My series of explaining the road that each of the four teams took in order to get to the Final Four. In this series, I will go over what storylines each team had, as well as what the team actually got to the Final Four. The series continues today with the Michigan State Spartans, who overcame adversity to make it to Minneapolis.
The Spartans came into the year losing two lottery picks in Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr, so a lot of people including myself. With a lot of the players left being leftovers from last years team that didn’t make the Sweet 16 and no great incoming recruits coming in, this team wasn’t expected to be that great. The team still had three pretty good leftovers in Cassius Winston, Josh Langford, and Nick Ward, all of whom were expected to carry a big load this season.
The Spartans season started off when they went 5-2, before they went on a 13 game win streak to move to 18-2 on the season. The Spartans in that time lost Josh Langford early in Big Ten play to a season-ending foot injury. The Spartans lost three straight games midway through Big Ten play and they fell behind in the Big Ten standings. The Spartans finished the season strong winning 7 of their last 8 games in order to win the Big Ten title, although in that time, Nick Ward missed time with a wrist injury.
The team followed up their Big Ten regular season title by winning the Big Ten Conference Championship, which included a 65-60 win over Michigan in the Big Ten Championship game. In that game, Kyle Ahrens had to be stretched off the court with an ankle injury. Cassius Winston was honored as the Big Ten Player of the year, while Nick Ward was on the third team All-Big Ten. The Spartans entered the NCAA Tournament with a two seed in the East Region, after finishing the regular season with a 28-6 record.
The NCAA Tournament started with a rough game against Bradley, as the Spartans trailed throughout the game was fighting an uphill battle. The most notable thing that happened is that Tom Izzo got heated while yelling at freshmen Aaron Henry, which was in discussions across the country. In the end, the Spartans were able to pull away to beat Bradley 76-65 in order to advance to the Second Round.
The second game the Spartans played in the NCAA Tournament was against a fellow Big Ten team in Minnesota. The Gophers play just a couple of hours away from the Wells Forgo Dome, so they were playing somewhat of a road game. That being said, they still went out and handled the Gophers, winning 70-50 to advance to their first Sweet 16 since 2015.
In the Sweet 16 the Spartans played the LSU Tigers, who won the SEC outright, so it was not going to be an easy win. The Spartans took control of the game early on and despite some runs from the Tigers, they were able to win going away 80-63. In the game freshmen Aaron Henry had a career-high 20, while Gabe Brown had a career-high 15, which was instrumental in winning them the game and getting them to the Elite Eight.
The Spartans then played Duke in the Elite Eight, in a game that turned out to be a classic. The first half was a game of runs, with Michigan State leading by as many as 7 and Duke leading by as many as 9. At the end of the half, the Spartans went on a 13-0 run to take control of the game.
The second half was close throughout with both teams with both teams going back and forth throughout. Matt McQuaid had a highlight 360 layup, Zion Williamson had a highlight dunk. With 1:44 left in the game, Zion Williamson made a driving layup to put Duke up two. The Spartans responded by giving the ball to Xavier Tillman inside who made a layup to get the Spartans within one. Following a stop and coming out of a timeout, Michigan State got the ball to Kenny Goins who hit a go ahead three to put Michigan State up by two. RJ Barrett drove late in the game and got fouled but he was only able to make 1 of 2 free throws. With less than 5 seconds left in the game, Cassius Winston got the ball and he dribbled out the clock to send Michigan State to the Final Four.
This represents the first Final Four for the Spartans since 2015, while it is the eighth for Tom Izzo. The Spartans season has been a complete success as they have accomplished all the goals set out this far but there is still one in play and that is the National Championship. If they are able to get that it would be the third in program history and the second of Tom Izzo’s career.