In possibly the best game of the 2015 NCAA Tournament Michigan State beat Louisville 76-70 in overtime, carrying too much momentum into the final five minutes to be denied another trip into the Final Four, a 7th for head coach Tom Izzo.
It’s also the first since 2010, which means it’s a first time for all the players on the current Spartans squad. There’s nothing new about a low seed (#7 this time) making the Final Four – it’s the third straight season a seventh seed or lower has made the Final Four. In 2011 both Butler and VCU made it, so there’s nothing too special about Michigan State, except for the overall consistency under Izzo’s reign.
As with most impressive wins in this tournament, part of the story is a big comeback that turned things around. We had controversial blocks and goaltending. A young man (Mangok Mathiang) missing the opportunity to win the game from the line. And finally, a dominant overtime period from Michigan State, attacking the paint and either hitting their shots or getting to the line while Louisville’s offense got stuck at the wrong time.
I’d like to tell you that I thought five different times this year that we were good enough to get to a Final Four, but I’d be lying to you. But I think the burning desire to be in this Final Four, and they didn’t want to be a group that didn’t make it. I think it was more of the battle cry all year long.
There are no superstars on Izzo’s team. Travis Trice is a very good player, and so is Branden Dawson with his big offensive rebound and two points to make it 74-70 with 31 seconds left in the game. Denzel Valentine with 15 points and Bryn Forbes with 14 off the bench aren’t going to be a big thing in the NBA, if they even make it at all.
But Michigan State play smart basketball, unselfish and committed (20 assists on 26 field goals). They handle size, speed and talent well when it’s in front of them. Some years their trip is cut short but overall it’s hard to think of a really weak Michigan State team. All season long there was nothing remarkable about this bunch, but it turns out the speciality comes out in the more difficult moments.