So maybe you’ve seen it by now, it’s been all over the Internet. But the statistic – if that’s what you even call it – floating around comparing this season’s Michigan State Final Four team to last season’s UConn National Championship team is INSANE. Here we go …
Both teams accomplished the following:
— Opened up the season ranked 18th overall in the Nation.
— Had 12-6 conference records – good for 3rd place in their respective conferences.
— Finished as the runner-up in their conference tournament, losing to the regular season conference champion in the championship game.
— Landed 7th seeds in the east region of March Madness and won their first round matchups against 10th seeds.
— Went on to defeat the 2nd seeds in the round of 32.
— Went on to defeat the 3rd seeds in the Sweet 16.
— Went on to defeat the 4th seeds in the Elite 8 (both teams won by six points).
— Will face/faced the 1st seeds from another bracket in the Final Four (UConn beat Florida, while MSU will face Duke).
— While all this was going on, Kentucky and Wisconsin meet on the other side of the bracket for the second straight season in the Final Four.
As you can see, this is quite the coincidence we have here. Essentially the 2015 Spartans are the 2014 Huskies, it’s happening all over again.
My bracket is busted at this point like most of yours are, but I do have Kentucky winning it all. I would have picked Duke over MSU, but what do I know, let’s say MSU meets Kentucky in the championship like UConn did last year.
For starters, we have one huge difference. Last year’s Kentucky team was a peaking 8th seed with an injured Willie Cauley-Stein. This year’s Kentucky team, as you may have heard, is undefeated and would be heading into the championship game at 39-0. Safe to say MSU would be getting a tougher opponent that UConn did.
Kentucky also already got their “bad game” out of the way against Notre Dame. The Irish played nearly perfect and still fell to the Wildcats, who if I had to grade their performance I would probably give a C. This Kentucky team is good enough to win Elite 8 games on their C game, and they probably won’t have another one in Indy.
Kentucky is going to be one tough powerhouse to take down, but if MSU is going to accomplish the feat, here’s why: Tom Izzo has acknowledged the UConn blueprint to the championship last year and spoke about it to the Detroit Free Press: “I think my favorite guy in America right now is Kevin Ollie,” Izzo said. “I love Kevin Ollie. I hated him last year at this time, but I love him now. I think he’s kind of showed us the way.”
Why did Izzo hate Ollie last year? Because that 4th seed that UConn took down in the Elite 8 happened to be the Spartans, if things couldn’t get any weirder. But the important idea that Izzo acknowledged is the part about UConn showing his team the way.
Besides rare exceptions, when lower seeds make deep runs in the tournament they are well respected programs who had been ranked much higher earlier in the season. I’m not talking about small schools sneaking into the Sweet 16, I’m talking about teams that get all the way to the Final Four, and sure, some years you’ll have your George Mason or VCU shock the world.
Just look at last year. UConn was obviously a much better team than a 7th seed, and that Kentucky team they beat was an 8th seed after being ranked the best team in the country earlier in the season! Seriously, they opened the season ranked 1st nationally then entered the tournament as an 8th seed. Talk about an easy sleeper pick.
Coaching is a big part of getting there, something MSU obviously has, but players are a big part too. Shabazz Napier played an enormous role in bringing the Huskies last year’s title – a senior guard that can control and slow the game for his team. MSU has this in Travis Trice.
Trice has been steadying his team through the tournament, averaging 19.75 PPG, 4.0 APG and 3.25 RPG in MSU’s four games. But his presence on the court might be most important, evident by the fact that Izzo won’t take him off the floor – Trice is averaging 38.5 minutes so far in tournament games.
With the help of guys like Denzel Valentine, who has drawn very unfair Magic Johnson comparisons, perhaps the Spartans can upset the 33-4 Blue Devils on Saturday, but despite all the similarities, I’m chalking this all up to a fluke – Kentucky cuts down the nets in Indy.
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