With a little help from Kalin Lucas, Michigan State center Goran Suton put the Spartans on his back and carried them into the Final Four. Suton had 19 points and 10 rebounds this afternoon against Louisville in a 64-52 win that captured the Midwest Regional. This was right on the heels of Suton's 20-point/9-rebound outing against Kansas on Friday night.
Lucas provided critical support in the backcourt, scoring 18 on Friday and 12 more today. But even more important today was his leadership in navigating the Louisville pressure. The Spartans were able to slow the game down and play it at their pace. After being outrebounded by Kansas, MSU was able to re-assert its control of the glass today, in holding a 35-27 edge on the 'Ville. And there were plenty of misses to rebound, as the Cards only shot 38 percent from the field. This is something that was an Achillies heel for Rick Pitino's squad all year, and a team that could control the pace and rebound was the perfect matchup to take them out.
This is the fifth Final Four appearance for Tom Izzo (1999-2001 & 2005) who continues to cement his place among Big Ten basketball coaching greats. Michigan State is following a similar path that Illinois did back in '05. That year saw the Illini play their tourney games in Indianapolis, Chicago and St. Louis and they never had to get on a plane. It hasn't been quite that extreme for MSU, but their travel log has had a distinctly Big Ten flavor to it, going from Minneapolis to Indy and now home to Detroit. The last time a team enjoyed this type of homecourt advantage at the Final Four was Kansas back in 1988. It can bring Spartan fans great comfort to know the Jayhawks (led by Danny Manning) cut down the nets on Monday night that year.
It will be great for Michigan State, and also for the Big Ten as a whole, if Izzo can bring in another national title this year. But for right now, Spartan fans deserve to relax and enjoy this one. And the Big Ten got some long-needed vindication in taking out the best of the Big East.
In other regional finals...
UConn 82 Missouri 75
UConn will be Michigan State's dance partner next Saturday in the early game (6:07 PM EST tip). The Huskies' was done in a way Izzo can appreciate--they dominated the glass, to the tune of 45-26 and blew away Mizzou at the foul line, enjoying a 26-6 scoring advantage. Kemba Walker came off the bench for 23 points.
Villanova 78 Pitt 76
This game was an absolute epic. 'Nova appeared to have the game in hand with a two-point lead and the ball with ten seconds left. Then a stupid turnover on length-of-the-floor pass, followed by an even dumber foul let Pitt tie it up. Then Scottie Reynolds made what will surely be the play by which this entire tournament is remembered, going coast-to-coast in five seconds and muscling a layup in for the game-winner. The difference in a tight game? Free throws. Pitt wasn't bad, hitting 21-of-29, but Villanova was lights out, at 22-of-23 and stole a game the Panthers seemed so close to getting control of on numerous occassions in the second half. For 'Nova, after having to rally past American, this concludes a very impressive three-game run in which they blew out UCLA & Duke before pulling out this one.
North Carolina 72 Oklahoma 60
Blake Griffin was everything he's cracked up to be, coming up with 23 points and 16 rebounds for the Sooners. This was coming off a big-time 30-point/14-rebound bullying of Syracuse on Friday. But Griffin didn't get enough help and North Carolina had this one in control from the outset. The Heels shot 51 percent from the floor and Ty Lawson led the way with 19 points. UNC goes to the Final Four for the second straight year and for an NCAA-record 18th time in their history. Carolina plays Villanova in the late game next Saturday, 40 minutes after the conclusion of UConn-Michigan State.