating Texas Tech and Virginia or Auburn will not be easy yet Spartan Nation will be watching as the Green and White go for a third overall national roundball championship.
George Eichorn is sports columnist at the Downtown (Detroit) Monitor. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.