For most of the season, Rick Pitino and Tom Izzo said they didn’t have teams capable of doing what their previous teams had done in the postseason.
They both have their share of Final Fours in their careers, so who could blame anyone for taking Pitino and Izzo at their word?
Three games later, they’re both on the precipice of another trip to the Final Four in Sunday’s East regional final. This could be No. 7 for Izzo and No. 8 for Pitino, just another reminder no one should doubt these two coaches in the NCAA Tournament. Perhaps not even Izzo and Pitino should doubt themselves.
“I don't really know what I would do without (March Madness),” Pitino said. “I really don't. I see so many coaches tell me, ‘Don't leave. Don't think about leaving. Especially you. You'll miss it so much.’ And I keep listening to people when they say that.”
What Pitino would miss would be moments like this: An unlikely group doing unexpected teams. Pitino dismissed his point guard Chris Jones back in February in a season that already seemed to show the Cardinals’ ceiling against top teams. That ceiling is at least an Elite Eight.
The same could be said of Izzo. His team has been in rebuilding mode without Adreian Payne, Keith Appling and Gary Harris. The Spartans have been battling their own limitations, both in talent and in free throw shooting all season. Yet free throw shooting clinched a bid to the next round.
“One more victory would be one of the sweeter moments in my career because I think it would teach you that you can do it a lot of different ways,” Izzo said.
No. 7 Michigan State vs. No. 4 Louisville
Region: East (Syracuse, N.Y.)
Time: Sunday, 2:20 p.m. ET
Announcers: Verne Lundquist and Jim Spanarkel
Line: Michigan State by 2
Matchup to Watch: Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell vs. Michigan State’s frontcourt
The guards on both sides could go back and forth all game long. That leaves the question of how Michigan State will contain Louisville’s Harrell. Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling don’t offer a ton in the offensive end, but they’ll be they key to the game plan to keep Harrell from taking over.
Tournament Surprise: Louisville’s Anton Gill
Where did this come from? Gill played two minutes — total — against UC Irvine and Northern Iowa. Against NC State, the lefty was a key player off the bench with seven points and a quick 3-for-3 from the field when Wayne Blackshear was on the bench with four fouls.
Michigan State will win if...
The Spartans continue their free throw shooting trend. Michigan State has not been a good free throw shooting team this year, converting only 66.7 percent of their shots from the line this season. The Spartans started 3-of-10 from the line against Oklahoma, but when they needed to put the Sooners away, Michigan State converted 6-of-6 free throws to clinch the win. That’s a trend that needs to continue into the Elite Eight.
Louisville will win if...
Terry Rozier is the best guard in the game. Michigan State’s Travis Trice is averaging 20.7 points per game in the tournament, and Denzel Valentine scored 16 against Georgia and 18 against Oklahoma. If Rozier can top each of them, Louisville will have a good shot at the Final Four. Rozier is averaging 18 points and 5.3 assists in the Tournament.
Athlon Staff Predictions
David Fox: Louisville 68-65
Braden Gall: Michigan State 66-63
Mitch Light: Michigan State 67-64
Jake Rose: Michigan State 66-60