Michigan State rarely disappoints in March under coach Tom Izzo.
Since his first season at East Lansing in 1996, Izzo has taken the Spartans to six Final Fours, and this year’s team ranks among his best, sharing the Big Ten regular-season championship and taking down Ohio State on Sunday for the tournament championship.
Michigan State started 0-2, falling to North Carolina on a battleship in San Diego, and Duke. The Spartans’ No. 1 seed looked in peril when they closed the regular season by losing at Indiana and to the Buckeyes at home.
But this team has responded all year. Forward Draymond Green is the leader, a player Izzo calls “the perfect Spartan.” Brandon Wood, a Valparaiso transfer, has come on strong lately and led Michigan State with 21 points on Sunday.
If the Spartans play with the usual toughness and chemistry, they’ll be a difficult out.
But second-seeded Missouri could be the one to make it happen. The Tigers’ amazing season under first-year coach Frank Haith includes a Big 12 tournament championship. Mizzou ranks among the national leaders in offensive categories, and, at 30-4, only Kentucky and Syracuse have more victories.
Marquette was a surprise in last year’s tournament as No. 11 seed that reached the Sweet 16. The Golden Eagles won’t sneak up on anybody this year as a No. 3 seed.
Fourth-seeded Louisville might not have gotten the seed bounce it expected after winning the Big East tournament. Still, it was an overachieving season for the Cardinals, who battled more than their share of injuries. Coach Rick Pitino put the breaks on his fast-tempo philosophy and Louisville won with more ball control, as evidenced by the 50-44 victory over Cincinnati in the tournament title game.