The Louisville Cardinals weren’t supposed to make it this far, ranked 17th in the nation and getting the #4 seed in the West Region. But Michigan State were overrated to begin with, partially because everybody loves Tom Izzo. Rick Pitino? Great coach, but not as loved, in an understatement kind of tone. Now the Cardinals are in the Elite eight, and the Spartans are the first #1 team to fall in the 2012 NCAA tournament.
Slow? Ugly? It depends on how you love your basketball. The 57-44 scoreline in favor of the Cardinals can give you a hint or two on how this game went. It looked like waves crashing upon unbreakable walls, with the Cardinals’ defense standing firmer for most of the game.
The Cardinals shot 38.2% from the field. The more accurate team of the game. How bad were Michigan State? Shooting 14-49, 28.6% from the field. Yes, they were breathtakingly bad, record breaking bad, as it was the first time Tom Izzo doesn’t make the final four while getting the #1 seed.
How bad? They made just 14 field goals, 2 fewer than Wisconsin’s 16 in 2000, a new low for an NCAA tournament game. Their 44 points are a record low for a #1 seed in the shot clock era. Their 44 points and shooting percentage are a new low for the Spartans in the tournament. Yes, it was that kind of night.
Gorgui Dieng, the Cardinals’ center, stood above all in their defensive performance, playing zone most of the night, anchoring the defense. He finished with nine rebounds, seven blocks and 3 steals. He didn’t get a second of rest, making Draymond Green’s night a hellish one, something he’d quickly love to forget.
Green – He was very disruptive. We’re not going to back down from anyone. We took it at him. He pulled off some great blocked shots. That’s what he does. That’s his strength.
Nieng, the Sophomore, averaging 9-9 this season, was pretty straightforward – When we came here, we know we’re going to face. We knew we were going to come to a war. We need to be tougher than them to win this game.
And for all the talk about Tom Izzo’s old school basketball, about his team being tough as nails and prepared every night, they just couldn’t figure out a way to get their offense started. Considered a master of short preparation, Izzo simply said he did have enough guys who could play well, at the end of the night.
Louisville went into a different gear in the second half, scoring 34 points, while all the Spartans could do was try and keep up. It was far from good enough. They turned over the ball 15 times, and had only six guys who scored. Not the Louisville spread the scoring across the board – only eight players took part of the game, with seven of them scoring. But unlike MSU, they had guys who were in the zone, partially at least.
Chane Behanan scored 15 points, his third game in double figures in the tournament, as the Freshman is catching fire (relatively) at the best possible time. After the Cardinals lost 8 games in conference play during the regular season, the Big East tournament has sent them into the national tourney full of confidence in their ability to stop anyone, and find just enough to pull through.